NB: This post will contain spoilers for both Margaret Atwood’s novel and Hulu’s adaptation of it through episode 3. It also assumes familiarity with the basic plot of the book.
I have a confession to make. Despite being a feminist of a certain age, I had never read Margaret Atwood’s story of women living under an oppressive patriarchal regime until last week. The Handmaid’s Tale was forever on my to-read list, but somehow it never quite crept to the top. But with Hulu’s adaptation coming out and the state of the world being what it is at the moment, the time had finally come.
Having read other Atwood and found it a bit of a slow burn, I was a bit surprised to find the novel compulsively readable, despite being incredibly bleak. I finished it in two days, marveling over the eerie and disturbing parallels in our current sociopolitical climate and delighting in Atwood’s prose (and spot on description of Harvard Square). The book is a damnation of the power dynamic between men and women, of course, but it touches on so much more than that – the way that fear causes us to exchange freedom for the illusion of safety, the damage of white supremacy, religious hypocrisy, and the pain of post-traumatic stress disorder. I was interested to see which of these would surface in the series – I knew going in that they’d removed the race elements, but what else would change?
Let me start by saying that, after watching the first three episodes, the show overall is incredibly well done. There are certainly changes and updates, both major and minor; some I agree with and some I don’t. But on the whole, the creative team has done an amazing job of setting the right tone and message. Like the novel, the show makes liberal use of narration and flashbacks, though it rearranges the timeline of the entire novel. The flashbacks help establish both how new and foreign the position of women in this society is, and how they struggle to survive it. As Aunt Lydia helpfully reminds the handmaids-to-be in the Red Center, “Ordinary is just what you’re used to. This may not feel ordinary now but after a time it will. This will become ordinary.” Women aren’t used to being chattel anymore, she’s telling them, but in a few generations no one will remember another way.
The show also makes excellent, unnerving use of music. Most of it is instrumental, humming quietly in the backgrounds of scenes, imparting an air of menace and tension. However, when a song does come to the forefront, they are often even more jarring – a combination of 80’s classics, remakes of the same, and newer songs with similar new wave sounds. This choice both nods to the book’s original time and setting, while providing a creepy counterpoint to the nearly Colonial-style dress and mannerisms of the future it depicts. It’s a reminder that although it may look like the past, it’s the near future we’re watching.
The actors also give excellent performances. You can feel the strain in every interaction our narrator Offred (Elisabeth Moss) has with other characters in the present day scenes – no one is saying what they mean, no one can be trusted, and kindness always has some sort of strings attached. You can see it in her face and body language. This tension is complemented by the total ease in her memories of her former life before the government takeover. Her scenes with her best friend Moira (Samira Wiley) are particularly good – you feel their closeness, and how they’ve influenced each other’s lives.
With all of that said, the show makes a few changes that I don’t entirely agree with, changes that affect how we see Offred and the other women in relation to each other. Keep an eye out for part two, where I’ll explore those changes.
Have you been watching The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu? What do you think? Let me know in the comments.
I’ve been writing a lot about zombies lately, so I was going to change it up this month and write about some great comics I’ve been reading. But then I read this strange review of the new Netflix Original Series, Santa Clarita Diet, (SCD) from Esquire by a woman named Katie Van Brunt, and frankly, it demanded a response.
LadiesCon 2016 may be over, but we’re still thinking about what made it such a great time. One of the things that I was really excited about was the opportunity to speak directly to so many creators and artists about their original works. One of the creators I was most excited about was Mildred Louis, who writes and draws a comic called Agents of the Realm. I hadn’t heard of her work before the con, but when she contacted us about having a table, I looked at her work and knew I’d be paying her a visit. I had the supreme good fortune (thanks to a huge assist from Smalerie) of snagging the last copy of her book, which collects the first volume of an ambitious work which, luckily for me, continues online.
The premise is a twist on the classic magical girl genre of manga (see Crystal Cadets for a more standard version): five young women discover that they are the protectors of our world, which is being threatened by strange beasts entering our realm from a sister dimension. In the classic magical girl style, Norah, Adele, Kendall, Paige, and Jordan have special brooches that transform them into uniform-wearing warriors, each with her own weapon, powers, and attendant element. Through the magic of the brooches, they find each other and begin to learn about their powers, the other realm, and why and how they were chosen to protect the world.
