Reflections of a Day 14 Years Ago…

On this day 14 years ago, the lives of 2,977 civilians – of various genders, ethnicity, religions and sexual orientations – lost their lives in an act so senseless that it brought an entire nation closer. We came together as one community to hope for survivors, mourn for our dead and help those who searched tirelessly through the ruins of the attacks. We did not care if we were Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, religious or not; on that day and for several days after we were all American. Not only was it one of the darkest days of our country, but one of the moments in the history of the United States where I could honestly say I was proud to be an American. It was a day the founding members of this country had hoped for.

September_11th_Tribute_in_Light_from_Bayonne,_New_Jersey14 years later, I feel the lessons and experiences we had together as one nation were never fully learned. The people of the US, who we wish other nations would emulate, are more fractured than they ever were. We lost an innocence that day, only to replace it with fear and mistrust. We have become so polarized that we no longer can hope for an earnest dialogue to resolve fissures in our communities. Vitriol, ideology and mistrust have now become a mainstay of our daily lives. And every day we become even more divided, unable to show understanding or respect for one another. Yet, we do nothing to change it; we choose to either ignore it or become venomous towards anything that differs from our beliefs. All while the US, along with other nations of the world, currently fight an enemy who believes their ideology is the only way; the same behavior we exhibit to one another everyday. And we fight not with an understanding as to why these fanatical, oppressive individuals feel the way they do, but with hatred and anger in our hearts.

My question is this: How can we be proud of ourselves as Americans? We can’t, pure and simple. How can an entire nation fail 2,977 people who died as members of our community – not to mention the countless first responders or soldiers who fought for not just our freedom, but for others as well – and had done so in vain? Their passing brought us together in one moment as one nation that is only remembered one day a year. How can we have let their memory down by becoming so fragmented and visceral towards each other on a daily basis? How would they react seeing what the nation has become in their wake?

My only hope, which is fleeting with each passing year, is that we finally come to our senses as a community. That we understand that not all Muslims are terrorists. That the lives of Blacks, Hispanics, Arabs, Asians and Native Americans matter just as much as Whites. That those who are Gay, Lesbian and Transgender are just as human and equal as those who are heterosexual. That it is not just a Christian belief to help the less fortunate. That we can be constructive in discussions among ourselves, and deal with whatever issues that plague us as a people. That we can be united in this grand experiment known as Democracy, even when we differ in opinion. That we can all stand together, side by side with one another equally, and be one nation as those who signed the Declaration of Independence intended 239 years ago.

Only when this occurs can we honestly, without a shadow of a doubt, be proud to be American. Only then could this war on what is known as terror be won. And most importantly, only then would we have infinite possibilities to not only progress our community, but the world as well.

People Need To Calm Down About the Batgirl Cover

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To paraphrase the immortal words of Ron Burgundy… Well that escalated quickly.

Ever since the Joker variant cover for Batgirl issue #41 was released for preview a few weeks ago, the artwork has caused more chaos within the geek community than the classic Batman villain could ever have hoped for. So much so, that our community could head toward another polarizing standoff similar to GamerGate. And after this is all said and done, it very well may be the true majority who will be caught in the middle of the argument and ultimately suffer.

As it was mentioned on a recent GSB Podcast, we have come a long way in a short amount of time when it comes to women and comics. Last year alone saw both female characters and creatives alike make waves in the comics industry in a big way. We saw G. Willow Wilson’s new Ms. Marvel become one of the most popular new characters of the year. We saw a woman character – whose identity has yet to be revealed – become the new Thor, with sales of the title making an impact in a short amount of a time. We have seen Captain Marvel’s popularity pick up even more popularity with an announcement that the character will receive her own movie with a definitive release date. Gotham Academy, with two girls as the leads and written by Becky Cloonan along with Brenden Fletcher became a breakout hit of the September releases. Storm received some much needed attention after so many years as a team player, and has been met with nothing short of positive responses both in the blerd community and the geek community at large. We had an alternate dimension Gwen Stacey and Silk be an integral part of a revitalization of Spider-Man, so much so that each received their own titles. Women creatives have also been important on other books such as Supergirl (which now has its own show pilot), She Hulk, Catwoman and Angela: Asgardian Assassin.

Not only did comics at the big two change, but a lot of smaller titles – many that have female creatives – have gained notice as well. Lumberjanes, created by Grace Ellis and Noelle Stevenson, received major acclaim amongst women geeks. There are also numerous female creative teams working on a wide range of projects from Adventure Time to Edward Scissorhands.

And, of course, there was Batgirl’s revamp by the creative team of Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr. Not only did we see her receive a new costume, but a whole new approach to the character; one that is a more positive approach for the character. It is pure girl power, plain and simple. It is truly a refreshing change of pace for a character who – despite having been violated a couple times over the last 25 years – has been a fan favorite.

So I can see why, after only recently bringing the character in this direction, why people would be upset about the variant cover illustrated by Raphael Albuquerque. In the end, it was Albuquerque himself who asked DC to pull the cover after people protested the release, including the title’s creative team. In a statement after the request, Albuquerque cited “For me, it was just a creepy cover that brought up something from the character’s past that I was able to interpret artistically. But it has become clear, that for others, it touched a very important nerve. I respect these opinions and, despite whether the discussion is right or wrong, no opinion should be discredited.”

Personally, I found the cover was brilliantly illustrated by Albuquerque. It is a great homage to The Killing Joke. It served its purpose in merging the dark events of Barbara’s past to her current status. But, therein lays the problem with DC’s decision. It is the characters past; a horrible, tragic past that saw her not only the target of barbarism by a psychotic character, but suggestively sexually violated as well. Yes, without that past she would not have become Oracle. She would not have become not only an important part of the Batman family, but the entire Earthbound DC universe as well. But it is still the past. Fletcher, Stewart and Tarr want to bring the character into the future and be a role model for girls everywhere. To attach the cover to the 6th issue of this new direction is not simply a complete lapse of judgement on DC’s part, but a slap in the face of both the creative team and the fans of the book. In light of this, pulling the cover at the request of the artist was the only decent thing DC could have done at this point.

And there was no ugly protesting or embarrassing walkouts of staff like what occurred during the infamous Batwoman incident. DC respected Albuquerque’s wishes. Yet, despite the decision, there was a backlash by many on social media. Erik Larsen – the creator of the stereotypical 90’s macho, violent superhero known as The Savage Dragon over at Image – ranted on Twitter over the decision, accusing DC of backing down from the cover due to the “vocal minority.” Others joined him and complained that this was blatant censorship, and that no one complained that Batman was raped by Talia al Ghul, among other examples. That artistic freedom has been sacrificed to comply with the whims of an irate few. It is all the markings of what incited GamerGate. Before this issue gets out of hand, there is something that needs to be said…

Calm the Hell down!

This is not an issue of censorship or artistic integrity, as another editorial pointed out very clearly. The cover simply does not fit with the direction the book is heading. The fans do not need to be reminded that Babs Gordon has had it rough. We know it occurred. Leave it in the past where it belongs. Albuquerque’s cover is a piece that many (myself included) would not mind owning a print of, since it is well done and honors the history of the character. But, this is about moving forward. That is how we, the silent majority, feel.

Ultimately, the fault does not fall on whatever this “vocal minority” is or who they represent. It does not fall on the artistic integrity of Albuquerque or the creative team of the book. All of this solely rests on the shoulders of DC’s corporate personnel. And I hope in the future that these same individuals would pay closer attention to not only sales numbers, or the kinds of books they currently publish, but how their creatives and fans may or may not respond to these kinds of stunt promotions.

Afro Commentary: SDCC Is Not A Place Where Fake Violence Reigns

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I recently read an article in the New York Times that, as a part of the geek community, upset me. The article, written by Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes, uses the stance that geeks consume violence-ridden media and we turned out okay, so there just can’t possibly be a correlation between it and behavior. I find the logic of this piece not only fundamentally flawed and ultimately crap journalism, but an insult to the geek community at large.

