Sunday, March 2, 2014

RE: Eric Stephenson VS Everyone Else (Or Just About)

 Eric Stephenson, current publisher of IMAGE comics, recently addressed retailers through ComicsPro, delivering a long speech about the importance of the direct market, and the future of the industry and the direction he believes it should take.  There is some good stuff in there and I agree with a lot of what Stephenson says, particularly in relation to courting the growing female readership; publishers should take note of that; and he's obviously really passionate about comics as a medium and about storytelling as a form, which are feelings I share...but there is something about his speech that just does not sit right with me; his simplistic, and actually pretty insulting, view that licensed or work-for-hire comics aren't "real."

"One of the first things we need to do is stop looking at the comics market as the “big two” or the “big three.”

There are only two kinds of comics that matter: good comics and bad comics.


Read More: Image Publisher Eric Stephenson's Address to Comic Retailers | http://comicsalliance.com/image-publisher-eric-stephenson-comicspro-transcript-speech-2014/?trackback=tsmclip

"One of the first things we need to do is stop looking at the comics market as the “big two” or the “big three.”

There are only two kinds of comics that matter: good comics and bad comics.

Everything else should be irrelevant."

One of the first things we need to do is stop looking at the comics market as the “big two” or the “big three.”

Read More: Image Publisher Eric Stephenson's Address to Comic Retailers | http://comicsalliance.com/image-publisher-eric-stephenson-comicspro-transcript-speech-2014/?trackback=tsmclip
One of the first things we need to do is stop looking at the comics market as the “big two” or the “big three.”

There are only two kinds of comics that matter: good comics and bad comics.


Read More: Image Publisher Eric Stephenson's Address to Comic Retailers | http://comicsalliance.com/image-publisher-eric-stephenson-comicspro-transcript-speech-2014/?trackback=tsmclip
One of the first things we need to do is stop looking at the comics market as the “big two” or the “big three.”

There are only two kinds of comics that matter: good comics and bad comics.


Read More: Image Publisher Eric Stephenson's Address to Comic Retailers | http://comicsalliance.com/image-publisher-eric-stephenson-comicspro-transcript-speech-2014/?trackback=tsmclip

Stephenson breaks it down to a very objectivist point of view: comics should only be treated as good comics or bad comics, which, from a reader and a retail perspective, is admittedly not that far off base...the easiest product to sell is a good product, to be sure. 

But later on he comments:


"If we seriously want to expand the marketplace and appeal to new readers, different readers, we can only do that by developing new things that only exist in our market.


While the rest of the entertainment industry lays back in the cut and churns out sequel after remake after reboot after sequel, we need to be on the frontline with the biggest, boldest, and best of the new ideas that will keep this industry healthy and strong for years to come.

Let the rest of the world come to US – let them make movies and TV shows and toys and cartoons based on what WE do.

Their dearth of ideas and their continued fascination with our unbridled creativity will only make us stronger.

THE WALKING DEAD is proof of this.

Like I said, THE WALKING DEAD comic book was selling great before it was a television show.

Now it sells even better.

And that’s because the show made people aware of the comic – and those people came to your stores to get that comic.

Because they want the real thing.

TRANSFORMERS comics will never be the real thing.

GI JOE comics will never be the real thing.

STAR WARS comics will never be the real thing.

Those comics are for fans that love the real thing so much, they want more – but there’s the important thing to understand:

They don’t want more comics – they just want more of the thing they love."


 There is a lot about this I have a problem with.  It's both dismissive of the creators that work on them, and dismissive of the readers that buy them...readers that, theoretically, Stephenson would like to buy his books, and even the example he sites of THE WALKING DEAD is smug and undermines his point.

Now, he's not completely wrong...comics as a market is broken down into two big publishers, and those publishers are feeding on a shrinking market, and have not had the greatest success growing their readership despite great success in other media.  I lover superhero comics, but it is often a lot of the same shit, a lot of stunts, and a lot of event books designed to get my money, and I do admittedly fall into that trap.

But if the only thing that is important is if a comic is "good or bad" then why attach the caveat that it must also be creator owned or "indy" to be worthwhile?  Is Stephenson suggesting that you cannot bring novelty to a licensed book?  That you cannot find a superhero book meaningful?  That's remarkable insulting to both the work-for-hire creators and the audience of those book.  Darkhorse has produced some literally great STAR WARS comics in their long relationship with the franchise, and those creators lovingly craft stories that they care about and that bring novelty to a world that they do not own.  Marvel of late has taken to allowing creators to put their own distinct mark on the characters they own which has been met with great success on titles such as HAWKEYE, SUPERIOR FOES OF SPIDER-MAN, and SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN.  Are those books less "real" or worthwhile?  Is the readership of those books less intelligent or critical?

IMAGE isn't "indy."  While IMAGE should be commended for the chances it's taken and the talent it's fostered, and has had a few Cinderella stories (such as Robert Kirkman), that is not the norm...many of IMAGE's biggest successes are with vanity projects helmed by name creators who work for the same big name publishers he decries.  SAGA is not a Cinderella story...Brian K. Vaughn was a popular writer with a series of proven hits under his belt.  IMAGE didn't take a chance on him.  IMAGE is just as concerned with the bottom line as any other corporate entity, and pissing on the work of the people that they potentially publish one day seems like bad business.

Also, how do you think that the creators at IMAGE pay their bills?  Even SAGA probably isn't Brian K. Vaughn's chief source of income...he's writes for TV.  MORNING GLORIES probably isn't paying Nick Spencer's bills...SUPERIOR FOES OF SPIDER-MAN probably is, and both are great books filled with novelty...but the latter is somehow less real a creation?  I just don't buy that.

Also, it's very smug to cite THE WALKING DEAD as being more real because it's a book with a TV show based on it, rather than a book based on a TV show, because (1) not many creator owned books get TV shows, and (2) while THE WALKING DEAD probably sold pretty good before TV show, I guarantee that it's success now owes a lot to the media exposure of a hit TV show.  THE WALKING DEAD was not selling to non-comics readers before it was on AMC.  Now it is...because "they want more of the thing that they love," to use Stephenson's own words.  Yet, somehow, those readers and the success of that media crossover are more "real" than, say, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER season 8?



From the retail perspective, sure...it's a great thing to push books you like, and it'd be great to have audiences expand their horizons, but I'm not entirely sure the public has made up their minds about superheroes (as Stephenson also states in his speech)...I think the public has made up their mind about COMICS.  Non-comic readers do not walk into comic stores saying, "I've run out of novels to read...what have you got for me?"  Do you know what brings a non-comic reader into a store?  BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER seasons 8 and up.  Do you know what happens when that non-comic reader does when they run out of BUFFY to read?  They ask if there is anything similar to BUFFY.  I've had this interaction time and again with people, and I've directed them to other books...sometimes IMAGE books, if they fall into the area of interest of the reader.

Here's a personal anecdote some people have most probably experienced; I read comics at work sometimes, and my co-workers express surprise and bemusement.  And I will go on to explain that comics are not just superheroes...I often read manga at work.  I explained the premise of Takehiko Inoue's REAL to a co-worker...wheelchair basketball being about as far from superhero comics as you can get.  One of my co-workers likes TWILIGHT, so I lent her a book in a similar vein (ha ha!), which I enjoy and think is superior to TWILIGHT, and she has yet to read it...because it is a comic.  She doesn't understand comics, and has a pre-conceived idea of comics as not being "real"...and this is coming from someone that considers TWILIGHT a literary masterpiece.  To people outside of comics it's not superheroes or licensed books that aren't "real"...it's COMICS that aren't "real."

Licensed books and superheroes are not the thing that keeps comics from gaining new readership.  The North American attitude towards comics as being "not real" is still very much the public perception; unlike in Europe and especially Japan where comics are as real as any other book, and as legitimate both an artform and source of entertainment; but that perception is slowly changing.  That has a lot to do with these license tie-ins and the success of superhero movies.  They do, in fact, bring people into stores...just not in droves.  Public perception is not going to change overnight. 

The trick is exploit that interest to divert these new, virgin, readers into other books.  It is to take the fans of BUFFY or the Marvel movies and turn them from tourists into comicbook readers.  And telling them that they are not "real" is not the way to do that.  If you treat them as tourists and their interests with derision, chances are they will not visit you again.

And that's the "real" problem.

Friday, November 29, 2013

DROIDS: My Favorite TV Theme Song

A friend of mine recently threw my favorite kind of party; a Saturday Morning Cartoon party.

We watched shows from our youth and when we couldn't take full episodes, we just watched openings.

I love openings of shows, because they're basically music videos a lot of the time, and the animation is usually better than the shows because the job of an opening is twofold; it has to dazzle you to get your attention, and it also has to tell you what the show is about.

Anime openings tend to lean more towards just being music videos because the song is usually part of the marketing of the show, and in North American, animated shows are generally aimed at children and the people producing these shows often think that kids are stupid, so the openings tend to be really simplistic and direct (often to the point of being condescending), often having songs that are literally "This is exactly what this show is about."  
 
And sometimes that's ok...there are some really charming openings that just say what the show is about right up front (Gummi Bears and Ducktales jump immediately to mind as good examples, and Mummies Alive jumps immediately to mind as an awful one).  But the really sweet ones...the ones that stay with me...are the ones that manage to communicate what the show is about while (A) not just telling you straight up and (B) sounding like a real song.  It's a tricky balancing act.

Which brings us to the favorite opening song of my childhood, which I only recently remembered thanks to my friend screening it at the aforementioned Cartoon-a-palooza; the opening to DROIDS.
 
DROIDS


STAR WARS was huge in the 80's...way bigger than it is even now.  As rabid as todays Warsies are, the marketing of STAR WARS in the 80's makes it pale in comparison, and LucasFilm sourced out the creation of two spin-off cartoons to Nelvana, EWOKS and DROIDS to capitalize on this.

I loved both shows, but if I'm being honest, I liked DROIDS better.  Robots just appealed to my adolescent more than alien teddy bears, and the show was exciting with it's lightsabers and laser guns and speeders and space ships and aliens and what-have-you.

And going back...DROIDS is actually still a pretty decent show.  The premise is solid; C3-P0 and R2-D2, lost and alone after their adventures in the original trilogy, seek out new masters and bumble into various adventures.  This allowed the show to tell both serialized stories that built from episode to episode, but also in small arcs designed to end, with the Droids moving on after having helped their new master succeed and finding a new one as they looked for both a purpose and a home like some kind of cyborg Littlest Hobo.  Sure the animation is limited, the designs are dated, and the dialogue is cheesy, but it's still got some solid storytelling and a strong premise.  I find I have an appreciation for this show that I didn't have a kid.

And a lot of that has to do with the opening.

The animation and the images used aren't particularly impressive, but juxtaposed with the song, they offer a compelling narrative.

As an intellectual exercise, I'm going to break this down.  I'm not saying that any of this was the creators intent, it's just my reading of it, but if it was their intent...I have profound respect for treating 6 year old Derek Halliday like an adult.

The song, TROUBLE AGAIN, was written and performed by Steward Copeland of the POLICE, and the lyrics are as follows:

Steppin' softly in a danger zone
No weapon in my hand
It's just this brain, designed by man
It's got me in trouble again
In trouble again
I put my life in jeopardy
In the service of my friends
I wouldn't care but it's a dangerous affair
'Cause I’m in trouble again, trouble again
In trouble, in trouble, in trouble
 
Firstly, it's a pretty good song.  It sounds like STAR WARS, but it also sounds like 80's pop.  None of the lyrics state anything specific about the show...they don't say the shows name, they don't reference the characters, they don't tell you who they are or what they do, so the song stands alone as a song.  I also like the slightly melancholy feel the song has...it reminds me of the LITTLEST HOBO in that regard.  It sounds upbeat but slightly regretful.
 
Now, if you break down the lyrics, you get a pretty interesting commentary on the existence of the Droids in the STAR WARS universe and how they view their lives.
 
The first verse tells you what their average day is like...they are constantly put in danger that they have little to no ability to deal with, but they also are compelled to confront due to the circumstances of their creation.  The cause of their woe is, "...just this brain, designed by man."
 
As Droids (robots, sic), they are intelligent beings with a certain level of self awareness.  Unlike humans, though, there is no great mystery as to their creation or their greater purpose in the universe...they were created by men to serve a specific function.  Droids know who their creators are, and interact with them all the time.  So might not a robot, put in constant danger, question why he was created to suffer, or whether his compulsion to meet dangerous situations was programmed into him?  A Droid would not believe in a greater power, because they weren't created by a greater power, they were created by flawed men.  They know that their decisions are not their own, but the result of a program...they wouldn't curse God for their situation, but their own flawed minds, and their inability to violate the programing which compels them into situations they can't control.
 
The second verse acknowledges that the Droids put their lives in danger as a service to others, and the use of the word "friends" implies that this is a noble thing.  But the third line, "I wouldn't care but it's a dangerous affair" contradicts this, and again, it implies that the Droids are aware that their choices are not free ones, but part of their programing that they are helpless to change.
 
As any good nerd (and let's be honest...you're only reading this if you're a nerd) knows, Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics are:

(1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

(2)  A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

(3)  A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Assuming that the Droids in Star Wars generally follow these laws (and it's safe to assume that most standard service model Droids would, even though we know that there are Droids built either without the First or Second Laws, or modified First and Second Laws), the second verse of this song is an interesting lamentation on the conflict in the Droid's lives; are they capable of being selfless?

If the Droids follow the Three Laws (or have some kind of similar programming that is equivalent), then any sacrifice would not be a choice, but a compulsion.  The line, "I wouldn't care but it's a dangerous affair" implies that the Third Law is being superseded by the First Law...the compulsion to jeopardize their existence is not a selfless act because it's not a choice in the first place.  Knowing this makes the Droids question whether any of their actions can be considered heroic or noble, despite the fact that their are risking their own existence.  The "I wouldn't care" suggests that, if they had the choice, they WOULD chose to endanger themselves for their friends, but they'll never know if that is a choice that they would freely make.

Listening to the theme song now gives the show a whole new depth to me, even if I'm just reading too deeply into something that isn't really there...I just like the idea of C3-P0 and R2-D2 as going on an existential adventure, and questioning the nature of their existence.  They were created to be comedy relief and comedy is a human affectation, so it's easy to forget that they are non-human entities and that they're thought processes would not be human ones.  To me, the song is a lamentation of the Droid's inability to change their fate because they can never know if their choices are free ones or simply the result of their programming.  They cannot be noble or heroic, even if they might aspire to be, because they are incapable of making a selfless sacrifice, since such sacrifice is part of their programming...even as their programming may also be telling them to selfishly preserve their own life.  This seems especially true of C3-P0, who seems to have a stronger Third Law bias than R2-D2...but, then, they are made for two very different purposes.  C3-P0 is a Protocol Droid, and thus probably pretty expensive and fragile, while R2-D2 is a service Droid built to affect repairs in hostile environments.

That's how I see it anyways.  Thanks for indulging my cartoonishly over-the-top analysis of a cartoon theme song that no one remembers!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Reponse to Mary Oliver Leeds RE: Feminist Anime/Animation

I was alerted to a new comment on one of my recent posts today by a student writing her dissertation on the representation of women in media, specifically animation.  She did not leave an e-mail address with which I could answer her questions directly, so I will instead reply in the form of this blog post and hope that she finds it in time for it to be helpful.  At the very least it generates content and is a discussion worth having.  ^_^

The comment was as follows:

"I am currently writing my dissertation based around the representation of women in animation and media and would love if you could answer some questions surrounding this issue. Do you think that work produced solely by women show more respect for the equality of women rather than those produced by men? What do you feel are the greatest misrepresentation of women today? In the new Pixar animation ‘Brave’, did you feel that it genuinely tackled the issue of a female lead? Do you believe it is important for animated films to reflect womens varied roles in modern society or are they the last opportunity to escape from political correctness?

'Thank you in advance,

'Mary Oliver Leeds College of Art"

I would first like to say that I am flattered by your interest in my opinion, and will answer to the best of my ability, but please keep in mind that I am hardly an expert on either media representation or feminism.  If it's helpful I can try and put you in contact with a few of my friends who are more knowledgable if you are interested (looking at you Tory and Stacy), but for now here are my thoughts.

1)  Do you think that work produced solely by women show more respect for the equality of women rather than those produced by men?

The short answer is, no, I do not, but I will elaborate.  I think it is easier to create something that you have first hand experience with, IE being a woman and the issues and concerns of a woman, but I do not think that works produced by men about female characters are any less relevant or respectful, and (sadly), a lot of what is out there representing women comes from male creators because it is still a very male dominated world.

There is a wealth of sophisticated and sensitive portrayals of women in media generated by men which still manage to speak to a female audience.  Jaime Hernadez LOCAS series and his brother Gilbert Hernandez PALOMAR and LUBA series in LOVE AND ROCKETS have positively and realistically (to the extent which comics can) represented women for decades.  Writer Greg Rucka has worked almost exclusively on comics featuring female leads for Marvel and DC, and the books he's written with male leads always have a strong female presence, such as his recent run on PUNISHER in which he introduced a female protege for Frank Castle who is every bit as ruthless and driven as her male counterpart.  Joss Whedon is famous for creating television with female leads such as BUFFY and DOLLHOUSE, as well as championing same sex representation.  Hyao Miyazaki has created some of animes most endearing and enduring female characters in NAUSSICAA, KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE, and SPIRITED AWAY, and even his male lead films such as PORCO ROSSO, CASTLE IN THE SKY, and PRINCESS MONONOKE have a strong female presense that resonates with that audience.

I wish there was more being produced by women for a female audience (which is not to say that that work is not being created, but it would take a whole other conversation to go into the problems surrounding why that work is not being published/produced) in North America (Japan does not have this problem...women thrive in comics and animation and targetting a female audience has always proven lucrative, which makes North America's resistance even more baffling), but that does not mean that work being produced for a female audience by men is less respectful or sensitive to that audience.

It's a different story if you look at media produced by men for a male audience though.  There is a lot of material featuring female characters that is directed at a male audience that is not very well representative of the female experience, but that material is not being made to appeal to a female audience...for the most part.  WITCHBLADE was a comic created by a four men and one woman, Christina Z, who wrote the series at the beginning, was a comic created for a male audience featuring a female lead which found a devoted female audience.   This was back in the mid 90's and comics was a mostly male market, so this may have been a case of women finding something that was close enough an adapting, but in it's close to 20 years of being published WITCHBLADE has taken notice of that audience and has very carefully straddled the line between positive representation of women and titilating men...well, until Tim Seeley took over, anyways.

2)  What do you feel are the greatest misrepresentation of women today?

I'm not sure exactly what context you are addressing with this question; do you mean broad trends or are you asking me to cite specific works?

There will always be broad stereotypes, but that goes across the board.  Media still portrays gays on TV as flamboyant charicatures, men as meat-headed chauvanists, and women as objects, and nerds are anti-social rejects.  It's easy to resort to stereotype because it's familiar...it's almost become a shorthand.  I do think that media has become BETTER representative than it ever has been. 

There is more representation for homosexuals now that there ever has been.  If you look at who our recent male action heroes are you'll find that the ultra-masculine muscleheads of the 80's/90's have given way to the more sensitive and female friendly men like Chris Hemsworth or Joseph Gordon Levitt.  As for women...that's a growing market! 

TWILIGHT, as much as I may not respect the work, played an important role in changing how media markets to a female audience.  WOMEN...HAVE...MONEY, and they WILL SPEND IT.  As with all things, money talks, and if there is a profitable market demographic that is STARVED for content, someone will seek to fill it.  TWILIGHT proved that marketing at women is not only viable but insanely profitable.  You can thank TWILIGHT for much better HUNGER GAMES.

If you want me to cite specific works, I refer you to this post I wrote about SUCKERPUNCH.  SUCKERPUNCH is what happens when a guy that does not know he is a misogynist tries to make a girl-power movie.  It is AWFUL.

3)  In the new Pixar animation ‘Brave’, did you feel that it genuinely tackled the issue of a female lead?

Again, I'm a little confused on the wording of this question; what is the issue of a female lead?

Frankly I cannot think of a better female driven movie than BRAVE.  Merida is a great and engaging character, and the underlying theme of the film could not have been more relevant to the female experience...either from Merida's perspective as the daughter or Queen Elinor's perspective as a mother, as well as being and exciting and humorous piece of fantasy and entertainment.  Whatever the issue of a female lead is, I do think that BRAVE tackled it head on, in every possible respect that it could.

4)  Do you believe it is important for animated films to reflect womens varied roles in modern society or are they the last opportunity to escape from political correctness?

This is not an easy question to answer, particularly since the subject we are discussing is escapist entertainment.  Animation in particular is firmly in the realm of fantasy; for example, I highly doubt you will see an biopic about Susan B. Anthony or Gloria Stienem.  I also do not not think that not being completely PC precludes positive representation.  PITCH PERFECT was a filthy gross-out comedy filled with vomit jokes and a just AWESOME menstration pun from Elizebeth Banks, but it was also a successful comedy with an all female cast (similarly BRIDESMAIDS).  Positive representation does not need to come at the expense of entertainment value.

For me, the most important thing that animation can do with it's representation of women is to provide young girls with heroes.  Our relationship with animation in North America is predominantly that it is a medium reserved almost exclusively for children.  Now, this is slowly changing as my generation (80's Baby), which grew up during something of an animation boom where animation aimed at children went from just entertainment to marketing (GI JOE, TRANSFORMERS, HE-MAN, MY LITTLE PONY, RAINBOW BRITE, etc were all built around media tie-ins), and now, as adults, there is a new market for nostalgia and those things are being remarketed at us as big budget motion pictures and related media tie-ins, but animation is still predominantly viewed as something for children. 

When I was a kid, my heroes where on TV and in comics, and they had a HUGE impact on me.  KIDS NEED HEROES.  And there have been so few for girls until recently.  Now you have Merida and Korra (of AVATAR: THE LEGEND OF KORRA), and with the introduction of anime to North America, a huge variety of female heroines aimed at girls in a variety of genre's, be it magical girls like Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura or angsty teens such as Makino Tsukushi in HANA YORI DANGO (and numerous other shoujo series that are probably more popular, relevant, and recent...I just can't think of one off the top of my head), or Katniss Everdeen in THE HUNGER GAMES, etc etc.  There needs to be more of that, and there is a market for it.