The twist comes in from the fact that in standard magical girl stories, there is an emphasis on girl – the protagonists are typically tweens or young teenagers, and part of the transformation is that they become an adult version of themselves. They’re all Mary Marvel, if her posse were other girls instead of two boys and talking tiger. The Agents are all adults already – young adults, to be fair, but in college and of legal age. This immediately has different implications about how they make the choice to accept their roles and for how Louis is able to explore the relationships between the characters and the problems that they face. When you’re watching or reading Sailor Moon, you know that while Sailor Moon is presented as an adult, Usagi Tsukino is really still a kid, and her concerns when she isn’t saving the planet are appropriately childish. The Agents, on the other hand, are young adults, and they have concerns that an adult can relate to, in addition to fighting off giant spirit birds.
Another thing that makes the series great is the level of representation of both people of color and of LBGTQ folks. Most of the characters, including 4 of the 5 Agents, are not white. They also have a wide range of body types – and they keep them after they transform. They do not become “idealized” versions of themselves. This is a powerful message delivered with subtlety – that they are already good enough, already powerful just as they are. They are also beautiful, and feminine, without needing to all fit into the white, western ideal shape.
The orientations of the various characters are handled with that same grace – we’re shown characters who have loving relationships of all types, completely integrated into the story. It doesn’t feel like anything that’s being called attention to, a lesson we’re meant to learn – these are just people, and people have many different approaches to sex and love and romance.
Norah, Adele, Kendall, Paige, and Jordan feel like real people – they have strengths, but also flaws – and not just “oh, she’s such a klutz.” It’s apparent even in the first issue that Norah struggles with social anxiety. Paige is driven and ambitious to the point of being rude at times. Kendall is a peacemaker. It’s refreshing to see the trope of the “chosen ones” applied to characters who feel like more than a cardboard cutout.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the art. As you can see from the pictures here, it’s gorgeous and dynamic. There’s a clear progression as Louis’ style evolves – I think that she continually improves her panel layout and visual storytelling – but the technical excellence is on display from the beginning.
Do you read Agents of the Realm? Tell me what you think in the comments!
Recommended age: Teen to adult. The content is far from racy, but the website does have a trigger warning that suggests that not all of it might be suitable for younger readers.
You might like it if: You like realistic ladies kicking fantastical butt.
Bonus features: If you’re local, Mildred Louis will be at MICE! So if you missed getting a physical book at LadiesCon, you might have another shot.
I had mixed feelings when I discovered that I would be the one scheduled to post after our inaugural LadiesCon. There is just so much to say, so many lessons learned, so many wonderful people, and so much magic that organizing my thoughts seems like an almost impossible task. Do I give a blow-by-blow of the day? Do I just do the highlights? How could I possibly thank everyone we want to thank? Well, if I learned anything this weekend, it’s that you need to move forward and at least try your best if you are going to get anything done. So in that spirit, let’s give this a shot.
The Con Itself
Those of you who were able to join us this weekend learned exactly what we meant when we kept saying that our con would be “small and intimate.” The unique space donated by Canopy City was fresh and inviting. It also provided some exciting and unexpected extras like an additional screen for the Boston Roller Derby ladies to show off their games, a central desk in the middle of the action to use as our own Mission Control center, and a layout that I couldn’t help calling the “Gauntlet of Awesome.”
We wanted to keep the focus on local and unique talent and we were able to do just that. I know that we have already featured a bunch of our vendors on our Facebook Page, but we have also updated our Con Info page to include a full list of our vendors who participated.. This way if you regret any items left behind, you will have a second chance to get it.
Here’s a little slide show of the calm before the storm:
The VIP Lunch and After Party
In addition to our Con Floor, we also offered two additional LadiesCon events. The first was our “Lunch with the Ladies.” This event got you early access to our vendors and guests (as well as their commission spots), a tasty lunch, and a nice swag bag to carry your goodies around in. It was a great and relaxed way to start the day.
