You Should Be Reading Mockingbird

There’s a lot to like about the new Mockingbird ongoing title from Marvel. For starters, it’s the next step in a really spiffy new direction Marvel’s been taking with their comics lately: diversity. In the past year-or-so, Marvel’s really stepped up their game with who’s in their comics. You’ve got Asian characters headlining their own series (Totally Awesome Hulk, and the fantastic-and-severely-under-appreciated Silk), and Spider-Man and Captain America are black. Spider-Woman and Spider-Gwen have their own books, along with Black Widow, Squirrel Girl, and Moon Girl. Then there’s the new-mainstays of Captain Marvel and Ms Marvel… Point is, Marvel’s got a pretty diverse character lineup for their books.

It also helps that that diversity extends behind the books too. Ms Marvel is written by G. Willow Wilson, herself a Muslim, and so is lent an extra couple layers of delightful texture. Ta-Nehisi Coates lends a special sense of identity not only to T’challa in Black Panther but to all of Wakanda, one that’s science-fictiony and fantastical, but doesn’t necessarily subscribe to a Western/white image of the future. It’s wonderfully different, and, in a word, dope. There are a few titles, Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat! and Mockingbird being two, that have all-women creative teams working on them.

Which brings me to Mockingbird.

Like I said in the first sentence (before I got distracted by diversity), there’s a lot to like about the comic. First off, is the character of Mockingbird herself. The first issue is light on actual plot (rather, it tantalizes what’s to come) and instead focuses on setting up who exactly Bobbi Morse is. It helps that the comic is very much told from Bobbi’s point of view, with little boxes of narration peppering the action. From that, we’re afforded a window into Bobbi’s inner life and how she filters the world she sees through her identity. It doesn’t take long for us to get a handle on who she is: super-spy scientist who knows what she’s doing and has little patience for those who don’t.

Also, her background as a scientist affects her decisions and thought processes. She isn’t just a by-the-way scientist, it’s part of who she is. This is actually something Mockingbird does really well: Bobbi’s various identities (woman, scientist, spy, Hawkeye’s ex-wife) are all worked intrinsically into her. Bobbi feels fully formed and fully herself, a rounded character with a shaded personality that can go different ways. Which is really cool, guys!

That alone would make Mockingbird a perfectly enjoyable book, but it doesn’t stop there. As becomes steadily more and more obvious as the series progresses, Mockingbird had a decidedly feminist bent. Take issue two, which has Bobbi Morse going undercover in the London Hellfire Club to rescue Lance Hunter. Now, the Hellfire Club is the sorta place that necessitates a scantily-clad outfit to blend in. But, but but but, the art never ogles Bobbi, or makes her out to be anything except in a position of power, fishnets and spiked leather boots be damned. Lance, on the other hand, is distinctly made out to be both hopeless and an object of desire. Also: He’s wearing much less than she is. It’s this sort of wonderful subversion of what’s become accepted as normal in comic books that gives Mockingbird such a strong sense of voice and personality.  That Bobbi-saving-a-male-hero is something of a trope for the book at this point (in #4 she rescues a swimsuit-clad Hawkeye) is icing on the cake.

But! Mockingbird isn’t content to just subvert and usual and call it a day. It goes further. The third issue finds Bobbi acting as hostage negotiator to a sixth-grade girl with superpowers she doesn’t understand. It’s a neat little story in and of itself, but the conceit of scary superpowers is used as a cipher for not being understood as a girl growing up. Oh, it’s made perfectly clear within the text, what with Bobbi’s narration asking “How can we have a meaningful dialogue with adolescent girls when we live in a culture that still can’t talk about tampons?” and tv news tickers describing the powered girl as “hysterical” and an “attention-seeking tween.” Here’s a mainstream, Marvel comic book — a medium usually associated with young males — talking about and trying to understand what it’s like growing up as a girl. It’s delightful and validating in a way that you don’t usually see in comics. Or a lot of movies, for that matter.

I really like comics in general (I had one on my thesis/rationale at college!), both for pulpy fun and for some plain good storytelling. But every now and then something like Mockingbird comes along, which not only tells a great story but says something as well — and merges the two together effortlessly. It’s a fantastic series and, without question, my favorite book Marvel’s putting out right now.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Zombieland: A Treatise on Life in a Post-Consumer Society

I mentioned it as a joke last week, but this week we’re going for it.