I think the most important thing that animation or any type of media can represent about women is that they are strong, intelligent, and beautiful, and can be heroes.

I hope this has helped.  If you have any follow up questions or wish to further discuss this subject, please e-mail me at dthalliday@hotmail.com.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

FEMINIST ANIMATION: A Short List of Female Friendly Animation for Children and Adults

Merida in Pixar's BRAVE
I recently had the pleasure of seeing PIXAR's newest blockbusting feature, BRAVE, which was one of the rare movies to both meet and exceed my expecations.  Unfortunately, critical response has been not just underwhelming, but disappointing...what's not to like?  The humor is smart, the animation is gorgeous, the action is thrilling, and the themes are universal and cut deep (anyone who loves their mother would have to be a cold-hearted robot to not be moved to tears by the films resolution).  Most importantly, though, is that the film features a truely stong female protagonist in a movie that can entertain ANYONE.  This isn't a film for girls, it's a film with a girl in the LEAD that anyone can watch and feel inspired by (I certainly was).

That said, I do not want to undercut how important I think it is that Merida is a hero for young girls (and women in general).  Girls need heroes too, in the same way that boys do.  My moral compass was shaped more by my childhood heroes than by religion or anything I learned in school.  HE-MAN and GI JOE had as much influence on me as a person as my parents did.  There's a line DMX once wrote that sums up what I took away from my childhood heroes, "The true measure of a man is not measured by what he does for himself, but what he does for someone else, and if you help another without concern for reward of gold, what you give you shall recieve ten-fold."  This is the kind of thing our heroes teach us, and in most cases, our heroes are people we either identify with, or project onto.  A childhood hero is either someone you see yourself reflected in, or someone you wish you could be.  That's not to say that it's impossible to identify with someone of the opposite sex, but it certainly is easier.

I am a lifelong fan of animation.  I love it; cartoons, anime, CGI, whatever; if it's animated, I'll watch it.  I've been an adult for a long time, and I still tend to enjoy animated shows and movies more than I do any other type of media, and thinking back onto my childhood, I found a lot of female role models that helped to shape my life, and even as an adult, I still tend to gravitate towards female protagonists.  I will admit that part of it is because I am a man who is attracted to a strong woman; strong physically and strong in personality; but there is also something about a female protagonist that appeals from a storytelling perspective in a way that a male protagonist does not.

The burden placed on men is that you have to be strong and deny emotion; to feel too deeply is 'girly.'  This is limiting and often leads to rather one-note characters and monotonous narratives where the stakes are very simple and goal oriented; all the hero has to do is kill one guy or blow some @#$% up.  That's not to say that there aren't male protagonists more in touch with their feminine side or that there isn't a visceral thrill in a tough guy kicking @$$, but it also means the stakes are generally external rather than internal, and thus end with the resolution of the movie; you are not moved when John Diehard saves a building or an airplane.  You were only invested in the journey, not the destination.

It is generally accepted that women are more in touch with their emotions than men.  This isn't really the forum to debate whether that is myth or fact, but it is generally accepted.  This is part of what makes a narrative featuring a female protagonist attractive from a story standpoint; the stakes are much higher because you are more invested in the character.  You have more empathy for a character who goes on an emotional journey.  You sympathize more with someone whose feelings are evident and in danger of being hurt, because we all know how deep hurt feelings cut.  We all struggle with emotional turmoil.  We identify with that.  Men in media are tortured physically, and not many people are familiar with physical torture...women in media are tortured emotionally, and we all know how that feels.  To endure and overcome that takes greater strength and makes for a more fulfilling journey than 'Kill the Bad-Guy.'

There are, of course, good and bad things about this stigma, such as the stereotype that a female protagonist cannot control their emotions and makes dumb decisions based on knee-jerk emotional responses (*cough* Katherine Stark *cough*), but for the most part, when handled correctly (*cough* HANNA *cough* TRUE GRIT *cough*) this leads to a satisfying, deeply moving, narrative.

What follows is a list of animated films and TV shows featuring female protagonists that I have enjoyed over the years, from my childhood, through adolesence, and into my adulthood.  I hope this is helpful to someone, somewhere, or that, at the very least, you find something entertaining that you hadn't heard of before.

---

RAINBOW BRITE AND THE STAR STEALER



I loved this movie when I was a kid; it's STARS WARS for girls.

Rainbow Brite did not have a very long life; the show was only 13 episodes, less than half a TV season for an animated show in the 80's; but was still a huge part of many peoples childhood, and this movie was definitely the best part of the franchise.  This fan-trailer is far more representative of the movie than the original trailer...except for a rather terrible musical interlude at the opening of the movie, RAINBOW BRITE AND THE STAR STEALER was an actiony sci-fi adventure featuring a strong young girl who saves the ENTIRE UNIVERSE from a spoiled, jewel obsessed, Princess who attempts to ensnare an entire planet in a massive web and cast the universe into eternal darkness.  Higher stakes I cannot imagine!

Rainbow Brite is smart and proactive, and possesses an awesome superpowered fashion accessory (I love empowered items...Rainbow Brite's color belt is the equivalent of Green Lantern's power ring, and pocesses many of the same abilities) that makes her one of the strongest forces in her universe.  I also liked her dynamic with Chris, a brash young boy that dreams of being a hero.  Throughout the movie he constantly underestimates Rainbow Brite, only to watch her stand toe-to-toe with him in every situation, often puzzling out ways to overcome the traps they fall into using intelligence rather than brute force, and in the end they both have to work together to overcome the Princess (Chris has a Prism whose power is reliant on Rainbow Brite's light to work, while Rainbow Brite's power rely's only on her will...and star sprinkles).

RAINBOW BRITE AND THE STAR STEALERS isn't just a great action adventure, it has strong feminist themes that it tackles head on in the narrative and makes for a satisfying emotional journey.  I still enjoy it to this very DAY (and I'm over 30.  ^_^;;;).


Monday, May 21, 2012

AVATAR AVATARDING: Asami IS Amon; A Hypothesis.

AVATAR: The Legend of Korra
I haven't nerd-blogged in a loooooong time, but I also haven't been as invested in anything as I have been in AVATAR: THE LEGEND OF KORRA in a long time either.

Frankly, the show is great.  Not just great animation, but great TELEVISION...great storytelling.  People are usually so ready to dismiss and animated show as trite fluff or as somehow creatively compromised by the format, but I dare them to watch an episode of KORRA and tell me that it's not among the best things ever to be put on TV.  It's almost DEADWOOD good (yeah, I went there...that's how serious I am).  With it's dense worldbuilding, well rounded characters, real stakes, intricit plots, and exploration of complex themes, KORRA demonstrates a depth rarely seen on TV lately, much less in the field of animation.

AVATAR: TLoK S01E04 - A Voice in the Night
And while we're on the subject of the animation...few shows can claim to look anywhere near as GOOD as KORRA.  Jaoquim Dos Santos (who has previously worked on other shows I loved, such as JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED, GI JOE RESOLUTE, and the DCU movies) knows his shit, and the art direction, storyboarding, and animation of KORRA as a whole has risen to dizzying new heights as a result...as good as AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER looked, KORRA looks BETTER.  It's not just the ambitious, exciting, and kinetic fights (A Jaoquim Dos Santos speciality) but the bold camera angles, the meaningful close-ups, the breathtaking wide shots, the fluid transitions, and, most impressively, the ACTING.  Even minor characters have, well, character in their movement, and Bo-Lin and Tenzin's animators seem to be constantly trying to one-up each other in acting of their characters (admittedly it's like apples and oranges though; Tenzin's wild takes need to be balanced against the more subtle stroking of his beard, while Bo-Lin has free license to act ridiculous all the time).