You are probably saying to yourself, “Well they are right, aren’t they? We are good little girls and boys and we watch stuff blowing up all the time.” That’s not the point. The authors, in their infinite wisdom and presumed good intentions, do us a disservice while using the backdrop of the San Diego Comic Con. Also, the stance taken that we are an exception amongst society is a misnomer; in fact, it has become quite apparent over recent years that we are becoming a majority.

In the article, we are depicted as a group that is very well mannered and nice. Well, aren’t we being obvious. Of course there is no elaboration as to why or other adjectives added to this assessment, most likely omitted to service the prose of the article. Even more disparaging is that we are singled out not for who we are – a diverse community of intelligent and sophisticated individuals – or what we represent, but as an example to push an editorial agenda. There are reasons for our civility; ones that the authors neglect to go into in order to satisfy a stance.

First and foremost, we are a passionate and creative community. We may disagree with one another and have the occasional troll, but we are like minded individuals.  We are diverse, coming from all walks of life and look to experience new things from various cultures. At the end of the day, we understand that we do not want to be embroiled in conflict; that is what we have comics, TV and movies for.

But make no mistake; we are also legion when it is necessary. If we disagree with something, whether it is a Marvel editorial change or gay marriage, we do voice our opinion in unison. There are things we need to rectify within our own ranks (misogyny being at the top of that list), but we always make our voices heard when we feel slighted. More so than society gives us credit for.

SDCC is a time where we celebrate our culture and community as geeks. We do not celebrate violence at the convention. We celebrate our love for these properties. Some of us are more creative and up front about it than others (like cosplayers), but that’s the reason why we congregate like this. We do not care about the contents of a story unless it is produced well and it is riveting (Doctor Who is a big example of this.) We never asked the studios to be at SDCC and bring movies like The Expendables 3 or the Twilight series; they hitched a ride on the crazy train of their own free will long ago. So insinuating we go to SDCC or any other convention to project our love of MDK (Murder Death Kill for anyone who was born in the 90’s or later) is an insult to our community. In fact, the authors completely missed the point of these conventions.

The authors also attempt to mention us and Elliot O. Rodgers (the Santa Monica assailant), Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook shooter) and James Holmes (Aurora mass killer) in the same breath to prove a point. We take no responsibility for them. In fact, despite The New York Times writing an article regarding a major factor in these incidents –  unlike other US “news” outlets – Cieply and Barnes refuse to acknowledge it. It is the one detail that not only clearly sets them apart from us, but many in society in general. In all three instances (much like the kids in Columbine and others who perform these acts) the perpetrators were psychologically unbalanced. You have one who had Asperger’s (Lanza), one who was clinically depressed (Rodgers) and a third who is clearly a sociopath (Holmes.) All three disengaged from society for any number of reasons, their reality becoming so warped they felt their actions were not only justified but actually a good idea. Society does not care about those who have mental illness; it is considered a dirty secret no one wants to talk about. Such an unwanted topic in fact, that when these tragic events occur we start pointing fingers in the wrong directions. The news outlets automatically go into the hypocritical arguments of “This is the fault of <insert either media or guns>!” Not the fact that when people get to a certain low point they withdraw themselves from society and have no one to talk to without fear of being locked up. No, our society never reacts the way they should in these scenarios. We are quick to blame others than reflect on the causes or solutions to the problem. News agencies only perpetuate the behavior further with sensationalistic pieces like the one Cieply and Barnes wrote.

The geek community is the only one that I know who responds to such topics correctly. We care about what happens to our society in general, because we understand that if affects all of us as a whole. We do not wear blinders until a tragedy occurs. It was our community that had the right dialogs and responses after Sandy Hook. It was us who denounced James Holmes’ gruesome attack at the movie theater in Colorado. We are always talking about issues such as how society should be equal and strive to get others involved both within and outside of our community.

Cieply and Barnes questioned how we can be around such violence and not be affected. I have questions for them. Don’t worry, they are very simple.

Where were you when our community took to social media to not only renounce the tragic act at Sandy Hook, but had a real conversation about how mental illness was the cause? When 50,000 gamers took a pledge to not play FPS’s for 24 hours in response to the Sandy Hook shootings? Or when the studies that came out before and after Sandy Hook which illustrate how video games are actually good for people by helping their eye/hand coordination, cognitive reasoning and decision making skills?

Where are you when girls and women are harassed or treated objectively at conventions? Where were you when a 17 year-old female SDCC attendee was found bloodied and unconscious on July 27th, possibly a result of an assault? Or when it was discussed on a Kevin Smith podcast that Cartoon Network does not care about having females watching DC/Warner Bros. Animation shows?

Where are you in the discussion of the lack of people of color developing projects for a mass audience that are not racially stereotyped? That there are many non-white creatives out there who have great story ideas but are unable to break through into a general audience? That a recent study suggests that Hollywood movies do not reflect the diversity of the US?

Where were you when DC refused to allow Batwoman, a lesbian character, to marry her same sex partner? While we’re at it, where was the larger article when the gay Marvel character Northstar married his boyfriend? Why would you care at all, when you normally leave such news items to outlets that are apparently beneath you?

Ah, that’s right; editorial agenda. You are filling the need of your advertisers, the same studios that spent millions pushing their products on us at SDCC.

Do the geek community a favor New York Times, and stick to journalism. If you really cared about what we think, then cover items or concepts that concern us like racial, gender and sexual equality. Don’t come to these here parts unless you want to write a real article about our community.

Afro Commentary: Stop Worrying About Guardians of the Galaxy

GSB_Editorial-GOTG-HeaderEver since Guardians of the Galaxy was announced at the San Diego Comic Con Marvel panel two years ago, there has existed some skepticism amongst both the geek community and Hollywood analysts at large. How could a space movie – a genre that does not perform well in the theaters unless it begins with Star and ends with either Trek or Wars – be a success in an already tepid summer movie season? After looking at everything that has been released, combined with the early buzz and reviews, I have a good feeling that Marvel Studios will have another hit on their hands.

I admit I was one of the concerned at the beginning when they first announced Guardians. Despite Marvel’s vast cosmic roster of characters and storylines, (a good portion which may or may not be tied up due to the Fantastic Four rights over at Fox,) their first step was a group of misfits who end up becoming one of the universe’s best protection forces (after the Nova Corps, who sanctions the team.) A film directed by a relatively unknown who’s claim to fame is scripting the Scooby-Doo live action movies and the Dawn of the Dead remake, not to mention helming the cult movie Super. Yet, the more I saw what James Gunn was doing with Guardians and the comments made by him and Kevin Feige (President of Marvel Studios), I became comfortable with the idea. Even with my reservations with some of the casting (I still want a Rocket with a gravely, Cockney accent dammit) I still held out hope; which was well placed when the trailers were released.

Yet, with all the promotion media presented for Guardians, there is still doubt on how well it will do. It may even be quite understandable, especially with the box office being down this year. Yet, I feel there are many factors that will help this film succeed.

 

53a2089319d7a1. It’s Marvel, Dammit!

You can call Marvel many things, but at the end of the day there is only one adjective that describes them best: shrewd. They may be open to new directions and concepts for their characters (except for Fox’s plans for Fantastic Four), but you cannot accuse them of making moves that do not have the brand or their IP’s at heart. They will not hesitate to cut someone from a project if the person does not have either aspect in mid. There are many examples of this (anyone remember Ed Norton Jr?), however the most recent one is probably the best one. Fans were crushed that Edgar Wright had left the Ant-Man project, feeling he was wronged for the fallout over the script and direction. Up until that point, it had seemed both sides were on the same page with the concept and overall visual feel. It was a shock to many that Wright and Marvel butted heads; however some creative relationships just cannot co-exist, especially when one party is justifiably protective of their brand.

