Game Delay — Arkham Knight

I’m certainly living up to the series title with this one, but now that I’m the proud owner of a PS4, I’ve spent the last few months gallivanting around Gotham in the (supposedly) final installment of one of my favorite game series. Batman: Arkham Knight had some issues but I’m willing to bet it was still a better Batman entry than that whole Superman fiasco that I still haven’t seen. Spoilers for the full game follow because of course they do.

Let’s get one thing out of the way at the top: I hated the Batmobile from the word go, and despite everyone telling me I’d get used to it and grow to love it, by endgame I still really hated it. The controls were messy and imprecise, the required chases were frustrating to the point of rage-quit-inducing, and I outright celebrated when it was blown up. When a new and improved version of it appeared close to end game, I was even more bitter, since all that did was prove to me the controls could have been less glitchy from the beginning. I hate cars in video games as a general rule, and the Batmobile reminded me why at basically every turn. Its only saving grace were the (all too frequent) battles with armored cars – they did allow for some kickass explosions.

The story for Batman: Arkham Knight was pretty fantastic, thanks in no small part to Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill and Troy Baker absolutely destroying their voice acting. Mark Hamill is the ultimate Joker, and telling this story, which is riddled (heh, sorry) with references to the problematic Killing Joke, he was let off the chain to explore what we all know to be true – that Batman and the Joker are two sides of the same coin. (That one wasn’t on purpose, I swear.) Mark Hamill’s Joker is horrific, and every time this game allowed him to sneak up on the player, I physically jumped. While the Jason-as-Arkham Knight reveal was pretty predictable, the brutality we saw from the Joker never felt similarly expected. His goading of Batman was perhaps more successful than in the Killing Joke – having the Joker’s machinations work from beyond the grave added a sense of hopelessness and haunting to the plot. The Joker will never truly leave Bruce Wayne’s mind, and Arkham Knight drove that point home better than any other Batman tale in recent memory.

The gameplay is exceptionally strong (with the exception of the aforementioned Batmobile) and as always, flying around Gotham with night vision on feels bloody fantastic. The toolbelt play continues to be incredibly natural, and the new toys fit in nicely with the familiar and loved tools that came before. Some of the side-quests were arguably the best parts of the game; I found myself wishing the detective work from Perfect Crime would pop up in other segments, to no avail, and Gunrunner allowed for some actual teamwork with Nightwing, which helped explore some of the emotional beats surrounding Bruce and his assistant drama.

However, while I appreciated the mentality of the game requiring all but the Riddler and one other mission of your choice to be finished before launching Knightfall Protocol, it was ultimately frustrating. I felt “done” with Arkham Knight for at least two gameplay sessions before I was able to see the ending, and driving around trying to find one last hole in the ground for multiple gaming hours didn’t do much to endear me to the series.

As for that endgame, we’re left with a frankly surreal vision of the Bat, after Bruce’s presumed death, continuing to burn fear into the eyes of any criminals who dare act out in Gotham. Did it work? Mostly. Do I think we’ll have another entry in this series after all? Definitely. Will I play it? Oh who’re we kidding. Of course I will.

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Comic Books 101

One would think that a child who barely emerged from her self-built library book fort would have cracked open a comic book or two before the age of 28. But alas – I had no real introduction to superhero stories and, to be honest, I was quite happy to be left alone with my sci-fi and fantasy novel collection. (Star Wars EU and Doctor Who Target Novelizations were basically my wallpaper. Nothing has changed.) Comic shops were home to boxes and binders chock-full of ideas for my next surrealist Magic: The Gathering deck (sometimes I even wrote my decks theme songs, but that’s a story for another day). I skipped right past the comics to hang with the D20 crowd and never gave them another thought.

As a New Yorker living in the stereotypical closet apartment, storage issues kept me at bay in adulthood, despite hearing rumblings of truly spectacular stories being told in the graphic medium. Eventually, storage also got the better of my book collection and I caved to the ereader marketplace, which I’ve now grown to love. At the time though, the major selling point for a reading tablet was that I could finally take the plunge into the world of comics. Armed with a brand-new Comixology account and a burning desire to see what all the fuss was about, I got reading.

So, what books drove me to learn about pull lists and the difference between issues and trades? Here are the comics that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

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Sandman is the first series I read, and honestly it’s why I wanted to start in the first place. I’d heard amazing things about this Neil Gaiman masterpiece and it did not disappoint. I strongly suspect that any series less gripping or less stunning artistically would have sent me running from the medium – I needed the motivation of a spectacular story to keep learning about what comics can do. Before I knew what was happening, I was lost in the constellations of Dream’s eyes.

The Endless allow us mere mortal readers to explore the very best of our myth stories across all cultures. The transition from Delight to Delirium is haunting, and I often wonder if I’ve created any half-written transcripts that are kept safe in Lucien’s library. Sandman is almost too big to talk about, and what’s clear even to a new reader is that this is the very best of what comic books has to offer – the depth of the story, the malleability of its characters and the abstract art that is pivotal to the story’s telling (particularly in Sandman Overtures, which is also amazing)  – they all combine to create a tale that simply must be done as a comic. It’s a hell of a place to start.