A quick search on social media regarding the con and you are probably going to see pictures of our after party. Guys…. THIS. PARTY. Envisioned as a social experiment to see what would happen if you gathered a bunch of creative people together with a choice of several fun activities, this event went off the rails in the best possible way. Matt (Co-Founder and Managing Director at Canopy City), not only gave our guests the freedom to cover one of his dry erase walls with art, but he was so pleased with the results that he told everyone to keep on going!
The result is inspiring and just a gorgeous tribute to the event and the community spirit. Those of us on the LadiesCon staff have been using the word “magical” a lot to describe this event. But really, I don’t think there is a better word for it. Thanks to Bill Imbrogna for the photos below. If you want to see more, check out his facebook page:
The Ladies have been trying over and over again to properly thank everyone who made our dream possible. At this point it’s almost overwhelming to try to express how we feel about our supporters and friends. Instead, once again, I will say a simple thank you. Thank you to our hosts, guests, vendors, panelists, and volunteers. Without you, this simply would not have been possible. And to all of you who joined us for our first ever LadiesCon, thank you for proving that there’s a place and a desire in the Boston area for a con like this one. We are a mighty city indeed.
I wanted to end this post answering a question we received several times on Saturday – Will there be a LadiesCon 2017? YES and we have so much more planned. So please, stick around and see what we come up with next!
Did you attend LadiesCon 2016? If so, share your experience below.
Hopefully by now you have heard about LadiesCon and acquainted yourselves with 2 of our special guests, Erica Henderson and Ming Doyle. Let me help you get acquainted with the third. All the way from the Pacific Northwest we are delighted to bring independent comics creator Linda Medley to LadiesCon!
You likely are familiar with Linda’s work, but if not, let me bring you up to speed. This lady has done it all, she’s had work published by Golden Books, Grosset and Dunlap, DC Comics, Image Comics and many others. During her time as a freelance artist she’s been a inker, penciler, colorist, and is the creator of her own independent graphic novel series Castle Waiting.
The word is out about LadiesCon and the buzz around this little event is deafening. Happily, we have our amazing guests to thank for a large part of that. This week, I am not only hoping to keep the momentum going, but to also take the chance to highlight one of guests – The Unbeatable Erica Henderson.
At first my intention when creating this Spotlight Post was to provide as much information I could find about the woman herself. I would write about how she grew up in New York, attended RISD, and was pretty much destined for greatness. The problem is that I kept getting distracted. I found myself poring through her Tumblr and Twitter posts just taking in her art as much as possible. You see, I’m not much of an artist myself. So when I try to explain how incredible it is to have Erica as a guest at LadiesCon, it is not because I can tell you that her style is influenced by this or that artist or that her line work is a marvel. Instead, I can tell you that I am sitting at my kitchen table, literally surrounded by my own collection of her books, and damn…it has been quite a year for her – drawing Squirrel Girl and Jughead, attending San Diego Comicon, receiving an Eisner Nomination, curating an astounding collection of squirrel-related collectibles, and even dead lifting over 175 lbs. Erica Henderson is a star. Continue reading
Due to the length of this review and how the film is so clearly broken into two parts, I will be posting part 1 today, with part 2 to follow up in a few days.
Part 1: Batgirl and her Insufferable Feelings!
I was never a huge fan of The Killing Joke. It was sold to me as “the ultimate Joker story” back when I was only just starting to read mainstream comics. I found it disturbing, and confusing. Fans of the book might argue that I wasn’t ready to read it, that I wasn’t knowledgeable enough about the DC universe to “get” it. Well, I simply decided that I liked my Joker animated and went back in search of other stories that I would find were more to my taste.
Fast forward several years. I discovered that not only would DC Animation be releasing a film version of The Killing Joke, but they would also casting Mark Hamill as the Joker. This is my Achilles heel. I made it a point to watch it and see how I would feel about it so many years after reading the original story.