How does this fit in with Guardians? Simple: Marvel wouldn’t have dipped their little piggies into the space portion of their portfolio if they weren’t sure money could be made while keeping the brand intact. They have enough experience with movies – with a proven track record, mind you – to gauge what will work in their strategy. They are confident to the point of being bat-ish crazy that this concept will work.

Speaking of bat-ish crazy…

 

534740eb798d92. It Is Such A Crazy Idea, That It May Actually Work!

As I said before, Marvel is not afraid to try new things with their properties. Some bad (everyone remember Spidey wiping his marriage away to save Aunt May?), but many turned out good. Whether it is the comics or the movies, many of their ideas look crazy on paper but work out when put into place. After the initial excitement over the announcement of the Phase 1 of movies would lead up to The Avengers, many people became skeptical. A lot of the “How will they make this work” kind of questions began to be asked. People became hesitant, almost fearing the final result of the project. Fast forward a few years later, and the film became the undisputed film of the year, breaking several box office records and grossing $1.51 billion worldwide.

During a Twitter discussion on the recent news that Falcon would be taking over as Captain America, one thing that resonated with me is that Marvel is a lot smarter than fans give them credit for. They know the treasure trove of material they have at their disposal, and are apparently not afraid to use it. Some of it so crazy – such as Guardians of the Galaxy, where you have an assassin, a being whose sole purpose is to kill Thanos, a mercenary rodent, his deciduous friend and a rogue thrown together to be heroes – that with the right people, it will work on screen. They have both Feige – who has been with Marvel Studios since its inception in 2000 and an overall comic geek – and Joe Quesada at the helm; both men willing to take calculated risks. The company itself converted the comic’s division, beginning with “The Ultimates”, into a testing ground for concepts and storylines for motion pictures and television, while staying true to putting out quality material. They also used the One Shot stories as potential jump off points for other projects such as Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter. They are giving the fans what they want to see while experimenting with things that can be used in multiple formats.

This organized, yet reckless abandon approach has paid off for the House of Ideas. For the last 15 years, barring stunt issues that DC frequently throws out, Marvel has been #1 in comic sales as a whole. They have consistent success in the theaters ever since the studio arm released their first film, Iron Man, seven years ago. Their only weak link right now is their television/animation division, and this is something that could be resolved with the replacement of an individual or two.

The company knows what it is doing, and if the early buzz heading into San Diego Comic Con is any indication, Guardians should do well. And why shouldn’t it? It appears to be a fun romp that many of the films this year are lacking.

 

53bb08b1d15553. Hollywood Predictability

I know it sounds like an incredibly douchy response as an outsider looking in, but think about it. Why else would you release a movie at a time when you throw most of your junk in? Most Hollywood analysts had come to the conclusion months ago that Marvel slotted Guardians in the August 1 release slot because they did not have much faith in the film.

I’d have to disagree with that assessment.

I feel that the decision was equal parts desperation and opportunity. Okay, desperate may sound harsh, but not without its merits. Ever since Marvel announced that they planned to release two films a year, I feel an ever increasing problem arose for them. There are now so many movies jammed packed into the traditional summer blockbuster schedule, that slotting Guardians in a release date where it would stand out most likely became an issue. This year you had Transformers: Age of Extinction, Godzilla, Dawn of The Planet of The Apes, X-Men: Days of Futures Past and others that took the prime spots of the season. With Hollywood’s currently mentality of barraging people with “blockbusters”, the conventional scheduling of films becomes useless.

Leave it to Marvel to do the unconventional. I am sure somewhere along the scheduling process, someone asked “Why not August”, with question receiving “Yeah, why not August” as a response. August through September is considered a dumping ground, where studios usually send movies they are not too sure about to die a quick death in obscurity. The logic to put Guardians at the cusp of the summer dumping ground gives Marvel an advantage. They have already experimented placing projects on months that are considered awkward for films (April for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World in November) with great success. Each time, neither film had any competition for weeks, allowing them to rake in a combined $465 million domestically. The company has already proven that if you put out a product people are interested in, they will go to the theaters.

Guardians only competition in early August is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which has not been well received so far. Guardians also has the added weight of the post-San Diego Comic Con buzz as well. Marvel is expected to focus on promoting the project heavily in addition to announcing future ones as well. Yes, Disney may be concerned with Guardians tracking (which has resulted with the intensive advertising campaign), but I feel between Marvel’s strategy, experience and the word of mouth, The House of Ideas will have yet another great film that will be number one.

 

Ultimately, I could be very well off-base in my logic. Guardians could be Marvel Studios first goose egg, which will make Feige and others re-evaluate their entry into the space genre. Many of the company’s future plans could be affected by what could be a turd in a can for them. It is a scenario that can happen come August 1.


However, after everything we know of this film, Marvel’s track record and just the sheer potential of more Marvel stories in space (Kree/Skrull war, anyone?), I feel confident in saying that Guardians will perform well. I welcome your thoughts on the matter. How do you think the film will do going into SDCC? I want to know!

Day 1

Note: This is a work in progress.

The alarm on Gavin’s clock-radio blared for five minutes before he stirred enough to turn it off. He sat up in bed with whatever willpower he could muster at 7:05 in the morning, the grip of sleep still latched onto him. Is it too much to be able to sleep on my day off he asked himself while he clumsily groped around for the remote on his bed. After finally finding it, he took it into his hand and turned on the TV as he remembered the reason why he was up so early; his sister – Carys – was coming into Manhattan today and he promised to meet her for an early lunch. It’s not wise to stand her up or cancel last minute with that temper of hers.

Gavin rubbed the cold out of his eyes as his right forearm began to throb in pain. He opened his eyes, only to see a long, mysterious bruise running diagonally along his appendage. He stared at it for a moment before exclaiming out loud, “Dammit, not again!”

The young man in his early 30’s jumped out of bed and faced the long mirror he recently purchased to examine his body, the same routine he followed since the phenomena began. He drowned out the news as he looked in the mirror to see the damage: Along with the new bruise on his right forearm he also noticed fresh bruises along his left shoulder and thigh. He also examined the stitched cut along his left collarbone – a week old with no memory as to it or any of the injuries occurred – and older bruising all over his body. Ever since he began to wake up with injuries three weeks ago, he had documented each wound he has discovered each day.

He continued to look at himself in the mirror as a range of emotions came over him. He was first and foremost fearful as to what was happening to him, because he had no explanations as to why they were occurring. He wanted to know what this was this all a part of. Was he becoming mentally unbalanced? Did some trauma happen that no one told him of?

His thoughts turned from fear to interest into this mystery. The injuries seem to be related to altercations each time. Was he fighting someone each time? How could he in his sleep unless he was, in fact, becoming mentally unstable?

Finally, after all the questions spun through his head in search for an answer he reached the last of his thoughts; frustration. For three weeks he had not found one shred of evidence that told him why he kept waking up with these injuries. No one was able to give him a reasonable explanation; not his friends nor his neighbors. He had also noticed that he was in much better shape he ever was in – a plus in this mystery – but nothing told him why he woke up every morning more tired than the day before with new injuries each time.

His loft was in a reclaimed factory in Williamsburg near the border with Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant, with high ceilings and white painted walls. The row of windows let in a lot of light during the day and heat during the winter. Near the center of the room along the windows was a drafting table covered in a thin layer of dust, with numerous books stacked ranging in subjects from set and stage design to fashion and costume design. At the center of the table – the only thing that seemed to be disturbed in the last few weeks – was a 3-subject notebook with a pen hooked to the spiral.