I’m so sorry.

Zombies have long been used as a means to comment on the perils of consumerism. Mindless hordes doing things without thinking for the few capable of independent thought to stand up against. Zombieland takes the conceit one step further, within the film self actualization is only possible in a world free of the shackles of traditional consumerism.

Much of the conflict in Zombieland takes place in the ruins of grocery stores, downtown areas, and, climatically, a theme park. The main characters too exist outside of the established economy; Columbus and Tallahassee loot and rob cars in the post-apocalyptic wasteland (the titular Zombieland) and before the outbreak Wichita and Little Rock were con artists, stealing rather than working jobs. But it’s now that they’re no longer part of a consumerist society that they are able to really come in to their own.

When Columbus and Tallahassee meet up with Wichita and Little Rock there is a great deal of distrust. Distrust that is primarily due to them fighting over guns and a car, of which there are not too many. Their strife is born of competition over limited resources — the backbone of a consumerist society. It’s because they’re holding on to one of the principle tenants of a pre-Zombieland world that they fight; as long as they live by the rules of consumerism they won’t be able to truly develop a friendship.

If one of the central themes of Zombieland is that people need other people — it is after all a movie where survivors come to realize they’re stronger together than separate — then that true friendship is only possible when they no longer subscribe to traditional views of consumerist culture. This is made clear when they finally do become friends. It’s not when they’re fighting a horde of zombies together, this is far from a battle-forged friendship. Rather, they only truly bond when they utterly destroy a gift shop together. Unlike many of the other locations visited by the survivors, this gift shop is in immaculate condition. All the gaudy trinkets and shiny rocks are still on the shelves, nothing’s out of place, even after Tallahassee dispatches of the lone zombie in the shop.

It’s in this place that Columbus first stands up to Tallahassee, a significant character moment as it shows him beginning to come into his own. Immediately after that character moment, however, he knocks something over by accident. Then another deliberately. The others join in and a montage of them destroying the stores contents ensues. It’s a blithely irreverent destruction of private property and also a rejection of the need for silly tchotchkes that have worth just because they’re supposed to. The act of destruction unites them and marks a shift for the characters bonding and sets them on the path to self-actualization.

According to Zombieland, it is in this post-consumer landscape that real relationships can thrive. Where before Columbus only knew his neighbor by her apartment number, now he has people he trusts — and he learns Wichita’s real name too. Wichita and Little Rock put aside their grifting ways and Tallahassee finds space in his vengeful anti-zombie agenda to care for other people. All they needed was to be free of the consumerism.

Writer’s Note:

There! Did it! It’s a little half-baked and there are some ideas that could be explored more (in the climax Wichita and Little Rock are stranded in an amusement park ride, trapped by their want for the vestige of consumerism that is Pacific Playland; Tallahassee wants a Twinkie which he only gets after he’s learned to be content with other people and not need something mass-produced), but, hey, this was more for fun/to prove a point than anything.

Also I’m so sick of the word ‘consumer.’ 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Meaning Upon Meaning

Every movie monster in the book has some sort of sociocultural commentary associated with it. Zombies are the embodiment of a fear of conformist consumer culture, vampires are the elite rich who drain the life of the poor, werewolves are your neighbor’s double life, Godzilla is nuclear terror made real. A lot of fun can be found in figuring out what these all mean. Is Zombieland about the isolation that comes as a result of being the only people special in a world of copies? Or is it a celebration of life in a post-consumer society?

That’s one thing I love about fiction is that there are as many meanings of it as there are people watching. You see this particularly science fiction and fantasy which, by virtue, often deal with some embodiment of the unknown/other, and thus can really explore the parable-ness of stories. But like I said, meanings. I see The Force Awakens as a story about identity and finding belonging (which makes it different from the original Star Wars despite hitting many of the same plot beats), Firefly is a story fundamentally about family, and Iron Man 2  is about embracing mortality. You could disagree and you’re more than welcome to because, again, the joy of fiction.

A good story has enough substance that you can watch/read/hear/play it multiple times and get different things from it over time. While discussing children’s books, CS Lewis wrote in Of Other Worlds: “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty(…).” It’s how you can enjoy Prisoner of Azkaban as a kid for its magic and scary monsters, then years later love it for its wonderful take on depression; or how Justice League remains intriguing if you’re twelve or twenty-five.