I’ve read that there are people out there who have found the film to be a complete failure. And while I will agree that there are some very serious problems with the narrative, characterizations, and even style choices, I am reluctant to throw it out the window. I think that there is a lesson to be learned here and if we take the time to talk (rather than yell) about what those issues are, perhaps this can be seen as more of a teaching moment about what happens when intentions are good, but understanding of the real issues is flawed.
Before I go any further, I am going to put a spoiler alert right here. Not only am I going to talk about the part of the film that is directly lifted from the comic book, but I am also going to talk about the prologue featuring Batgirl. Strap yourselves in my friends, this is going to take a while.
When producer Bruce Timm had his often quoted interview with Empire , he stated that expanding Barbara Gordon’s story in this film adaptation would add to the emotional hit of her arc. We would like her, and then when she is shot, we would feel more deeply for her because they were going to flesh her out as a character. Here is my main gripe about this idea: when we are talking about a story that is so clearly focused on Batman and Joker, how does making us like Barbara add more to the story? How can or would this prevent her from simply being a tool or catalyst to drive Batman to his confrontation with Joker?
Simple answer: it doesn’t. Oh, and to make matters worse, it makes for poor narrative.
Barbara’s story feels like we have seen it before. She is working with Batman and in his typical MO, Batman/Bruce is overprotective, tells her what her own limits are, and is about emotionally available as a cheese sandwich. This feels familiar because Batman has this dynamic with pretty much everyone. The story hits on new territory when bad guy Paris Franz takes a particular interest in Batgirl. This interest quickly reveals itself to be a dark obsession as we see Paris hire a red-haired prostitute he asks to dress as Batgirl. He then leads Batgirl on a potentially life threatening scavenger hunt when he tells her that he has a special “gift” for her. Not only does Barbara mention that this is flattering, she knowingly walks right into Paris’s trap…thus proving Bruce’s earlier man-splaining about how Paris is objectifying Barbara to be woefully accurate. *audible sigh*
Barbara’s frustration with Bruce continues. Using an odd yoga teacher and student analogy, she complains to her friends that she is the best student Batman/Yoga teacher has ever had and yet he still pushes her away. When she finally confronts Bruce about his behavior and her feelings about her role as Batgirl, rather than reaching any resolution, the two of them have sex on a rooftop. That ends about as well as we can expect. So rather than taking this as an opportunity to explore both Barbara’s and Bruces’s feelings about what happened, and I dunno…develop them both as characters, they continue to focus on Paris instead.
Finally in a scene that could have redeemed Barbara and shown her as a woman driven by something other than her emotions, Batgirl helps Batman confront Paris. Sadly, she is too overpowered by Feelings. Rather than proving to the men around her that female empowerment is more than yelling and making demands, she instead pounds Paris’s face into ground hamburg before walking away from her role as Batgirl.
A few days later, Joker shows up at her place and shoots her in the abdomen. Fade to black on Barbara’s story and the film abruptly switches over to the main action in the Killing Joke. Batgirl is back on the sidelines and we have nothing to show for her having been around at all. Except now (maybe?) Batman is extra angry at Joker for shooting the woman that he turned away.
Before I talk about how the Joker/Batman dynamic was handled in the second half of the film, there is a lot that I want to talk about with Barbara still. Barbara’s story-line is not new, and while I honestly think that the writer might have thought that he was writing a strong woman character, I am flummoxed over how we are going to get people to understand that creating a well-rounded and strong female character is not simply checking off boxes for things like – enjoys sex, talks about what she wants, punches guys in the face, and has awesome fighting skills. None of these things work without proper context. And they certainly won’t work if the character is inconsistent. It would have been possible for Barbara to show her worth through her actions. For her to outsmart Paris and use his obsession against him. For her to match or even surpass Batman in certain skill sets. Heck, they could have just made her try to pull Bruce out of his shell more gradually, because you don’t get much of a sense that they had any relationship to begin with anyway. So where does her attraction to him come from? I mean, remember that cheese sandwich I mentioned earlier? Is it because he opened her eyes to the thrills and the action of crime fighting? Seriously writers, pick one. I could keep throwing out ideas. All I ask is for the follow through.