Gavin went to the drafting table and removed the pen from the binding, clicking it to reveal the pen tip. He flipped through the pages of the book and quickly glanced at the notes he made on the injuries he awoke to for the last three weeks. He looked at the dates; confirming the fact that there have been injuries over most of his body, save for his head and feet. He found the first blank page in the notebook and began his day; he first drew a silhouette of a human body then proceeded to document the injuries he discovered, his thoughts and any other notes he may find useful to help him figure this all out. After he finished he continued with the rest of his daily routine, which consisted of push-ups, sit-ups, eating some breakfast, washing up then getting dressed for the day.

 

Gavin swiped his MetroCard and entered onto the platform for the Manhattan bound M train. The station shared many qualities with other subway stops in New York: Dimly lit, uncomfortably warm and grimy. Rats scurried along the corners near the rails, looking for food while the city natives on the platform pay them no mind. He remembered the first time his uncle and aunt came to visit him. A smirk crept across his face when he thought of the reaction by his aunt when she saw the rodents move along the track level.

On the opposite platform was a woman around his age who was slim and fairly beautiful, with pale skin, red hair and thick rimmed glasses. She wore a cream colored flowy shirt with skinny jeans and a pair of red Tom’s that matched her lipstick. She had slim fingers resting on top of a hardcover book that was on her lap. Normally, he wouldn’t have noticed her, except for two facts: She looked vaguely familiar – as if he knew her somehow – and that she was staring at him. No, more like watching me. They looked at each other across the tracks, not breaking gaze. He finally smiled and said loud enough for her to hear “You know, if you like what you see you could take a picture.”

She returned the smile and responded with “There is nothing that I haven’t seen before.”

“Now that hurts… I’m not like any man you know” Gavin retorted, returning her smile. She likes to play hard to get he thought. I like her already.

She smiled as she sat there motionless, not responding in a shift of body language or posture; nothing to denote any interest in him. “Don’t you have a girlfriend?”

Gavin was taken aback by her comment. How does she know? He and Kara had been dating for over a year, yet over the last few weeks their relationship began to show visible signs of strain. He did not know why it was occurring, finding it being yet another piece of the puzzle that he was sure was connected to the injuries.

Before Gavin could ask her a question, his train into Manhattan was pulling into the station. Before the train pulled passed him and block their line of sight, the red-head smiled flirtatiously and blew him a kiss. The head of the train rushed passed him, stopping fully when it reached the end of the platform before it opened its doors. Gavin quickly stepped into the train car and looked out the window to the opposite platform, seeing no sign of the red-headed girl. It was as if she had vanished in thin air.

 

Carys had waited 10 minutes for her brother when he came through the door of the diner. The eatery had the same character it had when it opened its doors in the 1960’s: Various shades of browns colored the interior, accented with aluminum and mirrors. The brick wall where the booths were placed was decorated with various photos of various people, from family to famous people who visited the diner. The crowd was light considering its proximity to Times Square, but that would change in less than an hour. Carys always chose this time to have lunch when she was in Manhattan; whether her brother agreed to it was rather apparent with the numerous delays and cancellations in the past.

“10 minutes… That’s a new record for you” Carys said to her brother with a smirk.

“Sorry sis” he replied, “the M train was moving slowly when it crossed the East River.” He then leaned down and kissed her cheek hello.

“Uh huh… always a story with you.”

“Hey, I do work on Broadway, remember” Gavin retorted, smiling devilishly as he sat across from his sister.

“Yeah, as a set builder and a grip” she replied before sipping her tea. A waitress arrived at their table and with a perky attitude, and took Gavin’s order which consisted of coffee and a hearty breakfast of eggs, hash browns and sausages. Even though Carys was a successful accountant living in Greenwich and getting married to a lawyer next year, she still looked up to her older brother. He struggled to make ends meet while going to school for design, but he still did it on his own with very little help. He would borrow a couple of hundred dollars here and there from her, but he would always pay it back on his own. Normally he would look gaunt with raccoon eyes due to being constantly on the go with the distinct smell of tobacco emanating from him and his clothes. Today he looked – and smelled – different, though.

“You look good, Gav. You don’t look like you usually do.”

“Like what?”

“Like you’re strung out.”

Gavin responded sarcastically to his sisters’ comment with “Gee, thanks mom.”

“I’m trying to give you a compliment! You look in better shape than the last time I saw you. And you don’t reek of cigarettes. Did you quit?”

The comment took Gavin by surprised. He looked at her weirdly before frantically checked his coat pockets. He found his pack of cigarettes and lighter, and then stared at them as if he didn’t know what they were. It was a weird experience; especially for Gavin the creative person. Finally, he decided to stuff them into his coat pocket and replied “I guess I did.”

Carys noticed Gavin’s response and became concerned. “Are you okay? Did you hit your head or something? You know what those head injuries did to Uncle…”

Gavin interrupted his sister in mid-sentence with his disarming smile while replying “I’m fine, Car. I just haven’t wanted a cigarette in weeks is all.”

“So you did quit.”

“I guess that’s what you can call it. Sure.”

Not knowing what was going on with her brother, Carys decided to not pursue the line of questioning any further. She decided to change topic with “So, how is Kara? How are your classes? Work?”

Gavin examined his sister for a moment as his coffee came, as if he was thinking of what to say. “School is fine, though I haven’t been able to go for a couple weeks due to a new production coming into town. They want to make Tony season, so they are rushing production.”

“I see. What about Kara? Last time I saw you, you and her were talking about moving in together and maybe having kids. Am I on my way to being an aunt?”

Gavin examined her in the weird way again and, after a pause, he looked down while replying “… don’t know what’s going on with her. She seems to be mad at me for something.”

“But… you don’t know what?”

Gavin shook his head.

“Have you asked her why?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

Visibly irritated, Gavin sternly replied “Can we stop talking about this, please?”

Carys really did not know what to think at this point. Normally, her brother was normally social and nice, always willing to answer and ask questions about her life. He was always interested in what a person had to say and genuinely cared. Today, he was the exact opposite for some reason. She finally found herself saying “I’m just worried, Gav. I’m you sister for God’s sake!”

“But you’re not mom, so drop it.”

Carys was taken aback by her brother’s response. She never wanted to sound like their mother, yet she concerned and even frightened for him. After a moment of awkward silence he looked at her, visibly upset with himself for lashing out at her. “I’m sorry, sis. A lot of things are happening lately that I have no answers to. I don’t even know how to explain it to myself.”

Carys felt equally guilty for prying too much. She kept thinking to herself there is something wrong with him, yet felt bad for pressing her brother for answers. Her eyes glanced down and noticed that his bandaged forearm was exposed. She reached over and placed her hand over the bandage and asked “What did you do to your arm?” The slightest touch of her finger tips made Gavin wince and pull his arm away slightly.

“It’s nothing, just a bruise. I banged into something at work is all.” He then quickly pulled his sleeve down and changed the subject. “So, how is Mr. Carys Stewart doing?”

Carys laughed at the corny, yet amusingly carefully worded question. “Danny is fine. He has been put in charge for a huge patent case. He couldn’t talk about it much, but he is defending a large Japanese firm against an infringement lawsuit.”

“Wow… Now there’s a way to be intriguing and completely vague at the same time, sis” Gavin replied in a sarcastic tone, boyish smile on his face.

Carys laughed at his brothers comment and retorted, “Sorry, bro. I have been sworn to secrecy by punishment of no honeymoon in Hawaii. Besides, a girl always has to have secrets to keep.” She smiled cattishly afterwards.

“But of course!”

“Oh don’t worry, you’ll hear it on the news soon enough.”

The waitress brought their food to the table, placing each plate in front of them. Carys – who order just before her brother arrived – had a chicken club sandwich with fries while Gavin received his eggs, hash browns and sausages along with a few pieces of buttered toast. Both thanked the waitress before beginning to eat. A couple minutes passed before Carys asked brother a question that without any reason, interested Gavin greatly.

“Speaking of news earlier… what do you think of that news about this vigilante?”

