Saturday, 14 April 2018

Polyvore's Gone ... Dammit

So ... I used to run posts here for a while called "Monthly Marvel Inspiration" where I made a moodboard/outfit inspired by different Marvel characters (It was super cool!)

Since Polyvore has been acquired by Ssense and ... shut down with virtually no warning, I haven't even got screencap/pictures of my moodboards. (I have put in my details to hopefully get an archived backup of my outfits to download but we'll have to wait and see if Ssense deliver).

I'm not going to rag on Ssense or Polyvore because there are plenty of other blogs and tweets to go nuts about the quick and unexpected death of Polyvore. To cut a long story short ... yeah, I'm disappointed by it too. Polyvore was really handy to use. I've been looking at alternative apps/sites but none are quite as intuitive as Polyvore was (the interface, the way outfits were organised, stored, and shared, the search algorithm ... Polyvore was all-round fantastic).

I've considered going back to physical scrapbooking so perhaps I'll produce a series with glue-and-paper scrapbooking instead of digital lookbooks. We'll see, it takes significantly longer to find, print, cut, arrange and then scan when compared to digital lookbooks. MMI wasn't a particularly popular series on my blog but I did enjoy it and I miss making collages on Polyvore, that said, if I find a good alternative to Polyvore I'll review it here.

I'm leaving my old MMI posts up, even though the images and moodboards are gone. Hopefully in the future I can replace them with screengrabs of my old collages if Ssense send me my old Polyvore projects.

Anyway, thats that for now. 

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Becky Chambers book review! -A Closed and Common Orbit

Can I preface this by saying Becky has the BEST book names? They're just so appealing.

Anyhow, moving along, I reviewed her previous novel, her debut novel, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet waaay back two years ago maybe? I was just blown away by it. I'd recommend everyone rush out and get a copy now because it's spectacular and you can read my review here.

I got a copy while I was in town but I didn't sit down to read it until a couple of days later and now that I've finished it and taken a couple of days to digest it, I'm ready for my second Becky Chambers review!!!

A post shared by MJ (@notspidergirl) on

A Closed and Common Orbit is a sequel novel although it doesn't follow the main crew and story of the first book. You could read this book without reading the previous one (in theory) although having read The Long Way first, I'd recommend starting there so you are already familiar with and immersed in the Wayfarers world. A Closed and Common Orbit is a continuation of the previous story (it starts literally 5 minutes after the last one ends) but follows a whole new story if that makes sense. Knowledge of The Long Way isn't essential but it's highly beneficial.

The premise is as follows; Lovelace is an AI who has been transferred into a body kit (which is illegal), she leaves the Wayfarer ship and its crew (the setting and characters of the previous novel) to go with Pepper (a side character from The Long Way). The book follows Lovelace (who changes her name to Sidra) as she adjusts to being "human" and also explores Pepper's origin story.

ACCO (A closed and common orbit) differs from the previous book in that each chapter deviates between Sidra adjusting to life inside a body (instead of a ship) and flashbacks of Pepper's past. The previous book switched between characters as events unfolded chronologically whereas in ACCO, Sidra's story takes place in the "present" whereas Pepper's chapters occur 10 to 20 years before the events unfolding in Sidra's chapters.

As always, Becky writes beautifully and crafts complicated but easily understandable story arcs but this book is not as strong as The Long Way (granted The Long Way is a tough act to follow). ACCO isn't a bad book by any means but compared to The Long Way it suffers from the fluctuations between past and present. The Long Way eased seamlessly between characters as the events of the story unfolded in "real time" (so to speak) whereas ACCO's switches between past and present with is a little more jarring.

Pepper's backstory is interesting, so is Sidra's, but breaking between the two can be a bit distracting especially since Pepper is in BOTH of these stories but ... in two different ways, first as Jane 23 and then as the Pepper we first met in The Long Way. As you get invested in the events going on around Sidra, the chapter suddenly ends and you're pulled back to Pepper. As the drama ramps up in Pepper's story, suddenly you are jostled back to Sidra.
While I appreciate BOTH characters and want to hear BOTH of their stories, jerking between the two every other chapter pulls from the drama of each, not enough to ruin the story but enough to catch my attention and make me aware that I'm flipping between the two different stories.