Whenever I write these pieces, I worry that my arguments come off as too fragmented and too ranty. I think that might be a sign that while I insist on writing about these things and talking about how women are written, I’m also tired of having to do so. This is especially true when the solution is such a simple one. Companies need to hire better writers and those who are doing the hiring need to be able to identify the good portrayals from the bad ones. I am not demanding that every female character be perfect, nor am I saying that only females can write well-rounded female characters. What I am asking is that companies, publishers, and writers need to start a dialogue. Read what the fans are writing about your work, listen to what they are saying, and maybe start a discussion rather than a confrontation (see Comicon panel). Believe me, I get it. You want my money, and I would be happy to give it to you. All I ask is that you provide me with a quality product…and maybe something a bit more substance than a stale cheese sandwich.
Next Time: Part 2, the Actual Killing Joke
Welcome our friend and reader, Carolyn Frantz, making a great case for watching Supergirl. Want more? You can find her on Twitter as @cosmic_carolyn. – Ed.
Since this is my very first guest post with the Ladies of Comicazi blog, I’ll begin with a confession: I’m not a hardcore comic fan, and I’m certainly not a purist when it comes to comic universes. Most of my favorite comic books aren’t published by DC or Marvel, so I’m new to both. But I love a good story and good art, and I have a soft spot for heroines that are intelligent, strong, and independent, like Agatha Heterodyne: Girl Genius.
Even so, I’ve fallen in love with the new CBS show Supergirl, and I’m here to tell you why! A friend of mine, Danielle, wrote a feminist ode to Supergirl recently. She made some great points as to what Supergirl is doing right:
- The two most powerful people in National City are women.
- Women can be villains too!
- Women aren’t helpless victims.
- “Girl” is reclaimed as an empowering term.
- Young girls need a female superhero to look up to.
All of these are excellent reasons to watch Supergirl, and I encourage you to check out her article here. But I have a couple of my own feminist* reasons why Supergirl is not to be missed:
Supergirl’s costume is awesome without being overly revealing or sexual. It may seem superficial and counterproductive to focus on our heroine’s outward appearance. But in Hollywood, there’s just no way to escape the male gaze, and its use in advertising (“sex sells”). As a result, what women are wearing/not wearing in Hollywood will always be important. Supergirl needs a kick-butt costume to go with her butt-kicking moves, so dressing her in a tiny leotard isn’t believable. Even fierce female powerhouses like Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas tug at their leotards, and Gabby isn’t even punching villains. Mad props to Supergirl’s wardrobe department for coming up with a cool-looking costume that actually works for Supergirl’s extra-active lifestyle.
Supergirl goes by her real name. In all the Superman universes, including Smallville, Superman goes by Clark in his regular life. Pretty much no one is allowed to call him Kal-El. And let’s face it, Kal-El doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Kara, on the other hand, is a real name on our planet, so Supergirl goes by her real name, both in regular life and when she’s fighting crime at the DEO. A central tenet of feminism is that the way we use language matters, and there is power in naming important people and experiences. Feminist textual analysis often notices when women are named in texts— and when they’re not. Calling a woman by her name is powerful, and Kara claims her given (Kryptonian) name. Which leads into…
Supergirl struggles with her identity, which is something all real women do. By virtue of her frozen-time backstory, Kara has vivid memories of her family and life on Krypton. She lives into her dual citizenship on Krypton and Earth, which is a cultural balancing act. In our (supposedly alien-free) society, people of color experience something similar every day, having to be proficient in white culture as well as the culture from which they come. Women experience this also, living in a man’s world. We have to work to maintain our feminine identities while operating in work spaces and sometimes religions that are male-dominated, and therefore oriented toward the way “old boys’ clubs” work. Hence the glass ceiling. Fortunately, Kara has a supportive boss, Cat, who broke the glass ceiling herself and is willing to help Kara face the same hurdles. Kara also struggles with being adopted. Adopted children struggle with questions of identity all their lives, as illustrated in this poignant letter to the stars of Supergirl from an adoptive mom. Carrie, the author, explains how the media usually portrays adoptive parents inaccurately. Her story illustrates how powerful it is for her daughters to watch a story focusing on an adoptive family that’s more true to life. Even without the adoption dynamic, Kara’s struggles in her family relationships mirror real life. Unlike many shows, which either gloss over the reality of complex family relationships or parody them in the extreme (I’m looking at you, Modern Family!), Supergirl portrays relationships as they often are: complicated, but full of love. Any woman knows that relationships with sisters and mothers can be tumultuous. Supergirl portrays the tensions in these relationships well, while still showing the intense love and loyalty that family brings, adoptive or not. Finally, last but not least…
“Why does this even matter?” you might inquire. I’m glad you asked! Women in this culture are always being told we should diet. Female bodies that aren’t basically twigs are unacceptable in the media, which is why plus-size models are so extraordinary. Women are more likely than men to develop an eating disorder, and young women are especially vulnerable: 86% of those with eating disorders report they began before age 20, and 41% of all 1st-3rd graders want to be thinner. Controlling what women eat, psychologically or otherwise, is a means of controlling and devaluing women’s bodies.