Gavin perked up and looked at his sister, a piece of toast in his mouth. “What vigilante?”

“You live in the most active city in the world, and you didn’t hear about this?”

“Sorry, I’ve been busy.”

“Carys sighed and shook her head. “Uh huh… Doing what, living under a rock? He has been, like, the biggest topic trend on social media and all over the net.”

“Sorry, this is the first I’ve heard of this.”

Carys was shocked that her brother had not heard of this news, but obliged him none the less. “They are calling him ‘The Hawk’ because of the mask he wears. He started a few weeks ago, going after petty crime. The last couple nights he took out a Russian mob drug den and a protection racket ring being ran by the remnants of the Gambino crime family. Are you sure this is the first time you’re hearing about this?”

“I’m sure” Gavin affirmed with a hint of concern in his voice. Carys picked up on this and began to wonder what was going on with her brother again. What is he not telling me? Gavin then cracked a smile and added “That is just ridiculous. A vigilante running around the streets like in the comic books.”

Carys looked at him and the siblings laughed together when she saw an alert pop up on her smartphone. She looked down and saw the time, throwing her into a slight panic. “Crap” she exclaimed, “I’m going to be late for my appointment downtown!”

Gavin smiled and replied “I’ll escort you, then” before proceeding to gorge his food.

 

Carys and Gavin reached the local subway stop and took out their MetroCards as they walked down the stairs. They joked and laughed about various topics as they descended, Carys being careful while wearing heels.

A short and stout man in his 40’s who was balding and wore glasses rushed down the stairs behind them, knocking into Carys. As Gavin caught his sister from toppling forward, the man blew past them without any apology. He even exclaimed rudely “Out of my way” as Gavin checked on his younger sibling.

“Yeah. I’m fine. What a rude motherfucker” Carys exclaimed, smoothing out her clothing.

“Typical Jersey people” Gavin replied as he smiled boyishly. Carys couldn’t help but to laugh at her brothers comment as they continued down the stairs.

They reached the turn styles to see that there was only one operational on this side of the station; the other being worked on by MTA technicians. An elderly woman was having issues with her MetroCard on the working turn style, which caused Mr. Jersey to be visibly irate. He lost what little patience he had as he gritted his teeth, yelling at the woman “Come on, Grandma! I have a train to catch!” The woman was rattled by his bluster, attempting the card repeatedly.

“Come on!”

Gavin noticed Mr. Jersey subtle telegraphed movements as if they were as loud as shouting in his ear – something he noticed had never happened before – that he was going to pull the elderly woman to the side and rush through. He became angry at Mr. Jersey’s actions and walked instinctively towards the man as he yelled “Hey, asshole! You can be patient like the rest of us!”

Carys was puzzled by her brother’s behavior, not wanting to draw any attention to Mr. Jersey’s actions. She reached out for him in futility as she claimed “Gavin, don’t make a scene!”

Mr. Jersey was outraged by someone confronting him in such a harsh manner. He angrily responded, motioning his breakfast sausage sized right index finger to point at Gavin. “Excuse me, but who the fuck are…” was all that Mr. Jersey was able to manage before finding himself facing the floor kneeling, his right hand and arm twisted behind his back with pain surging through his extremity. The bones in his hand and wrist popped, torqued to the point of being broken as his shoulder made a sick crunching sound that indicated that it was dislocated. He cried out in pain as Gavin held him in that position.

Carys made her way to Gavin and pleaded with him to stop. “Please, Gavin, that’s enough! He’s learned his lesson!”

Gavin did not let go of Mr. Jersey, keeping him in that position as the man cried out “Someone help me! This guy is fucking nuts!”

“I’ll let you go if you apologize to the woman. Do it!”

“Are you stupid? I’ll have your ass in so much trouble…”

Gavin torqued Mr. Jersey’s arm tighter, hearing more popping as the man cried out more. “Do it!”

In a final cry of pain Mr. Jersey finally caved into Gavin’s demands. “Fine! I’m sorry, lady!”

After the man uttered the apology, Gavin released Mr. Jersey as two NYPD officers came down into the station. At the first sight of the two officers, Mr. Jersey stared at him while favoring shoulder, yelling “Arrest that man! He assaulted me!” The two officers looked at each other before one of them walked up to Gavin to ask him questions with Carys by his side.

The officer – who was a sinewy muscled young man in his 20’s by the name of Torres written on it – began his questioning of Gavin with “Is this true, sir?”

Gavin simply, and calmly answered “Yes, officer.”

Officer Torres was taken aback by Gavin’s answer, yet continued with “Why did you assault this man?”

“He was about to push aside and cause harm this elderly woman just to get to his train. He was being belligerent and causing problems. When I verbally confronted him, he turned and I took his actions as he was going to hit me. I was defending myself.”

Carys interjected, adding to Gavin’s claim. “He is telling the truth, officer. He shoved us aside in the stairwell in a hurry to get to the train.”

The elderly woman made her way to the three visibly shaken from the experience. She defended Gavin by adding “That man over there was yelling at me… I was having trouble with my MetroCard. This fine, young man here stopped him from causing me bodily harm.”

Officer Torres looked at Gavin and sized him up to see if there was any hint of lying. All he could tell, however, was simply a man who got involved and helped an old lady. The officer finally said “So, you think you’re a hero, like the vigilante?”

“No, officer” Gavin replied, “just a concerned Samaritan and good citizen.”

Torres nodded, taking Gavin’s calmness as being smug and holier-than-though. Despite this, the officer let Gavin off with a warning and told him to call the police next time before he walked over to his partner who was with Mr. Jersey. Noticing that Gavin was not arrested, the balding man was furious at the lack of his perception of justice and yelled at the officer to express this.

“What the fuck?! He almost breaks my arm and you’re letting him walk away?”

In an authoritative tone, the officer responded “That’s right, sir. Nothing happened here that wasn’t against the law. Just a misunderstanding between two men is all.”

Pointing at the police, Mr. Jersey retorted “Bullshit! He almost ripped off my arm!”

The officer began to lose patience with Mr. Jersey, and said sternly “Officer Torres!”

Torres snapped a response, “Yes, Sargent Williams?”

“Does this man appear to be physically bruised, cut, or have any other injuries at all that indicate an assault on this man?”

“No, sir!”

The focused stared at Mr. Jersey and said, “There you have it, sir. Nothing happened here other than your pride being hurt. Now, do us a favor and be a nice person in public? No one likes a dick. Have a good day. Torres?”

Torres nodded as he and his superior and both walked towards the turn styles, Mr. Jersey yelled at them. “I am going to file a complaint! Don’t you know who I am? I have well connected friends! I’ll have your badges!”

During Mr. Jerseys ranting, Carys and Gavin spoke with the elderly woman to see if she was okay. They helped her with her MetroCard and walked together to the platform as the train pulled into the station. Neither Gavin nor his sister saw Mr. Jersey enter onto the platform or even approach the train before the doors closed.

The siblings stayed with the elderly woman until they reached their stop at Fulton St. Her name was Maureen, 91 years old and had lived in Brooklyn all her life: First near Green Point then later in the Rockaways when she married her husband who has since passed away 10 years ago. Now she kept busy with routines that also made her spry for her age; today it was breakfast and a walk with some of her friends who lived in Hell’s Kitchen. She also brought up the vigilante with a mix of scorn – for breaking the law – and praise for being a guardian angel watching over the city. “I do not like his methods, but I am glad he watches over us!”

Gavin’s thoughts began to wander with the mention of the vigilante this morning. Why am I so interested in this topic all of a sudden he thought. I find myself disregarding it, but still thinking about the concept after Carys talked about him an hour ago. Why can’t I shake these thoughts?

As the train doors opened, Carys and Gavin said their goodbyes to Maureen, stepped onto the platform and walked towards the exit. As they reached street level, Carys finally broke the silence between them. “That was a really stupid, but brave thing you did Gav.”

