Friday, February 1, 2019

Black Action Figures: Just the Ladies (Almost)

There are not many black characters in pop culture. People of color (POC) are vastly underrepresented in the media we consume to entertain us. Certainly, there have been some inroads to inclusion, but there are still wide chasms to bridge. (And I won't even get into the pay gap; I am so not qualified to talk about that.)

Since today marks the first day of Black History Month, and the truly wonderful #28DaysOfBlackCosplay, it got me thinking about dearth of black action figures (that goes hand in hand with the lack of black characters), which made me wonder how many I had in my collection. Sadly, this won't take that long...

Aveline de Grandpré: Assassin's Creed
McFarlane, 2014
This was the first female playable assassin in the game. Some fanbois lost their shit because cooties.
Domina: Spawn Reborn
McFarlane, 2003
This is a repaint of an earlier figure that is white. The character in the comics also appears to be white. The repaint is one of McFarlane's many reissued, repainted figures for that cash cow.

Fatality: Green Lantern Corps
DC Direct, 2002
I debated including this one. She's an alien, not from Earth, but the way she's drawn and colored she looks like she could be black, and she dated black Green Lantern John Stewart (who also destroyed her planet; comics are complicated).
Gamora – played by actor Zoe Saldana: Guardians of the Galaxy
Hasbro, 2014
Saldana self-identifies as black, so here she is! Even if she is painted green...
Misty Knight (Heroes for Hire)
Hasbro, 2015
I have to kinda wonder if Knight's character (first app. 1975) was inspired by Pam Grier (Foxy Brown, et al.)...
Garona Halforcen – played by actor Paula Patton: Warcraft (movie)
Jakks Pacific, 2016
This was another one I wasn't sure to include or not. Patton's father is African-American, but I don't know how she, personally, identifies. I'm erring on the side of Barack Obama and including this figure.
Guinan – played by actor/comedian Whoopi Goldberg
Playmates, 1994
There were a few different versions of Guinan's character. This one is from Star Trek: Generations Basic Series.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee: Starting Lineup/Timeless Legends
Kenner, 1996
Florence Griffith-Joyner: Starting Lineup/Timeless Legends
Kenner, 1996
These are both reasonable likenesses, but they're not "action figures." There is very little articulation, and what there is is pretty meaningless. They are basically small plastic statues, that have a tiny amount of movement.
Lily [Sloane] – played by actor Alfre Woodard: Star Trek: First Contact
Playmates, 1996
On the card, she is merely "Lily, Zephram Cochran's Assistant," but in one Star Trek source, she is DR. Lily Sloane.
Maggie: Evolve
Funko, 2015
I don't know anything about this game. The fandom wiki page says her surname is Lumumba. She looks pretty badass.

Martha Jones – played by actor Freema Agyeman: Doctor Who
Character Options, 2013
Martha was available singly and in box sets. The one above is from the Companion Box Set.
Martia – played by Iman: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Playmates, 1995
This character is another alien, a Chameloid, so her attractive appearance portrayed by Iman is not her "true" form. But that's the action figure they made and how many people get to boast their own action figs, eh? (Plus I kinda love her character in the movie.)
Michonne – played by Danai Gurira: The Walking Dead
McFarlane, 2013
Michonne has a few different iterations of her character, this one is the TV Series 3 version.
Monica Rambeau: A-Force
Hasbro, 2017
This character has had a few different names in the comics, including Captain Marvel! Currently, we are set to meet her mother Maria "Photon" (Photon is one of her other aliases) Rambeau in the upcoming Captain Marvel movie. w00t!
Nakia – played by actor Lupita Nyong'o: Black Panther
Hasbro,  2017
This particular series of action figures was a Build-a-Figure for Okoye: buy the 5 required figures, and assemble the character played by Danai Gurira. There is a forthcoming Wave 2 of Black Panther figures than includes a Dora Milaje with three different heads.
Niobe – played by actor Jada Pinkett Smith: The Matrix Reloaded
McFarlane, 2003
I love the detail in this figure, it's a good likeness of both the actress and the character. I hate that the pose is baked in. There's not much *action* in this action figure.
Onyx: Golden Girl and the Guardians of the Gemstones
Galoob, 1984
This was a "knockoff" of the Mattel She-Ra line. Great figures with real metal shields. The metallic coating on their capes have an unfortunate tendency to shed with age, though.
Patty Tolan – played by actor/comedian Leslie Jones: Ghostbusters
Mattel, 2016
The figures are great, a little monochromatic, but faithfully rendered. The packaging was cheap as hell, though, and when I bought mine all the boxes in the store were crushed, every one of them. Not only cheap, but ugly. So Mattel didn't commit to the packaging, didn't commit to the lame-ass build-a-fig Rowan ghost that came with buying all four. Kinda like how a lot of people didn't commit to the movie, and how awesome it really was.
Rue – played by Amandla Stenberg: The Hunger Games
NECA, 2012
Another really nice rendering of a character. NECA generally does well with their figures. Rue doesn't have a whole lot of articulation, but she looks like her character. If you've read the books or seen the movies, having this one in your collection will just make you sad and angry a lot.
Sasha (Williams) – played by Sonequa Martin-Green: The Walking Dead
McFarlane, 2017 (Walgreens exclusive)
This is an exclusive figure that was available only from Walgreens drug stores. Like most McFarlane figures, it's a good likeness of the actor. Incidentally, in order for an action figure to have a likeness of the actor, that person has to sign off on it. People have rights to whether their likeness is used (or NOT used), and if you see an action figure that looks nothing like the individual it portrays, it might be that person refused the use of their likeness.
(Future) Shard: X-Men
Toy Biz, 1997
I wasn't sure about including this character. According to her bio, Shard Bishop is the daughter of indigenous Australians. Some of these people refer to themselves as black, some don't. I honestly don't know how Marvel intends her to be perceived.

