content by

Alex Brown

Failed Expectations: Supernatural Season 10

Supernatural has been on for 10 years. Ten long, long years. Some of it has been fun, a bit of it incredible, and most of it grating, unfulfilling, and regressive. Season 10 wasn’t the worst thing ever created, but it was far from good. We need to have a heart-to-heart, Supernatural. Your fans, we love you, but you’re throwing away your best years on pointless distractions and meaningless philosophizing. You’re 10 years old now, you’re too old for this nonsense. If you want to stop re-enacting the past and grow up, here are 6 ways to do it.

Spoilers for season 10 ahoy…

[“Can you think of a worse hell?” “Well, there’s Hell.”]

Pull List: ODY-C

People have been retelling, reimagining, and recontextualizing the Odyssey ever since Homer figured out the easiest way to memorize long stanzas of poetry was through dactylic hexameter. James Joyce’s Ulysses is an obvious homage, as is the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the French-Japanese animated series Ulysses 31. Twelfth-century Irish writers tweaked the Greek classic into Merugud Uilix maicc Leirtis, Dante dabbled in Odysseus fanfic in his Inferno, and the great and glorious Margaret Atwood let Penelope tell her side of the story in The Penelopiad.

Now with ODY-C, it’s Matt Fraction and Christian Ward’s turn, and trust me, it’s the interpretation you’ve been waiting for.

[“Sing in us, muse / Of Odyssia / Witchjack and wanderer / Homeward bound / Warless at last”]

The (Welcome) Invasion of the Whippersnappers

The most wonderful time of year for comic book geeks is almost upon us. No, not the opening of comic book movie season, even one that includes premieres of the new Avengers world domination story, the awesome-looking Fantastic Four movie, or Batman and Superman Have a Pissing Contest while Wonder Woman Gets Bored and Goes Off to Save the World.

In a few short days, the first Saturday of May to be exact, is Free Comic Book Day! It is the day we give thanks to our ancestors for bestowing upon us this glorious medium by descending en masse on our local comic book shops and scrabbling to get everything on our wishlist. This year is also the first time Children’s Book Week and Free Comic Book Day are joining forces to help get kids interested in reading, which this librarian thinks is pretty darn great.

[“A great nation is a reading nation.”]

Bending Shakespeare

As a woman of color who spends an absolutely ludicrous amount of time reading fanfic, I’m a huge nerd for gender, queer, and racebending. I’ve read some amazing fem!Destiel, adore racebent Harry Potter fanart, and to the OP who first came up with the brilliant idea to cast Taylor Swift and Kristen Stewart in an all-girl remake of Grease, I love you. In a lot of cases, I tend to prefer the bent versions over the original canon. I mean, if you don’t think Lucy Liu is the greatest Watson to ever Watson, well, I’m here to tell you that you’re just plain wrong.

I’m also someone who grew up in the 90s, which means I was drowning in a sea of hormones and emotions during the peak of America’s Shakespeare movie adaptation phase. To this day the soundtracks to Romeo + Juliet and 10 Things I Hate About You are on my iPod…and I still have the original CDs, even if they’re too scratched to ever play again. Julia Stiles’ Kat made me fall in love with Shakespeare, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Romeo sealed the deal, Ethan Hawke’s Hamlet made me reconsider my life choices, and Mekhi Phifer’s O set my heart a’flutter once again. And now, with the magic of the internet and several streaming services with extensive catalogues, I can combine my obsession with Shakespeare with my passion for bending.

[“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.”]

Series: Shakespeare on

Diversity and Inclusivity at WonderCon 2015

This year was my third year attending WonderCon, and while it’s not my favorite con (that would be Worldcon), it’s still three solid days of geeky fun. As always, I went with my best friend, and she and I went through our usual range of emotions: being bored on Friday; overwhelmed, annoyed, and slightly disappointed on Saturday; and pleased and totally satisfied by Sunday. Prolonged exposure to that many people is equal parts challenging and entertaining for a pair of friends that are basically the 32-year-old versions of Daria and Jane.

We switched from Comic Con to WonderCon a while back for a lot of reasons, but mostly because the former never felt as comfortable as the latter…

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The Walking Dead, Season 5 Finale: “Conquer”

Season 5 has had a lot of ups, but even more downs. Where season 4 looked to be turning the ship in the right direction, now we’re right back where we started with repetitive main arcs, stalled subplots, cipher personalities, and unresolved questions. Between Father Gabriel and Sasha’s descents into madness, Michonne and Tyreese’s recovery from violence, Rick and Carol solidifying their brutal plans, Glenn and Maggie keeping everyone from killing everyone else, and Abraham, Eugene, Rosita, and Tara, um, existing, The Walking Dead keeps on keeping on. Like the rest of the series, “Conquer” looked great and effectively teased out tension, but ultimately the whole thing just sorta sat there.