“Stupid is my middle name as dad has stated many times.”

“Yeah, well, I think it was still brave. I didn’t even know you could move like that.”

“Me neither.”

Carys suddenly stops in front a building, shrugs and smiles at her older brother. “Well, this is my stop!”

They both hugged and kissed each other’s cheek as Gavin said to her, “Be good, sis.”

“You too. And stay out of trouble! Last thing I need is to come down to bail you out.”

Gavin gave his sister a boyish smirk and replied, “Don’t worry. You’ll be the first one I call.”

Carys smiled at her brother then remembered something. “And call Kara to make up with her! Or I swear, Gavin Stewart, I will come back down here and smack some sense into you!”

Gavin laughed and gave her a reassuring nod. “I will, I promise.”

They said their final goodbyes and parted ways just before the first wave of workers who took their lunch returned to work while the second wave came out. Gavin walked West towards the Freedom Tower to clear his head with everything; a lot had happened in the last couple of hours and he needed to put everything in perspective. He also needed to think of the upcoming conversation he was going to have with Kara. For weeks, he racked his brain as to why she could be mad at him but could never come up with a reason. And if he knew his sister, she has already interfered by texting Kara about him wanting to talk to her. Sure enough, a block north of the Freedom Tower – which shined like a miraculous beacon in the mid-day sun – his pocket began to vibrate. He took his phone from his right pocket and checked who sent the message. It was Kara who wrote:

Ur sis said U wanted 2 talk 2 me?

He smiled as he read the message. Just like clockwork, sis. Gavin replied:

I did. Want 2 meet up?

He waited at the corner of Fulton and Church for a moment before he received a response:

Cant 2day. Working in NJ til 8. Meet u at Starbucks at Union Sqr 2morow @4.

Gavin typed a response then walked up Church Street. A walk will do me good after this morning.

Afro Commentary: Space: No Longer Man’s Final Frontier

GSB_Editorial-Space-HeaderOriginally posted on 2014.06.09

When it was announced that Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey would premier in the venerable 9pm Sunday time-slot a few months ago, I told my wife we would be watching this live instead of another one of my favorites: The Walking Dead (Sorry, Continuum, we are still friends but there are priorities in television watching.) She looked at me weirdly, knowing that such a drastic shift would require either an alien using mind control or a possession by a ghost to occur. After reassuring her that there was nothing out of the ordinary – within my definition of “ordinary”, mind you – I explained to her why I was so adamant about this. My reasons are actually quite simpler than you think.

gsb_space-voyagerOur society does not look up to the stars anymore and what is out there. We no longer care about what is in that final frontier, unless it is coming at us at 186,000 mph or with an armada behind it. In fact, ever since the Challenger disaster in 1986 (with a similar event to occur again in 2003 with Columbia) and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the curiosity of space and all its mysteries gradually took a back seat to the problems on Earth. The US has consistently trimmed NASA’s funding to the point of roughly less than 1%(0.5% to be precise) of the country’s 3 trillion dollar budget over the last few years, as well as cut funding to SETI. This regression from the stars has even changed the media landscape, with no real space opera or space-based sci-fi programming since the conclusion of Battlestar Galactica in 2009.  We don’t have a reason to care anymore.

It’s a shame, really. The Cold War spawned the last real “Space Race”; the reason why we headed to the stars in the first place in the late 1950’s and into the 1960’s. And after the sacrifices that were endured, we finally made it not only to the stars but even to the moon. We launched Voyager 1 in 1977, which officially left our solar system in 2012; the first human spacecraft built to ever do so. We have seen Earth’s selfie numerous times, thanks to the many scientists, engineers and pilots who braved the flight beyond our atmosphere.

Yet, we as a global community do not care what is in the great beyond anymore. In fact, I would go as far as to say that we have regressed and fear what lies out there. The US has no real reason to strive for space flight past our own planet, despite Obama’s assurances that there is a mission to Mars in the works. Russia, China and other space faring nations have no real reason to travel further either. In fact, whenever you enter into a conversation of space exploration, the average person will respond with a variation of “There other problems here on Earth.” Trust me; I have tried it a few times.

But we should care. We should continue to strive for the stars if nothing more than the benefit and survival of our species. That we collectively work up the courage for more space exploration for numerous practical, rational and philosophical reasons.

The first reason is a pretty practical one. At the current rate of water, food and natural resource consumption, we will not be able to survive as a species, much less live in the current comfort and decadence as we do now. We consume far too much than the planet can provide or renew to the point that experts on the topic are far more than certain that food and water – in combination with our contribution to greenhouse gases in our atmosphere – will begin to become a precious commodity between 2050 and 2080. And since conservation efforts have either been blocked by large corporations or just not on the minds of people, nor is culling the world’s population to acceptable levels an option, there is only one other avenue to explore: space. Within our own solar system we have an abundance of many materials, from energy of the sun and water on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, to precious metals and other materials in the asteroids, planets and satellites that take residence. There are plenty of opportunities seek these resources out and use them sparingly if we made exploration a priority. Someone on Twitter recently made the joke that if the government told people there was oil on Titan, countries and companies would be there tomorrow. Funny, yes, but the sentiment is quite true.

gsb_space-mars-roverAnother reason to explore the stars is all the innovation and progression both science and society would generally benefit from. Think of all the scientific and technological advances our society has benefitted from since the 1960’s . Smart phones, tablets, LED’s, carbon fiber, nanotubes… Every concept that every scientist and engineer discovered the last 40 years is a direct result of the Space Race, whether they are people like Carl Sagan or those who were inspired like Gene Roddenberry. Without these contributions, no matter their consequence or quantitative measure, our society would not be where it is today. We would not be able to interact here, on the internet, without the contributions made back then. Our species is capable of extraordinary things when we put our collective mind to it. When Kennedy made his now famous speech to Congress in 1962 that it will be US who will get to the moon first, Congress followed suit by funding the project. Less than seven years after this speech, in the summer of 1969, there were three brave souls on that planetary body. And due to this, and many innovations since then in government funded research, we have materials that are thin and moldable but can withstand many harsh conditions. We have communication technology now that we only saw in Star Trek and other genre series (FYI, still waiting on a light saber, people!) Think of the possibilities we could achieve if a new “Space Race” began. If we pulled our resources together for a push to Mars, Saturn and its moons or even beyond our own solar system.  That we funded projects that would grant us interstellar travel to explore beyond and perhaps even colonize. We as a species could only benefit from such initiatives.

Then there are the two final reasons; two traits that have been the most fundamental in our species development, yet are the greatest and most endearing part of us.

We are curious, imaginative beings. Despite the fact we initially fear and hate what we do not understand, we are still full of wonder and imagination. Sagan was quoted once, that “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.” Our collective history is only proof of this, ever since we began to stand upright. It is this curiosity that lead our species to populate the planet in our infancy. It was our imaginations that lead us to create and execute such grand civilizations, mechanical wonders and great technological advances. Both traits lead us to explore our planet and reconnect with our long lost ancestors. And it is this curiosity and imagination that compelled us to look up to the sky and wonder what lies beyond the confines of our miniscule place in the universe.

Without these traits, we would never question why something exists or why it is what it is. We would never go to the lengths we do in order to solve the unknown. We would never be who we are without it, much less where we are. These fundamental traits are who we are and can lead us to be whatever we want. We create such fantastic things for our entertainment, and then eventually make them a reality.