Shonti: Tenko and the Guardians of the Magic
Mattel, 1995
Fallon: Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders
Hasbro/Kenner, 1995
Both of these figures came out about the same time, and were based on Magical Girl cartoon series. I have not seen either series, but the figures are cute. However, neither series caught on the way She-Ra did 10 years earlier. And neither had the popularity of Sailor Moon.

Shuri – Letitia Wright: Black Panther (basic series)
Hasbro, 2017
There are two versions of this character, one based on the movie and the actress, and one based on the comic book character that came in a Toys R Us exclusive 2-Pack with Klaw. I bought the 2-pack and returned it when I saw the one above, so she would be more harmonious with the other movie Black Panther figures. The one that comes in the 2-pack does look cool though, I have to admit.
Stass Allie (foreground) – played by Lily Nyamwasa: Star Wars: Attack of the Clones/Revenge of the Sith
Hasbro, 2005
Luminara Unduli (background) – played by Mary Oyaya: Star Wars: Attack of the Clones/Revenge of the Sith
Hasbro, 2013
There are multiple versions of both these figures, but Luminara Unduli has more variations than Stass Allie.

Storm: She-Force Series 2
Toy Biz, 1996
Until the batteries wear out (or corrode), the lightening bolt on her chest lights up. This same figure came in a silver chrome, silver paint, and white versions as well as the black. There have been many Storm figures. She's the one black superhero that pretty much everyone can think of even when you ask non-comic fans, along with Blade (probably).
Lt. (Nyota) Uhura – played by Nichelle Nichols (and Zoe Saldana in the reboot): Star Trek
Playmates, 1995
Uhura has several variations of her character. The one above is from the Classic Movie Series, from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I liked it because she wasn't wearing that stupid impractical miniskirt.
Valkyrie – played by Tessa Thompson: Thor: Ragnarok
Hasbro, 2017
This figure came in a two-pack with the short-haired Thor from Ragnarok. He's out of the frame here, but Tessa is dragging Chris in sparkly net I made from sacrificed fishnet tights. Worth it.
Wanda II (Simmons): The Art of Spawn
McFarlane, 2005
This is a non-articulated figure, but it's so pretty I couldn't resist. If you plan to get this one for yourself, something to be aware of: the candlesticks are a fairly soft plastic, and warp easily. Mine arrived looking half-melted. I might be able to use a hair dryer to straighten them, but I haven't tried.
Zoë Washburne – played by Gina Torres: Firefly
Funko, 2014
A good likeness of the actor. The Funko figures are sometimes hit and miss with their joints and swivels. This one was a bit of a miss for me. Her thigh swivels are kind of obnoxious, and her head barely moves because of the hair.
Okay, that's it for the ladies in my collection, even the ones I haven't unboxed yet. That was 32 female characters that are either black, are aliens played by black actors, or aliens that appear as black.

I have one dude displayed who's black. I don't typically display male figures, even if they come with the female ones, but Ty and Tandy are kinda literally codependent. They need each other, so they're displayed together.

Cloak: Cloak and Dagger box set
Toy Biz, 1997
This was a collector's set that came out way before the tv show. This pair has been in another 2-pack, and separately as 6-inch and 3 3/4-inch figures.
So including my codependent guy, 33 black characters (more or less). That is pitifully small, when you consider my collection is edging up on 700.

If you love diverse media, support it. If you want to see diverse characters, demand them from the studios that create them. Hollywood saw, clearly, that a black superhero movie could succeed, beyond their dreams of avarice. Black Panther shattered records, and good for them! Let's see more of that, please!

For another resource, totally dedicated to this kind of thing exclusively, visit: Black Action Figures.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

American Horror Story: Barbie Coven

Yeah, okay, so maybe that doesn't really strike horror into most hearts, but have you ever stared into the vacant, vapid, blank stare of a Barbie doll for very long? Terrifying...

"A witch ought never to be frightened in the darkest forest, Granny Weatherwax had once told her,
because she should be sure in her soul that the most terrifying thing in the forest was her."
-- Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith
A n y w a y... yesterday, I was working on something else which led to me deciding to finally fix the spooky tree that was sitting on the witch doll shelf in the guest room (before it fell over, taking half the dolls with it). I had to dismantle the base, remove the guts, re"stuff" it with a thick dowel leftover from something else and reglue it all. Then I had to repair the paint that got messed up because it's made of pipe cleaners, masking tape and paper, and some of the paint flaked (surprisingly little!). While I was at it, I added some lichen-y and mossy greens to the roots and knothole. It gave it quite a bit more dimension, I think.
Round about the cauldron go; / In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone / Days and nights hast thirty one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,  / Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.
Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 1
I mentioned on Twitter that I was trying to tie this collection to some of the other things in the room, to make the room cohesive. The guest bedroom is currently an odd mix of children's library (it's adjacent to our daughter's room, so the logical place for kid's books after we ran out of room in the library downstairs), some memorabilia and art from New Orleans/Mardi Gras, and witches.

After I put up the shelf holds all the dolls, I had decided it would be cool to tie them to New Orleans by printing out a background of family crypts*, as if they were all meeting in a New Orleans cemetery. So that's what I did yesterday, printing out some altered photos on cardstock, then gluing them to foamcore. The idea is that they look like they're a bit in the distance, so the detail isn't sharp on purpose. I wanted the concept of the crypts without the images themselves fighting for prominence on the shelf. Unfortunately, the shelf is so crowded that now you can't hardly see the crypts at all. ::sigh:: (The one to the left of the tree is alleged to be Marie Laveau's true resting place. Of course, I had to include the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans!)

Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hekate, Demeter, Kali, Inanna
I do have a solution to the crowded shelf problem, however. There is room above the headboard on the opposite wall for another shelf, and I do have another identical shelf waiting to be put up. I'm mostly waiting for more dolls to justify the trouble. I might need to find a new home for my old promo print of Bugs and Witch Hazel, though.
Witch Hazel: I warn you, dearie, I'm going to worm all your ugly secrets out of you. Tell me. Who undoes your hair?
Bugs Bunny: Do you like it?
Hazel: Like it? It's absolutely hideous!
Bugs: I did myself up tonight.
Hazel: There's nothing like a home permanent.
Broom-Stick Bunny, 1956
Flanking the bed are the taller bookcases, and more random doll assortments.
L-R: 2003 Halloween Fortune (Target excl.), 2000 85th Birthday Halloween ed. Raggedy Ann,
2004 Boo-tiful Halloween
Top: 1997 FAO Schwarz excl. Samantha Stephens Bewitched (Exclusive Premiere)
Middle: (mostly hidden behind the plush dragon) 1972 Emerald the Enchanting Witch (Milton Bradley)
Bottom L-R: Disney Store Evil Queen, 2010 Bewitched Barbie, Disney Store Maleficent
Right: three Mardi Gras prints from NOLA artist Mousie
(clockwise from top, 2001 "Mardi Gras Moon Goddess", 1998 "Perfume", 2000 "Mardi Gras Eyes")
The shelf with the little plush dragon (Leviathan, to be specific, he was a parade throw) and Emerald (who is sadly nekkid) holds my modest collection of modern and vintage witchy kids books. I've written one of my own that I'm still in process of working out the illustrations for, and writing a second.

Then there's one of my recent acquisitions, and the source of much frustration for Jill Thompson, who worked for years to bring her to life: the Scary Godmother doll. She was a Kickstarter project (my husband backed it for me, and I even got to meet Ms. Thompson, who is lovely) and I was thrilled when she finally arrived. I don't plan on taking her out of the box until I have a dome to put her under.

"Here's a treat that's fun to make and helps you get a word in edgewise. Take two of your favorite crackers, spread one with jam, one with peanut butter, smoosh them together, and jam them into the mouth of a chattering werewolf."
Next to her on the shelf is a little experimental doll I made. Above the shelf on the wall is a collection of doubloons from my collection, and a drape of beads attached to the frame below it. I had a brief, mad obsession with doubloons and their history, and have a big 3-ring binder full of them, carefully sorted by year and put in little cardboard/mylar coin folders.

Finally, the last part of the collection in this room sort of serves as a warning, and is a souvenir from Salem, Massachusetts, so I suppose it's not all New Orleans...

