Image taken from Pixabay @ https://pixabay.com/illustrations/batman-logo-batman-logo-gold-1407484/

The Appeal of Tim Burton’s Batman (1989)

In keeping with the Joker theme from the past week, here is a throwback movie review I did for Sourcerer a number of years ago. Check it out!

Review: Tim Burton’s Batman

 

If you’re a fan of books and hot beverages, check us out at Blue Spider Books. And check out our blog here!

5 Reasons You Are Wrong for Not Liking Star Trek: Discovery

Five Reasons You are Wrong for Not Liking Star Trek: Discovery

Good day, everyone! Today, I want to discuss one of my current favorite television series: Star Trek: Discovery. I was a skeptic while it was in development, and it took a couple of episodes to win me over last year, but I have given it its due chance and thoroughly enjoy it. With the second season of the show going strong, and a third season recently confirmed, there is no better time to give it a chance and get on board! Below, you’ll find my five reasons why.

Star_Trek_Discovery_season_2_poster
Star Trek: Discovery season 2 poster taken from Wikipedia
  1. You need to try it for yourself. This one may be a soft reason, but I want to speak to the masses of negativity about the show floating around out there. If you hate the show, but haven’t even seen it, you may want to reevaluate which groups you’re apt to label “sheeple.” This is likely merely a symptom of a larger disease of cultural tampering in the United States by pre-programmed bots in social media designed to spout inflammatory nonsense and ruin American cultural artifacts (a longer post for another time), and you need to recognize this. You should always give something a chance before judging it. That is the evolved Federation method, after all.
  2. Discovery isn’t The Next Generation (TNG), and that’s all right. When TNG came out, it was derided as being too different from The Original Series (TOS) and its movies to be true Star Trek. Does the inkling of that sound familiar? But do you know what Discovery IS like? It’s very much like TOS, to which it is, after all, directly tied. In fact, Discovery is what Gene Roddenberry would have flirted with if the effects and budgets for a show of this size had existed in the 1960s. It’s a swashbuckling adventure series about explorers in an on-again/off-again cold war with the Klingons, rife with new technologies we haven’t seen before, as well as crazy techno-babble solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. That basically describes at least 75% of Star Trek.
  3. Issues become non-issues. Further, whereas TOS famously turned the issues of the 1960s into non-issues (namely, having a black woman, Japanese man, and pretend Russian man right there in plain sight on the Enterprise bridge), Discovery bravely continues to carry that flag into the 21st century. We see this in the relationship between Commander Paul Stamets and Dr. Hugh Culber, a gay couple who are so far no more dysfunctional than Worf and Jadzia (though we will see how that continues to play out). The fact that they are gay is largely treated as a non-issue, save for that one really awkward scene with Georgiou in engineering. Even this isn’t entirely new to the franchise. Most fans remember “Rejoined” from Deep Space Nine, but were you aware there were attempts to work openly gay characters into Star Trek as far back as TNG? Check out this link that details that little odyssey.
  4. We are encouraged to see ourselves, and often the best of ourselves, in non-human characters in Star Trek. Whether it be Spock’s high-minded reasoning and fierce loyalty to his friends, Data’s unending search for what it means to truly be human, or even Jadzia Dax’s open-mindedness and ability to befriend nearly anyone, we have all glimpsed a higher nobility in the aliens and artificial lifeforms of Star Trek. They are not merely storytelling gimmicks, they are paragons to deeply consider and perhaps even emulate. Discovery also continues this tradition with Commander Saru, a member of the previously unknown Kelpian race who is masterfully portrayed by Doug Jones of Hellboy and The Shape of Water fame. Saru embodies contemporary struggles with fear and anxiety; as he says, his entire race is ruled by these feelings. We have the privilege of witnessing him overcome his genetically embedded fears again and again, and to succeed because of it. I truly believe that is an example worth following for many of us in the Star Trek fan community.
Saru,_2257
Commander Saru image taken from Memory Alpha
  1. It isn’t perfect, but Star Trek never has been. I will admit that at times the aesthetic of the series and determining the exact tech level of the Federation at this point can be off-putting, but let’s look at that. This is not the first time (or even the second) that the Klingons have changed appearance, and it probably won’t be the last. The greater continuity of Star Trek grew to develop explanations for these issues, and I anticipate we will see more in the future. There are also complaints at the demonstrated technological capabilities of a 23rd Century Starfleet that seems more advanced in ways than what we saw in 24th Century Deep Space Nine and Voyager. The simplest explanation there is that we are already catching up to some of those advances we once marveled at. Long-distance projected holographic communication is not so far off, and modern cell phones are already far ahead of handheld Star Trek communicators in many ways. They can even act as translators, with the correct apps installed. Star Trek has always been about OUR future, after all, and it must be updated occasionally to remain so. Ultimately, much of this falls under the umbrella of suspension of disbelief—if you’re open to enjoying a story, you’ll forgive small faults.
TOS-day_of_the_dove_klingons
TOS Klingons image taken from Wikipedia