KORRA is a show I am heavily invested in; it makes me laugh, it makes me fret over whose hurting whose feelings with their highschool bullshit, it makes me lean forward in chair gripping anxiety during an intense fight, and, most of all, it constantly surprises me.  Episode 4:  A Voice in the Night in particular had some incredibly brave and bold storytelling, showing the depth that Korra has as a character; she's not just the stoic hero, but a teenage girl.  As the Avatar she has always been strong, and thus, has never felt threatened or frightened by anything...until Amon.  Korra feels threatened bythe potential to lose the thing she feels makes her special, and has no idea how to deal with it; she's always been taught that the Avatar has to be strong and without fear.  And when Amon and the Equalists subdue her at the end of the episode, the entire scene is frightening and dark and feels like a violation.  Korra is overwhelmed by this newfound feeling of helplessness and vulnerablity, and does a very human thing; she cries.  How many Saturday morning cartoons can you think of where the character has to deal with such volatile, complex, emotions, much less be allowed to EXPRESS them?  This is the real deal.

Which brings me to my newfound investment in AVATAR: TLoK.  So it's time to throw my hat into the ring of wild fanboy speculation and advance my baseless theory as to who I think the series resident mystery man might be...AMON.

Amon; Leader of the Equalists
Amon is the leader of the Equalists; a group of self-proclaimed revolutionaries made of dissident Non-Benders (people who do not have the potential for bending, though it's still a little unclear what makes someone a bender...something to do with naturally occuring chakra gates, I guess?  They explained it a little in the first series) who seek to overthrow the Bending elitists who supposedly oppress them.  Amon's identity is a mystery thus far, his signature white and red mask, armor and hood concealing his identity (he looks sort of like Doctor Doom, and that's good company for a supervillain to be in).

Asami Sato
Asami Sato is Mako's new girlfriend and daughter of Future Industries founder and CEO, Hiroshi Sato, an inventor and futurist who build a company around his greatest creation, the Sato-mobile, a sort of steam-power model-T.  She's beautiful and intelligent, and no prissy socialite, having proven that she has a taste for danger and fast vehicles, as well as self-defense training since a very early age.

I think that Amon and Asami may be one and the same.

This may be an controversial theory to put forth, but hear me out before you judge; thus far there is more evidence in favor of Asami being Amon than there is for Amon not being Asami.

Firstly, how do we know that Amon is in fact a man?  He is covered from head to toe in a heavy leather tunic and armor, which could potentially conceal Asami's figure.  Padding in the armor and lifts in the books could helf to change slight Asami into imposing Amon.  No one has seen Amon's face, which he claims was taken from him by a firebender in his youth, but how do we know this is true?  Close ups reveal enough of his eyes to see that he isn't scarred, at least in that area.

...Asami's Eyes
Amon's Eyes VS...
While on the subject of Amon's eyes; they do look somewhat similar in shape to Asami's sharp, fox-like, eyes.  This is only circumstantial evidence, though, as it's mostly a stylistic thing, and thus not really admissible...but it does drive speculation.

 As for Amon's deep, terrifying, voice VS Asami's sultry lilt, it's not out of the realm of possibility that her father, a genius inventor who has supplied advanced and miniturized weaponry to the Equalists (including some awesome steam-powered mecha suits!) could have built something to distort her voice; it's already been established that radios and other recording techonlogy is present in Republic City, so it is within the realm of possibility that Hiroshi Sato could have built such a device into Amon's ever-present mask to further conceal Asami's identity.

Asami is noticably absent every time Amon is on-screen or delivering a message on the radio (though those could potentially also be pre-recorded), including during the Fire-Ferret's championship match, in which her boyfriend was particpating, and which her father was sponsoring.  Also suspicious is the circumstances under which Mako came to meet Asami and then be introduced to Hiroshi Sato, who offered to sponser the Fire-Ferret's in the Pro-Bending Tournament, which was later revealed to be a large part of Amon's plot to embarrass the Avatar, perpetuate Anti-Bender propaganda (the Referee had been paid off to be biased against the Fire-Ferrets, but it was not revealed who paid him off...Asami has the means and opportunity to do so, and if my hypothesis proves right, also the motive), and spread terror.  The Avatar HAD to be present at the Tourney for the terror attack to have maximum psychological impact.  Asami also admitted to Mako during their first meeting that she had been to every match; this would provide her the opportunity to gather intelligence on the Arena, as well as the various teams, and predict and manipulate who would make it to the finales, which she did when she talked her father into sponsoring the Fire-Ferrets championship bid.

The Equalists are shown as being technological advanced and it has already been revealed that Hiroshi Sato has been supplying them with technology; but who has been training them to use it?  Amon's elite troops are shown riding motorcycles with great skill, and Asami has proved her driving abilitiy when she raced with Korra riding shotgun behind her.  She demonstrated not just skill, but practised expertise...which makes her awkward run-in (literally) with Mako suspect; how can she have such control on a racing vehicle, but not her scooter?

There is also reason for speculation in some of the comments Asami has made.  Asami has told Korra, Mako, and Bo-Lin that she has been trained in some form of self-defense since she was a child...we have thus far only seen one demonstration of her martial skills, which allowed her to overcome the Luitenant, who even Korra has thus far been unable to defeat, but it is too early to speculate if her abilities are on par with the expertise that Amon has demonstrated, which puts him on a level equal to any Bender he has encountered thus far.  It is entire possible that Asami has trained in Chi-Blocking, especially given Hiroshi Sato's proven hatred for Benders following the death of his wife at the hands of a Fire Bender.

Speaking of Fire Benders and personal tragedy...Asami and Amon's stories of having lost a loved one to a Fire Bender are very similar.  Amon says that he lost his family and his face to a Fire Bender who extorted money from his father...the wording here is murky.  He doesn't say that his father died, just that his family was taken.  Asami says that she lost her mother to a Fire Bender who robbed their mansion when she was a child.  This could be a coincidence or it could be a lie on Amon's part to help protect his identity.

As for the disruption of Hiroshi Sato's plan to trap the Avatar...Amon has made it clear that he has specific plans for the defeat of the Avatar, and has already proven that he could either kill or take away the Avatar's bending at any time; he has had opportunity to do this on three occassions, and has actively stopped his subordinates from engaging Korra.  Sato's trap was not part of Amon's plan, and his killing of the Avatar would have proven detremental to whatever Amon's endgame was.  Not only that, but Amon has proven ruthless in his actions, and Asami demonstrated NO hesitation in subduing her father...her facial expression was especially cold moments before tasering him.  If she was Amon, her motives here would be to get control of the situation, and to subdue an out of control asset.  Also, there is nothing that says that Sato knows who Amon is...even if Amon is using a voice distorter designed by Sato, he could have been recruited and commissioned to build it at Amon's behalf, until the impression that it would be used to hide Amon's identity (which it would...even from him).

What does Asami gain from that if she is Amon?  First off, she is now above suspicion in the eyes of the authorities and Korra.  Secondly, she defused the situation on both sides, allowing her to keep her identity hidden from not only Amon's followers, but Korra and her friends, while allowing the Equalists to escape with their assets intact, including Sato.  Assuming that Asami is Amon, she gains a lot from coldy electrocuting her own father.