By the way, in Colonies, they hanged "convicted" witches. Burning is what they did in Europe.
If you're a witchy sort of collector, too, here's a fantastic resource for the Barbie Halloween dolls:

For more witchy children's books, visit A Mighty Girl's blog: "With Broomstick in Hand, 40 Books Starring Mighty Witches"
...and Red Tricycle's "Which Witch is Your Favorite? 14 Witch Books We Love":
*If you are unfamiliar, many burials in New Orleans are aboveground, because NOLA is below the water table. Any coffins that are buried have ledger stones to keep them down, or have stone walls around the coffin to keep out rising water. More info about those:

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Summer Project: Shelf Risers

After a bit of a recent mad unboxing spree, it became increasingly apparent that I really need shelf risers for the main wall. Three deep when most of them are the same height, you just can't see them all, and with the interior height of the shelf at 14 inches, I have the space to do that. However, with the size of some of the figures (and the bases/stands they came with), it may not be practical to do 2 tiers/3 rows like I was originally thinking.

This brings me to another question: how important is overall symmetry? If I have one shelf with 2 tiers next to a shelf with just one, is that going to look weird? Do I go ahead and make all 60 risers (6 cases, 5 shelves each, 2 risers per shelf = 60 risers), with the thought that even if I don't need them now, I might need them later if I rearrange the shelves again? Rather leaning in that direction...

I figured the max height of the taller tier should be 6 inches high, leaving enough room for even an 8-inch figure to stand on, and the shorter one should be 3 inches, elevating each row 3 inches above the other. It also seems logical to display the larger figures in the back, smaller ones in the front, maximizing the difference in height to my advantage.

While I was rearranging the shelves, trying to figure out how to best use the 6th bookcase that I emptied to use for figures*, I really had some trouble with groups. Having a continuous row of Marvel and DC is no sweat. Having a continuous row of McFarlane is not happening. So I grouped them it a way that made the most sense to me. It's my collection, I can curate it how I please.

I don't display many male figures (because I don't seek them out) and I don't vignette figures, generally, but when I got the Valkyrie/Odinson 2-pack (more accurately, my husband found it for me), I had to sacrifice a pair of tights to do this:

Yes, drag him back to your lair...

Not sure how I'll set that up with risers, but that little scene stays on the shelf! The other dude-commentary I have made is with good ole Steve Trevor, the only non-Wonder Woman figure on the WW shelf. But... he's seated, passive, with his long gun across his lap, while all the Wondies are in various poses of alertness.

"What I do is not up to you."

Sadly, risers on the WW shelf will mean moving that Wonder-ful print by the Satrun twins, but that means it will be more visible somewhere else. There's already a dais there with pegs in it for feet that came in a Wonder Woman/Wonder Girl box set, but I think that will have to go in favor of the risers, unless it will fit on one of them.

Really, now it's just a matter of tracking down the wood, and I think I have found a source for free scrap wood and "free" is definitely one of my favorite words, although it's a bit of a haul to get to. Once I have the wood, it's a matter of cutting, gluing and nailing. The natural wood will be fine, and disappear into the "birch" color of the shelving units. Then I just need museum putty to stick them to the shelves and risers, and I can do away with the dowels.

Since there's still nonsense happening in June with summer school and other commitments, I'm hoping I can knock this out in July over a couple of weekends. (LOL -- yeah... because it's entirely predictable that something else will come up to prevent this from happening until next year. ::sigh::)

UPDATE: This is the most recent set of photos of the collection, and why I need the risers in the first place.

Some of these shelves are so jammed with figures, it's hard to see anything.
Others have room for growth, and others are too bulky to allow
for much of anything, and risers may be problematic.
A-Force assembled! Definitely needs risers...
Unfortunately, these shelves are not deep enough, or have enough space between them to allow for risers.
...and neither do these.
Fortunately, Nancy Pearl doesn't have to compete with anyone else in the library upstairs.
*It had originally not held figures, in part because it was separated from the others by a beam in the ceiling, breaking the line. We used it to hold graphic novels, and a few misc., but it became clear I needed the space so I got more bookcases to hold the GNs, and gained 5 more shelves for the collection. It still may not be enough down the road.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Superheroines on the Big Screen, Or: Why Do Studios Hate Women?

This post is an elaboration of a tweet storm I wrote the day it occurred. Recent events have inspired me to expand on the idea. Contains some salty language. Consider yourself warned.

A few weeks ago at the end of our weekly comic discussion group, we ended up talking about female-led [live action] comic book movies. We ticked off the films we could recall: Supergirl (1984), Red Sonja (1985), Tank Girl (1995), Barb Wire (1996), Catwoman (2004), and Elektra (2005). We forgot Sheena (1984) and Josie and the Pussycats (2001).

Eight. We remembered six of eight films in more than 30 years

Just to put that in perspective, Batman has had NINE movies, not counting direct to video or animated, since 1966. Counting the direct to vid and/or animated, Batman has 32. Superman also has nine, since 1951, but only 18 counting animated and DtV. Spider-Man? five since 1977, eight counting TV movies.

There are also made for television movies, and a direct-to-video movie: Wonder Woman (1974, TV movie/failed pilot starring Cathy Lee Crosby), Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996, TV movie/pilot, other TV movies: '98, '99), Vampirella (1996, direct to video), Witchblade (2000, TV movie/pilot), and Painkiller Jane (2005, TV movie/pilot). Now, to be clear, there are other female-led movies based on comics/graphic novels. I'm being a little arbitrary in how I'm looking at "comic book movies." I'm looking at superheroes, here, for the purpose of keeping this reasonably tight.

So here are the Eight (live action, big screen):

Supergirl (1984) Starring Helen Slater
Budget: $35M, box office: $14.3M, loss: $20.7M
It was produced, directed, and the screenplay written, by dudes. (Shocking, right?) I've been trying to get my hands on a used DVD of this to revisit it. Oddly, if it's such an awful film, you'd think it'd be easy to find a used copy. You'd be wrong.

Sheena (1984) Starring Tanya Roberts
Budget: $25M, box office: $5.8M, loss: $19.2M
This screenplay was also written by a couple of dudes. I haven't seen this in years so I can't really comment on its specific terribleness. Ebert apparently thought it was more suited for the Playboy channel. I believe my husband recalls this movie with some adolescent fondness...

Red Sonja (1985) Starring Brigitte Nielsen
Budget: $17.9M, box office: $6.9M, loss: $11M
All dudes, again. But one of the things that sunk this ship was that Nielsen was a model, not an actress, picked up only weeks before shooting began. Naturally, she wasn't much of an actress in the film, because she wasn't an actress in the first place. (Also, the script sucked, guys. No amount of good acting could have saved it.)

Tank Girl (1995) Starring Lori Petty and Naomi Watts
Budget: $25M, box office: $6M, loss: $19M
A woman (Rachel Talalay) directed this, but it was written and produced by dudes. I have to assume that the world wasn't ready for Lori Petty in 1995, because this movie rocks, and I have no idea why it didn't do any better than that. Ms Talalay: Thank you for this gift you gave the world.

Barb Wire (1996) Starring Pamela Anderson
Budget: $9M, box office: $3.8M, loss: $5.2M
Directed and produced by dudes, story by Ilene Chaiken, who co-wrote the screenplay. Can't comment personally, as I haven't seen it other than snips and pieces. Enough to see Pam can't act. (Ugh.)

Josie and the Pussycats (2001) Starring Rachael Lee Cook, Tara Reid and Rosario Dawson
Budget: $39M, box office: $14.9M, loss: $24.1M
The writers Harry Effont (who has a cameo) and Deborah Kaplan also directed this film, produced by dudes. I have not seen it, but wow does it sound stupid. (Not as stupid as the Jem movie, but we're not going there...)

Catwoman (2004) Starring Halle Barry
Budget: $100M, box office: $82.1M, loss: $17.9M
Theresa Rebeck wrote the story with John Brancato and Michael Ferris, and those dudes wrote the screenplay with John Rogers (no idea what happened to Rebeck on the screenplay, why she wrote the story but not that). Denise De Novi produced it with Edward L. McDonnell, and it was directed by a dude. (Natch -- this movie was so male-gazy, could it have been anything other than a man directing it?) The story was bad, the script was bad, the fact that the Catwoman origin was so stupid was bad. And that fucking costume...

Elektra (2005) Starring Jennifer Garner
Budget: $43M, box office: $56.7M, on paper this made $13.7M (commercial failure)
Written, produced and directed by dudes. Now, of the 8 movies this one did the "least bad." It made money, or at least made back the budget, but that's gross, so it's probably still a net loss in the books. It's been a while since I've seen this one, too, I don't remember being that impressed with Garner. (Wikipedia is kinder, but it's been a very long time.)

Why did these movies fail? 

1. Poorly written scripts.
Write a better script, and you'll get a better movie. It's AMAZING! Invest some time into those characters, maybe hire a woman, since many of the men in Hollywood don't seem to understand how women think/act in real life. Can only women right female characters? Nope! Talk to Greg Rucka, who writes some of the best female characters in comics, it can be done. Sadly, he's not a scriptwriter... that I know of.
2. Poorly-chosen actors. (Or not actors at all, coughNielsencough.)
Not every actor is the right person for the job. Sometimes you get someone who turns out to be so damned perfect, you can't imagine anyone else, ever again, in that role. Who else other than Ryan Reynolds could be Deadpool? Who else other than Chris Evans could be Captain America (even though he was not-quite-right for Johnny Storm)? And yeah, I'm going there: who else other than Chris Reeve can be Superman? And Lynda Carter was an amazing Wonder Woman; that's a tough torch to pass. (I don't envy Gadot.)
3. Poorly designed wardrobe.
If you want women to come to your movies, maybe don't turn your female heroes into sexpots. Honest to god, Red Sonja looked less sexualized than Catwoman did, and she was wearing less. Male Gaze is a thing, y'all, and it's killing the movies for us women! So much about that Catwoman movie screamed "this movie is not for you, it's for the fanboys" while I watched it. Michelle Pfeiffer in her vinyl getup was less fetishizing than Berry was. Pfeiffer made me want to go find people to punch; Berry made me want to go wash. Is that really what you want your moviegoers to come away with? an urge to get clean?
4. Poorly promoted features.
If you don't promote your movie, how will people get excited about it? How will people know you have faith in your film? This is especially true today with social media. Who's promoting the movie? Anyone, actors, studio heads, directors? Are there toys? Cereal tie-ins? Trailers? Bus stand ads? Ads in the comics themselves? If we don't see these things, we will think you don't believe in your project, and if you don't believe in it, why should we?

Which brings me to my segue...

Why haven't we seen any Wonder Woman promotion?

This is Wonder Woman's 75th anniversary. Why is DC not hyping the shit out of this movie? Why am I not seeing Gal Gadot's face everywhere? This is the first major superheroine on the big screen since 1984. It's been 33 years since DC gave us Supergirl (when they were capitalizing on Superman's fame and success, or trying to). Thirty-three years. We haven't had Wonder Woman since Lynda Carter's television series ran from 1975-1979.

Am I concerned about the lack of visibility of Wonder Woman in the media right now? You betcha! If this movie flops, the way those eight up there flopped, the studios will all say, "See, superheroine movies don't work, even WONDER WOMAN can't make box office cash, so we're never doing it again!" and pull the plug on any super lady projects for every and ever, amen. Never mind the fact that Snyder has his dark and gritty fingers messing up the hope and light that is Diana... Never mind the fact that I'm already hearing that Pine is taking a forward role when Steve Trevor should be in the background... Never mind the fact that they aren't promoting this film...

And if it's that they don't know how to market to women..? I dunno, maybe hire some fucking women to your marketing staff and ask them?? Here's a hint: it doesn't need to be pink to sell it to us. In fact, if it's pink with a Wonder Woman logo on it, I won't buy it. 

And this has significant ramifications for future films. What about Captain Marvel, that's been pushed back, what? twice now? If Wonder Woman fails, I bet you they pull the plug on Captain Marvel so fast... And we can kiss Batgirl goodbye, too, even if "make 'em suffer" Whedon is writing it. You know execs are watching to see what happens with Wonder Woman, to see whether or not to go forward with their stuff.

Anyway... I'm looking at a list of "upcoming" comic book films and I'm seeing so many more superdudes... and I am so done with superdudes. One more fucking remake of one more fucking dude movie and I swear I will scream. But here's the thing: because the comics don't bother to develop their superheroines, they're hard to turn into movies. They're not much more than two-dimensional characters (if you'll pardon the expression) because so much more time and attention has been given to all the dudes. Goddamn ANT-MAN got a movie before Captain Marvel. Before She-Hulk. Before Spider-Woman. Before A-Force (I would watch the shit out of A-Force, man, oh please someone give me an A-Force movie). Give more life to those female characters on the page, and give them life on the screen. Make them people the same way the male characters are people. It's really that simple. Then the comics will sell better (they really will! honest!) and then you have material to make a movie from, which you can then promote, and make more money.

Look, the whole point of comics is to make money, and it's not sustainable if you don't bring in new readers. Well, there won't be any new readers if the publisher keep pandering to the middle-aged white guys by saying shit like "diversity doesn't sell." No. You don't sell diversity because you won't promote it. Big diff, my dudes. But if you want to keep on with the same old white guy BS that you're shilling, and the male gazy crap in the movies, then I can take my dollars and spend it somewhere else... Lumberjanes is friggin awesome. Too bad a dude is writing the screenplay for that film... (/facepalm)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Dr. Lepore, Meet Prof. Blanch

You've seen it, right? That ridiculous article Dr. Jill Lepore (author of The Secret History of Wonder Woman) wrote in the New Yorker, titled "Looking at Female Superheroes with Ten-Year-Old Boys" is devoid of context. She admitted that she was an academic, not a pop culture nerd, when she wrote her Wonder Woman book, and researching a single character from that angle is an interesting idea -- a fresh perspective, even. For this, she relies on a ten year old boy (and her own biases) for her information about the characters, because everyone knows young boys are right about everything.

