It’s no secret that Ben Affleck’s Batman/Bruce Wayne is, along with Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, one of the brighter aspects of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which is saying something considering the somber and dreary coloring ofbenaffleck the film perpetually existing in the twilight hours of the DC Cinematic Universe. So of course no one was surprised when it was announced that Affleck would be starring in a Batman solo movie. Better yet, Affleck is also co-writing the script with President of DC Entertainment, and DC Comics writer, Geoff Johns as well as directing the film, which again makes sense given Affleck’s rise in Hollywood as a director for critically acclaimed films like Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and the Oscar award-winning Argo.

With Affleck’s deep and unabashed affection for all things Batman, this seems like the perfect fit. The only thing standing in the way of success for the film is what story Affleck and Johns want to tell and how they plan to move the character forward after the still lingering fallout from BvS and whatever happens in Justice League. Recently, Affleck leaked test footage for the Batman solo film featuring Deathstoke, a villain who’s had several run-ins with the Justice League and the Teen Titans in the comics and cartoon. Additionally, there was the series-changing appearance of Manu Bennett’s version of Deathstroke/Slade Wilson during Arrow‘s second season that likely put him in the sites of WB executives. Earlier this month it was announced that Joe Manganiello (True Blood, Magic Mike) would be playing Deathstroke, likely making him at least one of the main villains going up against the Dark Knight, if not a challenging opponent for the burgeoning Justice League.

Bringing Deathstroke into the DC Cinematic Universe is an interesting move considering he was mainly a Teen Titans villain, but his inclusion does open up some possibilities for Batman and the greater DC universe of films. So, using the information provided by rumors, speculation, and actual confirmations, I’m going to walk you lovely readers through how I would approach the Batman solo film. And if someone working on the film happens to read it **cough**Ben Affleck**cough** all I ask is a story credit because that’s how that works, right?

Also, remember that this is the roughest of ideas. Just thoughts that have been rattling around in my brain. So…

Being true to itself, the internet is full of speculation as to which storyline(s) Affleck and Johns could pull from the comics. One theory is an adaptation of Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, which would give the film room to include a ton of cameos from Batman’s rogues gallery as the Caped Crusader fights his way through a riot at the questionably effective psychiatric facility. More recently, it’s been rumored that Deathstroke could take the place of Bane as the main antagonist of a Knightfall adaptation. The story by Doug Moench and Jim Aparo is most well-known for the moment Bane breaks an exhausted Batman’s back, leaving the vigilante paralyzed from the waist down and Gotham City without its guardian. You’ll recall The Dark Knight Rises used aspects of the story as well, which could deter the solo film from using it. The third big contender is the Hush storyline by Jeff Loeb and Jim Lee that features a lot of cameos by prominent characters in the DCU. Like, a lot of characters. The story, however, generally follows a noir narrative as Batman tries to uncover a plot by a villain only known as Hush who seems intent on taking the Dark Knight down.

None of these books would be a bad choice for an adaptation. They all require Batman to have been operating for a joe-manganiello-as-deathstrokesignificant amount of time, which the previous films already established with Bruce’s 20-year long crusade, and they feature a large supporting cast of well-known and not-so-well-known allies and villains. What makes the possibility of one or all three stories providing some structure to the movie so exciting is how they could easily tie into the previous films and service the character going forward. Batman may be a loner, but he’s the most sociable recluse in the DCU.

For the sake of argument, I’m going to proceed with the idea that the Knightfall storyline would be the backbone of the movie’s narrative. Deathstroke is either hired to take out the Bat or he takes it upon himself to go up against the Dark Knight based on pure ego. Bane’s original plan was rooted in besting Batman on all fronts, mind and body, so it wouldn’t be too out of left field to say that Deathstroke’s reasons have a similar basis. His tactical prowess, intelligence, and enhanced skills make him a formidable opponent, so pitting him against another man at peak physical condition and extreme intelligence would make for some killer fight scenes.

Okay, moving on!

With Batman’s lengthy timeline of operation in tact the solo film would get a lot of leeway when it comes to bringing new characters into the fold. This works in Batman’s favor because, according to BvS, Bats has been on a bit of cruelty streak in the wake of the destruction in Metropolis and the loss of a building and some people he may have cared about. Possibly. We could also lump in the death of a Robin acting as lingering trauma on top of the ever-present Mommy and Daddy issues Bruce has bouncing around in his head. This all goes to say that by the end of BvS, and most likely after the Justice League two-parter has concluded, Batman’s attitude towards teamwork will have shifted in a more favorable direction. Eager to mend fences and reestablish old connections, a significant chunk of the story could be devoted to building the Bat-Family, or rebuilding it where the characters are concerned.

One of the more frustrating things about being a Batman fan is the lack of Bat-Family within the film adaptations. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy only made the slightest of nods to Robin in the final moments of the third film and the less that can be said about the Joel Schumcher version of Dick Grayson the better. There’s an aversion to including the extended Bat-Family in the film adaptations, which I can mostly understand but still find aggravating. Yes, a teen sidekick brings up a whole slew of issues – mostly the lack of child protective services in Gotham – but the purpose of Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, etc. is how they contrast and compliment Batman in his endless war on crime. Just having Alfred around to chastise or wax poetic keeps Bruce in a strangely infantilized state where he’s constantly answering to his surrogate father. By giving him a sidekick, or a partner, Bruce is now the father-figure doling out advice, training his “children,” and making tons of mistakes along the way.bat-fam

And it’s those mistakes, plus his renewed appreciation for teamwork, that lead him towards reconciliation in the solo film. If we make the assumption that the Robin suit featured in BvS belonged to Jason Todd, it would go a long way towards establishing the additional trauma Bruce has experienced in losing a surrogate child. That loss would feed his rage and guilt, which would then cause him to push away anyone else he feels could be harmed because of their association with him.

