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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Testing…. testing…

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!

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

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?

All Time, Top 5 Games – High Fidelity Style

Hey, wasn’t this thing supposed to be about gaming? At least a little bit? I mean, I DID name the blog after my favorite first person shooter style. And while I’m clearly not focusing on any one particular part of geekery more than the other, I do feel remiss in my lack of video game substance thus-far. So since I’m too knee-deep in Mass Effect (I knoooow, I knoooow, behind the curve again) to do anything close to a review of the game I’m currently playing, I want to take some time to talk about my top-five games, ever. High Fidelity style, because no one can tell me Rob Gordon didn’t create top-five lists. Now all lists require a caveat, so here goes: These are not what I consider the “best” games ever made. I made zero effort to represent a mix of platforms, styles or release dates. These are the titles that made me a gamer, the ones I look back on with starry console eyes, the ones I go back to over and over and reminisce about with friends. They are the keepers of the special places in my little gamer heart.

So without further ado, my All Time, Top 5 Games:

Final Fantasy X

Nope, not FF7. FFX. With Kimarhi awesomeness and occasionally tacky cut scenes and an ending that absolutely made me cry (#noshame). It deserves not just a place on the list, but the first place on the list, because this was my first-ever console game. More than ten years ago now (shudder) I was a young lass of 17 and my high school boyfriend had a PS2. I’d always wanted to game more, but was never able to have a console and was a tad intimidated to go it alone. So, our great adventure in Spira began. It was incredibly helpful to learn how to play a complex RPG with a kind-hearted guide, who could tell me when I needed to stop and level up, how to navigate the sphere grid, or who I should go see when I forgot where we were in the story because damned if I was going to spend a ton of cash on a guidebook.

Nostalgia aside, this is truly a gorgeous game. The music is fantastic, the world is huge, great villains abound, and the summons are badass. I still go back and start it up again every few years, and the story holds up because it’s an interesting and complicated narrative backed by characters with some emotional heft. The Final Fantasy series as a whole is one of my go-to’s in the “games CAN tell a story, and they can be great, and emotional, and deep” argument. Also I had a screen print of Kimarhi in my dorm room in college because he was my favorite, and don’t even because I know you’re jealous.

Katamari Damacy

I dare anyone not to love a game that starts here:

Honestly. You are dared. This is one of the best, most hilarious, hands-down bizarre games of all time, and the intro lets you know exactly what you’re in for. Katamari Damacy is a game that cannot be spoken about without singing the title, and there are few games that I’ve ever encountered that are just so much FUN. It’s bright and colorful and weird, and the cosmic story of the Prince trying to rebuild the constellations gives you just enough to become even slightly emotionally attached to this psychedelic world. I love a spectacularly violent game as much as the next gal (see the next title) but there’s something about the pure bubblegum of Katamari Damacy that’s just fantastic. Plus, your Katamari gets big enough to roll people and cars and even buildings up and their hilarious screams are just the greatest! Et-hem. Is that weird? I don’t care if it’s weird. You haven’t lived until you’ve rolled up a person into your Katamari. It’s a delight.

God of War

Oh, Kratos. Let me tell you, lovely people, about my favorite pastime in God of War. On the PS2, it was possible, if you moved the analog sticks a specific way, to make it look like Kratos was dancing. And dancing Kratos is the most hilarious thing ever. I kind of hoped some other weird gamer out there had also realized this and made a gif of it, but apparently that was just me. (Comment if you can find one! DANCING KRATOS!) Aaaaaaaaaanyway, I unabashedly love all the God of War games, and even played the hell out of the mediocre God of War: Ascension. Kratos is a badass, and when I’m in the mood for total destruction, no one does it better.

This game just makes sense to me. I’m not always the best with puzzles, but the developer and I must have the same brain-build because God of War just clicks. Plus, I love a good Greek myth, bastardized or no, and the “holy shit!” moments from each game’s intros are some of the most memorable fight scenes I’ve had the privilege to enjoy. As you might’ve guessed, I do think of the God of War series as ending with III; it’s my favorite end-game sequence of all time and there was no where for them to go but down after that, but all of these games are really a joy. If for some weird reason you haven’t played God of War, dance your way on over and hang out with Kratos. He’s real sweet when you get to know him.