[“We had to stop being out there.”]

Pull List: Getting Emotional Over Bitch Planet

Originally, this edition of Pull List was supposed to be all Kelly Sue DeConnick all the time as a co-review of Bitch Planet and Pretty Deadly. And then I read issue #3 and curled up in a cuddle puddle with my pet rat and cried for half an hour. I don’t even know how to explain everything, all the emotions that Penny’s history flooded up inside me, and even if I could it’s far more than this post could sustain. This review is rambling and wandering, but if you could manage to talk about a series like Bitch Planet and not get worked up emotionally then there is something terribly wrong with you.

[“…and you bastards ain’t never gonna break me.”]

iZombie Gets Badass with Banter, Bodies, and Brains

Before the boat party from hell, Liv Moore (pun!) was a promising physician with a Type A personality and a studly fiancé. One night she decides to step out of her comfort zone and hang out with some work friends at a party when it all goes awry. A new synthetic drug called Utopia gets passed around and turns the users and anyone they scratch into zombies, including Liv. Five months later, she’s traded her job for a gig in the ME’s office, broken up with the man she loves, and gone into virtual hiding, too haunted by the terrible events of the recent past to even consider having a future. Because she doesn’t know how to tell them what she really is, she isolates herself.

Liv’s unhappy with her un-life, so she mopes around like an emo ghost and sneaks brain noms from post-autopsy corpses. Trick is, with every brain she consumes she sees flashes of the dead person’s life. Even worse trick is that if she doesn’t eat brains on a regular basis—or if she gets overstimulated—her baser, more violent nature kicks into high gear. When her supervisor discovers her deadly little secret, finding a cure becomes his prime directive. Suddenly a future doesn’t seem so impossible, and Liv decides to use her gift/curse to help Seattle PD solve unsolvable crimes.

[“What’s the worst that could happen?”]

Pull List: Women’s History Month

It’s tough being a girl in comic books. You don’t have a lot of options. The big divide is between being a superhero or a mundane, but that’s just physics. In reality your choices aren’t based in whether or not you have any powers but what kind of woman you are.

You can be the Romantic Love Interest—with the option of becoming the Wife if you can convince the hero to stick around or, if he dumps you, the Femme Fatale/Villain. If you are a Career Woman, you usually only do that while biding your time until the hero proposes or dumps the Sexy Girl. The Sexy Girl exudes sexuality and seduces other characters left and right. She functions under what should be sex positive behavior but is generally treated by the creators as a chance to get a woman as close to naked on the page as they can. She wears nothing but bikinis, revealing costumes so tight they look painted on, or outfits perpetually coming undone. Sometimes you can be the Lesbian, but most of the time that’s just an excuse for the writers to have you talk about all the sex you’re having and for the artist to draw you in a variety of titillating poses. In other words, you’re the Sexy Girl with slightly different window dressing.

[Things aren’t all bad, though.]

Pull List: Sex Criminals

Can this whole intro just be the lyrics to “Fat Bottomed Girls”? No? Fine. In that case, let’s talk about sex, baby. Specifically, sex involving bank-robbing, library-saving, relationship-ruining criminals as written by the kind of comics creators who do great work in the mainstream and off-the-wall-awesome work at Image Comics. This is the story of a fledgling relationship, of two young people struggling with the whole “adulthood” thing, of people who can stop time, of sex scientists and sex cops and sex criminals, of the ways we live and love and screw and screw up. So put down that street muffin, brimpers. This is about to get weird.*

*But not that weird. This review is totally SFW. Unless you click the links. So maybe wait to do that until you get home. Ok? Ok.

[“Anyway, so… Freddie Mercury huh?”]

Pull List: Black History Month

For all their talk about diversity and inclusion, comic books still tend to be pretty straight, white, and male (and catered to same). But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of great characters of color that do more than fill the token role. There are a ton of problematic ones (see: Tyroc), but just as many have been retconned into redemption or were lucky enough to start out on the awesome side. Black History Month is the perfect time to devote special attention to some great Black comic book characters, from BAMF humans to magic aliens to superheroes.