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From my first full series to the first one I bought in real-time- Bitch Planet is everything I hoped it could be and more. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro have harnessed the ultimate anti-utopian feat. Bitch Planet is a home to us non-compliant females of the world, full of women who dare to act for themselves, who exist without a mind to the Council of Fathers, who side eye the expectations society hoists on us and flip up a middle finger. Bitch Planet is as funny and devastating and completely fucking important as the essays that close out each issue. Speaking of, I hiiiiiiighly recommend reading this issue by issue, because those essays about feminism and identity are vital and don’t appear in the trade editions. Besides, you really don’t want to miss the ad section entitled “Hey, Kids! Patriarchy!”

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Every time a new issue of Saga appears on my Kindle, I know exactly how that night will end – me, yelling at the top of my lungs at no one in particular about how insufferably perfect this story is. It is so good it makes me angry. Saga is my high water mark for the comic book genre: the art is graceful and graphic, the storytelling more than lives up to its Shakespearean inspirationand the characters are just as exceptional, flawed, ever-evolving. The action sequences are paced to perfection. The emotions are devastatingly real. DID I SAY ALREADY THAT IT’S SO GOOD IT MAKES ME ANGRY.

Anything can happen in Saga, and yet it never feels overly wrought or manipulative. Character deaths can be abrupt, but are never glossed over -and the resulting downward spirals from those left behind are executed with care and thoughtfulness. The supporting cast of characters worm their way directly into your heart – I would give anything for a Lying Cat, and if someone so much as looks at Ghüs the wrong way, I can’t be held responsible for my actions. If you take nothing else from this, read Saga. I’m begging you.

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I just love Kamala Khan. Love. Her. Whether she’s maneuvering the let down of realizing your ex is horrible, defending her fellow Jersey City residents from danger, opening up to her family or dorking out over meeting Wolverine, she’s the ultimate fangirl-turned-superhero. This is the kind of story I wish I had access to as a teenager. Kamala has brought me to tears on the regular with her wit and wisdom, and I cannot wait to see what she gets up to next.

Honorable Mentions:  Alias (Jessica Jones), The Wicked & The Divine, Doctor Who (particularly the Four Doctors series)

So that’s it! What’s on your list? Got any killer recommendations for me? Leave ’em in the comments.

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Well what do you know! This thing IS still on.

What can I say. It’s been a while and I’m a tad out of practice. I certainly didn’t intend to take an extended hiatus from the blog, but everyday life and that pesky day job had other ideas. And while things are still pretty chaotic, I’ve missed you lovely people and I’ve missed writing about geekery of all forms, so I’m kicking things back into gear.

A quick review of things to come: I’m now the proud owner of a PS4, so you can expect a lot more posts of the gaming variety.  (Anyone with good game recommendations, leave them in the comments! I’m also on the hunt for a podcast to replace my beloved Indoor Kids, so suggestions are welcome.) What with the Great Doctor Who Hiatus of 2016, I’ll be starting a series within the blog, discussing over 50 years of Who with a theme that I’m pretty excited to share. Plus, as anyone who knows me knows all too well, I can’t go too long without talking about Hamilton these days; so I’ll also be resurrecting the Theatrical Interlude category in time for the TONY’s. All that, along with your (ir)regularly scheduled ramblings about any and all things that I might find interesting.

I’m so excited to be back in action, kids. You’ll be hearing from me again soon – I promise!

The Best from the Best: E3 2015

Real Talk: For the last several years, E3 has left me feeling completely underwhelmed. Sure, there was a brief respite with the announcements of incoming next gen consoles, but from where I stand, E3 has been a steady stream of one-or-two-great-and-the-rest-mediocre game trailers, clunky second screens, and VR demos that are only really exciting for the lucky few who get the experience in person.

This year though? THIS WAS THE YEAR. We’ve had just enough time for the newest console iterations to make some real headway and guys I don’t even know. I all-cap’d like it was my job and then I blacked out and all-cap’d some more. There were so many phenomenal announcements, demos, gameplay trailers, even news we’ve been waiting on for a DECADE (cough cough LAST GUARDIAN cough cough)! So, I’m breaking my habit of absurdly delayed reaction posts and pulling together a list of my favorite announcements from last week’s E3: 2015. In no particular order because I can’t pick favorites from this group I just can’t OK!?!

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

I love me some Nathan Drake, and since I wasn’t watching live, I was spared the drama of the demo glitching out during Sony’s press conference. Happens to the best of us, gentlemen. The demo is a pretty classic Uncharted adventure, and while it starts out feeling a little repetitious, that insane, playable, not-on-rails car chase at the end got me excited to jump in to the action. Plus, I suck at driving in video games, so I’m basically Drake IRL.

Horizon Zero Dawn

I hadn’t heard a peep about this game before watching the trailer and GUYS. Guys. It’s arguably everything I want in a game. The world building in the trailer alone is easily enough to sustain a hefty open-world mythos, it’s post-apocalyptic, boasts a gorgeous score and some of the best graphics of the Expo. There’s a Nordic feel to the lead character and her tribe, which plays right into my Skyrim weakness, and bonus – there are ROBOTS! This will clearly fill the Elder Scrolls-shaped void in my heart and I cannot wait to dive in.