Still not convinced? I can understand; for a few years now I feel that mainstream American comic books are no longer targeted at me as their primary audience, and I have made peace with that. But, consider that the ability to adapt, evolve, and maintain an open mind should be the learned hallmark of a true Trekkie, traits many of us developed growing up watching Captain Jean-Luc Picard. On that note, recognize that the upcoming Picard streaming series will likely also be pretty different from what past iterations of Star Trek have shown us, in keeping with recent trends reimagining our older heroes. The thing to remember, though, is that it will still be Star Trek, even if it is intended more for another generation, as it always has been.

An addendum and concession: The only gripe I have with Star Trek: Discovery is (admittedly) a somewhat major one: the handling of secondary characters. Very little development is carried on outside of Michael, Tilly, and Saru, so that every time someone else does experience some character development, you hang onto it. Perhaps this is the writers’ strategy, but I do feel that the cohesive structure of Star Trek of alternating the show’s focus among all the bridge crew has been lost, somewhat to the detriment of the show. The biggest and most recent example of the problems this can cause is with poor Lieutenant Commander Airiam, the cybernetic bridge officer that I have been curious about since the series began. We get the merest taste of her past in order to understand that she is indeed human, but the victim of a terrible accident that left her confined to a robotic body and with severely limited memory capacity due to the injuries she sustained. Gaining this and losing her all in one episode was a one-two series of punches to the gut, I feel. Though this was also likely intentional on the part of the writers, I would still have liked to have seen Airiam’s experiences incorporated into the show’s narrative than all at once as we were given.

Final thoughts: To actually be a Trekkie (which I prefer to Trekker), you have to actually like Star Trek. And it would help to actually enjoy something that has come out in the past 20 years. If you boycott Discovery for one reason or another, you are not only boycotting one show. You are risking the entire franchise on contemporary business strategy; poor performance on one show might mean we don’t get anymore. It might even mean the execs rethinking the projects already in development (such as that new Picard series). You hurt all of Star Trek when you refuse to consume what the property owners put out. Think on this. Storytelling is not a democracy.

Sentient Animals in Gregory Maguire’s The Wicked Years

Image of the Cowardly Lion from http://www.imdb.com/media/rm897221632/tt0032138?ref_=ttmi_mi_all_sf_30
Image of the Cowardly Lion from http://www.imdb.com/media/rm897221632/tt0032138?ref_=ttmi_mi_all_sf_30

For those of you who have yet to discover Gregory Maguire’s adaptation of and expansion upon L. Frank Baum’s classic world of Oz,  I invite you to explore The Wicked Years  series.

In today’s post I’d like to explore the use of sentient creatures (called Animals in this series) and the possible connotations associated with this character set. I find it interesting that the differentiation between sentient and non-sentient beings in Maguire’s world begins with the simple addition of a capital letter (animals vs. Animals), but expands farther than that.

In The Wicked Years novels, sentient Animals have the same basic capabilities as humans, meaning they have the capacity for speech and coherent thought, they have the ability to walk upright, and they also possess the moral obligation to clothe themselves. However intelligent these Animals are, they are still hindered by the handicaps of their physicality. Brrr, the Lion from A Lion Among Men, for instance, is described as having difficulty with handwriting due to his paws. Yet, not only can he write, but he is employed (using this word loosely) as a court reporter/investigator. Despite his intellect and the fact that he overcomes his physical “handicaps,” Brrr, like other sentient Animals, is still treated as a lesser species. In fact, one of the main social tensions plowing through The Wicked Years novels is the battle for equality: people and beings viewed as less than equal against those in power who attempt to impose their ideas on the whole of Oz.