Many TV shows portray women eating salads, discussing diets, and not-eating at dinner tables. Not Supergirl! Kara usually eats very healthy meals, but she’s also shown feasting on favorites like hamburgers, pizza, ice cream, curry, and donuts. Her chow-and-chat sessions on the couch with Alex at the end of a long day are one of the best parts of the show. They’re a chance for the sisters to process all that’s happened, support one another, and be women actually enjoying food on camera. When you think about it, that’s actually pretty rare. While some comedies make women who love food the butt of the joke, Supergirl seizes the opportunity to break that stigma. Kara needs super fuel, and feeding her super-fast metabolism sends a message to young girls that there’s no guilt or shame in calorically supporting their bodies.
By now, hopefully you’ve been convinced to give Supergirl a try if you haven’t watched it yet. The end of the season is especially exciting, particularly with the Flash crossover. If you already love the show, share it with a young girl— or boy!— in your life and plant seeds of empowerment in their hearts.
*Before any men’s rights activists jump on my use of the term “feminist”, my definition of feminism is “the radical notion that women are people”. Any true feminist, in my opinion, believes in the basic equality of all people regardless of sex, gender, race, creed, orientation, etc.
Let’s open with a question: How many of you are following us on Facebook right now? I ask because some seriously cool conversations have been happening over there lately. The page is a great place for us to share links and other passing pop cultural ephemera and hear what other people think about it. One of those links, posted by Honorary Lady The Goog, was IO9’s critique of that Milo Manara Spider-Woman cover that’s been making the rounds (no, not the creepy 3D rendering follow up.) One of the participants in the discussion asked a question that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. Friend of Tiny Doom Geoff asked, “Have you ladies done an article not just about what you’d like to see in a female hero but also how it differs from the typical guy power fantasy?”
Well, we hadn’t, Geoff, but we’re gonna today. Or at least, I’m gonna. Geoff’s comment went on to clarify that he didn’t expect us to speak for all women, which is great, because I’m super unqualified to do that – just our personal takes on what makes a great super-powered lady and how that is or isn’t reflected in mainstream comics. So here are the five major traits, in order from most to least important to me, I’d like to see in my ideal comic-book heroine and how I think it stacks up to the typical male hero. For the purposes of this piece, the “typical” male hero is able-bodied, straight, white, and super-powered. Yes, there are many heroes who don’t fit this bill, especially these days, but we’re talking about archetypes, here. After each one I’ll give an example of a character who I think embodies that trait.
It’s well-known among my friends that I have an affection for things that are old, kitschy, and weird, particularly when they relate to gender roles and pop culture. Heck, it’s well-known by the readers of this blog – I wrote about this topic just last month. What you might not know is that a semi-regular event at Comicazi is a board game night with the slightly unwieldy moniker “Super Happy Fun Game Night.” (Don’t ask.) And recently my friend Gary came across a board game that he knew would be right up my alley. He bought it for me, and when he presented it he had one stipulation – that we would play it at the next Super Happy Fun.
I readily agreed and true to my word, brought it along to the last game night. The name of this gem? “What Shall I Be? The Exciting Game for Career Girls.”