I admit there are a lot of people missing from this list, but that doesn’t mean they’re forgotten. It just means that this post was getting long and unwieldy, so it was either write a ridiculous longread of 30+ characters or cut it down to something more manageable. So instead of a Best Of list, you’re getting my top ten favorite Black characters. And if you want to tell me what a tragedy it is that Sam Wilson or Luke Cage or anyone else aren’t here, well, that’s what the comments section is for. Keep in mind, quite a few (like Renee Montoya and Dee) will turn up in Pull Lists for Women’s History Month and Pride in the upcoming months…

Be warned: minor spoilers ahoy.

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The Walking Dead, S5 E9: “What Happened and What’s Going On”

If the midseason premiere is any indication of where the show is headed and at what level of quality, well, your guess is as good as mine. While I admire the risk of an episode like “What Happened and What’s Going On,” I’m not sure I would’ve picked it for the premiere. I mean, closing out one arc with the death of a good character who still believes in kindness and empathy only to start a new arc by killing off the last remaining character not consumed by nihilism is a bold choice. Surrounding that death with a meaningless, empty plot probably didn’t help matters…

[“I’m a struggling man, and I’ve got to move on.”]

Don’t Touch That Dial: Midseason Superheroes

Welcome back to “Don’t Touch That Dial,” a seasonal series in which I, your friendly neighborhood television addict, break down some of the shows screaming for your attention. I already told you what’s new this spring, so now we’re diving a little deeper. In this very special episode we’re covering a kickass secret agent (Agent Carter), a dead hero (Arrow), an adorable speedster (The Flash), and a Batman show for people who don’t like Batman (Gotham).

[“For God’s sake, will you please stop shooting things?”]

Pull List: Nimona

Once upon a time, a bored blogger was endlessly scrolling through Tumblr when she came across some really awesome fanart. She checked out the OP and was pleased to discover a gem of a webcomic. The blogger was immediately hooked and spent the next few hours devouring everything the artist had ever created. She reblogged the artist’s mini-comics, bought copies of her fanart, and devoured her webcomic with the kind of single-minded intensity she usually reserved for 40,000+ word fanfics. Even though the webcomic has come to an end, the blogger still keeps the RSS feed on her bookmarks toolbar, because every now and again she gets a craving.

And now it’s time for you, dear reader, to fall in love with Nimona, Ballister, and Goldenloin just as your fair blogger did…

[“Aw yeah! Let’s make some evil plans!”]

Don’t Touch That Dial: Midseason SFF

Caped crusaders not enough for you? Need an SFF fix? Well, you’re in luck. On our second misdseason installment of “Don’t Touch That Dial,” let’s take a gander at a time-traveller trying to prevent the end of the world (12 Monkeys), an exorcist with a chip on his shoulder trying to prevent the end of the world (Constantine), and a pair of holy witnesses trying to prevent the end of the world (Sleepy Hollow). I’m sensing a theme here…

[“Without the threat of apocalypse, what is my place in the world?”]

Warm Glowing Warming Glow: Midseason 2015 TV

Like every year since the second year of television’s existence, most of the midseason premieres are weighed down by stuff you’ve already seen with new window dressings. Some have been run through the copy machine with old character names crossed off and new ones scribbled in, while others are old properties warmed over with familiar, mass-market appeal actors. SFF fans, however, have had a pretty decent 2014-2015 television season so far. If you like superhero/comics, that is. Or bonkers fantasy mysteries that treat plot holes like prime real estate. Lucky for me, I fit squarely into both camps. Ya’ll can have Girls and Survivor and The Blacklist, and I’ll sit over here happily binging on Agent Carter and Sleepy Hollow and Forever.

Of course, not everything came up Milhouse. Gotham has been an increasingly grave disappointment as each episode slips further and further into pointlessness. Constantine has the distinction of premiering with the same structural/character issues currently plaguing season two of Sleepy Hollow, with both shows showing little interest in salvaging themselves from the wreckage. At least we have Agent Carter. Ah, Hayley Atwell, moon of my life, my sun and stars. Hey Marvel, can I trade an Ant-Man movie for more Peggy Carter?

[“Let us all bask in television’s warm glowing warming glow.”]

Getting Excited About Comics Again: Image Expo 2015

As those of you who read my monthly Pull List column here know, last year was the year I finally returned to comics after having abandoned them as a teenager. Well, specifically, it was the year I went back to superhero comics. I’d been reading alt comics and graphic novels for years—Preacher, Sandman, Hellboy, and Y: The Last Man hold a special place on my bookshelves—but even my readership in those had nosedived after my frustration with The Walking Dead comics put me off just about all illustrated works. Going back to capes meant going back to graphic novels, which lead directly to my belated discovery of Image Comics’ current output.

