The Light in Fandom and Social Media

As much as I grouse about fandom negativity on the internet, there are times when social media makes a difference and gives me hope. This time, it started with a re-tweet of a Star Wars/Marvel mash-up created by Andrew Yayzus Hunter, an artist in Nottingham UK.

 

What followed began with a question from Annalee, a sci-fi writer and blogger with Geek Feminism.

 

In the words of the Ninth Doctor:

9th Doctor

 

 

Timestamp: Fourth Series Summary

Doctor Who: Fourth Series Summary

Timestamp Logo First

 

This only contains the reviews for the Second Doctor since the First Doctor episodes in the fourth series were average as part of the First Doctor’s summary.

I was really skeptical about this season after The Power of the Daleks and The Highlanders came out so strong, and then The Underwater Menace took a nose-dive. The gradual climb back to the 3 and 4 range with the final four serials was rough in some spots, but a welcome return to what I came to expect from the first three seasons.

Looking back, I shouldn’t have been worried: This season earned higher grades than all but one of the First Doctor’s years, and has been just about as even as I look back over the spreadsheet I’m using to keep track.

Yes, I’m using a spreadsheet. Yes, I’m a nerd. But you knew that, since I’m devoting the time to watch Doctor Who from the very beginning.

Anyway, this start for the Second Doctor is very promising as we head into the fifth season.

 

The Power of the Daleks – 5
The Highlanders  – 4
The Underwater Menace – 2
The Moonbase – 3
The Macra Terror – 3
The Faceless Ones – 4
The Evil of the Daleks – 4

Series Four (Second Doctor) Average Rating: 3.6/5

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Tomb of the Cybermen

Cleaning Up After the Storm: Reflections on Black Widow in the Age of Ultron

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This post contains spoilers for Avengers: Age of Ultron

 

Natasha Romanoff, better known as Black Widow, is a strong female character and role model in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.

Throughout the movies so far, she has held her own as an agent of SHIELD and as an Avenger. She has capably stopped threats both on a planetary and galactic scale, ranging from Justin Hammer’s robot army and HYDRA to Loki and the Chitauri. In the aftermath of Avengers: Age of Ultron, her status remains unchanged.

Both critics and audiences have responded phenomenally to the newest installment in the record-breaking franchise, but complaints have still arisen about how Black Widow has been treated by marketing and the film itself. Chief among those grievances is the phenomenon of “Mommy Widow,” a claim that writers and directors are betraying the character by spotlighting her maternal instincts.

In the film, Romanoff and Bruce Banner (human alter-ego to the Incredible Hulk) have developed a relationship. During a peaceful interlude at Hawkeye’s pastoral farmhouse, Romanoff and Banner are discussing their future together, and Banner laments that they can’t have the life that the archer does: a happy nuclear family. The roadblock, he claims, is the Hulk, which is always one angry moment away and, in all likelihood, is now a genetic curse.

To defend her position – a woman who is proactively seeking companionship instead of being the lustful target of the male gaze – Romanoff shares the details of the backstory the audience discovered minutes before thanks to the induced hallucinations of the Scarlet Witch’s mental sorcery.

Natasha became the assassin she is today in a place called the Red Room. In the flashback, we see that her training was intense (to say the least), and that part of that training was taking human life. Romanoff’s graduation ceremony was her own mutilation.

“You know what my final test was in the Red Room? They sterilized me, said it was one less thing to worry about. You think you’re the only monster on the team?”

Romanoff wasn’t calling herself a monster because she couldn’t have children. She simply wasn’t. The agency behind the Red Room, presumably the KGB, cut her apart in an effort to create the perfect killing machine. As seen in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, Romanoff is trained to use her sexual allure as a weapon. One can assume that this makes KGB assassins similar to secret agents like James Bond, a man who is famous for having sex in every one of his nearly 25 films just to get to the target.

This is the origin of all that “red in the ledger” that Widow wants to erase. She’s not lamenting the loss of her motherhood, but rather the lack of free agency that chains her to her work. She considers herself a monster that was created the moment her freedom was taken away.

The “Mommy Widow” argument continues in a discussion of her role on the team. In Age of Ultron, she’s racing to the rescue and picks up Captain America’s discarded shield, stating, “I’m always picking up after you boys.”