Surely we cannot travel deeper into space on imagination and wonder alone. How do we make something like Star Trek more a reality than we have so far? Sure it is a daunting task, but what isn’t that was not worth it in the end?

gsb_space-falcon-rocketFirst and foremost, we would need to invest heavily in the sciences and math (no common core, mind you) as well as engineering and other manufacturing trades. Developing space faring vehicles that are capable of both interplanetary and interstellar travel does not only take science, but the practical means to develop them at a low cost. Offer grants and contracts with strict rules to the private sector to develop new technology and processes, similar to the military. Promote new or existing businesses (like Elon Musk’s Space-X) to develop a new space industry. Not only would you achieve the goal of expansion into the solar system, but the economic benefit would be considerable. Millions of jobs would be created both directly and indirectly by this initiative, only to grow further when we establish ourselves amongst the stars.

Such a daunting task cannot be shouldered by one country alone. Such an undertaking would require the international community to achieve these goals. During the 90’s, the US, Canada, Russia, Japan and the European Union came together and developed the International Space Station, which the first modules were launched in 1998. It is still one of our races greatest achievements not only scientifically, but socially as well with so many countries involved with its use. Surely a larger project such as interplanetary travel would need not only more minds and resources of one nation, but many others as well.

Public support is crucial as well in our push to the stars.  Support of shows like Cosmos – both Sagan’s original series and the current iteration that is masterfully hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson – that are aired on network and public television is a great start. But more can be done. Support of local PBS affiliates will help, with such shows they offer like Nova. Bring properties like Star Trek back to where it began and thrived for the many years people remember it for; where both crews of the Enterprise explored the stars while dealing with the unknowns. We need more people like Tyson and Chris Hadfield – who garnered such an audience during his tenure on the ISS – to speak out and support science programs and space exploration initiatives. Anything that will feed upon our race’s wonder and imagination.

It is also imperative to involve and encourage our younger generations to take an interest in the sciences, math and engineering as well. Bring back shows like Electric Company, 3-2-1 Contact, Mr. Wizard and Bill Nye the Science Guy, so kids can learn about these topics. Encourage their imaginations and wonder, whether it is through playing with LEGO’s, progressive toys like Goldie Blox, art, music and even writing. Take them to museums, planetariums and science centers where they can experience these phenomena in fun and unique ways. Our children crave knowledge and are instinctively curious about the world, and it is only fitting that not only parents but all adults should encourage them so they may go beyond what we could only imagine.

gsb_space-milky-wayIt is also up to us geeks to promote this agenda to the masses. We all watch these shows, read the blogs and even create the media we consume. We are not only knowledgeable of the topic, but quite intelligent, creative and driven as well. We should charge ourselves to bring this topic to the forefront of our nations’ attentions in any way possible. Think of new ideas or perspectives to existing problems associated with this topic. Promote math and the sciences at your local schools. Inundate your lawmakers and leaders with letters and petitions to make your voices heard regarding these types of projects. Promote shows like Cosmos on Twitter and Facebook. Do anything you can to lobby the masses and lawmakers that this is not only a topic that affects us, but benefits us all.

Lastly, we should not be afraid of the unknown, no matter where it leads us. Fear should only drive us into making proper choices in how we conduct ourselves as we strive to reach the heavens, not restrict or prohibit our curiosity and imagination. It should not deter us from exploring space; which is truly our final frontier.

Afro Commentary: My Niece Deserves Better (Female Characters)

GSB_Editorial-Women-CharactersOriginally posted 2014.01.21

I have a dilemma. As an uncle to a 5 year-old girl who will not only break a lot of hearts when she gets older, but is intelligent, creative and fiercely independent, I find it will be difficult to introduce her to geek things as easily as it was with her older brother. There are no “gateway” characters that are a positive enough influence for her that would not take a lot of explanation or draw a degree of ire from her parents. In fact – when you come right down to it – truly well written female characters that are a positive influence have become somewhat of a mixed bag in a post-feminist era, with a lot of blame (and some praise) to go around.

GSB_Editorial-Women-Characters-1I am sure many of you are already going “You’re full of crap, Private! You have Wonder Woman, Princess Leia…” and others I am sure you are rattling off the top of your head, and to an extent I agree with you. However, I want to point out a couple of subtle, yet very distinct issues with these two examples. Despite Wonder Woman being a positive influence overall, in the last 15 years her character, books and appearances have given her such a rewrite that she has become extremely one dimensional (i.e. a man-hating, battle hungry bitch). Not exactly a role model for a girl under 12, or any girl for that matter. With Princess Leia, although she was given a no-nonsense attitude with matching blaster, she is ultimately relegated to being the damsel in distress and a love interest for the heroes (which would have been awkward if she ended up with Luke.) These are just two of the many examples of the now cliché concept of a “strong women.”

“What the hell is wrong with that” you are probably asking, and here is my problem with it. The text-book “strong female” character has boiled down to this: A typical (i.e. not well developed) female character with an extraordinary trait or two that makes them more appealing to men while appeasing the female audience because she can stand toe-to-toe with the males. The character either hates men, is extremely bitchy and/or doesn’t take no for an answer; however the conclusion of her storyline is either she dies, ends up a damsel in distress or a love interest for a male character, or just fades into the background. No real progression in her character nor any real involvement in the plot, other than showing how bad ass she can be. Ever since it was rumored that Wonder Woman was to be in Man of Steel 2 (I refuse to call it Batman vs Superman because of the ridiculousness of the title), I was afraid she would be treated similarly to how she is now. Among all the information that has come out since Gal Gadot was announced to play the Amazon princess, it has been disheartening to learn that she may not even play a significant role in the film. Even worse, it appears she will be written in the usual 1-dimensionally fashion (we are talking about Zack Snyder afterall.)

GSB_Editorial-Women-Characters-4“So what are you looking for in a female character” you are probably asking. Simple: One that is well written and developed. Thats it. A character that is developed just as well as male ones, whose actions and input matter just as much as others. It’s cool if she can kick a lot of ass or tote a gun like a sharpshooter, but she needs something more. She needs to be like every other real woman; she needs to have flaws, faults and adversity. She needs to have a personality with all its nuances and complexity. She needs to be real. You may think that exists already and you are partially right, when you take into consideration of many genres and mediums of media.

It is important to make a distinction between a “strong” female character and one that is well-written and positive, since there are not many examples in the genres of science fiction or fantasy. Even though the 1970′s promised a new era of women’s liberation, we do not find nearly as many well written females in properties as there should be. That is disconcerting, considering over 50% of the general population of North America, Europe and Japan – where the majority, if not all, of the geek media we consume comes from – are female. The female fanbase in geek culture has risen considerably since the 1980′s. Women are no longer “outsiders” to the culture as they were once viewed as, but as equals in it. Should there not be an amount of characters that reflect such a shift in paradigm?

GSB_Editorial-Women-Characters-2It’s really a shame, because in the instances where we have well-written females they have been all well received. From Ripley – which was a happy accident considering she was originally supposed to be a he – to Buffy, Brienne of Tarth to Sarah Manning, Storm to Batgirl, all of these characters have been memorable. They may be strong willed, have powers or at the peak of physical prowess, but these traits are not what make them interesting. They have depth, emotions and complexity like any person. They have made mistakes as well as being the best at what they do. That is what made Wonder Woman an interesting character until after Kingdom Come was released. Yes, she was a bad ass fighting Amazon princess, but she was also compassionate, clever and the voice of peace. Her identity was not her sword and shield or her lasso, but that of a woman who meant the bridge a gap between cultures. Her identity was, ultimately, the embodiment of what it means to be a woman. Kingdom Come changed this, where she was written to be more of a stereotypical “strong” woman (with a rare, but welcomed reprieve by Gail Simone’s run). The New 52 replaced her origin story – which symbolized her femininity and the connection with her fellow Amazons – and replaced it with a cheap knockoff where Zeus is her father. She is not the only one who was significantly changed in the DC universe during the New 52, with characters like Catwoman, Black Canary and Starfire becoming husks of their former selves. As I have commented in the past, this is most likely due to DC’s infinitely collective “intelligent” decision making process of having their characters “edgy” and “not being able to be happy” as heroes. What a way to be the model of modern storytelling there, guys.