Enter Nightwing! There have been quite a few retellings of the hows and whys of Dick Grayson’s transition from teen sidekick to standalone hero. Sometimes the split is amicable, a natural progression as Dick matures into a young man, and other times their fighting causes a rift that takes years to repair. In the case of the solo film, why not combine both? Prior to the events of BvS, perhaps Dick decided to become his own man and help Bruce as Nightwing, leaving the position of Robin open to a new recruit, Jason Todd. Jason’s death at the hands of the Joker (sneaking in a Death in the Family reference) would then cause Bruce to take his rage out on Gotham’s criminal underground. Dick being the out-going and sympathetic guy that he is tries to help, but Bruce pushes him away. Instead of sticking around to receive more of the same, Dick leaves Gotham City for the equally corrupt Blüdhaven, barely talking to or seeing Bruce for several years. When Bruce arrives to make amends, it adds a layer of tension to the characters that could be worked out over the course of the film or carryover into the inevitable sequels.

The presence of Deathstroke could even build off the tension between Batman and his fractured family. In the comics, Slade was also the father of three children – Grant, Joseph, and Rose – all of whom could join him in his fight against Batman. It would actually go a long way to show how off his game Batman is if Deathstroke and family (at the very least Rose and Grant who shared the name Ravager) overwhelmed him. A first encounter might send him towards Blüdhaven to recruit Dick and upon returning without any allies in tow, because Dick isn’t going to forgive him or help out immediately, a second encounter would result in Deathstroke delivering a nearly fatal blow. Barely escaping with his life, and probably with the help of some gadgets, Batman is defeated and exhausted in body, mind, and spirit. What can he do now? Who can he trust to help?8e5tqlw

Enter Tim Drake! There was a video going around of actor Ryan Potter (Big Hero 6) “auditioning” for Ben Affleck with a choreographed fight scene. At the end he entreats Affleck to consider him with the closing line of, “Batman needs a Robin.” Potter isn’t wrong and using one of Tim’s lines from the comics works in favor of at least considering the importance of Robin’s place as Batman’s partner-in-crimefighting. Again, using the angle of the fractured family of heroes versus the united family of villains, Tim’s role is elevated by his drive to see Batman and Robin back together. Timeline wise, Tim’s a young man – probably mid to late teens – so he’s grown up with the Dynamic Duo as a constant presence in Gotham. And because Tim is a studious person with plenty of ambition, it would make sense that he’d try to seek his heroes out. An early encounter with Batman could start the film, showing off Tim’s martial arts skills, as well as his talent for technology, but Bats discourages Tim from being like him. Tim counters that he doesn’t want to be Batman, he just wants to work with him. Typical Batman, “I work alone.” Tim fires back, “You didn’t always. And you shouldn’t now.”

Is it subtle? Nope, but it works to establish where Batman is and why Tim becomes a much more important character as the film progresses. By the time Batman has reached his lowest point, Tim returns to help the Bat-Family reunite. Comic book Tim already figured out the secret identities, so movie Tim could as well, seeking out Dick Grayson or communicating with him via the Bat-Computer and filling him in on what’s happening in Gotham. As Bruce prepares to go back out into the fray of Gotham City, now overrun with criminals from Arkham Asylum that Deathstroke released (moving parts of Knightfall around here for my own purposes), Dick shows up to join the fight, standing by Bruce as his ally once again.

Fight, fight, fight. Heroes win, Bruce is as happy as he can get, and Tim is eventually recruited as the new Robin with Dick’s approval and Alfred’s endorsement. Not everything between Bruce and Dick is resolved, nor is it the last they’ll have seen of Deathstroke and family (because superheroes!), but it’s a step in the right direction with plenty of story fodder for the sequel.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned Barbara Gordon/Batgirl yet. This is a trickier subject because Babs could be utilized in a couple of ways. In one scenario, she’s still Batgirl. With Batman still playing the loneliest loner type, we could see Batgirl operating solo or introduce the Birds of Prey as a splinter group trying to pick up the slack around Gotham despite Batman constantly telling them stop. Things could come to blows when Batman threatens to tell Barbara’s father, Commissioner Gordon, about her nighttime activities and she in turn threatens to reveal his secret identity to the world. She’s also good with technology, she helped build the latest version of the Bat-Computer, the one that broke into Luthor’s super secret thumb drive in BvS, so it wouldn’t be hard for her to plaster his face all over the internet and the nightly news. She’s not proud of the threat, but again, Bruce is pushing her into a corner. It eventually culminates with the Birds of Prey or, at the very least, Batgirl showing up to help.i-will-end-you

In the second scenario, she’s Oracle. For this to happen, there would have to be some acknowledgement of The Killing Joke, or a new backstory created to explain her forced retirement as Batgirl. Being Oracle has its advantages within the story. It would add another example of the Joker’s mark on the Bat-Family in the wake of Jason’s death and serve as a constant reminder to Bruce that he failed another person he loves. The connection between Babs and Tim in the realm of technology, however, would be useful in giving the supporting cast more interactions with each other. Babs could even be living with Dick in Blüdhaven (Babs and Dick shipper for life!), helping him fight crime as a nascent Oracle, which pits her against Tim as she blocks his attempts to hack the Bat-Computer from afar. What’s important, and necessary, is that Babs is a character in her own right. She fights regardless or her circumstances and she lets everyone know it. Even as Oracle she can get some licks in, so the wheelchair shouldn’t feel like a limitation. Would it be simpler to start her off as Batgirl? Yes, but there would be just as much meat to her character as Oracle if handled correctly.

So those are my lengthy thoughts and ideas about where the Batman solo film could potentially go. Like I said, WB and Ben Affleck, a story credit will suffice. And maybe a set visit…

In the wake of the senseless tragedy that occurred at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida back in June, DC Comics and IDW have decided to combine their powers and jointly publish LOVE IS LOVE, an anthology honoring the 49 shooting victims and celebrating the LGBTQ community. Scheduled for release in December for $9.99, all proceeds will go to the victims, survivors, and their families via Equality Florida.