That snarky line is more of a window to her role on the team than it seems. Since her debut in Iron Man 2, Romanoff has been saving the Avengers or delivering a critical hit in every film. In Iron Man 2, she pretty much single-handedly took out Justin Hammer’s guards and helped to shut down his robot army. In The Avengers, she brought Hawkeye back from his Loki-induced stupor and wielded the scepter to shut the Chitauri portal. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, she literally guided Captain America to not only avoid capture by Hydra but was also instrumental in stopping their genocidal plan. She is, in every sense of the phrase, always picking up after the team. She’s the deal closer.

From the very beginning, Romanoff and Coulson have been the guardians of the Avenger Initiative. They were the front line, courting and babysitting Tony Stark, pushing the right buttons to incorporate Banner, investigating Thor’s arrival, and integrating Captain Rogers to the current era. In essence, they were the parents of the movement, always working for and reporting directly back to Fury. That is a huge amount of development for two characters who started out as secondary non-solo-film roles. They may not have major leading roles, but they are the heart of this universe, and continue to be in their respective roles as team leaders in different branches of SHIELD.

Part of that character development comes back to the relationship with Banner, a pairing that critics claim is Mommy Widow’s arrival at motherhood with a bouncing baby Hulk to nurture.

In The Avengers, it was plainly obvious that Romanoff had only met Banner on paper. She respected the man and outright feared the power of The Other Guy. She set up a typical martial sting operation, complete with a strike team, to take Banner down if necessary. Admittedly, that’s a 180-degree spin from where they stand in Age of Ultron.

However, the film clearly establishes that the Avengers haven’t just been sitting around waiting for the next movie premiere since we saw them last. They explicitly mention that it has been a long hunt for Loki’s scepter, and that means that the team has been working together for a significant time off-screen. The Avengers have developed a great sense of teamwork, as evidenced in the film’s opening gambit at the Hydra base, as well as a way to tame the Hulk when they need him to “Code Green” against a threat.

This wasn’t the only development that occurred off-screen: Stark built more suits after he “Clean Slated” his entire line in Iron Man 3, and overcame his PTSD from the Battle of New York; Rogers and Stark developed a new uniform for the captain, including a short-range retrieval system for the iconic shield; Stark Industries built at least one new model Quinjet (since SHIELD no longer has the capability) and a series of automated armor-bots; the world has come to resent the Avengers and the havoc they wreak; and Hawkeye had a family.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is so vibrant and alive that it continues to breathe and evolve even though the cameras are off.

The fact that this team picked Romanoff, the character who feared the Hulk the most, to be his handler speaks volumes about her character and role on the team. It is reasonable that the Romanoff/Banner relationship has grown beyond Widow being petrified of the Big Guy because their lives have continued between the films. That makes Widow more than just a swooning love interest with mommy issues and even more than just an ass-kicking blunt instrument to deploy in battle.

Romanoff is three-dimensional, and therefore a truly strong, living and breathing female character instead of the typical comic book trope of a pair of absurdly large walking breasts in spandex waiting for a fridge to fall into.

Even without a solo film outing (which is no excuse for her not to have one), Natasha Romanoff’s status as a strong female character and respectable role model in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe remains intact and promises to remain that way for the foreseeable future.

 

 

Cross-published to RevolutionSF on May 13, 2015

Thoughts on Gotham

 

This post will contain spoilers for the first season of Gotham.

 

 

I’m not the typical comic book property fan. I don’t care about canon from book to screen – I’m able to read, and if I wanted to experience the adventures in the pages, I’m more than capable of consuming them – but I do care about consistency within the story itself.

That’s where Gotham has failed. The first season of the show started with such promise, but the weaving plot threads stumbled along the way and betrayed that potential.

The pilot episode premiered back in September with a bang, introducing squeaky clean Lieutenant James Gordon to the gritty and grimy of Gotham City. His first case is the Wayne murders, and we get the clear dichotomy between lawful good Gordon and his partner (and embodiment of the city) Harvey Bullock. The further dynamics established with Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot defying his employer, up and coming crime boss Fish Mooney (a new character to the Bat-Catalog), and the city’s officials being beholden to the Falcone and Maroni crime families intrigued me.

In the first couple of episodes, the threads were clearly established. I wanted this show, billed as an origin for Jim Gordon, to succeed.

Jim Gordon has always been a great supporting character in my opinion. He’s typically portrayed as a paragon of law whose methods of cleaning up Gotham won’t work, but he can’t violate his moral fiber to personally use methods that will work. Hence, he turns to the man who can do what the law cannot, and we get a vigilante called Batman.

With this in mind, I was excited for this show. Gotham’s Jim Gordon had everything stacked against him from the very beginning: The crime families are in a cold war, and everyone including the police are afraid to go against the status quo and either lose their power or bring that power down upon them. I wasn’t expecting him to clean up the city, since that’s Batman’s job in the next decade, but rather make enough of an impact (and survive long enough) to become the commissioner who enables Batman’s crusade.

The first quarter of the season led me to believe that the season arc would revolve around the mob cold war. Instead, it focused on a considerable deal more, including trying to establish origins for all of the Bat-Villains. Trying to develop all of those threads killed the momentum of the first season, especially in the middle third.

 

 

How would I have approached it?

The overarching story should have been about the mob cold war, culminating (as it partially did in the finale) with Fish Mooney having played both sides against each other and Cobblepot having played her, sought his revenge, and stolen her victory to become the new boss of organized crime. Falcone could survive and slink into retirement as he did, and Maroni could remain dead. The entire Dollmaker subplot could have been completely excised, as it just felt like filler to stretch the season and remove Fish from the playing field until the finale.

Under that umbrella, the first subplot could have been Gordon’s efforts to stem the corruption in the police force. I loved his defiance of the mayor and commissioner, and his outwitting them when they tried to silence him by demoting and reassigning him. I loved the commissioner’s attempt to discredit and/or remove Gordon’s threat to his power by setting the Ogre on the detective’s trail.

What I didn’t like was the Barbara Kean subplot.

If the writers follow the comics, which I don’t expect, Barbara is eventually supposed to marry Gordon and start a family with him. The problem is that they have removed any sympathy I have for the character by stripping away the promise of her being an emotional anchor and support for Gordon in a city that stands against him. If they wanted to make her more complex, the troubled backstory they provided sufficient complexity, and they could have removed Gordon’s support by sending Barbara off to work through her issues but still remain sympathetic to the audience and Gordon.

As it stands with this multiple personality/nonsensical drugged-by-the-Ogre-fugue-state storyline, if they choose to reunite them later it will feel artificial. She may or may not have killed her parents in cold blood. A lawful good character like Gordon wouldn’t settle for that. Even if she’s dead after attacking Leslie Thompkins, who should not have been counseling someone with a conflict of interest, she’s still not someone that Gordon would name his daughter after.

Also, where did Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen go? These two could have been fantastic allies to help rally behind Gordon as he stems the police department’s corruption. Instead, they are wasted. So is the subplot about the commissioner’s illegitimate daughter, which Gordon could have used to topple Commissioner Loeb after the Ogre storyline started.

This subplot could have been resolved with a power vacuum in the Mayor’s office after Gordon reveals the corruption and mob ties. District Attorney Harvey Dent, Montoya, and Allen stand with Gordon, and the next season is set up for a subplot with a now scared commissioner secretly teaming with Bullock to find a way to stop Gordon’s crusade. This also opens the door for the typical “Penguin runs for Mayor” storyline.

 

 

The second subplot could have been Bruce Wayne’s quest for the truth, which was actually one of my favorite parts of the season even though it was only tangentially related to Gordon’s story. Both he and Gordon know that Pepper was a scapegoat in the pilot, and the investigation could have been handed off to Wayne as Gordon got pulled into the first subplot’s machinations. The investigation could have proceeded pretty much the way that it did, but tightened up with less involvement from Gordon. Bruce earns his “world’s greatest detective” stripes by unraveling the secrets, digging into Wayne Enterprises, and going through the cloak-and-dagger that he and Selina Kyle performed. Sure, have Bruce discover the cave and how his father also fought against the corruption in his own corporate house. But Bruce Wayne’s story should be minimized in a series about Gordon’s origins, and as such, he should have been involved for about only 60 to 75 percent of the entire season’s episodes.

As this subplot ends, Wayne gains an ally against the corporation in Lucius Fox, he and Alfred grow much closer as he recovers from the trauma of the murder of his parents and discovers his new life’s calling, and Selina departs just as she did to join Fish Mooney (in a more meaningful capacity than the twenty minutes in the season finale) before slinking into the shadows after Fish’s death. This sets up a smaller subplot for Season Two where Bruce discovers his heritage, Wayne Enterprises potentially endorses Cobblepot for mayor, and Bruce and Alfred decide to travel abroad and start rallying allies against the corporation. Bring back Sean Pertwee from time to time, but leave Bruce to evolve into the cape and cowl. There are also opportunities for Falcone to return in a limited capacity to provide information (for a price) regarding the Wayne murders.

Finally, each season should focus on evolving one (and only one) Bat-Villain, with the Penguin and possibly (and minimally) Selina Kyle as common threads. The second season could start showing cracks in the good façade of Harvey Dent or perform a longer and more realistic slip into schizophrenia for Edward “Riddler” Nygma. Nygma was best when he was subtly creepy, and by the end of Season One, he lost that quality in the sudden 180 spin into complete supervillain mode, which also removed some of the magic in the series. Even better, remove the schizophrenia and simply make him completely sane and malevolently intelligent. Not every villain needs to have some kind of psychological break.

 

 

Overall, Gotham is a mess, but I don’t think it’s unsalvageable. I’ll be tuning in for the first part of Season Two, but I can’t guarantee much more beyond that if it doesn’t start pulling together. The show needs a clear roadmap for every season to help it reach the potential that I still see. The acting is great from many of the starring roles, and they deserve the chance to shine in a tight and coherent story.

Timestamp #36: The Evil of the Daleks

Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks
(4 episodes, s04e37-e43, 1967)

Timestamp 036 The Evil of the Daleks

 

Grand Theft TARDIS.

Thematically, this one is about human greed and how easily the Daleks manipulate it. Human innovation inadvertently allows the Daleks to invade Earth to kidnap the Doctor and conquer humans by decoding the “Human Factor”. The Doctor forced to cooperate with the Daleks or lose the TARDIS forever.

I did like the trials with Jamie and Kemel as they attempt to rescue Victoria, and how they were used to decode the Human Factor. Jamie’s courage, mercy, instinct, and self-preservation assist the Doctor in turning the tables on his foes and overcoming the new electronic control the Daleks have over people. That brainwashing and (for lack of a better term) assimilation sheds some light on the Dalek agents from the newer episodes, which seemed to come from nowhere.

While I thought that the Factors were silly, it was neat to see the Daleks imprinted with the Human Factor to make them act like innocent children.

Of course, when the Daleks have what they want, they they return to Skaro and destroy the laboratory (and presumably the humans as well). Upon returning to the familiar tunnels and city, I wanted to know where the Thals were hiding. We do get to meet the Emperor Dalek (who was presumably hiding during The Daleks?) and Human Factor MacGuffin is its downfall.

Maxtible and his quest for the secret of alchemy made some sense from the Victorian time era, as did the desire to imprint all of humanity with the Dalek Factor (the Dark Side to the Human Factor’s Light?) once I got past the silliness of the Factors. The entire imprinting technique doesn’t work on the Doctor, because, well, he’s alien.

We get some more teases about what’s inside a Dalek can, and we get a new companion on the TARDIS. There was also an error in the serial reconstruction: The black domed Dalek confronts finds a clearly marked Alpha in the corridor, but the Dalek is referred to as Omega.

The big negative is right back to the problem of The Macra Terror: The Doctor’s actions precipitate what he presumes to be the “final end” of the entire Dalek species. We’re talking genocide for the second time in almost as many serials. That doesn’t seem like something he would do except as a last and final resort, and certainly not without significant remorse, and I can’t help but wonder if this is a hallmark of producer Innes Lloyd or something else.

Overall, this serial could have been an episode or two shorter, but it was still an enjoyable tale with a favorite (if sometimes uneven) enemy.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

UP NEXT – Fourth Series Summary