The Last Guardian

Please don’t trust me to sanely articulate how I feel about this, guys. I can’t do it. I played the hell out of Shadow of the Colossus after its release in 2005 (A DECADE AGO) and was stunned by Team Ico’s now-legendary gameplay. Their gaming experience is poetic, thoughtful, and still manages to deliver combat that’s edge-of-your-seat intense. We’ve been hearing grumblings about The Last Guardian for years, and like most of the gaming world, at this point I’d assumed it was never going to get off the ground. BUT LOOKIE!

I will say, it doesn’t seem like the graphics have come a long way since the screenshots were first released back in 2010, but I trust this team to put out a game that will at least match the genius of Shadow. And anything that comes close to doing that is a damn feat in my book.

Final Fantasy VII

We don’t know much about the gameplay system, or what plot points will be “re-imagined” but we do know that the original director AND scenario writers are on board and that FF VII looks nothing short of stunning. Seriously. Stunning. This game couldn’t be in better hands. I haven’t been thrilled with the heavy bros-in-cars focus of the FF XV trailers, so I’m even more excited that this long-awaited revamp is coming our way. SQUEE!

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This is the next game to come out of The Fullbright Company. You know, the people who made Gone Home? One of the most revolutionary indie games of the last five years? Yeah. Them.  Truth be told, I’d play the hell out of anything from their team, PLUS a female lead, PLUS a distinctly Portal-esque feel to the trailer. I’m so in.

Honorable Mentions:  Fallout 4, Kingdom Hearts 3, Mass Effect 4 (JOHNNY CASH IN SPACE!), The Rise of the Tomb Raider, DOOM

There we have it! When all is said and done, my biggest takeaway from E3 2015 is that it’s time for me to buckle down and buy a PS4. Right after I’m done playing Nino Kuni. See you on the other side!

What were your favorites from this E3 to end all E3’s? Are you annoyed by my majority-PlayStation-fangirl-focus? (Sorry not sorry, Sony won this E3 and I feel great about it.) Let me know in the comments.

Theatrical Interlude – Robert Shearman’s Easy Laughter

I’ve been going to see a lot of theatre lately. Some of it has been funny, some sad, some challenging — but one in particular hit all three of those points, and more. After watching Robert Shearman deliver an entirely charming live commentary of his now ten-year-old classic Doctor Who episode “Dalek,” I had the opportunity to see a staging of one of his earliest plays, Easy Laughter. An alternative history that imagines the havoc wrought by  xenophobia and genocide through the eyes of a single family unit, the play was, in some ways, “Dalek” writ large, without the trappings of a sci-fi background to save us.

photo courtesy of Dirt [contained] Theatre Company
Image courtesy of Dirt [contained] Theatre Company
In its New York premiere, produced by Dirt [contained] Theatre Company and directed by Stephen Massaro, Easy Laughter aims to set the the audience’s teeth on edge from the word go. Mother Patsy (Maria Swisher) is a bit too terrified as she sneaks a drink of whiskey, alone and shaking. The patriarch Dennis (Michael Broadhurst) enters fifteen minutes later than he was expected home, promptly noting said whiskey’s depletion with unsettling disapproval. Daughter Judy (Tana Sirois) is struggling with her hair tie, assisted by brother Toby (Jay William Thomas). It’s unclear at this point what the issue will be if Judy’s hair tie is askew, but it’s horrifyingly clear that there would be an issue. That hair tie – first pink, then red – is the cause for outright repulsion later on, as Grandfather Ralph (Nick DeMatteo) arrives to complete the company.

The first act is a slow reveal, with the frenetic family’s preparations for a celebration that sort of resembles Christmas, called Christtide, in a world that sort of resembles our own. Both the holiday and the world they inhabit give way to their true form, slowly at first, before building to a jumble of hideous, menacing action. The resulting second act has to be one of the most difficult forty-five minutes I’ve seen on stage. The extent to which these five characters have gone, in a desperate attempt to maintain normalcy, structure, and painstaking politeness, is nothing short of a torment.

The performances are relentless feats of vulnerability, cruelty, mania, and desperation. I can only imagine the emotional toll it took on this remarkable company of actors night after night. All five cast members fade completely into their roles, particularly those playing children – indeed, it’s a welcome return to reality when one remembers that Sirois and Thomas are not, in fact, under the age of 10.

The staging, with the audience surrounding the stage on three of its four sides, forces everyone to observe not only the actors but ourselves. No one is allowed a reprieve. It’s a perfect underscore to the Big Questions Easy Laughter asks of us – if everyone around you is laughing through a horror show, will you join in? How will you react if one audience member in your eye-line is visibly upset, when it’s impossible to truly look away? What are we, as a community, to do with such malignant evil, and what to do with the fact that this work is just as relevant now as it was twenty years ago?

If this sounds difficult, that’s because it was – difficult, but important. Easy Laughter is an examination of the very worst of humanity, and it insists that we do not look away.

While this show has ended its run, you can still support it by voting in the New York Innovative Theatre Awards

Game Delay — Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!