Admittedly, this is a far off theory, and supported mostly by circumstantial evidence, but there is a LOT of it, and AVATAR has proven itself a show that isn't above the shocking reveal or the surprise twist.  Whoever Amon is, whether I am proven right or wrong, I assure you that I cannot wait to find out!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

TIM DRAKE: Gay or Straight, and the Argument's For and Against

I've been pretty busy today reading various articles and reactions to moves being made Superhero comics publishing, namely DC's annoucement that one of their 'classic' characters will be reintroduced to the new 52 as a homosexual.

The response has been predictably mixed.

Until DC actually announces who this character will be, fans will speculate, they will argument, and they will vehemently deny that anyone should fuck with their continuity, because, "they've never been gay, so they can't be gay, and that's just how it is.  I'm not a homophobe, I just like things the way they are!"

This is a weak argument, but it is the most popular line being toned by fan scared that one of their favorite characters will be gayed by DC, and right now Tim Drake has become the focus of this argument, because he is a popular character upon whose sexuality fans like to speculate.  More open minded fans speculate that there is much in his canon that suggests he could be gay, while other vehemently deny the possibility and parade a chorus line of failed relationships with women as evidence that he absolutely, in no way, can POSSIBLY be gay...as if there has never been a 17 year old kid that hasn't 'gone through some stuff.'

The most popular argument among the latter kind of nerd is, "I'm not a homophobe...I just don't like people messing with my continuity."  Which is a weak argument because people MESS WITH CONTIUITY ALL THE TIME.  DC just completely and totally FUCKED with continuity as part of a company wide reboot, and Marvel is continuously retroactively fucking with continuity to keep things current...Spider-Man doesn't remember his childhood growing up in the late sixties and hanging out with beatniks at the Coffee Bean.  Continuity has, and always will be, fluid in a shared universe of serialized, neverending, stories, because it HAS to be fluid otherwise characters would grow old and die with their audience.  Most of your comic book heroes will probably outlive you.

The continuity argument is just a weak way of justifying most nerds sheer terror at the idea of their favorite character having a fluid sexuality, but the argument can go both ways, especially when applied to Tim Drake, as there is plenty there to suggest that he might just be another teenage kid going through some stuff.

Take his relationship with Superboy for example.  Tim Drake literally LOST HIS SHIT when Conner Kent died, and not only tried to resurrect him through various means, but even went as far as CLONING him in multiple iterations, despite knowing that it would never be the same guy, and then tried to have a relationship with his girlfriend, because it was just another way of being close to him.

The argument against this reading, of course, is that I'm just feeding the stereotype that any close male relationship is gay, and that they just had an extreme and beautiful bro-mance, but I don't remember Batman doing any of that when Superman died...Bruce Wayne took Clark Kent's death took that death much better than Tim Drake ever took Conner Kent's, and even Superboy's girlfriend, Cassandra Sandsmark AKA Wonder Girl, never went to such extremes, and she lost her VIRGINITY TO HIM.  To me, that is real love, and while not necessarily sexual, it does smack of confusion, particularly considering the guilt and awkardness that Tim exhibited after he kissed Cassie.

There are also other instances of Tim Drake acting odd after encounters with females...there's one panel I remember from some issue of Red Robin (which I don't have on hand to reference) where he recoils after being kissed by a girl.  One way of reading it is that he was taken by surprise, another is shock at being kissed by someone you're not attracted to.  There is PLENTY of canonical evidence in favor of Tim Drake being a kid going through some stuff, and potentially questioning his sexuality, as many, MANY, teenage boys have before him.

He's a white teenage boy in America; even if he was gay, the pressure and expectation placed on him would be to DATE GIRLS, which he did, and it may not have been his thing.  Yes he has had numerous relationships with females, including a long and storied one with Stephanie Brown AKA the Spoiler, one of my favorite comic book relationships, but I'm not such a slave to continuity and the maintainance of the straight, white, status quo that I can't argue that that relationship inevitably fell apart, even before her death, as has every other token female relationship, and when Spoiler was murdered (one of the WORST FUCKING STORIES and WORST FUCKING TREATMENTS of a character I can remember...I still feel like she was only brought back to life as a way of getting rid of their boner for the horrible and dismissive treatment of a female character who was tortured to death, and then forgotten almost immediately, and not represented in the Batcave despite having been the only female Robin for a time), I don't remember Tim Drake trying to bring her back from the dead.  Hell, I think Cassandra Kaine may have had more issues dealing with her death, as we now know that since Spoiler never was dead, all those times Cassandra saw her 'ghost', it was the fabrication of a young woman who desperately missed someone she loved (a good case for Cassandra Kaine potentially being gay, by the way, as she has never had any sort of relationship with a male beyond platonic, though I think she was flattered by that one kid near the end of her runs interest).

The only argument against Tim Drake not potentialy being gay is that straight white middle American nerds just don't want him to be, because it scares the shit out of them to think that a kid who had several awkward realtionships with girls could realize that maybe the reason they didn't work is because he wasn't that invested in them to begin with.  If Tim Drake is gay, then there's a chance that anyone could be gay, including themselves, and that scares the shit out of them.

The "I'm just a continuity whore" argument is a weak attempt at trying to justify their homophobia, just as it was a weak attempt to justify adverse reaction to potentially casting Donald Glover as Spider-man to justify peoples racism.  "Spider-man can't be black, because he was never black in the comics!"  True...but the movies are not the comics, and Stan Lee himself said that the point of Spider-man's mask is that He can be ANYONE underneath it...including Donald Glover, who has all the qualities that would make a GREAT SPIDER-MAN (though, disappointingly, Stan Lee was among those that said he should be white, because he's an old man who apparently just says a lot of stuff that he doesn't really mean).

Sorry nerds, but Tim Drake can be gay, and Spider-Man can be black.  Stop being so precious with your "continuity" and show some imagination and open-mindedness.

MARVEL STUDIOS VS FEMALE PROTAGONISTS

An article posted by my friend Andrew Wheeler (here) examines which female characters Marvel could potentially adapt to film following the success of the AVENGERS, and another article posted on DC WOMEN KICKING ASS (here) highlights Joe Quesada's disappointing lack of enthusiasm for investing in developing a franchise around a female character.

AVENGERS has changed things signficantly for Marvel...not only is it the highest grossing film this year (I'm going to go out on a limb and just call it now, as I don't think anything coming up is going to surpass it), but at over a BILLION and climbing in revenue, it also has the significance of being the highest grossing film EVER.  Even up to a few years ago making a superhero movie was still seen as taking a chance...you were pretty much assured to do some bank, but it was with your fingers crossed.  For every SPIDER-MAN or THOR there's a GHOST RIDER or GREEN LANTERN.  Hell, even X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, a personal favorite of mine, only did respectable box office as compared to the rest of the franchise, making more the the first movie in it's opening weekend, but less than it's sequels and spin-offs (X-MEN: THE LAST STAND and WOLVERINE: ORIGINS).

So every movie was a risk...AVENGERS proves that it's not.  Marvel has created something new in cinema; a shared universe with a diverse cast of characters spread across various franchises, all loosely interconnected and interacting with each other.  If you want to see the next movie, chances are you'll see every other movie tied into it, and with AVENGERS, every Marvel movie is now tied together, compelling the audience to constantly anticpate the next film and which of their favorites characters will be pop up next.