Cover image from http://www.amanforallseasons.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/a-lion-among-men-gregory-maguire-book-cover-art.jpg
Cover image from http://www.amanforallseasons.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/a-lion-among-men-gregory-maguire-book-cover-art.jpg

Sound familiar? It should, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few hundred years. In an ever-evolving world, the only constant thread binding generation to generation is the battle for equality— that Us vs. Them mentality.

Not only are the Animals treated as less than human, they are too human for the animal world. Maguire’s series hosts Animals who have retreated into the wilderness to live among animals that look like them, but have nowhere near the capacities they have. A creature who is too intelligent for one group, yet dismissed as unworthy by another group? Well, that should sound familiar, too. I expect that each of us has experienced some feeling similar to this in our lives, some more harshly than others, I’m sure.

Now, I don’t ascribe to overt political notions, but I can safely opine that of all the canonical, classic literature I’ve ever dealt with, most harbor a thematic notion (however vague it may be) of equality or social justice. This construct is the common denominator in the hopelessly obtuse equation of our past, present, and future. Regardless of the “side” you would choose or have chosen in your own battles for equality, a hint of understanding and empathy can be lent to the characters in Maguire’s series.

Whether you are a fantasy junkie or not, check out The Wicked Years series. And if you aren’t sure about it, I know of a certain green-faced character who may be able to change your mind.

Let’s deepen the discussion. Tell me your thoughts on the parallels between Maguire’s Oz and what we know as reality. For instance, what other parallels can be drawn between Animals and their struggles and our reality? Also, how do you feel about the theme of social justice in literature? Do you think that it anchors a novel (or series of novels) in the reader’s mind?  If so, how?

The New Jedi Order

Hello all!  For my first sci-fi post here at the Thoughts, I wanted to tackle the book series from the early 2000s called The New Jedi Order.  I was always under the impression that this book series was not well-written and generally not a good read.  However, some time ago, I decided that it would behoove me to know more about the details of the Yuuzhan Vong invasion.  This seemed to impact so much of the Star Wars galaxy that I felt under-accomplished as a Star Wars nerd for not having read the series.

Image from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/51/Vector_Prime.jpg
Image from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/51/Vector_Prime.jpg

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW

…if you haven’t read any of these books or been on Wookiepedia at any point in time.

The series begins with a book by R. A. Salvatore titled Vector Prime.  This is Salvatore’s first Star Wars novel, and he does a fantastic job.  I doubt very much that this surprised anyone, as Salvatore is the rather successful author behind many of the Forgotten Realms books.  I’m sure what did shock everyone was his choice to kill one of the main cast from the original trilogy movies.  The death of Chewbacca was a hard one to take and affected the tone of the whole series, but the subsequent authors did a very nice job of picking up where Salvatore left off and expounding on the new society he created: the Yuuzhan Vong, a race from a whole other galaxy.

The Yuuzhan Vong are a completely alien entity to every facet of life in the Star Wars galaxy.  They embrace pain as a natural and very important part of life.  They intentionally inflict pain on themselves as a means of worshiping their gods.  Indeed, their creation myth tells them that the first Yuuzhan Vong were cut off of their most revered deity, Yun-Yuuzhan.  His initial sacrifice to bring his children into existence is a big part of why the Yuuzhan Vong practice ritual sacrifice of slaves and captives, as well as personal sacrifice of their person.

Another major differentiating factor is their use of biotechnology, or shaping.  The Yuuzhan Vong do not use any form of technology as we, nor indeed the denizens of the Star Wars galaxy, understand it.  But the Yuuzhan Vong take it a step further to the point that mechanical technology, no matter to what scale it is used, is blasphemous and an abomination to the gods.  This is usually the first thing they set about doing when they have conquered a planet during the invasion.

Perhaps the hardest thing to come to terms with for the Jedi is the fact that the Yuuzhan Vong exist outside the Force.  The Jedi can’t detect them, anticipate their movements, affect them with mind tricks, pick them up and toss them away, none of that.  However, the Jedi quickly become the focus of much of the Yuuzhan Vong’s efforts to splinter the factions of the galaxy by more or less posting a bounty on Jedi.

I will admit that I have not finished the series yet, but I am close to the end.  With only three and a half books to go, I believe I have found the part of the series where some start to take issue with the writing.  There is a trio of books toward the end of the series written by two authors: Sean Williams and Shane Dix.  Admittedly, I know nothing else by either of these authors.  However, they do seem to railroad the story line into a particular direction in their first book, and also have a distinctly different approach to some of the characters.