And that’s why I was so excited to attend Image Expo for the first time last week. I’ve been to a variety of SFF cons in the last few years, but had no idea what to expect with this one. It both surpassed and underwhelmed my expectations, but regardless I had a grand time. First off, it’s not a con, at least not in the way I thought it would be. I’m terrible at judging crowd sizes, but it seemed like there couldn’t have been more than two thousand people, if that. Which worked out perfectly in a venue as small as the Yerba Buena Arts Center in San Francisco.

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Pull List: Saga

There are a lot of good comics out there. Sure, there are quite a few bad comics, and a ton of mediocre ones, but the really great ones are few and far between. Those are the comics that don’t just break the rules, they shatter them into a million unidentifiable pieces. They shove convention and tradition out the window and do whatever the hell they want. The graphics are more art than illustration, and the text more literature than natter. The great ones push the boundaries of what is acceptable, what is deviant, what is perverted, and what is awe-inspiring. They force the reader to really think about their world, and revel in the thrill of the reader forging a personal connection to the characters or material. They take the medium and elevate it to such great heights that the very concept of “high quality” is redefined.

And then there’s Saga.

[“Life is mostly just learning how to lose.”]

Origin Story

Very, very generally, Saga is about how Alana and Marko, two star-cross’d soldiers from enemy planets, fell in love and raised their daughter, Hazel. The backdrop is a space war between three planets – more specifically, Landfall, a planet full of winged beings, the Robot Kingdom, a dwarf planet of robot people with televisions for heads, Wreath, a moon of magic beings with horns, and a veritable menagerie of the weirdest alien creatures imaginable forming the outsourced interplanetary allies and enemies either fighting for or against the two main contenders.

The Landfall Coalition hires an assassin called The Will and his Lying Cat to hunt down and execute the lovebirds, while Marko’s angry ex-fiancée, Gwendolyn, is in hot pursuit of her betrayer. Joining the fray is Prince Robot IV, whose hatred for Moonies clashes with his need for Marko’s help. Meanwhile, The Will rescues 6-year-old Sophie from a sex ring, Marko’s ma gets her flirt on with a revolutionary author, a pair of reporters start an investigation, and a psychotic robot janitor launches an assault on the bluebloods. Each storyline pushes Alana, Marko, and Hazel deeper into space, yet their enemies seem to just get closer with each escape.

Saga is written by Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, tons of TV), artwork done by Fiona Staples (a bunch of comics outside the Big Two), and published by Image Comics. Since its first publication in 2012, 24 issues have been published and compiled into four volumes (the fourth releases December 17, 2014). According to Vaughan, Saga will be his longest work yet, but as of October, 2014, the series is on yet another hiatus…so now’s the perfect time to catch up with the rest of us fanatics. Put it on your Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/Christmas/Winter Solstice/Saturnalia/Mōdraniht/Hogswatch/Festivus/Whathaveyou wishlists, yo.

To Pull or Not to Pull

Vaughan has been building this universe since he first conceived of it as a child. That’s a lot of years of creativity to pour into something, so it’s no wonder Saga is such a, well, saga. Really, it’s closer to a Homeric epic than a comic book. It’s ambitious and profound without being grandiose or pretentious. And all because Vaughan wanted to “Trojan horse” a story about parenthood into SFF. Once he “realized you could tell a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern​-style story with just two parents who are just sort of background plays in this much larger, epic war.” 

Saga isn’t just about parenthood. It’s bigger than that. It’s about is family: romantic, procreative, genetic, platonic, and beyond. Families formed through professional relationships, through military hardships, through recreational drug use. Families forged out of necessity, desire, fear, desperation, lust, altruism, hatred. It is an in depth analysis of all the ways families work, fail, stagnate, and rekindle in the guise of an epic SFF space opera. To get even more meta, Saga is about creation, whether it be family, children, life, art, or otherwise. Creation requires aeons of work on the backend before you even get to the act itself, and even then, creation itself is meaningless without the continued context of how it expands and evolves. Creation requires thought and action in order to be born, and nurturing to grow.

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What makes Saga work so well is that the horse and the Trojans inside it both have fascinating stories to tell. The war is shocking all on its own, and when coupled with the various and sundry couples, it’s like fireworks. These are comic book characters, and yet I’m desperately invested in their lives. I grimace at illicit romances, tsk at risky drug use, chide using sex to distract from deeper emotions, fret over the children as if they were my own, and mourn the deaths of characters as if they were my close friends. No wonder Vaughan and Staples have won so many Eisner and Harvey awards.