Here's where I might have a few strong opinions*. To suggest that "they all look like porn stars" on the cover of A-Force #1 is completely ignorant, literally ignorant. One only had to survive comics in the 90s, in those dark "bad girls" days, to know what "porn stars" look like in a comics context. (See Lady Death, Witchblade, Avengelyne et al. if you want porn stars.)

"Their power is their allure, which, looked at another way, is the absence of power. Even their bodies are not their own. They are without force." There's another utterly stupid thing to say. First of all, technically, none of their bodies are their own, because all of the characters are subject to the whims of the artists and writers currently on the books; that is true of male and female characters. Secondly, she knows nothing about these characters, what their stories are, to be able to say something like that with conviction. She-Hulk, for example, has a helluva lot of agency. She's a character who's had love affairs (often disastrous ones), plus a career, plus be a hero... Jen Walters rocks! She's big and green and has mighty cleavage, but is having boobs a sin now? I have a pretty substantial rack, too. Perhaps I should start binding my chest, since that seems to be a bad thing.

It's true that a lot of the female characters were created as female mirrors to the male, often to lock down the trademarks so no one else could. It's also true that for a lot of their histories, these female characters have been portrayed in a very male-gazey sort of way. But to suggest they have no power, no force, is bullshit. Plus, things are changing. To take these characters and "reclaim" them for a new generation of comics readers is a good thing. If she can't see that, then she's also not paying attention to what the industry is trying to do, even though she admits that's what Marvel is trying to do.

The snide attitude throughout the whole article prompted me to remove the Wonder Woman book from my Amazon wish list. I don't like the stuck-up tone that vibrates off the screen, and if that's how she wrote The Secret History, I'll pass. (And frankly, the clumsy way she stuck that barely-contextual Marston research in the middle of the Marvel/A-Force article, doesn't give me much faith in her abilities, either.)

I suggest that Jill Lepore needs to take a class or three from Christy Blanch at the first opportunity, if (soon to be Dr.) Blanch gets another Super MOOC going. Lepore could learn an awful lot in a Gender and/or Social Issue Through Comic Books class. Assuming her Ivy League tower would let her lower herself that far...

You can be an academic without being a jerk about it. You can be nerdy and geeky and talk about Batman's PTSD and whether or not race-changing affects characters for good or ill. My fellow Super MOOC "graduates" do it every day, in a very civilized and academic way, discussing everything from video game portrayals to gendered toy aisles to mental health in comics. And not one of us has that snarky, superior tone that Lepore does, because she clearly thinks comics are not really worth discussing seriously, and it shows.

I hope she reads the open letter Leia Calderon wrote her. I hope she reads G. Willow Wilson's piece, too. Frankly, I don't care if she reads this or not. She won't like what she reads here, and she wouldn't take me seriously anyway; I'm only a B.S.†, not a Ph.D.

*I always have strong opinions. Ask anyone.
†Bachelor of Science, Psychology, with minors in Philosophy & Sociology

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

I Am Elemental! Action Figures Review

This is a review I meant to write some five months ago, and somehow things just slipped away from me. How is it May already??

I backed a Kickstarter campaign for a set of "action figures for girls" that promised to be both feminine and fierce, without having the ridiculous body-toppling proportions that so many of the female action figures have now. When I saw the campaign, I was all over the whole idea. Girls need this stuff, need to have the tools for imaginative play that allows them to be the heroes of their own stories, and innovative products like this would enable exactly that. I didn't hesitate, and pledged at the $65 level that included:
  • All 7 action figures 
  • IAmElemental journal
  • Drawstring bag
  • Bracelet (the figures' shields double as charms for the bracelet) 
  • Trading cards
  • Carry case
The project was fully funded, shipped on time and I received my package in time for Christmas, even. (They really hustled to make that happen -- major kudos to them for that.) I snapped a phone pic of my loot before I got busy with family stuff:

Merry Xmas to me!

Here's a bunch more photos, better than that one. The box is a metal "lunchbox" style, 10x7x4", white with a black handle. The cardboard sleeve in the first two photos shows the action figures, front and back, and a list of the enclosed items. The box itself has the "I Am Elemental™" mask logo and "Play With Power™" slogan on the front and back. The side has the figures' elemental symbols.

Each figure was packaged like this.
There were actually two trading cards with each figure, one to keep and one to trade. Collecting all the cards reveals a message when they're arranged in the right order.

Yes, I did try to pose them like they appear on their cards.

The "secret message" is a quote from Joan of Arc, and when I put them in order and saw it for the first time, I admit, I got chills. The good kind. Then I flipped through the journal that came with everything and wanted to cheer. The outside is grey with the logo design repeating all over it, not all that remarkable, but the stuff inside is dynamite.

