Monthly Archives: August 2012

Where in Science Fiction and Fantasy are the GLBT Characters?

Over at Mythic Scribes, Marc Davies has an essay up looking at the relative absence of GLBT characters in science fiction and fantasy compared to other genres. This post will echo and contrast with the argument and sentiments of that essay.

As a gay man (and as I’ve repeated a few times on this blog), I want characters with a GLBT orientation. And obviously, I’m not alone. There is a demand for a wider array of protagonists and supporting characters, not just GLBT.

So, what is my take on Davies’s essay? I largely agree with him, to an extent. The presence of GLBT characters in science fiction and fantasy is abysmally low. But, I think it is getting better. And I don’t think the situation is as bad as Davies’s argument makes it seem.

On television, I agree with him 100%. Besides Stargate Universe, Battlestar Galactica, Xena, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I cannot think of other science fiction and fantasy series that include GLBT characters. Ditto on movies.

Comics books are increasingly more inclusive. Both Marvel and DC are actively engaged in increasing the diversity of their characters. Have they both faced push back? Yes, but kudos to both companies (and their creative teams) for sticking to a commitment to diversity. Could they do better, yes. And I expect they will do better in the future.

With video games, I’ve read that there is strong homophobia in the gamer community. But those games that actively seek to add  GLBT characters and include gay options should be applauded. Games like Dragon AgeFable, etc. I wish I had more to say on this topic, but I’m not much of a gamer, honestly.

Now, on to books. Davies mentions two relatively recent novels as examples of GLBT inclusion: Iron Council and The Steel Remains. While these two novels have unambiguous gay male protagonists, there are several other novels and short stories that feature GLBT protagonists and secondary characters. And some of them are even decades old.

Finding and reading these works forms the challenge. Tanith Lee’s Tales of the Flat Earth have several bisexual male characters as protagonists. Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed has a gay character and The Left Hand of Darkness speaks for itself. Samuel R. Delaney has numerous GLBT characters peppered throughout his work. And there is Hal Duncan among many others.

Still, I do think there could be more GLBT characters out there. Especially in YA.

Now, I do have some strong disagreements with Davies’s essay. For one thing, his characterization of “gayness” is, unfortunately, stereotyped. Especially given that neither Cutter or Gil fit that stereotype.

This led, to my second major disagreement with his essay. Yes, fantasy is usually inspired by the medieval period in Europe. But fantasy does not have to blindly follow Earth’s history. Like Paul Cornell has said in a few interviews I’ve listened to, adding GLBT characters is the choice of the author not the inspiration.

Personally, I think representation is getting better. But more can and should be done. Perhaps my strongest area of agreement with Davies’s essay is his argument that art, in all forms, should challenge the beliefs and sentiments of the reader. Art entertains, yes, but it also does so much more.

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Some of the Things that Tick Me Off: A Potpourri Rant

Sometimes, being a Texan is embarrassing. I mean seriously, there will be armed rebellion in Lubbock if Obama is reelected? Of course, given that Gov. Perry has oft talked about secession among other blathering, I really shouldn’t be surprised.

Why is it that the best place to go for news is either BBC World, Al Jazeera English, or the PBS Newshour? I am so sick and tired of all politics all the time. I am frustrated beyond belief by commentary. And do not get me started on the woeful lack of international coverage.

Speaking of PBS, why are there so few series aimed at kids 6-12. And none for teenagers? Seriously, I would love to see an educational teen oriented show. Of course, the ratings would likely tank. But for PBS, should the ratings really matter?

And staying on PBS, why can’t they be bold again. Take risks with their programming. So what if Congressperson X disapproves?

Moving over to PBS’s supposed cable competition, why the hell have practically all of edutainment become little more than crap? I want more education and less ghoulish reality tv. Or faked reality tv for that matter.

Okay, I’m done with TV for now. On to comics.

Curses DC, I want to finish the opening arc of Earth 2 not read an inserted 0 issue. Damn it, now I have to wait another whole month. Guess it was good I got Earth 2 #4 so late.

Sticking with comic books, I’m starting to get frustrated with the various comics related podcasts I listen to. I get that most readers could give two cents about how comic books are made, but I care. I want to listen (and read) about the process of making a comic.

And don’t get me started on DCUO. . .

 

Okay, I think I’m done with my collection of mini rants. To be honest, I could probably expand each one out. But I don’t have the energy. And I’ve already got way too many rants in a row as it is. I want to write some positive posts, darn it!