Art by Elsa Charretier

Art by Elsa Charretier

Spearheaded by writer Marc Andreyko (Batwoman, Sensation Comics, Manhunter), LOVE IS LOVE will feature 100 1-2 page stories by at least 200 creators showing their love and support for a community still in mourning yet bolstered to fight back against bigotry and hate. While a full list has yet to be provided, many artists and writers have already announced their association with the project. Currently, we know the anthology will feature the talents of Phil Jimenez, Steve Sadowski, Paul Jenkins, Mike Carey, Matt Wagner, Marguerite Bennett, Aneke, Damon Lindelof, Patton Oswalt, Steven Orlando, Rafael Albuquerque, Jason Aaron, Jason Latour, James Asmus, Ming Doyle, James Tynion IV, Cecil Castellucci, Brandon Peterson, Jesus Saiz, Olivier Coipel, Leinil Yu, and Elsa Charretier. More names will be disclosed as we get closer to the release date.

Said Andreyko of the project:

 

When tragedy happens, art responds. And after the Pulse massacre, the comics community responded quickly, decisively, and with open hearts. I could not be more proud of this book, or to be a member of the comics community. The talent and emotion on every page is staggering. LOVE IS LOVE mourns the 49 lost, honors the survivors, and celebrates love in all forms.” [Source: The Beat]

 

With DC Comics backing the project, some of the stories will feature characters from the comic book universe and, if the cover art by Albuquerque and Charretier is anything to go by, it looks like the queer community of the DCU will thankfully be leading the charge.

Art by Rafael Albuquerque

Art by Rafael Albuquerque

 

byrneWith his latest Animated Adventures trailer for Firefly sparking flames of rekindled love for the short-lived Joss Whedon sci-fi western, artist Stephen Byrne has gotten a bit of a pop culture visibility boost with a multitude of websites praising his work while demanding his trailer become a reality. He takes it well, though, celebrating the outpouring of love with his own earnest gratitude and humility. A man of many fandoms (aren’t we all), Byrne infuses heavy doses of joy and energy into his work, bringing smiles even to the grimdark worlds of some more notable characters we’ve seen grace the big and small screens. I reached out to Byrne recently and he was kind enough to answer some questions about his work, fandom, and the “infamous” kiss.

 

Maniacal Geek (MG):  For those out there who may not be familiar with your work (i.e. those living under rocks and in caves), could you explain a little bit of your background as an artist and animator?

Stephen Byrne (SB): Sure, I studied animation in Ireland at the Irish School of Animation. I’m from Dublin originally. I studied there for 5 years and then did some work in the animation industry, before falling into games and now moving more into the comics industry.

 

MG: What was the first fandom that inspired you to make fan art? Was it the world itself that inspired you? The characters? Both?

SB: Power Rangers!! I was drawing Power Rangers comics at age 8. I think my tiny brain wanted to draw things and tell stories but didn’t really have the capacity to come up with anything new at the time, so I would draw out Power Ranger comics, which I was obsessed with at the time. I made like 60 of them! Still have them somewhere…

 

MG: The Animated Adventures of Firefly has gotten a huge response from fans, media outlets, the original cast, etc. What has surprised you the most about this outpouring of love for the trailer?

SB: Maybe Nathan Fillion retweeting? Although I was hoping for that because I know he’s pretty active on social media. Actually more the fact that he sent me a tweet that indicated that he found the whole thing quite meaningful. I look at it as a bit of fun, but the amount of comments and messages I got from people having intensely emotional responses to it was surprising, but that’s down to what Joss Whedon did, not what I did.

MG: You’ve done a few Animated Adventures trailers (and a tease for Harry Potter), but what’s the most difficult aspect of distilling such expansive worlds into videos that last less than a minute? What do you try to focus on?

SB: Uhhhhh it’s kinda all over the shop. I usually have a basic outline of what I want to do overall. I want to put in a few time-consuming shots that will be challenging to do. But then it becomes more like ‘what can I do quickly that will look shiny?’. Because I work full-time, the whole thing is pulled off in evenings and weekends over a long period of time, so it’s easier to do a spaceship with some zoom lines flying past than it is to do River doing acrobatic insanity.

 

MG: Gushy statement: I love the way you use lighting and bold colors in your work! So much is captured in a page or a headshot with the moods and tones you create. Actual question: Do you like to challenge yourself with technique? Was there ever a project that pushed you to change how you approach your art? Or have your style and methods been pretty solid and steady?star-wars-episode-7-5

SB: Thanks! Funnily enough, color used to be a trainwreck with me. I was like ‘grass is green, sky is blue’ and it all looked very garish. I was determined to figure it out but it developed over many years and is now probably the thing I get noticed most for. As for challenging myself with technique – always. Every thing I do is an attempt to improve on the last thing I did, in some small way. I’m always looking for improved approaches.

 

MG: Your fan art comics for Spider-Man, Star Wars, and the DC Trinity have caught a lot of attention as well, the Trinity comic especially for the “surprise” ending. Do you go in with the intention of subverting expectations or do these stories write themselves as you go along?

SB: The ending to Trinity changed halfway through. And it wasn’t even my idea. A friend in work said it would be funny if Batman was actually jealous of Wonder Woman. I was like ‘yep that’s way better’ and rejigged the story from that point, so it became a little longer, but better.

Star Wars Episode 7.5 was all built around the Jar-Jar reveal. That’s the whole reason I did it. I was thinking it would be fun to do something Star Wars-y. I had really enjoyed the new movie. And I was envisioning the story in my mind and I got to the moment when Kylo Ren turns around and I was like ‘wouldn’t it be interesting if it was some else?’. That was the moment I actually decided to go ahead and draw the thing. I have lots of ideas flying through my brain at any given time, but only a limited amount of hours to do them, so yeah, I do pick things that I think will get a reaction.