Not only that, but Marvel Studios has also stumbled upon a bankable formula for their films;

1)  Cast a charismatic actor, usually someone with a low, but growing profile (remember; IRON MAN is the movie that reinvigorated Robert Downey...he's always been a good actor, and has a great body of work, but he wasn't a bankable start until IRON MAN reminded people of how talented he is) such as Hemsworth and Chris Evans, both character actors looking to make the jump to Leading Man.  Content is King in Hollywood right now...a good actor breathes life into the character, but before THOR, you weren't going to see that movie for Chris Hemsworth...you were going to see it for Thor.  Thor made Hemsworth just as much as Hemsworth made Thor (my friend Andrew Wheeler will disagree of course, but he's hugely biased by how sexy Hemsworth is. :B)

2)  A tight script rooted in character as much as plot.  Character is key, and always has been for Marvel.  In my opinion, it's the thing that Marvel has always had over DC's properties.  DC characters are iconic, and often flounder when not in costume.  There's very little Bruce Wayne in BATMAN BEGINS or DARK KNIGHT, and SUPERMAN RETURNS main failing was that it was about Clark Kent instead of Superman...and among GREEN LANTERNS MANY failings is that Hal Jordan just isn't an interesting guy.  Iron Man is about Tony Stark...he barely even referred to as Iron Man in ANY of the movies he's been in...he's Tony, or Mr. Stark, or just Stark.  The armor is referred to as the Iron Man.  Thor has no dual identity, he IS the character, so he has to be someone you're willing to both suspend your diselief for and fall in love with for about 2 hours.  Same with Captain America; while he physically changes from frail to superhuman, all the qualities he has as Steve Rogers are still there when he becomes Captain America.

3)  Humor.  It's a very simple thing that is often overlooked; Marvel makes FUN movies.  IRON MAN roots it's comedy in character; Robert Downey is a funny guy playing a manic, cocky, loudmoth with a self assured swagger.  THOR rooted it's comedy in situation, making the most of the Stranger-in-a-Strange-Land theme to make for some great phsyical comdey and some hilariously awkward situation. CAPTAIN AMERICA's humore was more tongue-in-cheek and came up naturally.  AVENGERS was a combination of these, filled with one-liners and sight-gags (GALAGA was my favorite).  BATMAN is dark and the injection of humor undermines that gritty, unyielding, seriousness.  SUPERMAN was meloncholy.  GREEN LANTERN attempts at humor, despite having cast the usually hilarious Ryan Reynolds, were insincere and out of place.  The same can be said of early Marvel attempts like DAREDEVIL and ELEKTRA, while BLADE II made sure to inject some humor (I'm convinced that this is what inspired Marvel to adopt this approach to future films) that was absent from the first movie (though BLADE TRINITY took it WAY to far...).  The reason people are turning out in droves for Marvel movies is because they know that they're garunteed a GOOD TIME.

4)  Show people something they haven't seen before.  How GOOD do Marvel movies look?  How exciting and visually distinctive are they?  How diverse are the directors that have worked on them?  From the slick, Spielbergian, production design Jon Favreau brought to IRON MAN, to the majestic, Kirby inspired, set and costume design of THOR, and the color, serial film, slightly camp feel of Captain America.  Each film has it's own distinctive look and feel, and some brilliant and impressive special effects and action.  Iron Man doesn't look like Thor doesn't fight like Captain America.  Yes, you are garunteed to see certain things in a Marvel film, but you're also garunteed to get a movie experience that is unique to that film

With this in mind, what is really keeping Marvel from applying the above to any of their stable of female characters?  There's nothing there that is not applicable to a movie with a female lead.

One theory suggested by DC WOMEN KICKING ASS was that while Marvel has a diverse and well represented cast of female characters, they have also traditionally treated them with much less respect from a publishing standpoint.  At the time I'm writing this, Marvel has NO solo title with a female lead (thought Carol Danvers is sheduled to get a promotion from Ms to Captain Marvel, which I'm looking forward too), and it always seems like any book featuring a female lead is the first to get cancelled and the last to get a second or even third chance (why no She-Hulk book?  She's supported long runs before, and Dan Slott established the PERFECT way to handle her in a series, one of my favorite runs of comics of all time).  Most every female Marvel character is either affliated with a team or is a female version of a male hero, and thus inevitably tied to that character in some way (She-Hulk and X-23, for example).  As such, most characters are less developed on an individual basis, making it hard to build a movie around them as individuals rather than as part of a team...most of their villains are shared with their teammates, and any standout characters arcs are also tied into their teammates.

Still, given the success Marvel has had, I believe they may be in a very good position to start taking some chances and put the effort into developing and distinguishing these characters as a way of raising their profile and reaching a demographic that is woefully underserved.  I have a number of my own ideas on how you'd approach doing so, and since it's my blog, I'm going to indulge myself in some speculation.  I usually find this kind of thing self-indulgant because, well, who am I to say, "This is what they should do", but that's the thing...I'm the audience Marvel is targetting, and this is something I WANT to see, and right now Joe Quesada is telling me that it can't be done, and I find it  ridiculous that Marvel's Editor-In-Chief has so little faith in the characters he's supposed to be promoting.

Here I will examine both the Pro's and the Con's attached to each character, as I see them.

---

BLACK WIDOW


Black Widow would be the best bet.  First off she's already established in the Marvel movies, they've got a bankable actress who has proven capable of doing both the drama and action, and there's a lot of cool stuff to mine in her backstory (THE RED ROOM!).  Black Widow has a great and very cinematic origin, and as she's the female character most grounded in reality (even moreso than Captain America) it'd be an easy film to make on a more reasonable, less risky, budget; a globe-trotting spy thriller, a la THE BOURNE IDENTITY or a female James Bond, with a little bit of a sci-fi for flavor, given her origins as a human experiment.  Tie her into S.H.I.E.L.D. or maybe even CAPTAIN AMERICA by introducing the Winter Soldier.

The only thing Black Widow really lacks is a definitive villain...it's usually just evil Russian guys in uniforms or suits, or her dead husband, though I suppose you might be able to elevate Snapdragon or Iron Maiden somehow...Iron Maiden would make for a great visual.  Or, perhaps introduce the second, blonde, Black Widow as a villain; it worked in the comics.  Other characters that could possibly be worked in are personal favorites of mine that never get respect; the Soviet Super Soldiers, Crimson Dynamo, Titanium Man, the Gremlin, etc etc.  You've gone too far if you get to the Presense, though.  ^_^;;;

SHE-HULK

She-Hulk would make a better TV series taking cues from Dan Slott's awesome run...I don't really think there's enough there for a big summer movie, particularly since the Hulk movies (INCREDIBLE HULK was actually the perfect Hulk movie to me, but other disagree) tradtionally don't do well to begin with.  She's a great character and there's a lot to play with in a more intimate and decompressed story, but as a big summer tentpole, I don't know what you'd do with her in a standalone movie...but as a TV show, it's LAW AND ORDER with a big, sexy, green woman who fights monsters and aliens and is both intelligent and funny.

The other good thing about a TV show is that you don't need a 'mastermind' villain to define She-Hulk...you have the entire gallery of Marvel's loser villains and super-thugs to draw from, and while Titania doesn't have enough movitivation to carry a movie, she'd be a great recurring foe in a TV show!

Casting this would be next to impossible, and even CGI would be difficult as She-Hulk is much more human looking than the Hulk.  Hulk is distorted and there's a lot more room for suspension of disbelief in a CGI Hulk than there would be for a similarly CGI created She-Hulk.  But where are you really going to find a 6'6" plus woman with a body builders physic who both looks beautiful and can act?  Then there's the problem of Jennife Walters...do you cast another actress?  How do you make the same actress less impressive as Jennifer Walters than as She-Hulk?  Can people suspend their disbelief if Jen Walters and She-Hulk are two different actresses?  Can you have a show where Jen Walters is just She-Hulk all the time?  There are a number of logistical issues to overcome in adapting a live action She-Hulk...not to mention how much you want to tie her into the Hulk.  The Hulk is most probably not going to be doable on a TV budget, and the Hulk cameoing in a She-Hulk movie isn't going to do her any favors, considering he can't even carry his own movie.