(500) Days of Summer is perfectly enjoyable as a romcom where the male character is afforded the same amount of emotional intimacy and depth the female lead usually gets. Then you can also read it as a deconstruction of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope that was alive and well in 2009. Or as an exploration of how being selfish and only looking for what you want dooms a relationship. Are any of those wrong? Not necessarily (though if you see Tom or Summer as being an ideal, dreamy, romantic partner… you’re misreading it). Do any of those interpretations discount the other? Unless you’re googley over Tom or Summer, again, no. If I watch this movie again in five years will I find something new (and maybe stop using rhetorical questions)? Yeah, probably. I still love (500) Days of Summer, as much (or more) than I did when I first saw it seven(!) years ago, but the reasons I love it now are really different from when I watched it then.

I mentioned briefly that there could be a wrong reading (Tom and Summer are deeply flawed, deeply selfish characters, not dream lovers), which is true in a way. The LEGO Movie is the hero’s journey retold with LEGO bricks. But is it also anti-capitalism with its overthrow/redemption of an evil businessman? I’d argue not, because, really? But wrong doesn’t necessarily mean invalid, and if you read Tom as being a dream guy even though the writers have outright said he’s not meant to be one, fine, more power to you, you’re still wrong.

Stories are fluid and for a lot, the authors are decidedly dead. So it doesn’t really matter so much what the exact intention was exactly, so much as you connected. This doesn’t mean you can go around saying Gojira isn’t about the Japanese terror of nuclear weapons (because look at the context and everything), but it does allow for a range of interpretations of that. I know the The Force Awakens has belonging as a theme, because Maz mentions it to Rey, but the importance I place on it is all, well, me.

And at the end of the story, that’s the important bit.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Nothing’s In a Vacuum

San Diego Comic-Con brought with it a new teaser for Netflix and Marvel’s upcoming Luke Cage, featuring said hero beating up bad guys. Ordinarily, this would be cool enough, because, duh. But, before this ass-kicking takes place, we get a shot of Luke putting up the hood of his jacket. It’s a precise shot that focuses a lot of attention into the act: Luke doesn’t just wear his hood up, he deliberately puts it on before heading in.

Luke Cage is making a statement with this teaser: a big black man in a hoodie can be a hero.

Which, given, y’know, everything, is really wonderful.

“So what?” my theoretical straw man asks, “Maybe he just wants to hide his identity.” Which, fine, and sure, a domino mask would be cliché, but it’s still a conscious choice the creators made. And an important one.

Entertainment doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It reflects and comments on the world around it. Luke Cage is coming out in a world wherein being black and wearing a hoodie is grounds for distrust and villainization. For a myriad of reasons, popular perception paints a very negative picture.

And that’s why Luke Cage wearing a hoodie matters. It’s a counter narrative to the scary  black man, offering a decidedly different take on it. Sure, he’s still imposing, but he’s the good guy and the hero of this show, the hero. There’s this wonderful hint of antiestablishment about it, which is one of the things that’s got me excited for this show.

One of the other things being that Mike Colter is really hot.

But anyway.

Fiction, and the imagery it creates, exists beyond the work from which it originated. Like I said before, nothing is created in a vacuum anymore, especially not since the rise of Web 2.0 has democratized content generation and facilitated and even greater osmosis of pop (and ‘real’) culture. We are, in many ways, exposed to a lot of the same news and memes, though our takeaways and lenses may be wildly different. Fiction, then, sits in a place where it can comment on it.

Luke Cage is going to be Marvel’s first movie/tv property with an African-American lead (until Black Panther), so there’s a lot riding on it. One of those being the question of what exactly a show about a black character is. Based on the trailer, it seems that Luke Cage is fully aware of its position.

It might not, being a tv show by a major studio/storyteller, be able to take an overly explicit stance (something, by the way, which hasn’t stopped a few of Marvel’s comics from having particularly dope commentary*), but that doesn’t mean it can’t still play with our expectations, whether through imagery, music, or plot. I keep campaigning for different narratives, and it looks like that’s where this one’s headed.

I’m excited.