Hey there! I’m kicking off a blog series! This kind of thing is going to happen more and more around here (stay tuned for a super exciting way-long-term series that will be starting in the not too distant future), and this particular venture will be called “Game Delay.” Let’s get one thing straight – the likelihood of me reviewing any game even a few months after its launch is basically nonexistent. I’m just not that kind of a gamer. I’ll wait a while to get a copy and then once it’s in my hot little hands, I’m the type to take my time. (The only exceptions here are Elder Scrolls games and the occasional Final Fantasy title. Those get bought right off the presses. But the hours spent playing them mean it’d take me just as long to review anything, so really, my statement stands.) Also, I only ever play one game at a time, because I’m just not capable of multitasking in my gaming time. All those things meet to create a pretty serious delay in the way I consume my games. Get it? Game Delay?

Et-hem.

I’ve been playing Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel for the last few months, and I’ve just hit endgame. Let’s talk about it, shall we? Spoilers abound for the game, naturally, and some massive spoilers for Borderlands 2 if you somehow still haven’t played that. (Aren’t I one to talk?)

Borderlands is one of my favorite gaming franchises, with its innumerable guns and its groan-but-you’re-still-laughing jokes and its shockingly effective emotional moments. (Show me a person who wasn’t traumatized by the whole Bloodwing thing in Borderlands 2 and I’ll show you a bold-faced liar.) There was the occasional pacing issue in Borderlands 2, and a few repetitive quests, but nothing out of the ordinary for the genre. For the majority of the time, quests were completely original and inventive and the game really snapped along.

This installment, though, suffers from keeping the player in its kinda dull early and mid-game levels for hours longer than necessary. Locations got reused so many times on the (granted, smaller) moon setting that I had to fight the urge to abandon the game more than I care to admit. Previous installments hit similar “this again?” strides, but they were more manageable because of some frankly mind-blowing plot points that hit just when you were in danger of crying boredom. Alternatively, if there wasn’t a crazy plot moment, there was a shockingly brilliant side quest that arrived just a the nick of time. In The Pre-Sequel, it took a while longer to get those epic plot moments and they just didn’t match the impact of the attack on Sanctuary or Roland’s death. And while there was the occasional inspired Star Wars-inspired side quest for us to point and giggle at, they were fewer and far between. So what I’m really saying here is that Borderlands 2 is still my favorite. But back to the game at hand.

A few other nitpicks before we get to the good stuff – was it just me or did it take an ETERNITY to earn the ability to swap between two to three guns?? Once that bridge gets crossed, the leap from three to four took much less time, but those middle-game hours were kinda brutal, and not in the typically delightful blowing-stuff-up way. Also, not enough Claptrap. Never enough Claptrap.

Watching Handsome Jack slowly deteriorate into madness, however, was fascinating. Basing the game in a flashback from the POV of one of Jack’s vault hunters meant we were there for every moment he turned ever so slightly farther towards delightful evilness. In particular, forcing Felicity, who had just gained her freedom from a Dahl ship and a terrible name, into a robot body that she was not at all on board with was one of those disturbing gaming moments that just kinda stuck with me and wouldn’t leave.

A shout out to Hyperion Research and Development as one of the most delightfully fucked up levels I’ve seen in the whole of the franchise. And that endgame – DAMN that endgame. First of all, it was just damn gorgeous inside Elesser. Handsome Jack naming himself and discovering how he got that iconic face-plate was worth all the level grinding that came before it.

Gameplay was smooth, though I really missed the Borderlands 2 feature of being able to mark guns as least-favorites for easy selling later on. The laser guns were a blast (haaaaaaa) and it felt like more weapons had high quality zooms, which made my sniping soul very happy. Adding the Oxygen masks and the grav jumps brought some new resource management to the table, and my favorite thing about it was the ability to snipe masks off of attacking enemies. Spectacularly satisfying, that is.

Generally, though it wasn’t the best of the series (COUGH Borderlands 2 COUGH), this installment was a strong and enjoyable way to spend a few more months in the Borderlands, and that’s something I’ll never turn down. On to the DLC!

Live Long and Prosper: In Memoriam

There are some old souls of fandom whom I believe to be immortal. Tom Baker is, of course, top of that list, but William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, Harrison Ford, Christopher Lee – they’re up there too. When I heard that Leonard Nimoy had been brought into the hospital a few days ago, my immediate reaction was that he is one of those immortal heroes and that he would be fine because he must be fine in order for our delicate world order to be maintained.

Of course he wasn’t fine. He’s left us for the stars, and today has been spent mostly crying at my desk, mourning a man I never met who once invited us all to be his honorary internet grandchildren. As I’ve sat here reading and watching and remembering, I’ve wondered what it was that made Leonard Nimoy such an icon for our community of geeks and nerds and Trekkies and how it was that he worked his way into all of our hearts. And for me, at least, I have it sorted.

Leonard Nimoy was funny, and kind, and genuine, and as far as I can tell, no one ever spoke a word against him. But the thing that made him truly special, the thing that made him understand us and love us all for who we are, was that he was also a weird dude. He understood the oddities that often drive us geeks to the outside and he embraced those oddities within himself. The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins is a masterpiece not just because it’s trippy and bizarre and a fantastic snapshot of 1967 weirdness, but because it’s one of the very first examples of a fandom crossover. Here was Spock (haircut and all, thanks to the production schedule) cheerfully honoring the tale of “a brave little hobbit whom we all admire.” While Star Wars and Star Trek fans were separating themselves into factions, Leonard Nimoy just wanted us all to dance around and celebrate fantasy and sci-fi for what they are: genres that bring us together and inspire us to dream.