Anyway, I’ll try to have a few more posts up over the course of the week. I need to go back over this one post about LGBT characters in SF so I can do a proper reaction post. And I do want to work through some of my thoughts on wanting to write comics and on writing comics.

 

 

The Decline and Fall of Weird Tales: A Rant of WTF?

So, practically everybody in the little corner of the internet I inhabit called it.  Weird Tales looks to be gleefully racing to its own self destruction. I remember last year when Wildside Press sold the magazine to Nth Dimension. There was a lot of trepidation that the magazine would change for the worse. And recent events have clearly borne that assessment out.

What the hell were the editors thinking? Publishing an excerpt of a piece of crap racist novel like Saving the Pearl is asinine at the least and bigoted at the worst. Why sacrifice the reputation of the magazine for this? Especially when the damn story isn’t even in the magazine’s purview. Did the editor so love it that he assumed everyone would? Or is there more going on than appears?

There have been other indications that the magazine has declined precipitously since Ann VanderMeer was removed as EIC. Locus slammed a preview of the new regime’s stories, a new issue under said new regime has (to my knowledge) yet to see newstands, and the website looks like dung.

I’m not going to get too far into the whole Saving the Pearl crapfest. Just reading the descriptions makes me want to vomit. Who in their right mind would want to publish such crap? Oh yeah. . .

I think the fall of Weird Tales illustrates something very important in the world of literature. Never do anything like it is a damn vanity project. From my understanding, the new editor (Marvin Kaye) wanted to return the magazine to its “glory days” by which, I think, he meant the old school weird that he likes. This trumped the fact that under VanderMeer, the magazine was undergoing a renaissance of relevance. Why end that?

So, where do we go from here? I heard that Shimmer has gone prorate for those authors who wish to no longer submit or associate with WT. And there have been rumblings of starting a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money to buy WT and return it to Ann VanderMeer’s considerably more capable hands.

Both ideas have merit. Although, I suspect not even returning the magazine to VanderMeer’s editorship will save it now. Rather, maybe starting a new weird magazine is the way to go? It seems to me that more webzines and magazines are always a good idea.

The more I think about this whole mess, the more my mind boggles. Honestly, how stupid can the editor (and publisher) of Weird Tales be?

Getting Back into DC Universe Online

After a few months away from DC Universe Online, I recently got back into playing the game. The game is still as fun as it has always been. But, there are some elements of the game that I would like to see changed or included.

But first, some news. I finally beat Scarecrow! He is still, in my opinion, the toughest of the first bosses. Largely, I think, because players have to go through a lot of stages to beat him. But once the illusions are over, he is actually quite simple. Weaker than most comparable henchmen, to be honest.

So, now that I’ve beaten each first boss, I think my goal of achieving level 30 with each mentor is in reach. Let’s see how long that lasts. The Batman/ Joker level 15 is an absolute pain. And I’ve yet to beat the Wonder Woman/ Circe one yet. We’ll see how this goes, though.

Now, I mentioned earlier that there are a few things I’d like to see DCUO do. Largely, I think it is limited to three things.

The Gadgets power set is still pretty useless. Even with the new editing of the abilities. Besides that, aren’t all the player characters supposed to be metas? How does relying on gadgets have anything to do with being exobyte empowered?

Personally, I’d like to see Gadgets get replaced by a Kryptonian power set (or as a new power set). I know several Kryptonian powers are in the iconic designation. But, utilizing them usually aren’t worth the power points. I want Kryptonian powers that actually work.

The main thing I’d like to see DCUO do is provide for more player involvement. Once a player reaches level 30, what then? Just more alerts? I would like to see more missions added. I don’t know how many players play villains. But I do know this, not one villain will rise above the level of hired muscle/ henchman or woman.

A thought I had, to increase player involvement, is to allow for players to construct their own missions. I really don’t know how it would be done. And I don’t know how many headaches the developers would have. It may be far more of a hassle than it is worth, but I think it would be great fun to develope one’s own schemes rather than have to serve as a mere minion throughout the game.

I greatly enjoy playing DCUO. I think my wish list for changes to the game will make it funner. But, regardless, I’ll still play it.

Tim Drake on My Mind

The controversies surrounding Tim Drake, former Robin (?) and current (always?) Red Robin, just seem to be piling up. From questions about his relationship to Batman, his sexuality, and his current status as a “Robin,” Tim Drake’s New 52 existence has been fairly controversial.