Speaking of whom, Fiona Staples. Holy Hera. Where has this woman been all my life? I kinda want her and Skottie Young to illustrate everything for ever and ever. Staples never shies away from depicting sex or violence for what it truly is. Everything has meaning, even if it’s as simple as “the real world is a filthy, violent, perverted place, and you better get used to it,” particularly the first page of each issue. If the openers don’t make your heart skip a beat, for good or ill, you aren’t paying attention. Her art is exquisite and detailed. Look, there’s a lot of bad artists out there who fall back on beach ball breasts and anatomically exaggerated musculature – *cough* David Finch *cough* – but not Staples. Vaughan’s characters are realistic in that they’re fallible, nuanced, and complicated, and Staples’ art mirrors that tone. Staples has achieved a level of diversity that leaves every other comic in the dust. I hate to think of a world without Staples’ art in it. It’s astonishing how incredible she is.

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Saga is also a great entry point for people who don’t think they actually like comics. We all know those readers, the ones who scoff about spandex onesies, over dramatic dialogue, and silly stories about aliens and magic. Saga doesn’t have as steep an entry point as Sandman or Preacher, and you also won’t have to deal with Marvel or DC’s decades of convoluted, retconned, and contradictory origin stories. Lure the hoity-toity naysayers in with The Stalk, Lying Cat, and Izabel, then set the hook with Sex Criminals or Pretty Deadly. Next thing you’ll know they’ll be gushing about how great the current runs of Hawkeye and Batgirl are and geeking out over The Wicked + The Divine

A quick word of warning before we wrap this up. Saga is a graphic comic. And when I say graphic, I mean GRAPHIC. It’s not nearly as explicit as, say, Sex Criminals or Preacher, but if violence, sex, and nudity make you uncomfortable this is probably not be the comic for you. While the copious sex is often explicit, it’s never porn-y (er, almost never). That’s the thing about life: people do the do. On a regular basis. With many different people. Sometimes people just want to have fun, sometimes they hope it’ll grow into something more meaningful, and sometimes it’s unwanted and forced. Sometimes you get babies out of it, and sometimes you don’t. But you can’t talk about relationships, families, and creation without talking about the myriad ways humans are intimate with each other, and sex is a major aspect of that. Frankly, the violence was harder for me to deal with than anything. It’s not that I don’t care for violence in my entertainment – when used right, it can be a great asset to the story – but that I hated seeing my beloved characters suffer. The violence is bloody and grotesque, but it all serves the larger story. When someone dies, they stay dead, just like in real life. And the causes of those deaths can be hard to stomach.

Every time Vaughan and Staples go on hiatus (like now), I feel like my reading world grows a little bit dimmer. Saga has been hailed a cross between Romeo and Juliet, Star Wars, and Game of Thrones, but that doesn’t do justice to the glorious batshit insanity practically bleeding off the pages. It is everything you think it is and nothing like what you imagine. It’s crazy, shocking, heartbreaking, tragic, comic, nerve-wracking, devastating, moral, amoral, immoral, stunning…I’m going to run out of adjectives before I even finish describing it. It’s so good. It’s soooo good.

Tune in next time for Nimona

Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

Pull List: Batgirl and Thor

DC’s New 52 reboot in 2011 was much needed, somewhat successful, and totally controversial. Women creators dropped from 12% to a depressing 1% (as of August 2014, that number is under 10% between the Big Two). Catwoman, Starfire, Voodoo, and Harley Quinn were way oversexualized. And then there was Batgirl. Barbara Gordon was thankfully spared the worst aspects of the New 52, by which I mean she wasn’t tarted up in a black and yellow bikini with Liefeld-esque accent pouches. Three years later, a new writer and artist have taken over the title and breathed new life into Batgirl.

A week before Batgirl dropped, Marvel launched their newest series aimed at young women: Thor. Yes, in the 2014 Marvel comics universe, Captain Marvel is a woman, Ms. Marvel is Pakistani-American, Captain America and Ultimate Spider-Man are Black, and Thor is a woman (with really unfortunate boob-plate armor). Quite a few characters have taken over the mantle of Thor over the years, but this time it’s for real. For now, anyway.

So, we have two old titles with two new personalities. How do they stack up? And, more importantly, should you buy? Oh, hell yes.

[“Quick, say something badass.”]