He was unafraid to honor his position as an icon of sci-fi, so often appearing on The Simpsons to crack a delightful Star Trek joke, so often saying yes to additional appearances in the franchise as it morphed into The Next Generation and the 2009 rebooted film series. He never made a fan feel ashamed, or asked us all to move on from Spock. But while he embraced his role as everyone’s favorite Vulcan, he was equally unafraid to show us more of his personality – his thoughtful work as a photographer and poet always reminding us that he couldn’t and wouldn’t stop creating. Leonard Nimoy personified the Whitman line, “I am large, I contain multitudes” and he asked us all to do the same.

Leonard Nimoy embraced his whole self and lived fearlessly. In doing so, he inspired us all to embrace our whole selves – the weird, the creative, the gentle, the funny, the curious. He brought us joy and let us all believe that he would drive down the highway singing The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins before breaking out a Vulcan nerve pinch. He also made sure we knew he had a poet’s soul. He gave them equal weight, and implicitly asked that we do the same. As has so often been said today, he lived long and prospered.

Thank you Mr. Nimoy. I love you, I miss you, and I will try to embrace all parts of myself in your memory.

Live Long and Prosper

Focus and The Men Who Lost It: The Works of Tolkien and Jackson

Adaptation is a finicky beast. Creative types have been riffing on each other’s work since, well, forever, and one of the most interesting tells for a source of one artist’s inspiration is what kind of art they themselves riff from. Being a bit of a Freudian in my analytic tendencies, I’m all about seeing the parallels between an original work and its reinvention from the creator’s side. And my oh my, do Tolkien and Jackson give me a lot to work with.

As with all analysis, my view is infused with my own interactions with both their works, so let’s set the stage. My first trip to Middle Earth came when I couldn’t have been more than four, and I spent the summer hearing The Hobbit read aloud to me by my mother (the originator of many a fandom). I still LOVE The Hobbit. It’s a brilliant little gem, filled with sparks of magic and creativity, unexpected joy and riddles set to puzzle the cleverest of hobbitses. Somehow I never got round to reading Lord of the Rings, despite my fondness for Bilbo and his gang, so the next visit to the Shire was in high school with the release of Fellowship of the Ring. I fell hard, along with the rest of the world, and raided my mother’s bookcase for the LoTR trilogy.

Here’s the thing, guys. As a cohesive piece… those books are just not for me. And I would go so far as to say they’re not terribly well written. (Though I feel the same about pretty much all high fantasy novels, so this might be more of an argument against the genre, but I digress.) I know – how dare I? Lord of the Rings IS a masterpiece, the basis of all modern fantasy, and a world that I adore.  I don’t dismiss Tolkein’s brilliance, and I’m thankful for his incredible body of work. Some of the best lines in literature are hidden (key word right there) in his work. But I cannot stand those books. Lord of the Rings is an exercise in taking a brilliant little gem and building out – out – out – until the world gets lost. It works for a lot of people who find it to be a beautiful place to get lost within, but inspiration alone doesn’t make for a well written novel. Tolkien’s best bits are hidden in paragraphs filled to the brim with stuff – not just world-building, but exhaustive and never ending descriptions of god knows what. Lines of dialogue and names that go for miles, and maybe it makes me a bad geek but I just cannot stand it. I did force my way through reading the triology, but it was a slog, made better for me only by the adoration I had for the Jackson films.

Jackson grabbed all those best lines out from under Tolkien’s weighty structures, dusted them off, and gave them to Ian McKellen to work his magic. Then Howard Shore came in and made the whole thing sparkle, and we’re left with one of the best pieces of fantasy known to cinema. I try to watch LoTR every year (extendeds, obviously) – much like other geeky folk read the series annually. Hey, to each her own.

You can see where I’m going with this, right? From where I sit, Jackson’s bloated, excessive Hobbit films are exactly what’s wrong with the Lord of the Rings novels. In an attempt to cover everything, to do it all and give every character their glorious due, Jackson lost a lot of what makes Bilbo magic. And just like Tolkien, there were just enough moments of pure, unabashed brilliance that no one can write them off entirely (the riddle scene?! C’mon. It’s perfect). Just as Jackson took an eagle eye (pun so very much intended) to LoTR and zeroed in on Frodo’s journey to Mordor as the emotional priority, Tolkien was writing a story focused on Bilbo, and his journey of a different, slightly more joyous arch. When both men took a step back and tried to carry on the story, they lost their focus and lost the magic. They lost the precision and the heart of their tales. It took Jackson to bring some clarity to the stunning originality of Tolkien’s later stories, when he had perhaps lost the perspective or the drive to edit himself and to know when things really just belonged in The Silmarillion. And while the Battle of the Five Armies was a solid film, with a beautiful emotional coda that will drive any sane and rational person to the Lord of the Rings films, they will always be the better movie. Just as for me, The Hobbit novel will always be the better book.