 

MG: And because I’m morbidly curious, what was the overall response to the SuperBat kiss? Did you experience backlash from the dark side of fandom? How does that aspect of fandom push you creatively?batman-superman-kiss

SB: Naw it wasn’t too bad. There were some commenters that were like ‘WTF? GAY.’ Very astute people. There were only a couple of vitriolic hateful comments, which I will delete or block or whatever. But I enjoy negative responses generally, because they are either rooted in some sort of fan outrage, which means they care about what I’ve done, or they are constructive criticism (less often) which means you can learn from them.

 

MG: You seem to live and breathe superhero and sci-fi genres with a good portion of your work, but is there a genre you haven’t really tackled that you’d like to?

SB: I’m a superhero comic nerd. That’s my jam. I could see myself doing an indie ‘real world’ comic but I think you can say more about the world and speak more honestly through a genre filter. I may get tired of it but it hasn’t let up in the last 20 years.

 

MG: Your first of two Green Arrow issues came out last week, so congratulations! What challenges and triumphs do you find working on mainstream books vs indie or creator owned projects? Any other DC characters you’ve always wanted to tackle?

SB: Challenges and triumphs: With mainstream books the schedule is tighter and the money is… Existent. Which is great. Lots of DC characters I would love to draw yes. Watch this space🙂

 

MG: You’re also working on a creator-owned sci-fi book with Dan Slott. Any information you can give about it or is it still a bit hush-hush?byrneslott

SB: Nope I can’t say anything about that at all! Sorry! Except that it is gonna be AWESOME.

 

I’d just like to say thank you, again, to Stephen Byrne for being gracious with his time despite his busy schedule.

Links to Stephen Byrne:

 

st

critical-role-castI’m only 65 episodes behind the curve, but I’m a fast learner when it comes to the fun, entertaining, and surprisingly heartfelt Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) web series, Critical Role. A live broadcast and weekly peek into a world beset with ancient dragons, barbarian hoards, and some rather unconventional gnomes, Critical Role follows the exploits of Vox Machina, a group of mostly heroic adventurers as they traverse the fictional land of Tal’Dorei. The intrepid band of misfits, however, are brought to life by an equally, and mostly, heroic group of dice-slinging voice actors, all of whom have been playing their characters for three years; two on the live stream and one year prior to the inception of the show. The characters and their actors are as follows:

  • Vax’ildan “Vax” (Liam O’Brien) – a half-elf rogue/paladin and twin brother to Vex’ahlia
  • Vex’ahlia “Vex” (Laura Bailey) – a half-elf ranger/rogue and twin sister to Vax’ildan who also has a pet bear named Trinket
  • Grog Strongjaw (Travis Willingham) – a goliath barbarian
  • Keyleth (Marisha Ray) – a half-elf druid
  • Percival de Rolo “Percy” (Taliesin Jaffe) – also known as Percival Fredrickstein Von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III, a human gunslinger
  • Scanlan Shorthalt (Sam Riegel) – a gnome bard
  • Pike Trickfoot (Ashley Johnson) – a gnome cleric

And guiding our heroes in their exploits is the world-building powerhouse of a Dungeon Master (DM) that is Matthew Mercer. Pulling some impressive double-duty, Mercer not only crafts the realm of Tal’Dorei but he also effortlessly voices all of the non-playable characters (NPC), running the gamut of high-born ladies, lowly orcs, and a thoroughly confused bear.

I’ve only played D&D, and some other tabletop games, a few times in my life with varying degrees of DM and party performance, but I can say wholeheartedly that this is the first time in a long time that I’ve ever wanted to get back into gaming. Hell, this is the first time in a long time I’ve wanted to join somebody else’s game just to experience the energy and absolute fun they have for roughly three hours every Thursday night. The camaraderie of the players and the DM is infectious because they’re just as invested in the welfare of their characters, just as shocked when a plot twist occurs, and just as devastated when events go horribly, horribly wrong. To put it another way, they love their characters and it shows to the point where even a husk of human emotions like myself can get a little teary-eyed.

So, really, this is just an overblown, non-ranked list of reasons why I’m now obsessed with Critical Role. Trust me, it doesn’t disappoint.

Oh, and SPOILERS for the series. Just in case.

 

The Gameplay

 

This seems like a no-brainer, but a significant portion of what makes Critical Role such a success comes from how the players, and by extension the characters, interact with their fictional environment. Setting aside the little character moments and exploratory missions (we’ll get to them in a bit), when Mercer tells the party to roll initiative to battle some greater foe, they’re in it. No one slouches, everyone pulls their weight to support the success of the group in destroying beasts and baddies alike. The physicality of the players speaks louder and louder as the battle rages: eyes wide, mouths agape, everyone fidgeting with nervous energy at each role of the die. Full sessions have been devoted to taking down one enemy (to be fair, it was a dragon) until Mercer asks, “How do you wanna do this?” and the whole group explodes with excitement knowing that the killing blow is just moments away. I’d be lying if I said my own erratic movements didn’t mimic theirs. Even smaller, more desperate, moments are rife with tension as the characters struggle against mind control or frantically try to resurrect one of their own.reaction

There are a couple of episodes that stand out in particular regarding moments of triumph and potential tragedy. In the case of the former, I’d recommend episode 52, “The Kill Box,” wherein Grog, unable to defeat his uncle, leader of the barbarian herd, in single combat, calls upon his friends for help. There are plenty of moments where each character shines but the best bit of teamwork comes when Vex flies in on her broom (long story) and sucks a badly beaten Grog into her necklace (just go with it) to get him somewhat out of harms way. She then releases Grog from high up in the air, giving him the advantage needed to deliver the deathblow to his uncle. It’s definitely an engaging three hours of fictionalized combat and by the end even the players look exhausted. In the case of the latter, it would have to be episode 44, “The Sunken Tomb,” that finds the party searching for enchanted armor beneath the city of Vasselheim. Neglectful in the wake of defeating a Beholder, Percy accidentally sets off a trap that kills Vex, but the party, joined by some guest adventurers, springs into action to bring her back. It’s really more about Laura Bailey’s reactions as well as the other players. The second she realizes what negative hit points means there’s this gutted look on her face as the others search for spells to resurrect Vex. Everyone’s practically in tears until Mercer informs them that she’s alive again.

 

Character Moments

 

It would either be awfully dull or too stressful to watch a group in a constant state of combat. Luckily, the players are actors and they act the shit out of these characters. While some episodes are combat heavy, there are others where the most action that happens is the group goes shopping and some epic haggling ensues. The breathers are needed, though. It gives the party time to rest and recuperate and it gives us, the audience, a few moments alone (so to speak) with the characters, all of whom have their own little story arcs, wants and desires, that tend to overlap with the main story. There are too many character moments to name, and all of them have landed some fantastic one-liners or shared some tears, so here are a few favorites:tumblr_nl9tzk10pe1r201t0o2_1280

  • Vex and Vax – pretty much every episode has a nice moment or two between the twins, Episode 40 has a brutally emotional scene as Vax pleads with Vex not to stray too far from his side in the wake of a dragon attack, but one of my favorites involves some boots, ghostly servants, water and flour, and some brother/sister heckling (Episode 56, “Hope”).
  • Grog and Pike – after Grog purchases a new, badass hat, Pike decides to try it on and takes it for a run (Episode 57, “Duskmeadow”).
  • Keyleth – I’m pretty partial to the druid princess’s awkward high fives after some kind of emotional admission (Episode 44, “The Sunken Tomb,” and Episode 65, “The Streets of Ank’Harel”)
  • Scanlan – any time Scanlan sings to inspire. Anytime (All episodes) Also…Spice? You spice? (Episode 65)
  • Percy – there are a lot of very sweet moments where Percy waxes poetic or wallows a bit, but it’s really when he’s acting like a spoiled rich kid that he shines. His attempt to get Scanlan’s daughter out of prison is a particular favorite (Episode 39, “Omens”)
  • Group Effort – that time opening a wooden door was a nearly impossible task (Episode 29, “Whispers”)

 

Matthew Mercer is Amazing!

 

This can’t be effectively described in words. You have to see and experience just how great of a DM Mercer is. Just know that his character work, as well as his world-building, is phenomenal.

Charity

 

The cast and crew of Critical Role have been supporters of the charity 826LA since the beginning, encouraging fans to donate during the broadcast on Geek & Sundry and thanking those who do on air. However, due to the overwhelming generosity and creativity of their fans that made for some sweet Critmas day unwrapping, the players each chose a charity for fans to support in lieu of the money going to smaller items like dice bags or gigantic bear statues that take up space and are hard to store.

D&D For The Good of All

fi-cr_cast

We’ve definitely come a long way from the days of Mazes and Monsters, but there are still certain stigmas associated with gaming and gamers that keep people who might find RPGs to be a pleasant experience. Currently, we’re in a bit of a cultural upswing in regards to D&D-style role-playing. I don’t know what, if any, influence Critical Role has had where the bigger picture is concerned, but it’s certainly at the forefront of the pro-gaming change to the status quo. Not only do we have Critical Role, but Matt Mercer and Ashley Johnson are part of the Force Grey filmed RPG show for Nerdist. There’s also Dan Harmon’s Harmon Quest on Seeso that mixes live role-playing with animation and one of the best shows on Netflix, Stranger Things, features the main characters playing D&D as bookends to the series. Small steps, yes, but important nonetheless.

So those are the reasons why I’m currently obsessed with Critical Role. Maybe this encouraged you to check it out or maybe you’re already a fan. Either way, what are your thoughts on the show? What are your favorite moments? Characters? I’m eager to know.

Oh, and…Is it Thursday yet?

PrettyDeadly_Vol2-1What is the point of the “natural order” if the world appears to operate in chaos? Can we change our role, our destiny, or are we servants to a greater calling? What is courage in war? What is fear? Is there a difference between the two or are they companions of a sort?

These are only some of the questions the second arc of Pretty Deadly poses.

None of them have clear answers. Well, most of them.

What I admire about Pretty Deadly and its creative team of writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, artist Emma Rios, colorist Jordie Bellaire, and letterer Clayton Cowles is the ambiguity, deliberate or otherwise. We ask big questions all the time, drilling our own psyche on ideas too vast and nuanced to have an ultimate, or, at the very least, satisfying conclusion. Art is one of many platforms we use to tackle those questions; making sense of what seems impossible to understand and still we only scratch the surface. Pretty Deadly‘s sophomore tale doesn’t worry itself with definitive answers. Instead it lives and breathes in a realm where equilibrium is constantly in flux, allowing for even the smallest action by the smallest of creatures to alter the course of events.

Before diving in, however, it’s important to acknowledge the craftsmanship of Rios, Bellaire, and Cowles on the unique and devastatingly powerful images in this book. In case you didn’t know, it’s gorgeous! Rios is a master of implied motion, which make for some amazing fight sequences, but it’s in her two-page layouts and splash pages where the enormity of her talent is on full display. Her repetition of patterns is stunning, specifically the gnarled rivulets of blood that feed the faceless Reaper of War contrasted with the intertwining branches and brambles of Sissy’s pastoral realm. It’s life and death performing the same dance. Equally strong and unique is the color palette, which Bellaire turns into its own form of storytelling. The heavy blues of the WWI trenches hauntingly contrasts with 640the bright green of oncoming mustard gas and the heightened red of the War Reaper so well that when they all come together the clash of color amplifies the intensity of the wartime setting. And Cowles’s skill as a letterer remains a constant and vital component of the storytelling process; one bubble out-of-place and the flow stops, the mood dies, the story falls flat. These three artists, combined with DeConnick’s prose, make Pretty Deadly what it is, a piece of art.

That being said, the plot goeth thusly: It’s been about twenty years since the events of the first arc and Sarah Fields is on her deathbed. Fox, now a Reaper, arrives to bring her to the flourishing World Garden but Sarah’s daughter pleads for more time to give her baby brother Cyrus a chance to return home and see Sarah before she dies. Unfortunately, Cyrus is fighting in the trenches of France and the errant Reaper of War has him and his fellow soldiers in his sights. Devastated by the flood of deaths, Sissy sends her Reapers to protect Cyrus and end the war.

 

Man on the Run

The themes of change and adaptation are mapped out from the very beginning. Still engaging in their stories in the Soul Garden, Deathbones Bunny and Butterfly happen upon a bee. Bunny just barely recognizes her noting that she was once a nurse but is now a forager for her hive. When Butterfly asks why Bunny didn’t recognize her old friend, Bunny replies, “Her changing role has changed her.” When Butterfly asks how, Bunny remarks, “It’s changed her body. We are all shaped by what we do.” Fittingly, the words hover below the approaching Sissy, Death Incarnate, whose body changed when she embraced her role in the natural order and who, in turn, changed the Soul of the World.

Her story finds its parallel in Cyrus as the young man contemplates the chaotic world around him. Like Sissy before him, Cyrus is hesitant to embrace his future. He may not be a supernatural Ascendant, but the unknown of a war-torn world inspires just as much fear and anxiety. And with that anxiety comes a crisis of identity. Throughout the story, but more specifically under the gentle razzing of his fellow soldiers, Cyrus is identified by several nicknames and personality traits. His home in the American West and affinity with horses make him a “Cowboy” while his mile-long, dreamy gaze into the moon dubs him “Moon-Man.” In his protest of the Cowboy moniker, a 9French soldier teases that he’s a knight searching for adventure and nobility, noting that his kindly treatment of a mouse in the trenches indicates he has a soft heart. Though he protests being called soft, Cyrus self-identifies with the horse that knocked him in the head. He’s a runner, willing to go halfway around the world to escape whatever it is that spooked him.

What becomes apparent by the story’s end is that Cyrus is the sum of his disparate identities and, like Sissy, it’s only when he understands how they work in tandem that he is able to make the greatest impact. As the Knight with a soft heart the mouse he kept alive goes on to spook the corrupted Reaper of Fear, a ghostly horse mounted by the Reaper of War, causing Fear to buck War from his back, severing his heightened power. And as the Cowboy and the Runner, he forms a bond with the equine reaper, easing his anger and calming him enough to send him into the fray once again. This time on the side of the better angels, so to speak. These facets of Cyrus culminate in his true calling, a final identity, the Reaper of Courage. Like the bee, like Sissy, Cyrus is given cause to adapt in the wake of change. It makes good on the Moon-Man name as well – an apparition of bravery in battle riding a mount made of eerie moonlight.

 

Always Two There Are

Duality plays a significant role in the world of Pretty Deadly. In the first arc, Fox and Death’s parallel treatment of Beauty led to one’s downfall and the other’s redemption. Their shared story served as a window into the state of the supernatural world and how the previous Death had subverted the natural order. The second arc offers a similar window, this time into the machinations of the Reapers. They ride in pairs, though their partnerships fall somewhere between the complimentary and the combative. Molly Raven and Johnny Coyote are the Reapers of Good and Bad Luck, though it’s never quite clear which is which. Deathface Ginny is the Reaper of Vengeance and Big Alice is the Reaper of Cruelty, which doesn’t sound like a good fit until one considers that vengeance can easily turn to cruelty and cruelty can be conducted in the name of vengeance given the right circumstances. If anything, Ginny and Alice keep each other in check. The creation of these dynamic duos, however, is essential to understanding how they operate and how they influence each other and the mortals around them.

The setup leads to the big reveal that the Reaper of War’s gas-mask toting horse is actually the Reaper of Fear and it’s their spurious partnership that keeps blood spilling on the battlefield. A veiled metaphor for the incomprehensible death and destruction surrounding WWI, War’s success lies in his corruption of Fear, taking away the flight instinct of otherwise sane men and leaving only the push to fight. It fuels his blood lust and the fervor of war experienced by soldiers, without a healthy sense of fear, ensures that Sissy’s garden of souls remains unnervingly full. When War is thrown from his mount, thanks to Cyrus’s mouse with an assist from Molly Raven, Fear is free of his control. It’s when Cyrus calms the spectral stallion, though, that he becomes the Reaper of Courage. Yes, he masters Fear, but he also respects it with an understanding that Fear is necessary, if not vital, to survival. Through the symbiotic partnership of Courage and Fear, sanity appears to have returned. For a while, at least. Duality, however, goes beyond the Reapers and is constantly reinforced through the discussion and presence of more relatable and “observable” concepts like luck and fear.