*Spider-Gwen Annual #1 has a black, female Captain America attacking Donald-Trump-as-MODOK. It’s amazing. Captain America: Sam Wilson has recently been dealing with aggressive, militarized police. In Mockingbird you come for the fun and humor, but stay for the biting feminist commentary (and also objectification of male characters).

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Beauty of Pokémon Go

A recent issue of TIME Magazine (a magazine I usually like) ran a small article about Pokémon Go. In an article describing how the game “shows the unnerving future of augmenting reality,” writer Matt Vella describes players in Prospect Park as “a dozen people shuffling about haphazardly, their zombie eyes fixed on glowing phone screens.”

Okay. Fine.

Honestly, I shouldn’t be too surprised. This is the same publication that ran a cover article about how millennials (ie: me) are entitled and narcissistic; Pokémon Go is more smart-phone enabled shenanigans. But that this article essentially dismisses the game is frustrating. Because yes, Pokémon Go is another game, but it’s position as a augmented reality game makes it something really special.


Something beautiful.

The open-endedness of games like Mass Effect make comparing notes with other players a lot of fun. Who did you romance? What did you save? Red, blue, or green? Your choices in the game give you a common ground. Same with discussing responses to The Last of Us or describing that great moment you had in Halo. Video games create (virtual) experiences and memories. Like any memory, these then become things you talk about.

But Pokémon Go exists in the real world. You don’t catch a Seel in the Seafoam Islands, you catch a Seel in Battery Park. You don’t hatch eggs by walking from Cerulean City to Vermillion City over and over again, you do so by walking to work and back. That gym doesn’t exist in your GameBoy, it’s the Washington Square Arch.

Because of this, those memories become physical. My brother and I roamed the East Village together looking for Pokémon, glued to our phones, yes, but also talking and enjoying the outdoors. The outdoors outside, in the real world. In other words, Pokémon Go makes the very act of walking into an adventure. The game augments reality itself (hence the whole AR genre) into a game.

That Pokémon Go exists in the real world is part of its beauty. Players have to go outside to catch Pokémon, collect items, and challenge gyms. So folks are going to parks, museums, and zoos to find Pokémon. Yes, on their phones, but actually out there.

With the game comes a community, one that, in my experience, has been remarkably positive. Stopping at Astor Place to take over a gym and catching someone’s eye, knowing we’d worked together to claim it in the name of Team Valor. Or striking up a conversation with someone at the Garibaldi Statue Pokéstop where someone used a lure. Then there’s my Facebook feed starting to look more and more like a schoolyard conversation about where to find Pokémon and whose is the best.

Pokémon which, remember, you find in the real world.

Look, I’m twenty-five; smack-dab in the middle of Generation Y. I’m one of those who grew up with the internet and social media. We’re those who see technology not as something to be scared but by which we’ll save the world. Pokémon Go, though probably not quite that extreme, exists within that vein. For all the stories of players finding dead bodies in rivers and falling off cliffs, there are many more about the game helping people deal with anxiety or depression and stories of it providing an avenue of social interaction for autistic kids. You can complain all you want about phone-addled Millennials, but a fear of AR as a harbinger of awfulness is unfounded.

‘cuz this present is the future.

Our future.

And it’s wonderful.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Excuse Me As I Geek Out About Rogue One

A new teaser of sorts for Rogue One dropped and it’s the sort of behind-the-scenes sizzle reel that I go nuts for. You’ve got folks on sets, folks in costumes, folks with prop guns; all that good stuff. ‘cuz when you combine Star Wars with moviemaking stuff, you’re really going right up my alley.

It also helps that I’m incredibly psyched for Rogue One.

Right off the bat, there’s the obvious thing that I love the cast’s diversity. It fills my soul with glee to know that there are two Chinese actors in a new Star Wars movie, along with people from all over the place. Not just that, but that these characters aren’t just window dressing but people people. Who, based on what we’ve seen, get to do cool stuff.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (of which I have no guilt), diversity is friggin’ important, guys. This is Star Wars; it’s science fiction, not reality. I’ll hear you out if you complain about not being able to have a Japanese woman show up during the War of the Roses or a black man in a movie about the Incan Empire, but science fiction is, uh, science fiction. Especially when it’s in the vein of Star Wars; stories set a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. There’s no reason for the world to not be diverse. We’ve got aliens already, so why can’t the (presumable) leaders of the team that steals the plans to the Death Star be a woman and a Latino man?