Portal

Do I even have to talk about this one? High on the list of the most creative, mind blowing games there ever was, the one that stole the show of the Orange Box and was intended to be a throw-away game? Portal is a stroke of genius, with the psychotic and always-hilarious GLaDOS guiding an unspoken character through the increasingly questionable Enrichment Center. I remember the first hint of “the cake is a lie” that I stumbled upon while struggling my way through some unknown level. That game got dark, and in the greatest possible way. In a word, the thing is inspired. Don’t even get me started on the Companion Cube. (I might have a plush Companion Cube in my apartment as we speak.) For such a short game, Portal was practically perfect in every way, and clearly a labor of love. Also, kudos to Valve for pouring just as much heart into Portal 2, which did the impossible and took the mystery even further without losing a single bit of its shine.

For the record, my favorite GLaDOS quote: “Unbelievable. You, [subject name here], must be the pride of [subject hometown here]!”

Skyrim

I’m ending with one of the greatest games of this console cycle in one of the greatest series of all time. Any Elder Scrolls game is the definition of an immersive experience. Morrowind is still one of my favorite gaming experiences to date, and mostly the reason why I added in some honorable mentions at the close. But I didn’t pick that one, I picked Skyrim, and here’s why. DRAGONS!

Kidding. Mostly. I could devote an entire post to my favorite moments in Skyrim, and the things that made it a spectacular game, but there’s one technical aspect that Skyrim nailed, which puts it ahead of its predecessors. It cracked the transportation system. While gaming surrounded by maps and lists of tasks was part of what made Morrowind great, and the simplistic “click and head on over” system of Oblivion took a solid amount of the adventure out of the game, Skyrim nails it by making the player get to any city on foot or horseback before they can use a quick transport system. It’s the best of both worlds, because once you’re 40+ hours in, the LAST thing you want to do is have to trek from Solitude to Riften AGAIN. That said, nothing can compare to the joy of slowly coming upon a new skyline in Skyrim. I saved whole cities until 10, 20, even 30 hours into my gameplay and it kept the game fresh and exciting. A good transportation system is really what makes it possible to enjoy the brilliance of this game, from small moments taking in the scenery to convoluted, ridiculously brilliant plot twists. (The “A Night to Remember” quest, in particular, is a crowning achievement and one of my favorite moments in any game ever, bar none.)

Plus, selfishly, my character in all Elder Scrolls games has been a lady Nord wielding an axe and practicing magic in her spare time, so I took a great amount of joy in exploring her corner of Tamriel. If, for some unknown reason, you haven’t played this game, please run to your nearest game provider and make it happen. You will not regret it.

Honorable Mentions

Morrowind, Borderlands 2, Arkham City, Unreal Tournament 2k4, LEGO Lord of the Rings

So that’s it! Love ’em? Hate ’em? What are the titles that made you a gamer? Let me hear it in the comments.

Orphan Black: The undisputed champion of sexual identity

I was so late to the game on this one, y’all. SO. LATE.

Only this past month did I marathon Seasons 1 and 2 of Orphan Black, and discover the ridiculous powerhouse that is Tatiana Don’t-Need-an-Emmy-to-be-a-BOSS Maslany. There is so much going on here that when I first thought of writing about it, I couldn’t come up with anything concrete other than fangirl glee.

Great characters (FELIX! Donnie! But mostly Felix!), great production (clone dance party whaaaaaat), great storytelling (Siobhan’s crazy birdwatching extravaganza), great effects (did I mention the clone dance party?!), and general badassery (Sarah’s Clash shirts!) abound. As you can see, there’s still lots of fangirl glee happening here. But I’m settling in and do, in fact, have a thing to talk about. Despite the revelations that came in the second season in reference to the clones reproductive abilities (or because of them? more on that later) every single character on this show is in control of their own body. Every single character has sexual agency, and an identity that includes but is not even remotely limited to that sexuality. It’s incredibly refreshing, and one of these days we won’t need to celebrate its victories because the rest of TV will catch on to the frankly groundbreaking handling of sexuality that Orphan Black boasts, but today is not that day.

(And for the second time in a row here, I’m chatting away with not a care in the world for spoilers. You’ve been warned.)

Something very specific keeps happening in Orphan Black: the LGBTQ cast of characters don’t have “coming out” moments in the narrative of the story. Their sexuality isn’t lauded as their most important character trait, and none of them are even remotely stereotypical. Cosima’s lesbianism is never used as a plot device or a lazy identifier, and she’s steadfast in declaring that it’s not the only thing that makes her an individual in the Clone Club. Her relationship with Delphine is sweet and honest and just as complicated as their closest straight counterparts, Sarah and Paul. And can we talk about Tony?!? Tony, the brilliant transgender clone who happily hits on Felix and takes T on screen. His pronoun of choice is honored with basically no questions and he isn’t put in a position where he needs to defend a damn thing about his identity. Felix shoots Art down when he mixes up Tony’s pronouns, but zero people get villainized. Art goes with it, Felix doesn’t shame him, and no one needs to say anything else about it. This, seriously, is modern TV at its best.

While we’re on the subject of Felix – this man won my heart when he asked Alison’s kids if they wanted to crossdress. Really, I just love him, and as rough as it has been to watch him and Sarah have their disagreements in the second season, it’s more than worth it to see Jordan Gavaris tackle fantastic scene after fantastic scene. His acting is top notch, his character complicated and thoughtful and fun, and I cannot get enough.

Back to those reproductive questions, though. In the second season, we learned the clones aren’t able to become pregnant. Which, makes scientific sense and explains the fascination with Kira, but is also clearly heartbreaking. (Side note: even more props to the writers for never, ever suggesting that Alison’s kids are less than because they were adopted.) Rachel is fixated on her own childhood and successfully kidnaps Kira, which somehow doesn’t read as the oh-so-tiresome example of a nasty female character stealing away someone else’s baby, even though it kind of is. Helena is a trope too – she’s essentially Frankenstein, but she’s not trapped in it. She’s a victim, a monster, a sexual being, killer, a child, and we love her even when we’re terrified by her capabilities.

So how are neither of these tropes problematic? Because every single person on Orphan Black is a complete character. They all grow and change and fight and cry and are in charge of their own damn bodies. This is a show about women whose bodies were not intended to be their own, and who refuse to let that be a reality. Three cheers, Orphan Black. Bring on the next season!

Who owns art? And by art I mean Star Wars

This past weekend, I jumped in the car with a friend to take a quick day trip to Philadelphia Comic Con. While we really just went in to the Matt Smith panel and didn’t explore much else, it brought up a few questions and Deep Thoughts from my friend who’s not quite as familiar with the rest of nerd culture outside of the Whoniverse. A few of those Deep Thought discussion topics included: What makes a nerd? Can people be nerdy about non-traditionally-geek things? And hey, what did happen with Star Wars exactly?

Ah, Star Wars fandom. As I’ve mentioned here in passing, I have a very conflicted relationship with the land of Jedi and Sith. Growing up I adored Star Wars. Posters were everywhere, extended universe books were kept meticulously on my bookcase in chronological order (based on the timeline, of course, not the publishing dates) and my Han Solo action figure was generally much more used than Barbies.  Then it was my Freshman year of high school and *cue dramatic music* The Phantom Menace happened. My issues lay much more with the “improved” DVD releases than Episodes I-III, though like any self-respecting geek I hated those movies with a firey passion reserved for the devastated fan.

Let’s first acknowledge the (IMO excellent) documentary which sums all this up with far more humor and tales of woe than one fangirl could express, which is of course The People vs. George Lucas. If you haven’t seen it, do, and if you have, stick with me while I sum up before we continue with our Deep Thoughts and add some Conflicting Opinions. Yes, Episodes I and II are miserable films. I personally think III isn’t terrible, entirely, but by that time the whole thing was just too far gone. And while those failures might have been enough for many of us to say “to hell with you and this whole Skywalker family saga” that’s really only part of the problem. The problem, oh, the problem, is those bloody remastered DVD’s of Episodes IV-VI.

I get ragey even thinking about it. And frankly, I haven’t been able to watch them in years. So please excuse a gif to express my feelings.

Yup. That. SO MANY FLAMES.

We know how it went down – dear old George slowly but surely made increasingly large edits to the beloved films, starting with remastered explosions and ending with absurd CGI alien dance scenes getting inserted for NO DAMN REASON. FLAMES. (Et-hem. Sorry.) He also made it nearly impossible to get the originals without the “enhancements” he decided to include. Yes, they can be found. But they’re expensive, it’s not even remotely clear which versions are which, and they are made to look as bad as humanly possible to discourage people from buying them.