Jaina Solo is a major player, both militarily and as a Jedi, throughout the entire Yuuzhan Vong war.  She was deeply affected by the Mission to Myrkr with the other young Jedi, including her brothers Jacen and Anakin.  With the death of Anakin, and Jacen’s capture on that mission, Jaina was in a dark place for a while.  She eventually came to the conclusion that Jacen had also died in Yuuzhan Vong captivity.  As such, she closed herself off to a lot of her friends and family.  Her outlook on life became very grim as well, and she fully expected to die before the end of the war.  It therefore made absolutely no sense to me that suddenly, in Force Heretic: Remnant, she is quite jovial and optimistic about things.

I’m not sure which of the authors penned this part of the book, but it is making this trilogy within the series quite difficult to read at times.  However, my overall opinion on the series still stands.  It has been my experience that The New Jedi Order is a vastly underrated series in the Star Wars expanded universe.  I intend to have future posts that return to this series, so please tell me your thoughts on the book series in the comments.  May the Force be with you.

This is me announcing my new column here at the thoughts.

Good day, everyone. I hope your weeks continue to go well. With all of our new contributors working up quality posts for the blog, I thought it was high time I also began working on more substantial content. Currently, I have the germ of an idea for a new column I’d like to work on, and it will be expansive in its scope.

I’ll go ahead and throw out there that I want to begin using my knowledge of the medium and its market(s) to address the growing concerns over the issue of diversity in comic books. My general approach to the topic will tend to follow one of three paths–pointing out and drawing outsider attention to the diversity that is already present, suggesting pragmatic methods for addressing the issue, and discussing why forcing diversity too quickly could ultimately be counter-productive. As time goes on, I’d like to extend this methodology to other media and genres as well.

Before this column even begins, let me be clear on one detail: I am most certainly in favor of encouraging the growth of diversity in Nerd Culture. I recognize, though, that forced change is the most actively resisted, as well as the most artificial form it can take. I want to entertain the idea of strong, persistent growth over time and see how that might solve the problem.

Let me know your thoughts on this idea for a column and its proposed methodology below. Expect the first entry sometime in the next week.

Yoko Tsuno: Smart Women, Science and Space Ships

by Natacha Guyot

When I was eight years old, I remember getting a Millenium Falcon toy (which I still have) that was large enough to have quite a few details included inside and not just outside. The day I got it, I also received another gift: one of the volumes from the Yoko Tsuno comic series. It turned out to be the 20th volume, that included not only a time travel story but also bonus drawings with concepts for the previous books. I had no idea when I got sucked up into The Astrologer of Bruges that I would fall in love with this series and that its female protagonist would become one of my greatest inspirations, right up with characters such as Leia Organa and Mara Jade from Star Wars, Jo March from Little Women or Dana Scully from The X-Files.

The Yoko Tsuno series was created in 1970 by Belgian writer and artist Roger Leloup and it is still in publication, with the 27th volume already announced. Strong, smart, accomplished female characters have always been very important to me, just like diversity in other aspects is. The female protagonist is a Japanese electrical engineer, trained in martial arts and a Buddhist, who moves to Europe in the beginning of the series. She gathered many friends as years went on, starting with her male colleagues, Vic Video and Pol Pitron.

One thing I particularly like about Yoko is that her author never felt the need to reduce her to any kind of sexualized object. She carried on with many adventures and relied a lot on her friends and family as she can’t do everything alone. She also adopted a young Chinese girl, Morning Dew, as a single mother. Her intimate life never had to be brought to the foreground. There are several hints about her and Vic Video being an item, but the author always chose not to confirm the relationship so that readers could see it however they wanted to.

Yoko and Morning Dew. Image from http://www.amazon.fr/. Art by Roger Leloup.
Yoko and Morning Dew. Image from http://www.amazon.fr/. Art by Roger Leloup.

I like the familial dynamic that isn’t so orthodox either. The exact living arrangements of the main characters aren’t a focal point, but Yoko often travels everywhere with Vic, Pol and Morning Dew, and later on with Mieke as well, Pol’s fiancée that the young man met during a journey to the 16th century. So it is likely that Morning Dew grows up with quite the familial circle as they all watch after her. Yoko also befriended one of the Vinean women, who appeared in many stories since then, in the first one: Khany. I like their friendship and how the long distance/online friendship is pictured even years before the Internet as they aren’t able to see each other that often, but are still so close knit. I picture these two as sisters, even more than I do Yoko and the teenager from the future, Monya, that she meets later in the series, no matter how much I also enjoy this other female character.