 

God Bless the Cowards

Thematically, fear presents an intriguing obstacle within Pretty Deadly. Its manifestation as a horse rings true considering the quiet, almost calm, exterior of such a majestic beast can easily swing towards panicked outbursts in a split second. How we interpret fear and our response to that interpretation makes all the difference, which DeConnick and Rios capture beautifully as Ginny struggles to overcome her potentially mortal wound delivered by War. She’s hindered, however, by the suffocating spiral that fear creates in dire situations. Beautifully rendered by Rios, we see Ginny fold into herself, naked and afraid, falling into an abyss of her own mind. The focus on her hands gives her struggle a visceral quality as she tries to claw her way out despite the weight of fears dragging her down. She manages to snap out of her fugue, but only because Molly Raven’s warning is so sudden and startling. It’s the power of fear, which makes our ability to surmount it all the more courageous. But is courage only found in overcoming fear or is there  just as much, if not more, courage in acting on fear?rios-pretty-deadly-10-cowards

There’s a fascinating moment, probably my favorite of the series, between two nurses discussing cowardice. The two are clearing the battlefield of bodies but one, Claudia, can’t stop crying over the thought that the soldiers – brave, young men – died alone and afraid. The other nurse, let’s call her Kelly (wink, wink), rebukes the idea that fear is something to be pitied. Instead, Kelly praises fear, commenting that there’d be more living men if they’d had the good sense to be afraid sooner. She drives her point home with the example of German soldiers opting for mutiny instead of drowning in a sinking ship. Not only did they save their own lives out of fear of death, but their actions turned the tide of the war by sending the Kaiser on the run. It’s also worth mentioning that this nurse sports one of my favorite expressions in the whole book.

Like Inside Out‘s conclusion that Sadness is a necessary and healthy part of growing up, Pretty Deadly turns Fear into a facet of heroism, subverting the typically conditioned response of patriotism in wartime. Courage and cowardice are two sides of the same coin. They exist simultaneously, but we make the conscious choice to interpret them one way or the other. Claudia calls Kelly’s notion that cowardice should be praised “disgusting” because her idea of heroism and courage can’t accommodate a positive place for fear. We claim to support our troops, but it’s amazing how fast that support turns to opposition over any perceived cowardice. The very thought that someone wouldn’t want to sacrifice themselves becomes offensive when it’s really more disheartening that we measure bravery based on that willingness. The conversation between Claudia and Kelly could easily be shifted from the trenches of France in 1918 to the blast walls of Afghanistan in 2015 and remain relevant.

 

Chaos, Luck, and the Like

One of the many reasons I admire Kelly Sue DeConnick is her fearlessness when it comes to storytelling. She’s willing to kill her darlings, but there’s always purpose behind the loss. The events of this book, however, have the feeling of a preemptive strike, a means of preparation and reassurance from DeConnick that something else is in the works. For the time being, though, this is the story that needs to be told.

Once again, the opening pages set the tone for the second act of this four-part story. The perceived chaotic madness of the bee hive troubles Butterfly, but Bunny is quick to remind her that order isn’t so easily seen except in hindsight. As the story progresses, the nature of luck is explored through the parable of the Lucky Farmer. Roughly told by Molly Raven to Johnny Coyote, then retold by Bunny to Butterfly, the story within a story posits that luck is neither good nor bad until the story ends. In fact, it’s both at thetumblr_o23dsquo1g1qeeerco4_500 same time; a construct used to make sense of what cannot be explained but only takes on meaning after the fact.

As the story of the farmer unfolds, the ups and downs of war play out. Cyrus and his fellow soldiers fight the enemy and the Reaper of War’s influence with each moment punctuated by a similar occurrence of good or bad luck within the parable. As readers we believe we have a certain amount of savvy when it comes to storytelling and the rules of drama, which makes Cyrus’s death that much more excruciating despite DeConnick’s early warning of his impending demise. There’s a cinematic quality to the writing and the art that gives us hope Cyrus will survive. It’s a war movie, right? Surely the hero survives since so much effort was made by Sissy and all of her Reapers to get him home?

The salve on the wound, however, is the nebulous duality of this world as seen in the spiritual hymn recited at the beginning and the end of the arc. With Sarah close to death, the wording and imagery takes on a menacing, fearful tone as flames engulf the people sitting vigil outside her home. But by the end of the story, when Cyrus arrives to help usher his mother into the afterlife, the hymn becomes a joyful eulogy as a ghostly mist fills the panels. Like the Farmer’s luck, like our perceptions of fear, Sarah’s passing is both a time for mourning and a time for celebration of a life long-lived. How we frame it alters the tone. Cyrus is dead, but he “lives” on as the Reaper of Courage. Will more come of his new role? Or does his story end here? It remains unknown until the next event and, like the Lucky Farmer, Pretty Deadly has yet to have its ending.

One has to wonder, though, if the world, or Ginny, could possibly survive without Big Alice? And does Alice’s absence mean Fox, the Reaper of Grace, and Ginny are destined for a dynamic duo of their own? Would there be any survivors of such a pairing? We’ll have to wait to find out.

 

 

yoshi

jupiter

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If you’d like the shortest review for Ghostbusters that I can provide, it’d be this: It’s a fun, hilarious, if flawed action comedy starring some of the funniest women in movies and television.0004565435-ew-1420ghostbustters_612x380

It’s not hyperbolic to say that Ghostbusters is significant in the current landscape of Hollywood. It is both an example of the cinematic malady of reboots, remakes, and “reimaginings” of previously existing franchises as well as the agonizingly incremental shift towards female-led movies as viable properties regardless of genre. Unsurprisingly, then, that a lot of people would find “issues” with it, the reasons of which range anywhere from “Another reboot?” to “They’re ruining my childhood!” to, my personal favorite, “[insert expletives about women here.]” But whether you think Ghostbusters is the next step in the vast conspiracy of women taking over the film industry or it managed to “ruin your childhood” – somehow – I can’t stress just how important Ghostbusters is to the next generation of moviegoers. Yes, the 1984 film means a lot to the young men and women who grew up imagining themselves as Peter Venkman, Egon Spangler, Janine Melnitz, or maybe Slimer, but this new generation of girls and boys will be spoiled for choice as they get to pull from two casts of funny, smart, and competent Ghostbusters to emulate on the playground or dress up as for Halloween.