There are coloring pages, activity pages, inspirational quote, and guided journal pages. It's a really nifty way for girls to consider and explore their own strengths, or "powers." I love this addition. Yes, these are action figures, but there's no reason why girls can't also do some serious thinking when they're done playing. It's a big world out there; they have a lot to get ready for!

The seven 4-inch action figures, have slender but realistic female bodies (no impossibly tiny waists, no porn star boobs), in bright colors that suggest feminine without being pastel pink and sugary. They are wearing, for the most part, identical pewter-colored uniforms (Fear's is more gunmetal than pewter, just a shade darker), with variations in their boots or shinguards, and gloves or wristguards. Their armor coordinates with an "undershirt" -- Honesty's teal wings coordinate with her boots, bracers and undershirt. They are all wearing black domino masks to hide their true identities. Each heroine has her own unique hairstyle, which is one of the few distinguishing characteristics. Each has accessories that can be swapped interchangeably with the others. They are not "flesh-colored" -- not any race -- instead, they are orange, red, dark pink, and purple. However, their faces do have narrow Caucasian features, with small noses and not-too-generous lips.

Flat feet! These girls can stand on their own!
From left: Persistence, Energy, Enthusiasm, Honesty, Fear, Bravery and Industry
Accessories removed. Heads pop off to remove shoulder pieces.
Two of the accessories make the figures a little back-heavy; Honesty's wings and Persistence's cape tend to make them a little off-balance, but considering the issues I've had trying to balance the massive hair and ...chest... of some of my other figures, a cape is no problem.

Each of the figures also came with a shield that doubles as a charm that can be worn on silicone bracelet. Interestingly, Industry and Enthusiasm have hands molded to hold the shield in their left hands, while the other four have hands molded to hold the shield in their right. Fear alone has a weapon, a hand-held snake-looking thing that matches her spaulders, so she can't use her shield and the weapon simultaneously.

The figures have 9 points of articulation: head (swivels, limited up/down movement), shoulders (rotate and bend), elbows (rotate and bend), hips (somewhat limited rotation), and knees (rotate and bend). I won't criticize the limited hip rotation because the trade-off there is that when she sits, her legs don't splay open. And while it would be nice to have some wrist or ankle articulation, these are only 4-inch figures, intended for children (who are going to play with them), and wrist and ankle joints at that size are going to break. As it is, the arms on these figures feel really slim, not so much proportionally, but in my hands -- but I am not their target play group.

In the photos below, I tried to highlight some of the flexibility of the figures, using Bravery to illustrate. In the first image, she's sitting on a block of sticky notes and you can see that she can sit pretty normally, and almost cross her legs (ankle-to-knee). The second image shows her shoulder and hip flexibility. With her armor off, she can get her arms much higher over her head (almost making the "A" in YMCA). The third image was me trying to get her to do some semblance of yoga.

So reasonably flexible, able to stand up, but not able to stand in a lot of "action" poses -- that's where the ankle articulation would be awesome -- but once again, these are toys, they're meant to be played with, not posed and admired. The girls who receive these are going to have adventures with them (I hope), not stand them up and take a bunch of photos. (That's for weird grownups to do...)

I'd like to see more variation in the faces, more ethnic variation specifically. The bodies are fine. We want to promote health and realistic bodies, and these action figures have healthy-looking bodies, and tooling is expensive! BUT those faces are small, making variant faces would (I think, I don't know) be less costly than making a lot of variant bodies. Faces that have rounder features, wider noses, more generous mouths -- because not every girl has that narrow Western European profile.

A few "cons": When I took Fear out of the package, the top of her helmet was off, and I initially thought this was so her shoulder armor could come off, but I realized that it was because there was a slight flaw in the molding of the helmet piece; the hole is too large for it to fit snugly on the peg on her head. I used a small dot of E6000 glue and it's fixed.

I'd also like the both hands to be able to hold the shield, since typically a shield is held in the non-dominant hand while the dominant hand holds a weapon, and most people are right-handed. As it's molded right now, the hand that isn't intended to hold the shield can't really hold anything, it's basically a relaxed open hand. The last con, and it's nitpicky, is the metallic paint. It's going to scratch. I do like the look of it because it looks like armor, but it's not going to hold up very well to play.

Truly, my complaints, such as they are, are miniscule. I think these action figures are tremendous. I wish I had had them when I was a girl. I wish my daughter had had them when she was small. I wish every parent of a young daughter sees these and gets them for her to play and dream and imagine... One of the slogans of IAmElemental is, "If you give a girl a different toy, she will tell a different story.™" That's an exciting idea, isn't it?

There was one other thing in with the figures, a flyer marked Series #1/Courage that promises "Coming soon, Series #2/Wisdom." I can't wait.

For more info or to order, visit