Time for the Deep Thoughts and Conflicting Opinions. Here’s the thing. He’s allowed. He is. It’s his film, it’s his baby, *cough*it’s his cash grab*cough* , and he can update things as much as he likes. I do genuinely believe that George Lucas thought he was making these movies better. More in line with his original vision. He always said technology wasn’t fast enough for him, and in case anyone doesn’t believe him, see the fact that he started with Episode IV. But what are the moral implications of an artist changing his art after he’s previously closed the book and sent the canisters to the movie theaters?

I do believe films are art. I do believe sci-fi is art, and TV is art, and books are art, and frankly anything created to give our brains an emotional experience or inspire thought and analysis is art. Who does that art belong to after it’s put out into the world for public consumption? Authors can make updates to their books with new editions, and while that’s mostly reserved for nonfiction, there are certainly new editions of poetry and novels coming from past centuries.  As a Lit major I spent a lot of time analyzing the differences from one draft to another. No new edition is worth less than the first, or more, for that matter. It’s different, and worthy of analysis. That doesn’t stop the general art-appreciating public from declaring one version of an artistic product “better” than the rest. (See: The two variations of Hamlet from various folios.) Mostly we all look at these artistic variations and analyze them and debate over their merits. But no one argues that Shakespeare had no right to change his monologue from one folio to the other. And yes, I just compared Star Wars to Shakespeare. Stick with me.  I believe, with let’s say 90% of the analytic bones in my body, that George Lucas had every right to change his art as he saw fit.

It’s not that easy, though. Literary entries can only take the comparison so far. Generations of people, over hundreds of years, have read and noticed different versions of different stories. Storytelling can be living art. But cinema is inherently different. It’s a moment more automatically frozen in time. Plus, there are some things, some huge moments in our society, touchstones of our culture, that take on a life of their own. Star Wars was one of those touchstones. It changed everything. Cinema, sci-fi, effects, storytelling, myth, the concept of a blockbuster. I’d argue that sort of a sea-change didn’t happen again until The Matrix (another entry in the Deep Thoughts and Conflicting Opinions saga for another day). Star Wars is a moment in time that can’t be repeated, can’t be changed. It does belong to George Lucas – but it also belongs to everyone who saw it and was changed by it. Artists always want to make one more switch, one more edit, one more nip, one more tuck. But any artist worth their salt will also tell you there comes a time when you just have to walk away. It has to be done. And part of that is to acknowledge that it’s not just yours anymore. It’s out there, for better or worse, and you have to acknowledge the versions that came before.

Maybe that’s the part that troubles us so much. There’s no sense that George acknowledges the versions that came before. He doesn’t really talk about them, he doesn’t make it easy for us to access them, and as far as he seems to be concerned, they didn’t exist. Only his newer, shinier, truer versions are canon. But that’s just blatantly incorrect. We all know Han shot first. And we all love him for it. It’s not that George Lucas can’t say “hey, actually I made a mistake or have some new fancy technology and I want to change it” – it’s that he can’t stare at us all blankly and say “…what’s the problem?”

So who DOES the damn thing belong to anyway? (And DON’T say Disney, you know what I mean.) I’d say all of us. Including George. But just as much as it belongs to George, it belongs to everyone whose lives it touched. And we all just want to be acknowledged. You can have art without viewers appreciating it, if we want to get particularly pedantic about it, sure. I’m not trying to have an “if a tree falls in the woods” argument here.  Because regardless of who saw it or how many people interacted with your work,  on a more emotional level (which is what art is all about, right?) things aren’t just about who holds the ownership rights. Art gets questioned, and analyzed, and written about, and experienced, and a piece of it does go into every person who views it, for better or worse. That’s what makes it art. It’s complicated and messy and it should be. We all own art, and we all own Star Wars, and that doesn’t mean we all have to agree about it but it does mean that all of our voices, I believe, count for something.

The rumor mill has steadily reported that now that Disney owns the rights, they’ll re-release a proper DVD/Blu-Ray of the original films. I hope they do; I’ll happily pay them money and watch the movies again without all those pesky flames coming out of my face. In the meantime, I genuinely hope George (with whom I’ve apparently decided I’m on a first name basis) has found some peace knowing that the franchise, and any more of those “one last change” temptations, are finally out of his hands.