I wish we could have had both these men together in the world. Their art needed each other, in many ways, and their own journeys are very much the same. And when it comes down to it, in their later careers, at least as far as Middle Earth was concerned, both men needed a damn fine editor.

Not saying it changed my life, but it kinda did: NYCC 2014

Everybody says our twenties are meant to be insane – full of upheaval and learning about ourselves and figuring out what it is we really truly want out of this crazy mixed up world. That’s the point of them, right? As a nearly-30 single lady in New York, with all your usual Real Life nonsense to contend with, mine certainly fit the bill –  I moved to NYC, handled a bad break up, and finally figured out how to pull all the strands of my personality together to make a Real Live Functioning Human. Mostly.

Enter my life in fandom. Sure, I was a geek from the word go, but that was mostly in my own little world, not really interacting with the wide geeky world at large. Twitter freaked me out and my Magic cards collected dust as my old group of players were scattered across the country. That all started to change about a year ago, when I figured out what all the fuss was about Twitter, met some incredible people, and got tired of watching convention write ups pass me by on the interwebs with wistful envy. See, up until this month, I hadn’t been to a convention.

I’d read about SDCC for ages, and had been thinking more and more over the years that I wanted to start going to cons. I got close to buying tickets last year for NYCC, but was thwarted by extenuating circumstances. Basically, Real Life is annoying and I let it get in my way. As our beloved War Doctor would say, No More. This month was my first con, NYCC 2014, and without wanting to sound dramatic – I’ll kinda never be the same.

Day One: Chaos Reigned

I don’t know what I thought I was going to happen. A typical nerdy prepared type, I read a ton about going to cons, advice for first-timers, and on and on. I felt pretty confident, and knew not to bother with a cosplay to distract things on the first day. Of course, the reality was NOTHING could have prepared me. I walked into the Javits Center about half way through the day on Thursday, and blinked. Everything is everywhere, and I spent a solid hour wandering around the entry floor in a daze. I ended up in Artists Alley, and thought “OK, this is the big thing then. This is cool – this actually feels weirdly calm.” While I’d read not to overbook yourself, and thought I’d pared down my panel sked to a reasonable degree, I  had no idea what I was doing and certainly did not make it to everything I thought I would. That said, two panels for Thursday which looked interesting had been scheduled in the same room, back to back, so I headed on over.

My first panel experience was …. not great. I was primarily looking forward to seeing Howard Shore on the Lord of the Rings: The Music of Middle Earth, and wasn’t sure what the crowd situation would be. Directly prior to it was Coffee Talk with Dragons and Monsters, a discussion on what makes a monster frightening. The main pull for this one was that R.L. Stine was speaking, and whom among us wasn’t obsessed with Goosebumps? This kid definitely was. So in I went. Right off the bat, though, the moderator was a poor fit. The conversation was stilted and uninspired, and at the lowest points the room was flat out tense. I was a little unsettled, but making the best of it, and hoping that not all the panels would feel quite so uncomfortable. A singular highlight was R.L. Stine pronouncing Something Wicked This Way Comes as his favorite scary story. I’ve always loved it myself, and talking about a favorite work seemed to liven things up for everyone.

Sure enough, when the room changed over and Howard Shore came to teach us all about Wagner, things were immediately looking up. (Seriously, he essentially lectured on the importance of Wagner and Opera and world instruments to the score of LOTR. My inner classical music geek was rejoicing.) Questions were decent and written on cards instead of asked on mic (What was the first piece he scored? The theme to the Fellowship. The hardest to score? The ring being destroyed, which he absolutely saw as a metaphor for the completion of a project that ended up lasting another four years.) Cheered, I headed back into the floor.

At this point I realized I was definitely missing something. Sure enough, I had managed to completely miss the main dealer’s floor – how, I do not know. (*cough* I’m looking at you, non-existent Map section to the NYCC app *cough*) I realized this when I came up an escalator kind-of-on-accident and found myself face to face with a giant, slowly blinking Smaug. Three hours later, I’d wandered most of the dealer’s floor in a fog, picked up a few tees, and completely exhausted myself. I was determined to go back the next day cosplayed and better prepared.

Day Two: Sonic All the Things

A Fourth Doctor outfit was on the docket as my first real venture into the land of cosplay, and I walked out of the apartment feeling great and ready to sonic all of the things. (Seriously, it’s impossible to have a sonic screwdriver that makes noises in one’s bag and NOT constantly sonic all the things. ALL. THE. THINGS.) I started off just by walking the floor again, and swung into Artists Alley for some swag. Before I knew it, the time had come for the Ten Years of New Who panel, which I was certainly not going to miss. I got in line, met up with some of my favorite fellow Whovians, and camped through another rather painful panel – Kickstarter. This time though, the panelists were lovely, and it was the audience bringing the awkward with non-questions that did more to highlight their own projects than ask advice of the panelists. But soon enough, the Who extravaganza began, and it was a damn delight.