Having those options is a huge deal. Huge. As a tomboy who watched the gendered cartoons of the 80s and 90s, I often found myself gravitating towards the “boys’ cartoons,” which included Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joe, and The Real Ghostbusters. On the playground, however, I was still “the girl,” so I could only be a girl character because playground logic sucks. But it’s that basic kind of logic kids latch on to and when girl characters are ditzy blondes, secretaries, or the sexy evil counterpart while the boys get to play quippy heroes and awesome villains, it sends a message. Thankfully, some of us grow out of the gender binary as law mentality, but giving kids that ability to see male and female characters in similar roles goes a long way to ensuring they see equality as the norm. And if Ghostbusters can contribute to those future generations’ acknowledgment of women as comedians, action heroes, scientists, and yes, Ghostbusters, then the film is a success in my book.ghostbusters-full-new-img

What I find most interesting, though, is the way Ghostbusters addresses the “controversy” surrounding its main characters without really addressing it outright. It starts with a short, to the point question Martin Heiss (Bill Murray) asks of the Ghostbusters in the wake of their first successful capture of a monstrous apparition:

Why are you pretending to capture ghosts?

It didn’t really hit me until that moment, about halfway through the movie, that Ghostbusters, directed by Paul Feig and co-written by Feig and screenwriter Katie Dippold, is held up by a spine of subtext most women recognize immediately. The “controversy” surrounding the film being what it is, it’s impossible not to see the through-line that informs the Ghostbusters’ most prominent threat outside of actual ghosts: skepticism.

It makes sense, then, that Heiss, a skeptic, asks the question in such a condescending manner. He, along with the main antagonist Rowan North (Neil Casey), are part and parcel of the misogynist culture that continually thwarts women where matters of respect and legitimacy are concerned. While the movie itself never flat-out makes gender an issue within the plot or the story – save for an added scene blasting YouTube commenters and a quick, “You shoot like a girl!” towards the end – it’s constantly present in the external forces acting against the team. To wit, it isn’t a coincidence that these external forces are male. Heiss, Rowan, the ‘Buster’s secretary Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), and the Mayor of New York (Andy Garcia) all present minor and major hurdles for the team as they try to prove themselves in a city determined not to believe them. ghostbusters-2016-ghosts

The most fleshed out character arc in Ghostbusters concerns Dr. Erin Gilbert’s (Kristen Wiig) struggle to be taken seriously as a scientist. At the beginning of the movie, she’s obsessed with getting tenure at Columbia University because tenure equates to status within academia. When her book written about the paranormal with childhood pal, and fellow scientist, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) resurfaces, she seeks Abby out to keep anyone at the university from finding out about her dalliance in pseudo science; thus the plot begins. The importance of those early scenes, however, feed into the movie’s subtext. Erin wants to be acknowledged by her peers and her university; she wants the pride associated with legitimacy and the respectability that comes with it. Her concerns and actions are deeply rooted in how she wants to be viewed by the rest of the world, which keeps her from throwing herself into her true passion. This is reinforced throughout the film as the media questions the veracity of their first paranormal catch, the Mayor’s office’s actively calls them frauds despite knowing the city’s ghost problems are real, and Erin’s personal trauma of seeing a ghost as a child only to ridiculed by other children with the moniker “Ghost Girl.” With each new development, Erin’s frustration and her desire for legitimacy become more apparent.

It makes the scene with Heiss that much more significant within the narrative. Everything about how Murray plays him is a reminder that women are scrutinized far more than men when it comes to verifying their work, actions, and words. Protection of female sex workers, reporting domestic violence and sexual assault, and even the concept of “Fake Geek Girls” are only a few examples of how women rarely get the benefit of the doubt. We’re liars until proven innocent and even the truth doesn’t guarantee anything. To put it another way, when Venkman says, “Back off, man, I’m a scientist,” he says it cooly and with smarmy confidence. When Erin says, “We can figure this out. We’re scientists!” it’s said desperately, as if everything’s riding on proving themselves as such. And for Erin everything is riding on proving that, as scientists, the Ghostbusters can fix the problem. Her confidence and her self-worth are tied up in her credibility more so than Abby, Holtzman (Kate McKinnon), and Patty (Leslie Jones) so her departure from the team after being called a fraud, yet again, rings true.logo

It’s unfortunate, though, that the scene in which Erin leaves the team is missing from the theatrical cut of the film. One of the consistent pieces of criticism towards the movie is its pacing issues, which I agree is problematic. The story has been building to Erin’s crisis of confidence and departure from the very beginning, so to lose it and what I assume would be an emotional moment between her and Abby as long-lost friend reunited, then torn apart again, is an odd choice. It’s a pivotal moment and the loss of it adds to the messiness of the third act. Her return to the group feels less triumphant and less emotionally resonant when we’re not really sure she left the group at all.

Erin’s return to the group is similarly an important moment because of the message sent. Yes, it’s okay to doubt yourself. Yes, the world may constantly try to weigh you down and question everything. But it’s through the strength and resolve of friendship, of a community, that keeps us going. Erin is the most like herself with Abby, Holtzman, Patty, and even Kevin. She’s more confident, self-assured, and she pushes herself to do things she never would have done before – because her friends are there to help her succeed and lift her up if she fails. She, in turn, will do the same. If you take nothing else away from this movie, at least let that be the one thing that sticks.

If you’ve been on the fence about Ghostbusters, I’d encourage you to go see it because it is a fun time at the theater. There are plenty of homages to the original film, but this new batch is doing their own thing and carving out a new branch of the Ghostbusters franchise. Hopefully, a sequel will give Feig and Dippold more time to flesh out the characters and give us an even more entertaining story starring these hilarious women. More importantly, Ghostbusters is a step in the right direction for women in Hollywood. We can bust ghosts with the best of them and the more chances we get, the more this won’t seem like a “big deal.”

 

amelia

tattooed lady

Maud Stevens Wagner

 

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