The most recent occurrence of the long running and varied controversy originated with comments made by Teen Titans writer Scott Lobdell at SDCC. In his comments, Lobdell seems to indicate that Drake was never an official Robin and raised questions whether or not he deduced Batman’s identity on his own.

Understandably, the comics sites erupted with rage in the comments section. What? Drake was never a Robin? What was he then? He didn’t figure out who Batman’s identity? WTF? Much like the controversy surrounding Alan Scott’s sexuality, an offhand comment on a panel caused a firestorm of controversy.

Now, in an interview with Comic Vine, Lobdell goes into further detail with his intentions. Given the five year guideline, all four Robins served during that short amount of time.  So, how does Tim Drake stand out from the other Robins? How is he special?

Whatever it is that Lobdell is doing seems to be centered around Tim considering himself Red Robin from the start rather than just Robin. Perhaps there is a fundamental difference between Drake’s relationship with Bruce compared to his predecessors. Or something.

Let’s be clear. The New 52 hasn’t been kind to Tim Drake. From having his own long running series (both Robin and Red Robin) and appearing in Teen Titans, Drake is now relegated to Teen Titans where, though he is the leader and main protagonist, he does have to share the spotlight with six other main characters.

I can see, in that light, a need to make Tim Drake/ Red Robin stand out from his predecessors and successor as Robin (or something like that). Now, what exactly is Lobdell aiming to do? We, the reader, don’t know. We won’t learn exactly what is up with Drake’s new origin until September 26.

Now, will the changes be good or bad? Depends on how the story idea is executed. Though I have largely dropped the series, I may pick up the Teen Titans 0 issue to check out Red Robin’s new origin.

But, this whole fracas does raise issues about the New 52’s continuity. I was under the impression that there was a falling out between Red Robin and Batman that saw Drake temporarily retired. But in the Bat Family titles, the relationship seems to be more friendly. Does this make sense? Not really, but the thing with comic books is that continuity is shot. Utterly shot. No matter if there is a reboot, continuity is shot. Each writer determines the continuity on their book or aligns the continuity with a certain grouping of titles or fellow writers.

Remember, comic books are a long form serial with a rotating and interchangeable cast of creators. Each change unveils new directions and new continuity to pay attention to.

Personally, I agree with Grace Randolph’s assertion that a new number one, a reboot, or what not is not needed to jump in to comics (or a new series). All a new reader needs to do is jump in. And the rest attends to itself. Another take, perhaps, is to read for the narrative rather than for continuity or the world.

So, where does that leave me on the changes to Tim Drake? I want to trust Lobdell’s story direction. But I have not been in love with Teen Titansto be honest. I’m willing to give Lobdell the benefit of the doubt. And then if it sucks, criticize him for it.

Upcoming Comics Excitement:Marvel

I do believe I have my foot in my mouth. In a post a few months back, I mentioned that Marvel didn’t have much that interested me. With the new Marvel Now! initiative and a slew of new series recently, I have to take a second look.

First of all, I love the new Captain Marvel series from Kelly Sue  DeConnick and Dexter Soy. Definitely a series I intend to follow.

Then there are the two series debuting this month: Hawkeye and Gambit. Now, Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye sounds interesting. But I’m not fond of the art. Gambit by James Asmus and Clay Mann is, perhaps, a toss up. I’d like to check it out. But is it more a case of fanservice or actually wanting to follow Gambit’s adventures?

Moving on, I’ve mentioned my interest in checking out the new Uncanny Avengers from Rick Remender, John Cassaday, and Laura Martin. The various new promotions, interviews, etc. have only increased that interest. And the same is true of Brian Michael Bendis’s All New X-Men. I know the notion of the original X-Men coming to the future is a bit problematic, but one cannot deny the psychological and emotional challenges that all five will face when they get a good look at their futures.

Moving on to the various relaunches, I’m largely only interested in two series. Thor: God of Thunder by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic and X-Men: Legacy by Si Spurrier and Tan Eng Huat. The concept behind the new X-Men: Legacy sounds extremely cool.

The other relaunches, I’m not that interested in. Especially FF. The art just looks terrible, honestly.

And then, there are all the other possible series that may or may not happen. I’m still waiting to see if there is a new Young Avengers / Young Marvel Heroes series in the offing. But, that is, obviously, a post for another day.