After a brief and unsuccessful attempt to get into the Birdman panel, I kicked around some more before re-joining with my epic team for Doctor Who trivia. We made tee shirts. We were not messing around. We were also immediately terrified and convinced that we would finally break our rather impressive winning streak. Against all odds, victory was ours, and the whole night was an absolute highlight of the con. For a more complete tale of our hilarious hi-jinx, head on over to Head Over Feels and take a look at their recap. Actually, take a look at everything, cuz those ladies are fantastic.

Day Three: Sestras? 

Leave it to me to plan my most elaborate cosplay for the day that I had to get to the con first thing and line up for a main stage panel. Saturday was the biggest event day, I had been plotting a Cosima cosplay because of my love of Orphan Black (which you can remind yourself of here). That translated into a 6:30am alarm complete with hair wax, texturizing spray, a flatiron, and a whooooole lot of hairspray. Ultimately I think the whole thing worked out well, and I loved having such a quick point of discussion with people at the con.

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That’s me on the left with some fantastic Clone Club ladies. Helena was 100% in character and it was awesome.

The only major bummer of the weekend came on Saturday afternoon. There weren’t a whole lot of panels on the main stage that I wanted to see, and because of the new NYCC policy of clearing each crowd from the main stage before the next panel to avoid campers, I was there bright and early waiting for a wristband for the Patrick Stewart spotlight. My love of Next Gen is real, I love him as Professor X, and he’s just an all-around badass, so I really didn’t need much of an excuse and was thrilled to get in. However, just 45 minutes before the panel was set to start, NYCC volunteers came around and let us know that the Captain had to cancel. I’d be absolutely lying if I said I wasn’t pretty heartbroken, especially because it had been the single main stage event I really had my heart set on. But the beauty of NYCC is that basically the entire cast of ST:TNG was in the other room signing things, and so they whipped up a last-minute Star Trek panel. The cast members who did make it in were a delight – it was wonderful to see Michael Dorn and Marina Sirtis’ legendary banter in person. (However, a note to the announcer guy at NYCC who promised a “George Clooney-level appearance” if they “got through their autographs” – don’t make promises you can’t keep to a room full of already saddened Trekkies. K? Thnx.) On the whole, everyone made the best of it, and I was happy to be there. The day ended with a truly fantastic  after party for Fan Girls’ Night Out, but more to come on that later.

Day Four: The Denial is Real

I kept things simple for Day Four. No cosplay, not a lot of panel obligations, lots of wandering around wondering how it could possibly be over already. (One delightful moment included being nearly knocked over by a shrouded Paul F. Tompkins as he was rushed down the hall by a clearly horrified NYCC volunteer, presumably on his way to do something charming and old timey and Thrilling Adventure Hour related.) The panel I did know I wanted to drop into was The Mary Sue Presents – All on the Table, a panel discussing diversity and representation in gaming, specifically tabletop. Prior to that, there was a DC Digital discussion, and considering my burgeoning interest in comic books, I camped through it.  And damn was it fun. Fantastic panelists really are the key to a good discussion (stating the obvious, I know, but considering where we started….) and I was psyched to be in the room for this badass Wonder Woman announcement.

All on the Table was my last panel of the con, and an incredibly important one at that. Given the firestorm around female gamers that’s somehow still going strong, and the fact that one of our panelists was Brianna Wu, a woman at the heart of said firestorm, there wasn’t a lot of discussion about tabletop specifically. Rather, the conversation was spent diving into detail about the importance of representation in gaming as an industry, and predominantly video games at that. My stomach was in my throat for the entire Q&A, as thanks to this business I’m now even uncomfortable around Jayne cosplayers, but I should have trusted in the kindness of the fellow sensible gamers in the room. Questions were wonderful, thoughtful, and simultaneously disheartening (one woman in particular asked how to assure other women writers that they should still review video games – there was no easy answer because this is the world we now live in, but that does not mean any of us give up, and I myself was inspired to dive into a few game reviews myself).

You are having one of those “What does it all mean” things

Yeah, yeah, that’s from High Fidelity, just go with it.  Music geeks are geeks too! So I DID have one of those “What does it all mean” things, but I think it was way more fun than Rob Gordon’s.  NYCC symbolized a whole lot for me before it even began. My first major con, an incredible opportunity to spend a full four days surrounded by people who love the things that I love, and a safe place to be a geek. (BTW, #cosplayisnotconsent, and props to NYCC for plastering their anti-harassment policy all over the con.) No matter how many times before I’d gotten teary reading con recaps discussing the truly emotional experience of being around your people, and no matter how ready  I thought I was for that sort of support and acceptance, nothing beats actually feeling it. Nothing. Which brings us back to that Fan Girls’ Night Out I mentioned.

This was the first poster I laid eyes on at the bar for Fan Girls’ Night Out, and I blame lack of sleep for the fact that it almost made me cry. Right in the middle of the chaos, exhausted, emotional, happy, and ready to dance with my friends, this poster hit me square in the face. It epitomized everything I’d seen and felt over the last three days, it had to be mine, and don’t worry, it’s here just waiting to be framed. (Props to Redbubble, where you can find this too if you’re so inclined.)

The “wrong droids” aren’t necessarily ones who aren’t geeks, but they are DEFINITELY ones who disregard things that people love just because they don’t understand them. Flip that right around and the same goes for sports – I won’t judge your fantasty football league if you don’t judge the hours I’ve logged playing Skyrim. And while most of the people I’ve spent my life with thus far have played by the same rules, some of them haven’t, and that ends here. It’s why I love Wil Wheaton so much – he very eloquently beats the drum declaring that you can love anything that connects with you, and that no one ever gets to tell you you can’t love the things that you love. Ever.

There is ugliness in geek culture. Especially now, no one would argue that there isn’t. But that doesn’t mean it’s right – in fact, it’s an assault against the thing that makes us geeks. The soul of being a geek is to understand that the thing that gets you through, the thing that you find inspiration or comfort in,  is automatically sacred. It does not matter a bit what that thing is – a television show, a game, a book, anything – what matters is that its artsy soul speaks to you. (And it doesn’t matter how long you’ve had that thing in your life, either, so gatekeepers can move right along.) So of course, when we find each other, it’s emotional and impactful, because our nature is personal and intense. Wretchedness can come out of defending that sacred thing, but I’d rather we look at the beauty. Our geekiness brings us together, and keeps us open minded, and lets us see the truth in stories that speak to the human experience.

Tl;dr: Being a geek is incredible. Cons are incredible. Be good to each other, be proud of what you love, and most importantly remember – life’s too short to look for the wrong droids.

I refuse to game online. Does that mean the trolls win?

By now, even if you’re only vaguely connected to the gaming community, chances are you’ve seen them. The rape threats, the vitriol, the blatant disregard for the possibility that a woman can create video games, or work in the industry as a whole, or even just be a gamer without the core goal being to “impress men.” In case you need a primer, or if, like me, you were uncertain of the specific cause of the most recent nastiness, I refer you to an article from the always-excellent Mary Sue which summarizes what’s been going on the last few weeks.

First of all, my whole-hearted support and a massive thank you goes out to every single woman mentioned in that article, as well as the many other women who have stepped up and spoken out, only to receive the same harassment themselves. (I’m looking at you, Sam Maggs.) The amount of bravery that it takes to stand up against those threats is nearly unimaginable in and of itself, but these women all keep themselves safe while holding their heads high and that’s just damned impressive.

I hasten to add that I haven’t had any sort of experience as traumatizing as the women mentioned above. I’m by no means in the trenches on this. But, it does have me thinking about my own, quieter experience as a woman gamer. And here’s the thing: I’ve always been a proud, vocal gamer, and I have argued in the face of men who’ve told me I wasn’t a real geek for a wide variety of absurd and inherently sexist reasons. I don’t by any means hide from those fools, or avoid calling them out on their behavior. But I also don’t game online. I actively refuse to take part in MMO’s, and can’t imagine changing the decision I made over a decade ago to pass on any games that required interaction with people I don’t know. When I was younger, that decision was made for one simple reason – I genuinely don’t care for MMO’s. I loved LANs, and smaller gaming nights with my friends, but when it comes to depending on some random person I don’t know to help me storm a castle, I’m not interested. For me, gaming is solitary and quiet with a few rare exceptions. I just prefer it that way. Plus, the sorts of games I like to play don’t tend to be the ones where you need that sort of online interaction – sure, fighting games are fun, but I’d rather run through at least a marginally solid story while I shoot things, thankyaverymuch. Only very very recently, with predominantly next-gen games like Titanfall and Destiny, have I been even remotely tempted to game online.

But I still haven’t done it. As I’ve gotten older and (theoretically) wiser, I’ve read and thought about the assaults that women go through every moment they so much as pick an avatar and a gamer tag that may possibly hint that they’re a woman, much less those who speak outloud, or work in the industry. I’m not proud of this, but I’m anxious even at the thought of getting involved in an online gaming platform, and having those guys get to me not in a public setting, out and about in the world, or even on social media, but privately, while I’m taking part in one of my favorite hobbies from the (again, theoretical) comfort and safety of my own home. While my own little corner of the internet is filled with wonderful, supportive men who would never shit talk me just on the basis of my gender, the gaming community doesn’t work that way as a whole.

Even now, I feel an urge to defend myself and my choices, to say that I get that shit talk is an important part of gaming, and that it shouldn’t be taken seriously (large-scale threats aside, obviously) and what am I so scared about. But the reality is that every single woman who ever wants to game, be it on the network or off, has to wonder – should I take that threat seriously? Where’s the line? At what point do we draw a designation between “cheerful, competitive jibes” and harassment? It’s a damn fine line, finer than most men realize. It’s the same feeling I get walking down a lonely street at night with my keys in between my fingers. We can’t know whose threats are real and whose aren’t. It’s a constant battle, and there is no easy answer.

I don’t feel like less of a gamer because I stay away from gaming online. But I do wonder if I’m giving those guys a pass; actively staying away and letting them have their “no girls allowed” bullshit, giving it permission to live another day. And that feeling, that I’m implicitly giving them a space to continue to be horrible, has started to grate at me. So maybe, on the day I finally cave and get a PS4, I’ll change my mind. I can’t say for certain what I’ll decide either way. But I do know what I’d get if I do, undoubtedly, and that’s a deeply upsetting reality.

Really. Don’t we all deserve more than this?