A live action She-Hulk is something I'd love to see, but almost impossible to produce from a practical standpoint.

MS MARVEL

Ms Marvel could be rebranded (as they're already doing so in the comics) as Captain Marvel.  She's a character I'd take a lot of creative license with in terms of adapting to the big-screen to streamline her origin.  Plus with the failure of GREEN LANTERN, you already know what things to avoid when doing a more cosmic type of character.  Lots of good stuff to mine with Ms Marvel though...you can bring in the Kree, she's got a great power-set that would make for some awesome action (lifting tanks, blowing up space ships, and even when she doesn't have powers, she's still a highly trained and decorated soldier and pilot which would allow you to open the movie with some action).  The real problem here, again, is that she has no definitive villain...unless you count Mystique, Rouge, and the Brotherhood of Mutants, who are all attached to another franchise at another studio.  Maybe you can adopt Ronan the Accuser?

In terms of who I'd cast for Ms Marvel...Michelle Rodriguez would be great, but I'm not sure that Marvel, or fans, would accept the idea of casting against ethnic type, which is BULLCRAP, but I can't think of a blonde actress that could carry both action and the toughness.  Maybe Eliza Dushku with a dye-job?  That has potential.

Getting a 'star' isn't a big deal for these movies, as they tend to MAKE stars.  Look at Hemsworth or Jackman, for example.  Get someone right for the part with that Marvel Movie Star quality of charisma and humor, and you've got yourself a movie star.

HEROES FOR HIRE feat. MISTY KNIGHT and COLLEEN WING

I'm cheating a little here, as the best approach in my mind would be for and ensemble TV show, but how sick would it be to see Misty Knight and Colleen Wing share the screen with Luke Cage and Iron Fist to solve a super-mystery every week?  Four great characters who all have proven chemistry in the comics, and an easy to adapt formula, with a possible arc that you could touch on in every episode and pay off in the season finale!  Plus, all of these characters are very grounded in reality, and easy to cast and adapt on a TV budget (as terrible as it was, NO ORDINARY FAMILY at least proved that you could do a good looking superhero effects on a TV budget).  A little make-up for Misty's cyborg arm, some wire-work for Colleen Wing and Iron Fist, and some CGI for Luke Cage tossing around cars and bouncing bullets off of his well defined chest (which would inevitably become bare for the ladies and the gays.  ^_~).

Sexiness is what would be the greatest sell for this show...four attractive people having tense relationships and being in close proximity to each other...it's like superhero MOONLIGHTING!  I know that only Misty and Danny Rand (Iron Fist) have chemisty in the comics, but you could either manufacture a will-they/won't-they thing for Luke Cage and Colleen Wing, or introduce Jessica Jones (this is presuming that AKA JESSICA JONES never gets green-lit, which would be sad).

That's not to say that the show wouldn't work with just Misty Knight and Colleen Wing...or maybe even adapt Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray's run and add in Black Cat and a few other b-string female heroines to round out the cast and make it a VIP type show (yes, I know that VIP was terrible, but it was also POPULAR, and it's formula is applicable here).  I just like Luke Cage and Iron Fist, and I like those characters together, and I also think tha tif your goal is to appeal to a (straight) female audience, you need a little man-candy in there for them to oogle (also for the gay nerds, of which there are many).

It might also work as a movie, but I really feel like that formula would be wasted on a movie, when it could be so well served as a weekly TV show.

X-23

HANNA was already sort of the prototype for X-23, but HANNA isn't tied to what is arguably Marvel's most popular character, and she has a great origin, much like Black Widow.  Make no mistake...it would be a very dark movie, but hopefully with a little heart.  I like the idea of a very serious and hardcore female action movie though.  Some will inevitably see it as torture, but it's about the strength to ENDURE such torture, and to rise above it.  There is a lot of depth to X-23 that would make for a great movie.

The problem is that she's female Wolverine, and anything involving X-23 is going to be introduced in a Wolverine movie before it'd be introduced in her own movie...unless, of course, you had Hugh Jackman serve as second banana to a young, untested, actress.  The thing is...he'd do it.  Hugh Jackman is one of those rare actors that is humble enough to take a lesser role in service to the character rather than making sure that that anything involving the character is in service to him, and he's proven time and again that he is one 'down' cat, willing to do almost anything if he thinks the fans will enjoy it.  The problem, then, is that, even in a secondary role, Wolverine would potentially overshadow X-23 in her own story.  It would take some very clever writing and directing to make X-23 on her own merits.

NOVA

Here's something no one has suggested, as it's usually decried as heresy; why not take a well known, but otherwise b-sting character and reinvent them as a woman?  There is nothing that says that Nova (the Human Rocket, not the Herald of Galactus) has to be a man.  You can even call her Richie Rider.  The main problem is that Nova is a little too simliar to Ms Marvel, and has only one debatably good villain in the Sphinx.  Still, there's a lot of good stuff there...a teenage girl accidentally inherits amazing alien powers and has to juggle highschool with preventing intergalactic war; that's some fun suff!  Everything about Nova's character is as appliable to a female protagonist as it is to a male protagonist, and he's undeveloped enough in the comics that there is room to create something new and worthwhile from the character.  There is no definable love interest, and there is no great, character defining, story-arc that I can think of that would stand in the way of making Nova a rigidly male character.

All that really stands in the way of doing so is that nerds are way to precious, uncompromising, and myopic when it comes to adapting characters to other forms of media.  The only real argument for Nova not being a female character is that Nova has never BEEN a female character.  Nova's being a man does not make him a better character, and being recast as a woman would not make him a worse character, it's as simple as that.  Plus, there's already precident for recasting Nova without fan outcry in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, as Nova went from being bland, white, Richard Rider to cocky, non-white (I'm assuming he's hispanic or dominican in the show, though they haven't clearly defined that), Sam Alexander without people being weird about it for once.  Nova has his fans, but they aren't so vocal as to stand in they way of his being recast for a potentially positive outcome.

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I could play this game all day, but the sad fact is, if Marvel doesn't want to do it, they won't, and that is a sad fucking story.

The most important thing that should be taken into consideration when making a female lead superhero movie is this; don't just make it for the boys...make it for the GIRLS.  Get a female director; Karen Kusama made a perfect example of what a female superhero movie should be in adapting Aeon Flux to the screen...the only problem with that movie really is that it's not a good Aeon Flux movie, but it IS a good female superhero movie.  She's strong, proactive, self-assure and intelligent, and most importantly, at no point in the movie is ANY woman ever a VICTIM.  The only person that ever actually threatens Aeon are OTHER STRONG WOMEN.  She dispatches every male villain and is never at their mercy.

But beyond that, make something sexy and sleek, throw in some man-candy.  THOR is probably one of Marvel's most female friendly movies; the only one that is objectified in that movie is THOR!  Staight-white-males like myself have more than enough to satisfy our various lusts and cravings; give your female (and homosexual) audiences something to oogle...because I know for a FACT that it works (looking at you Wheels.  ^_~).  A little romance never hurt anything, but just because your lead is a female doesn't mean we need to see her breasts...the only tits in a female lead superhero movie should be Chris Hemsworth's.

Women deserve their heroes too, and everything that makes a good male lead superhero movie is applicable to a female lead superhero movie...serve your audience, Marvel.