So, I’m wrong that Marvel doesn’t have series that interest me. Now, will I follow all (or even some of them)? I doubt it. If my experience with the New 52 is any indication, I’ll gradually weed away series until I have a core set of series that I really love.

Myth and the Superhero

Is myth dead? Before we answer that question, we have a second. What is myth? Myth is a story, a narrative. We told ourselves myths to create the world around us with poetry. We told ourselves myths to explain who we are. And we told ourselves myths to entertain us. Is the myth of Hyacinthus not more poetic and beautiful? Myths are the grand narratives. Myths are the tales with layers and layers of meaning. And myths endure. Is myth dead?

No. Despite what a certain totalizing mythology has convinced itself, myth is not dead. The need for myth is not dead. Myth is not exclusively the “sigh of the oppressed” (although, could Marxism not be described as a “sigh of the oppressed”?). Just because we live in an age of science and “reason” does not mean that we don’t need myth. We make myth every day. And no amount of the “end of history” can negate that.

So what that we, in our post deconstruction age of irony , no longer believe in the literal truth of the myths? How long ago has it been since a majority of Europeans worshiped gods other than Yaweh? And still, the tales of the Olympians, the Aesir, etc. enrapture us.

Myth is not static. Myths change and mutate all the time. How many versions of a myth are there? And we make new myths all the time. George Washington and the cherry tree, honest Abe Lincoln, and chest pounding Teddy Roosevelt are all the stuff of myth.

We don’t worship the gods of old (okay, some of us still do). Nor do we worship the gods of the new (okay, some of us may take things a little too far). Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Thor, etc. are all mythic. They have endured for decades when countless fads have come and gone. And despite the weakness of their home market, they as ideas still have a powerful hold on the imagination.

Are there ethical issues hounding this new mythology? Of course. Can this new mythology be challenged and deconstructed. Hell yeah. It cannot be denied, however, that superheroes are based on tropes originating in mythology and create new mythologies, each new creative team reinterpreting their charges until a new interpretation comes along.

Superheroes, along with fantasy and science fiction, are the closest genres we have today to myth (by and large).

Now, does myth exist solely in a reactionary framework? No. As I argued in the comments of my previous post: I believe that myth can be traditional, revolutionary, individual, and collective. It forms the foundation of a society and can provide the inspiration for that society’s destruction. Myths are not and never have been unchanging universal truths. They are constantly influx, mutating to fit the needs of changing times. Myths can be progressive, revolutionary even. It just takes an imaginative mind to see it. And sing/write/draw it anew.

I see myth as narratives small and grand, with layers of meaning and truth. I don’t take myth literally, but critically and metaphorically. Does Spider-Man teach us, “With great power comes great responsibility?” What does that phrase mean? How can that be applied to our own lives?

And as I see myth as small and grand narratives, I also see them deconstructed and exploded, only to be made anew.

That, to me, is myth.

 

Rant in Response to “We Don’t Need Superheroes”

This morning, following a link from Bleeding Cool, I read an article titled “We Don’t Need Superheroes” on Workers World by Caleb T. Maupin. A few of his arguments have merit. But on the whole, the essay is damaged by a lack of knowledge, research, and horrendous critical analysis.

Has Maupin ever read a history of the comic book genre? I’d guess not. Because he would then know that Superman started out fighting corrupt businessmen and politicians in addition to the usual mad scientist, Nazi, etc. And lets not forget Green Arrow and the X-Men. . .

But, is actually discussing comic books on the agenda? No. Rather Maupin’s ire is targeted at The Dark Knight Rises. Yes, I will agree with the analysis that TDKR (and the Nolan Bat films in general) are very conservative works of superhero film making. Despite my enjoyment of the film, its politics do bug me considerably. The Dent Act’s authoritarianism, the depiction of Gotham during Bane’s occupation, and the depiction of the GCPD all annoy me. I get that. But does that make superheroes and their attendant media all suspect? No.

What is even more inexcusable is his shifting the argument from superheroes to the recent spate of gun violence that has plagued America in recent years. Don’t blame comic books for the violence. It is as asinine as blaming video games, movies, books, art, etc. for society’s ills. Seriously, a “left wing” analysis should focus on the root causes of the problem not on the lazy scapegoat that emerges based on extremely lazy research and analysis. Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, anyone?


Superheroes are fantasy. They are the new mythology. To not understand that, to not see what meanings that has for people is rather foolish. Yes, it would be nice if the workers of the world would unite and overthrow the oppressive 1%. But if it were that easy, it would have been done a century ago. Without the attending nightmare that is Soviet style communism.