The comic series gives a lot of room to science and technology, likely because of Yoko’s background. Some stories take place in a contemporary setting while others include time travel or interactions with the Vineans, a humanoid alien species introduced in the first volume. The different directions the series has adds to its richness and keeps it fresh. While regular and recurring characters show up in the books, one never knows what the next volume will be about, because there isn’t a strict order in when to switch from contemporary investigations to time travel to the Vineans’ stories.

Yoko and Khany. Image from http://amazon.fr/. Art by Roger Leloup.
Yoko and Khany. Image from http://amazon.fr/. Art by Roger Leloup.

I love how egalitarian (gender, species, era, etc.) values are so important in the series. At the end of the Titans (8th volume), the Vinean Khany explains that they chose one of Yoko’s lines to be inscribed on an alien’s tomb, because this is the ideal with which Yoko came to them and to others and that such ideas need to be transmitted to the Vinean children. Yoko’s words were the following:

‘The shapes that differentiate matter very little. Beings matter little if their thoughts ally to build a universe.’

Up to this day, only a few volumes were translated into English, and I would recommend to read them in the following order, instead of their order of publication in the USA:

The Curious trio (#1 Le trio de l’étrange), published July 2012
The Devil’s Organ (#2 L’Orgue du Diable), published July 2013
On the Edge of Life ( #7 La Frontière de la vie), published July 2007
Daughter of the Wind (#9 La Fille du Vent), published July 2009
The Time Spiral (#11 La Spirale du temps), published January 2008
The Prey and the Ghost (#12 La Proie et l’ombre), published July 2008
The Dragon of Hong Kong (#16 Le Dragon de Hong Kong), published July 2010
The Morning of the World (#17 Le Matin du Monde), published June 2011

If you can read in French, all the volumes are still available for purchase. One way or the other, if you enjoy solid female characters, diversity and Science Fiction, I highly recommend this comic book series.

And since I saw Pacific Rim, I want a movie or television adaptation made with Rinko Kikuchi portraying Yoko because she would be absolutely perfect for the part!

Review: Batman Returns

Here’s my review of Batman Returns over at Sourcerer. Give it a look and let me know what you think.

Sourcerer

Happy new book day, everyone! Continuing from last week, for this post I will recount some of my revised and expanded notes I took while watching 1992’s Batman Returns for the first time in nearly a decade. As most of you already know, the film was directed by Tim Burton and stars Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito, and Christopher Walken. Here are my thoughts and observations, grouped  around a few specific themes.

The Aesthetic

The look and feel of Gotham are fairly different from the first movie. Whereas the previous movie seemed strangely timeless, this entry in the series is set around Christmas with a seemingly bottomless, thin, clean layer of snow everywhere. The opening shots of the movie really work in Tim Burton’s quasi-German Impressionistic signature style, which was largely absent from the previous movie.

This style is rarely deviated from for the remainder of the film. One would…

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Imagine Batman with a Lantern Ring. Just Imagine it.

And some more Batman weekend craziness from my column at Sourcerer, this one involving Lantern Rings! Go give it a look!

Sourcerer

Batman8217s-willpowerby Jeremy DeFatta

I hope you all had a nerdtastic weekend, what with Free Comic Book Day and Star Wars Day happening and all. In this week’s installment of my Batman column, I’d like to drum up some excitement for my upcoming spoilery review of Sinestro #1.

Who remembers that time Batman was judged worthy of joining the Sinestro Corps?

Early on in his war against the Green Lantern Corps, Sinestro sent many, many rings out into the universe to find worthy hosts that he could field as soldiers. In our own little corner of the universe (Sector 2814), the person who inspired the greatest amount of fear in others was none other than our old friend Bruce Wayne. This—the ability to instill great fear—is the chief trait sought by the yellow power, and stands in opposition to the green power of will, whose chief trait is (as fans know…

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The Strange Case of Batman of Zur-En-Arrh

And some Batman weekend craziness from my column at Sourcerer. Enjoy!

Sourcerer

Zurenarrhby Jeremy DeFatta

Happy new book day, everyone! Today’s Batman post was inspired by a recent Twitter conversation with fellow contributor Will Hohmeister following the first of my Joker posts. It will delve a bit into Batman’s psyche and examine one of his backup personalities, the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.

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