So, where do we direct an angry mob of pitchforks and torches at for this lack of well-written female characters in the science fiction and fantasy genres? It goes without saying there is a considerable amount of sexism involved in the development of media. Paul Dini’s recent comments regarding his stint on Green Lantern: The Animated Series and Young Justice on Kevin Smith’s Fatman on Batman podcast shed a light on such discrimination. His experience dealing with Cartoon Network on these shows when it comes to action animation – and I am going to pull a Kanye, here – media execs do not care about girls watching their shows. They prefer their female audience to watch My Little Pony and shows that would “appeal” to them, while dumbing down content for the boys. The execs worried more about dumbing down characters and throwing in more action and stupid jokes to sell toys than focusing on developing their characters in YJ. Characters that included several females that were interesting in that series. Still, I don’t think this reasoning alone can be the blanket answer for the deficit.

GSB_Editorial-Women-Characters-3A good portion of the blame can also be shared with the lack of female creatives and producers of these geek properties. Yes, there have been strides made in Hollywood and in comics to include women writers, artists and producers, with many of them giving us such great stories. I am a big fan of Gail Simone’s work on various DC titles and Jane Espenson has written and produced for such great shows such as Battlestar Galactica, Torchwood: Miracle Day and Once Upon a Time. Julie Plec (along with Kevin Williamson) has created The Vampire Diaries, which has become one of the CW’s highest watched shows. These three, among others, have developed stories which have not only strong females, but females that are very well written.

Yet, within geekdom there is still a severe lack of women creators and creatives. The blog Culturally Disorientated did a statistical analysis back in May of last year of the 26 top watched geek shows from the prior season, and their findings were sad but not surprising. Out of the 26 shows, 77% were run by males while only 11.5% were run by females. Couple this with the recent Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film’s annual “Celluloid Ceiling” report – which gauges the amount of women employed in the top film productions for the year – found the amount of women working on movies in 2013 dropped to 16%, which is below 1998 totals. There is a certain untapped potential of characters and stories that more female creatives could bring to the table.

Despite the sexism and lack of female creatives, I feel there is something more that needs to be addressed when it comes to developing well-written female characters. Specifically, there is a lack of perspective that many writers fail to realize when it comes to writing women. During an interview with Neil Gaiman on the anniversary for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he responded to a question on how he would write the daughter of the titular character. “I always feel like the wrong person to be asked that question” he began, “because people say ‘well how do you write such good female characters?’ And I go ‘Well, I write people.’” This quote struck a chord with me, since I approach writing characters the very same way. Many writers approach developing characters for their stories and not people. There are personalities to consider when developing characters. There is psychology involved. I feel most truly successful creators – whether it is conscious or not – do not just tell a great story, but treat their characters as if they are people. This is what I feel is an underlying issue when it comes to developing well written, positive female characters. And it is not difficult for male creatives to do, as Gaiman, Joss Whedon and others have demonstrated.

GSB_Editorial-Women-Characters-5However difficult it is to find well-written female characters in geek genres that I could potentially introduce to my niece, it is not impossible. Marvel has developed some rather positive role models that are well developed, from Storm, Black Widow and Spider-Woman to Captain Marvel (aka Carol Danvers) and the newly introduced Ms. Marvel. DC still does have Wonder Woman – how can I not introduce her, really – as well as Supergirl, Power Girl, Batgirl and Batwoman (even though her parents may not appreciate the last one). There is Princess Bubblegum from Adventure Time, The Powerpuff Girls, Korra from Avatar: The Legend of Korra and Merida from Brave as well. And as she grows older, there are countless books with well written female characters, as well as Buffy, the girls of Firefly, Aeryn Sun of Farscape, Starbuck of Battlestar Galactica and the clone club that makes up Orphan Black. However, until she reaches an older age I will have to settle for her watching My Little Pony, getting her into Adventure Time and Brave when I can, while buying her the Goldie Blox sets.

My wish though, is that when my niece gets older she will have a more diverse range of female characters to enjoy, that are more well-written than what is offered today. That these stories captivate her and give her characters she can look up to or identify with. Hopefully a change will come within the major conglomerates, so that the media we consume reflects a more fulfilling experience we should be getting. Is that too much to ask? I personally feel it’s not.

GSB Film Review: Ender’s Game (2013) – Not Quite the War to End All Wars, But it’s Close

Originally posted on 2013.11.03

enders-game-final-poster“Ender’s Game” is a book that has been touted for many years as an “unfilmable” property. With all its nuances, intricacies and character development, that may very well be the case. However, if Gavin Hood’s adaptation of the sci-fi classic doesn’t prove that notion wrong, it comes pretty damn close.

Based on the 1985 book written by Orson Scott Card, the story revolves around a boy named Andrew Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) – Or Ender as his sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin) and others call him – who is being groomed to ultimately command Earth’s forces against an alien race named the Formics, who invaded the planet 50 years prior.  Ender is accepted into the international military complexes Battle School, which is ran by Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and his subordinate Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis). These child soldiers are trained in warfare and strategy, which they then use in 0 gravity Battle Games. Throughout his stint in Battle School, Ender rises through the ranks and befriends allies such as Alai (Suraj Partha), Bean (Aramis Knight) and Petra (Hailee Steinfeld) while making enemies, such as his former commander Bonzo (Moises Arias). He and his allies eventually move on to Command School, where Ender meets Mazer Rackham (Sir Ben Kingsley); the commander who was long thought dead when he defeated the Formics.

ENDER'S GAMEThe movie succeeds in bringing much of the book to life. Hood presents many of the themes that made the book popular, such as the creation of child soldiers and training using video games, very well. Hood does the source material justice, even using his own experience as a young soldier (he was drafted into the South African military at 17) to properly communicate the emotions and psychological issues going through these characters heads. He successfully portrays the conflicted feeling you have when cheering for Ender as he goes through his adversities while finding the concept of these kids being bred for war appalling. He also keeps the key parts of the story intact, even exceeding the expectations many had for the Battle Game scenes. Even the story’s climax is left untouched for the most part, which I was hoping for due to its jarring nature.

enders-game-hailee-steinfeld1The performances from a talented cast added the depth and sophistication the movie needed in order to be successful. Butterfield was phenomenal as Ender, bringing the intricate and complex emotional and psychological components to the character. Despite my reservations of Harrison Ford’s casting as Col. Graff (due to his age), he was perfect as the commodore of the Battle School. The female trio of Davis, Breslin and Steinfeld were solid performances, bringing the necessary counterbalance Ender needed in his life of being trained as a cold and calculating military leader. Even the other actors bring the required depth and firm understanding of their characters to bring them to life.

ENDER'S GAMEAs a fan of the book, it is difficult to be objective of the movie without comparing it to the source material. The major issues I had with the movie – which I am sure is due to Hood needing to edit the film to its 114 minute time frame – was that major chunks of plot development was either edited out or omitted all together. The movie felt choppy at times when they removed these parts, leaving only the bare necessities of the story. In the attempt to portray a sense of urgency, the story instead felt unnecessarily rushed. It also completely omitted the secondary storyline involving Ender’s sister Valentine and his eldest brother Peter (Jimmy ‘Jax’ Pinchak) which opens up the opportunity of other potential spin-off storyline from the books. It also was disappointing to see that they pulled punches when it came to two key factors in Ender’s character development, which help define him in the end. They even change the very end slightly; a decision I find will muddy a major plot point in potential sequels. To those who have not ready the book, these may seem minor issues, but I feel these omissions could have made this adaptation better.

Overall, it is a great movie that makes you think about how and what we teach our children, as well as other themes surrounding war. As an adaptation it does source material justice despite the removal of major parts. My only hope is that there is enough material filmed to make an extended cut version of this movie.

The Private gives Ender’s Game 3.25 out of 5 COSMIC AFROS.

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