What pisses me off the most about this essay is the ending. The shear naivety is infuriating. How the hell is this utopia supposed to form? And seriously, do superheroes really stand in the way?

The lesson that should be taken from this essay is simple. Do your damn research before you look like a fool. Don’t just make assumptions. And actually support your arguments.

 

The Years of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

This seems to be He-Man and the Masters of the Universe‘s time. DC has a new six issue miniseries out. Dreamworks bought the cartoon rights from whoever owned them. And it looks like Sony is moving ahead with a live action version. By the way, IGN has a great article looking at how a new Masters of the Universe film should go. And I agree with practically everything Jesse Schedeen says. But all of this excitement begs the question: What does He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and She-Ra Princess of Power mean to me?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the Masters of the Universe franchise. He-Man and She-Ra are among my favorite cartoon shows of all time. I wasn’t so big on the toys, to be honest. But I have fond memories of going to a flea market and picking up old Beastman, Evil-lyn, Teela, She-Ra, etc. Though they have long since disappeared into that limbo where all old toys go, I still remember them fondly.

After the heyday of the early 80s, He-Man has had a cartoon revival once a decade. The 90s brought The New Adventures of He-Man. I don’t remember much of that series to be honest. Except for the villain with the giant eyeball head. That was cool. The 00s brought a fresh take to the original series with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002). I loved this series. The plot and characterization were excellent. And the animation fantastic. Pity the show had to be canceled after its second season.

Now, there has been a movie, too. Masters of the Universe was enjoyable when I was a kid. But the only real high point to the movie is Langella’s excellent Skeletor. The Earth setting? Blegh.

So ten years after the 2002 series, it looks like He-Man is getting his scheduled revival (not counting the toys, which I’m not into). So, what do I think about all of the new He-Man news?

The comic series (formerly written by James Robinson) is excellent. Though the creative change may have killed the rest of the series.

The possible live action movie is a bit more problematic. A new Masters of the Universe film has been in development hell for years now. Hopefully, this new push by Sony will get the movie filmed and into theaters in the next few years.

He-Man and She-Ra are further cherished because of how influential the series are on my own artistic sensibility. Eternia and Etheria are both wondrous and crazy places. They are, simply, weird. The melding of fantasy with science fiction present within the setting always inspires me to challenge the assumption that science fiction and fantasy cannot coexist. And, of course, the melding of the medieval with high tech is equally as influential.

I look forward to what the future holds for He-Man, She-ra, and all of the other crazy cast of characters that populate Eternia and Etheria.

On Reviews

Yesterday on IGN’s weekly comic book reviews, DC got significantly lower review scores than Marvel’s comics. The comment boards erupted with accusations of bias and favoritism. Seriously? I remember a few months back during the early days of AvX when DC routinely trounced Marvel in review scores. Was there bias then? And, by the way, what the hell do review scores  have to do with whether or not one company’s product is better than another’s? Come on now. Reviews, ideally, aid potential readers in finding new books to read or avoid.

Reviews are a tool. Not the final arbiter of what is a “good” or “bad” comic (0r other art). That’s the opinion of the reviewer. And it may be a good or bad opinion. And that is left up to the reader to decide. Whether a work of art is good or not is a matter of taste. Never take one reviewer’s word on a piece of art. Either use several, or preferably, judge for oneself.

Just because I love Earth 2 and  hate the new Catwoman series does not mean that other readers must love one and hate the other, too. That is just asinine. And I grow tired of reviewers (and commenters) who assume that they and they alone are the single arbiter of what is good or bad in what ever the hell it is they review.

When I write a review, I am perfectly aware that there are elements I’m missing. Take comic book and manga reviews for example. I have the annoying habit of giving the art short shrift in my reviews. I speed through talking about the art and focus more on the writing. Paying more attention to the art is something I’m going to have to pay far more attention to in the future. And I’m sure other reviewers have their own problems, hangups, biases, etc., too.

At the end of the day, it is just silly to use IGN’s review scores to give more “better” points to Marvel or DC. I get that the fandom will utilize any data to “prove” that one product is better than the other. All IGN’s reviews prove is that, for the week of August 1, 2012, Marvel had the better comics in the opinions of that singular group of reviewers. Next week, the positions may very well be reversed.

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One day, I should work my self into a rant on the general subject of “who is better?” It really does tick me off.