But beyond that (because there’s more to Rogue One than its wonderfully diverse cast that I will never shut up about), there’s the fact that Gareth Edwards is directing it. Which, as we see more of it and hear more about it, he seems like a great person for this movie.

Which may sound a bit odd, given that his prior major filmography has been Monsters and Godzilla, neither of which are really war movies, a genre which Rogue One seems to be drawing a lot of influence from. But, what Edwards is bringing to Rogue One is a tremendous sense of scale.

What both Monsters and Godzilla do incredibly well is contain an immense sense of scale. When you finally see the titular monsters at the very end they’re treated as being absolutely sublime. There’s a wonderful mixture of terror and awe that’s nothing short of memorable. Godzilla too gave the famous kaiju a special kind of awe, making him feel like an unstoppable force of nature.

Star Wars has usually been about the heroes and the Jedi, the big players in the galaxy. Rogue One steps away from that and tackles more ordinary rebels (or at least the Rebellion-affiliated) in their fight against the Empire. These aren’t people who can cut a hole in an AT-AT with a lightsaber. For these heroes, an AT-AT is really bad news. This is where Edwards shines. Look at the way he portrays the AT-ATs in that first trailer, those machines are huge, destructive monstrosities. If the Empire is going to be this unstoppable military force, then this is the guy to be directing the movie.

Especially since Darth Vader’s going to be showing up.

If you haven’t gathered, I’m really excited for Rogue One. In part because, yes, it’s more cinematic Star Wars stories, but also because it’s a new and different sort of Star Wars story.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Catching ’em All

Like many people born in the early ’90s, I grew up playing Pokémon. And man, I caught ‘em all. Literally all of ‘em. At least in Yellow and Gold; I got close in Ruby and that’s where I stopped.

So when Pokémon Go was first announced last year I thought it seemed really cool. Like worth upgrading my four-year-old phone for. In case you haven’t heard, here’s the skinny on Go:

It’s Pokémon in real life. You go places, your phone tells you there’s a Pokémon there, you catch it. Certain landmarks are gyms where you can battle people and other landmarks give you items. Again, it’s Pokémon in real life.

Now, the game is very much in its infancy. It’s a drain on battery and there isn’t much in the way of depth to the game (there is no way to traditionally level up Pokémon, which means you’ll probably find yourself releasing your starter). Then there’s the awful server lag currently present that makes playing a crapshoot at best. A game’s not great if you can’t really play it. It’s a mess.

And yet.

I’ve found myself walking through Washington Square Park, looking for Pokémon with friends, and running into other people also looking for Pokémon. I walked to the Arch to challenge the gym there and, upon seeing that someone had used a Lure Module on the Gibraldi Statue, sat around there catching Pokémon with a handful of strangers. And then all of us getting excited when a hitherto uncaught Ekans showed up.

I think this is where the beauty of Pokémon Go, even in its nascent state, shines. There’s an excitement in the traditional Pokémon games when a random encounter yields that one Pokémon you’ve spent ages searching for (I’m looking at you, Tauros). Same with when that egg you’ve been walking around with forever finally hatches. Go takes that feeling of success and translates it to real life. When an egg hatches it’s because you’ve carried it for five kilometers. Not your digital avatar walking around Johto, but you, in real life, walking around your town. When you, at last, finally get a Pinsir it’s because you decided to walk to Starbucks for coffee instead of spending your break inside. That joy you got in the games is made visceral. Now your ability to catch ‘em all is a direct result of your own exploring — you’re looking for Pokémon.

It helps that the simple mechanics (go somewhere, find a thing, get a thing, look for a better thing) is bolstered by the pop culture familiarity brought on by Pokémon. It’s no coincidence that the available Pokémon are the original 150, the ones people my age fondly remember from growing up. There’s an appeal to the familiar, and man, it’s working — I don’t think I’ve been this excited to find a Bellsprout since I was seven. There’s an implicit invitation in the game to be a kid again, to look around your world with a wonderment because that mural on the wall could be a Pokémon Gym and there’s a Bulbasaur down that road in the West Village.

Pokémon Go still has a lot of room to grow — and it’ll have to to keep people interested over the long term. But for now, just a couple days out of the gate, it’s a whole lotta simple, magical, fun.

Except for those Rattatas. I am so sick of finding freaking Rattatas.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized