Sunday, November 24, 2013

"This man is not our enemy."

Today, we finally watched "Man of Steel," the latest incarnation on film of Superman. I want to begin by saying, I'm not really a Superman fan. I'm usually careful who I say that around & how I say it, as, he's become such a part of American culture (though he's an alien) that it almost feels... un-American to admit my feelings. I mean, I already dislike baseball....good thing I like apple pie & hot dogs though, right? I've never read a Superman comic, but I've read & watched things were he was involved. (Kingdom Come, some of the Justice League animated movies) I did really like Smallville though! For awhile. Until it was overwhelmed by teen-age girl angst.

To me, Superman is Christopher Reeve. Aside from a superhero cartoon I watched in the mornings, he was my big introduction to Superman and I loved that movie. I still do! I recently watched a fantastic comics documentary, "Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle," and in the segment where they began to discuss the move to the big screen, they played old interview footage and I cried. I was and still am shocked by my emotional reaction, didn't think I cared that much about the old film.

I read & heard many varying reviews and opinions on Man of Steel shortly after its release earlier this year. Most that were negative began by praising the first 2/3 or so of the film but hated what happened towards the end. For that reason, I was very curious to see it for myself. I went in fully prepared to dislike the movie, but I just didn't! I loved the introduction on Krypton, seeing his birth, Jor-El, Laura... all that was wonderful. I also truly enjoyed Russell Crowe's extended role through the movie. He did such a great job as Jor-El! The way we saw pieces of Kal-El/Clark's life was very well done and the bits with the Kents were so well done. Unexpectedly, there were times I started to cry a little, the first time was when he was young and realized he could see through his teacher and classmates, that he could hear everything, and became so overwhelmed he hid in a closet. That was also the first time I caught something I'd hoped for. In one of those scenes, if you listen carefully, you can hear pieces of the original John Williams Superman theme woven into the score. Just a few notes, here and there, with pauses that are longer than originally written, but it's in there.

We see the evolution of Clark throughout the movie. The scared kid who just wants to fit in, the pre-teen who doesn't understand why saving the school bus could have been the wrong thing to do, the angsty teen who proclaims in anger "you're not even my parents," and finally the man, the drifter who goes from job to job, but is always helping people. He's practically an urban legend and the fact that they had Lois Lane chasing those leads to find him was fantastic. I loved this Lois, honestly.

When we hit the point where Zod goes to the Kent farm...well, that's when I started to understand the negativity. I thought Clark's reaction to hurling himself at Zod was the raw, emotional reaction of a boy who's just seen his mother harmed & he just didn't think about what he was doing and where they were going to end up. Yes, it would have been waaay better if they'd managed to keep their big-ass fight confined to the fields, but, it just didn't happen. It kind of reminded me of just about every alien disaster movie. Then...Metropolis. Good lord, that was insane. I liked Laurence Fishburne as Perry. I thought the bit with him & the other two from the Daily Planet was great when they're trying to just survive what's happening. I get why some people used the phrase "disaster porn" to describe what happens in the last 1/3 of the film, but, the same thing has happened to New York, Los Angeles, and in Transformers 3, Chicago. Every film involving aliens and super-powered things usually involves a city being destroyed. The point of contention that a number of folks had was the killing of Zod. I think that even had I not known what was coming, I would have figured it out when Zod told him that there were only two ways their fight would end - his death or Clark's. I get why Clark killed him, it was the only solution he could see and to have him be so remorseful was the right and responsible way to handle it.

Is Henry Caville Superman? Perhaps. Though he does have an awfully big cape to fill.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

For Love of Geeky Things

In the aftermath of "Rains of Castamere," ("Game of Thrones" episode 9, aired 6/2/13) a friend of mine posted these thoughts on Facebook:

"How many years are taken off of one's life with each fandom he/she enters? Geeks stress out over ever little thing that happens in their fictions. Characters die, break up with each other, betray friends, etc., and geeks internalize these tragedies and lose sleep.

I guess the same question applies to sports fans, especially to Football fans, since this country seems to have an almost unhealthy attachment to that game."

I replied on Facebook, but wanted to expand a little on what I said, though aside from saying that I agree with the assessment of sports fans, I'm not going to address the sports angle. Speaking from my own experience, I wouldn't say I stress over *every* little thing, it's mostly big things. Character deaths are huge for me when I like a book/show/movie. Or in Doctor Who, companions leaving, the Doctor regenerating. The many times when bad things happen to one of the Winchesters in Supernatural (even though they usually find a way out/back, things are never quite the same). The heartbreaking moments when choices were made in Torchwood that doom some & save many. Then there's the Stargate series' rocky relationship with doctors... When Sherlock swan-dived off the building, at the end of series 2, it was like a punch in the gut, and there have been many, many instances when Joss Whedon squeezed my heart til it was fit to break... and that's just TV shows & movies.

The first time I really remember "fandom heartbreak" was reading book 3 of the original Shannara trilogy. A main character who had been a guiding force throughout...died. I couldn't believe it - the world is full of magic, what the hell? Bring him back! But it was not to be. For years, my best friend at the time would only call it "THAT book," not it's proper title.

To me, it's the emotional involvement that makes it more enjoyable, more real. Especially when I have friends who are just as nuts for it as I am, then it's like therapy when we get together & talk about the plot points. I will admit that while reading George R.R. Martin's books, if somone's chapter doesn't end in a good spot, I'll page ahead just until I see they have another one. (I do have a good friend who, for at least one of the books, would read one character at a time because she couldn't stand being left hanging at the end of each POV chapter.) The better the storytelling, the more involved I become.

I think it's really a testament to the ability of writers and actors to tell & portray good stories that they can evoke such powerful reactions from fans. On Monday, one outlet mentioned this, specifically saying that they felt it was a good indication of storytelling ability that the first reactions on social media to Sunday's "Game of Thrones" were practically incoherent.

George R.R. Martin had a very good quote concerning character deaths following what will be known, I'm sure amongst some "Game of Thrones" fans as "THAT episode:"

"I try to make the readers feel they’ve lived the events of the book. Just as you grieve if a friend is killed, you should grieve if a fictional character is killed. You should care. If somebody dies and you just go get more popcorn, it’s a superficial experience isn’t it?"
(He went on to discuss how deeply writing the Red Wedding in the book affected him, so take that everyone who says he doesn't care.)
As far as losing years, well, I'm not sure about that; people keep telling me I don't look my age & I've been a massive geek for many years. So, either I'm losing years by getting younger or the stress just doesn't show. Alternately, if somehow I'm losing years from the end of my life because of my emotional involvement in fiction, well, I would rather have a shorter life full of all this wonderfulness, especially the shared experiences with friends, than a longer one bereft of these things.


Interview with George R.R. Martin: (SPOILER ALERT for the episode. Don't read if you don't want to know and don't already know)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Wishing They Could Speak English

Last week, we took our old man, Fox, to the vet. He'd been kind of "off" for awhile, but we were attributing much of it to old age & the cold weather. We were mostly wrong...

The vet wanted to take some blood & do a work up on him, since we were discussing doing a dental cleaning in the not-too-distant (when we got our tax return) future. Lab results discovered a very elevated white blood cell count, so high it warranted a pathologist looking at it to see if there was cancer present. Thankfully, no cancer. He instead has pancreatitis. In dogs, this is brought on by too much rich food, raiding the trash, and in the case of our dog's memorable bout, eating a whole bunch of cat food. You give 'em meds, it goes away until the next time they do something stupid. In cats, it's a bit different - it's chronic and must be managed with diet. So, he's on meds "until gone" and now is eating a special food. He's been improving every day since his visit on Wednesday. Appetite has picked up, he's back to some of his old habits. I started to really wonder yesterday, how long has he been sick?

If you're reading this and you have a pet, you know that animals are often experts at hiding how they feel. But it's times like this I really wish that he could speak English. Obviously it would be nice if this happened: "Excuse me, she-who-feeds-me, I've been feeling a bit off for several days. Perhaps a doctor visit would be in order?" But, realistically, it would probably just be complaining about how they feel like shit since almost every pet I've had hates going to the doctor as much as I do.

It's one of those situations where, when I look back over the last few months, I see that he had been off and was probably sick then, but we didn't realize it. I trusted my gut, as a friend was advising me to do, and made that appointment. So happy I did, even though I feel like kind of an asshole for not doing it sooner. It will take some adjusting, as he can no longer have the usual treats we feed the other cats or their usual food, or in fact, some of the human nibbles we like to slip him from time to time, we have our Fox and he's getting well. That's what's most important.

Even if, twice a day, he probably wants to murder us for shooting medicine down his throat.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

On the Passing of Friends..

Neil Gaiman's dog Cabal died. He made a blog post about it and by the end I was sobbing. Not because I know Neil or Cabal, but because I know a dog...and three cats. I have also known other dogs and cats.

His blog reminded me of a time, in 2002, when we lost our old dog. He was 12 and became suddenly very ill. In the end there was nothing for it but we had to make that most difficult of decisions. (A decision we would make again 6 years later for one of our beloved felines.) A year later, my mom passed away. I am (only a little bit) embarrassed to say that I wept more and was more devastated over the loss of Bo. After all, he had been my constant friend & companion since the age of 13 or so and my mom & I had become a bit estranged, especially with her moving to another town, etc.

As I write this, our elderly cat, Fox, is perched on the desk in front of the keyboard. He'll be 16 this May. He's gotten thinner over the last year & a half, in the manner that humans often do when they reach a certain age. He's still loveable, feisty, eats & drinks normally, and after a myriad of tests about a year ago, we know he's still pretty healthy. However, despite our joking about his immortality, we know with a logical certainty that someday... well, nevermind that someday. (The same goes for our 8 year old dog, whom I've begun to feed a better food in hopes of his continuing health.)

In the end, it's not use worrying about what is to come. We should focus more on what we can do right now. All the playing, petting, scritches, and hugs we can possibly fit into a day. Even the days when they might do something not so great (like Fox's shredding of the toilet paper or 'marking territory' as one of our less civilized cats does from time to time). Hug your furbabies and spare a few kind thoughts for Neil....

His blog:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Just Because I Have the All the Parts...

It's inevitable, I suppose. I'm a certain age and in a stable relationship. At least twice a year, someone asks the question "do you have kids?" in some form or another or I get told I'd make a good mom. About a year ago, something happened that was a little bit weirder. A co-worker asked me the usual question. After two follow ups - "do you plan on it?" and "not now or not ever?" - she expressed shock at my answer and went on to say "Not even one? Tanya...c'mon..." in a joking, slightly wheedling tone. I'm sorry? What? It's like I just said I didn't want to join her club...which I suppose I did. I don't want to join the Mom Club. It's worth mentioning that she then launched into how difficult it is to coordinate her work schedule with her son's school schedule, and ended with a tight smile and "but it's really worth it." Um...yeah. If you're trying to get someone to join up, maybe a speech about scheduling conflicts really isn't what you want to use to sell it?

Many women dream of being a mom, from the time they're little and playing with dolls. My sister was one of those people, so I hear. Not me. I've never wanted kids. (Except for a brief period between the ages of 17-19. Young, stupid, there was a boy involved.) I don't have the "Squee! Toddler!" button. You know - the function that causes otherwise reasonable women to devolve into squealing, cooing creatures when they see a baby or small child. (Seriously, I can tell, even with headphones in, when someone has brought a baby/small child into the office. Oy, the frequency!) I have been known to have that reaction to cute, fuzzy animals, but that's not the point. It's not that I hate kids, that's not it at all. I think they're very nice when well-behaved and in fact, they get more interesting as they get older.  

As to "you'd make a really good mom..." *sigh* The most ridiculous incident of this was when someone who'd only known me about 6-8 months said this to me. I was like, wow, you barely know anything about me. She appeared to be basing this assessment on me giving a shit about other humans & being compassionate. (I no longer speak with this individual unless out of occupational necessity. She's batshit crazy & I have to work with her. It's interesting sometimes.)
Just because I don't want to have children is no reason to look at me like I'm crazy. It's also not a reason to think that I'm covering for being infertile (which some people probably seem to believe because they're assholes and refuse to accept that it can be an actual choice not to procreate). We no longer get harassed by family. My side is understanding, my sister even hitting one of the reasons immediately when discussing the topic. His side stopped asking...or mentioning it...especially after my brother-in-law & fiancee had a kid.

We have our cats and our dog. They are our children. If someone doesn't like that or thinks our lives can't possibly fulfilled because we haven't decided to bring another life onto this already overloaded planet, well, fuck 'em. I'm perfectly happy with our furry children and, frankly, sometimes I can barely manage them. The really great thing about pets vs kids? You can leave pets home alone while you go to the movies, shopping, whatever and nobody says you're a terrible parent.  For a really wonderful illustration of pets vs. kids, The Oatmeal. Hilarious! (I wanted to provide the link for said comic, but couldn't find a direct link. Go look at his book, "How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You" and turn to the next to the last page. It's in there for sure.)

Essentially, what a woman does with her uterus is her business. Just because I have one, doesn't mean I want to use it, so leave me alone.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Superheroes, Strong Female Characters, Batgirl Review

When I was little, I wanted to be a superhero. (Who am I kidding, sometimes, I still do. Or, at least have a non-obvious power that I can use under a secret identity. I've never really liked the spotlight or extra attention, so, a secret identity would really be best.) I used to watch cartoons before school: G.I. Joe, Transformers, and something that I now think was an incarnation of Justice League, since it had Superman, Wonder Woman, and others. I wore Wonder Woman underoos and dreamed of fighting crime/evil/bad guys. Somewhere along the way though, I noticed something about these cartoons. Wonder Woman never really did anything. I mean, she flew around in her invisible jet, but, I don't recall her ever really employing her Lasso of Truth or fighting the bad guys. What's the point of being a powerful Amazonion warrior if all you do is fly recon? The male heroes did all the fighting & apprehending. In G.I. Joe, Scarlet was part of the team...but she really didn't do anything either except provide background color & yell "Go Joe!" when applicable. (Sure, G.I. Joe had the Baronness, and she did a lot but, if you're looking for a positive heroic female model...yeah...) So...disappointed. I stopped watching these shows and still looked for strong female characters in other places.

I didn't pay much attention to comics for quite awhile, since most of the images of women there looked like these crazy, gravity-defying creatures who couldn't possibly exist. (Lady Death, anyone?) So I started reading fantasy novels and found what I was looking for in the works of Anne McCaffrey, Terry Brooks, Mercedes Lackey, Marian Zimmer Bradley, and others.

At the end of high school and just after, I discovered Xena, the Warrior Princess and her (sometimes annoying) sidekick, Gabrielle. Then came Spc. Agent Dana Scully...and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. These were some of the women I'd been looking for! Particularly since Scully & Xena didn't have any superpowers. They were, and are, just fucking awesome. (In fact, for awhile, it annoyed me when people would proclaim Buffy as this pinnacle of "girl power" when, in fact, X-Files & Xena pre-dated her. But it's ok, because they're all there now as fine examples of feminine strength.)

I read my first comic when I worked at Target after high school - the title "Ghost" from Dark Horse. Elena, while being rather gravity defying and in an impractical outfit, was pretty kick ass. (I think I kind of gave her a pass on account of not being actually alive and because the stories were pretty great.)

Later, at Borders, I would discover Oracle. While shelving & organizing the graphic novels I happened upon a title called Birds of Prey. I thumbed through it, ordered my own pristine copy, and I was hooked. See, a few years prior, Alan Moore wrote a disturbing piece of fiction called The Killing Joke in which the Joker pays a visit to the Gordon home & shoots Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl), rendering her wheelchair bound & paralyzed. (On a side note, this was another sore point with myself & many, many other readers - Batman can recover from a broken back, why is she stuck in a fucking chair? There's been so many injustices towards female superheroes and superhero girlfriends, that the writer Gail Simone once devoted a site to it called "Women in Refrigerators.") Anyway, Babs decided to use her considerable mental & computer skills to become an information broker to the superhero community & she ran her own team - the Birds! After meeting Black Canary, Huntress, Lady Blackhawke, etc, etc, I found out comics can be awesome. The heroines can have real lives and only slightly exaggerated features. Now, I'm hooked not only on Birds of Prey, but also on Buffy's continued run in the comics. Then, I found the new Batgirl...

Last year, DC Comics sort of re-booted most, if not all, of their more popular titles under the heading of "The New 52." Birds of Prey & Batgirl were amongst the titles. I eagerly read the first couple Birds of Prey issues & was a little confused...Black Canary went to Barbara Gordon's place to invite her to the team...and Barbara was standing up! Well, the newest graphic novel explains it. I'll admit it. I'm one of those people who is going to dearly miss's nice to see Barbara as Batgirl again, scaling the rooftops of Gotham city. Gail Simone, who wrote the Birds of Prey stories that drew me in, is the author of Batgirl and she does a fantastic job. In this reboot, Barbara still gets shot by the Joker and was wheelchair bound for 3 years. She took an experimental treatment and has regained the use of her lower body. The story is told in an interesting way, she's still dealing with the emotional aftermath of being shot, (PTSD, if you will) - the first time a villain threatens to shoot her, she freezes. There is much of her inner monologue, a look inside her head as she thinks about why did she get this miracle, but so many others never get a second chance. One moment I love, is a flashback in her head when she remembers first taking up the mantle of Batgirl. Batman wasn't terribly pleased, as he wasn't looking for a partner & she says that neither was she. Barbara Gordon is a bit vulnerable, just moving into her own place after getting her legs back, looking for a job, learning to trust other people again. Batgirl is confident, witty, and kind of personable in her crime-fighting; she ends up getting hugged by a couple she saves from a couple of violent muggers. She's still building the strength in her lower body, but learning on the fly to compensate for her current weaknesses. The story is well-crafted & now that Gail is back (DC fired her via email last month & then a couple weeks later hired her back. The story goes that the move was partially due to outrage from fans & professionals alike) I look forward to so much more.

So where does that leave me & others looking for strong female characters? Well, one could look to the work of Joss Whedon. His work is full of them & they pretty much all rock. He has rather famously answered "why do you keep writing such strong female characters?" with "Because people keep asking that question."  (After the way Black Widow was portrayed in the Avengers movie, it still pisses me off when I see things that say Avengers and it only has Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America. I mean, seriously - they're not the only ones. She's a badass. So is Hawkeye & all the others we haven't met yet, but, you get the idea. Why do people making the promotional stuff behave as though she's not a part of the team? *sigh*) There's also the new Battlestar Galactica . At this point, I think it's pretty easy to find good female characters in literature, film, comics, etc. Even real life. I read a blog the other day where a woman was speaking about this topic & discussed the teachers from Sandy Hook Elementary School. The stories of heroism about these ladies were phenomenal.

As an adult, I still favor female superheroes, look for books with good female leads, and I've learned something along the way. We don't have to have superpowers, or amazing abilities to be heroes. We just have to realize we're capable of heroism.

Some interesting related links:

Women in Refrigerators - (Info about the term, the trope, and other tidbits.)

Heroes of Sandy Hook Elementary School/Strong Female characters -