The story reads slower than The Long Way, it doesn't really pick up until the final third act. Sidra's story has no real risk or goal until the final portion of the book, the first two-thirds consist of her exploring the world and adjusting to life inside the body-kit. There are a few hiccups along the way but at no point (until near the end) did I actually get a sense that Sidra was in real serious danger.

I didn't want anything bad to happen to Sidra, I can empathise with her as a character but her arc and story were lacking in risks which makes it much less eventful to read. Even when she encounters a malfunction, I don't feel as if it's actually going to be end-game for her, her encounter with Tak (avoiding spoilers ...) certainly tugged at me, but I didn't suspect that Tak would bring harm unto Sidra.

Pepper on the other hand has a very dramatic story however ... we already know how it ends which ... removes a lot of the risk in the "risky situations" she encounters because we already know that she will survive, she meet Blue and they'll both settle down on Port Coriol. The life or death situations lose a lot of potency when you know the character is absolutely going to survive somehow. I still wanted to follow her on this journey though, I want to see her transformation from Jane 23 into the Pepper we know from The Long Way and the present events of ACCO. Her story on it's own was incredibly potent, it pulled no punches and even though I know she'll survive, I still felt tense during the particularly difficult obstacles she faced.

This narrative approach is probably the biggest weakness of the story. The perspective/time shifts slow the pace of Sidra's story and sort of dial down the drama of Jane 23's particularly perilous moments because we know how it ends before it's even begun.

Becky's strengths however (as I outlined briefly earlier and in my previous review) lies in her ability to evoke senses and feelings and to create a deep, explorable world. Despite the fictional aliens, locations and cultures, the world in her novels feels very real and believable. Pepper and Sidra's views of the world also sound very believable. The way she manipulates the perspectives she enters as a writer is unbelievably clever. Pepper and Sidra could look at the same thing but Becky would paint two different pictures through their eyes because the characters have such unique "vision". These observations are what elevate her to a Master of Characterisation. This perspective trick she applies is particularly effective in Jane's chapters.

Although the first half of the book has a pretty slow pace, I really enjoyed sitting down to read. By the final third portion of the book I just couldn't put it down. It took considerably longer than The Long Way to get to the action, but overall the story was equally as powerful and emotional.

I'd highly recommend both books to be quite honest, I'm a huge fan of what Becky does and how she writes, however The Long Way is still my favourite, A Closed and Common Orbit is a very close second and I can't wait for her third Wayfarers book to come out!!!

One thing I really appreciated in this book was that we got to see a little more Aeulon culture through Tak. This elusive species immediately caught my interest in the previous book with the character Pei, however we only got a small glimpse of her and her race. I just think they're really interesting in general and I wonder if Becky's next book(s) will include an Aeulon character perspective. 

Monday, 12 March 2018

Blogger Versus Bucky - The Blogpost I Never Thought I'd Write.

This is like ... the prologue to, a particularly head-scratchy post I hope to work on in the next couple of days/weeks/other standard measurement of time.

Bucky, as we all know, is my fictional Husbando ... His character (not to mention the actor who plays him in the films ... *swoon*) really intrigues me. I honestly can't explain why, he is just spectacularly complex and characterised. No matter how deep you dig, there is always another inch to go down deeper. There is always a new angle, a new layer of his character to be discovered whether it's seeing him transform from a murderous assassin to a fully fledged hero, or seeing him change from the uncertain leader of the Avengers to the (still slightly awkward) slightly more comfortable captain of the Thunderbolts.

He is a character who ... can be broken down into different characters or "eras" of his own character all still somehow inter-connected via a long, knotted and bloodsoaked thread.

  • There is Sergeant Barnes, the WW2 commando and childhood friend to Steve. 
  • Bucky the sidekick (in the comics), a kid thrust into WW2 well before his time! 
  • The Compliant Winter Soldier a brainwashed assassin working for the enemy.
  • The Winter Soldier ... an amalgam of Bucky before and after the brainwashing ... a broken soul trying to piece his life and memories together. 
  • BuckyCap, the lone wolf suddenly thrust into the limelight, assuming Captain America's mantle and never quite feeling like he lived up to it. 
  • James Barnes, Natasha's lover a considerably intimate side of this already multi-layered character. 
  • The Man on the Wall, a man who lives a considerably solitary existence protecting the Earth from extra-terrestrial and extra-dimensional threats.
  • Thunderbolts Bucky, the guy who leads a team of criminals pretending to be good guys and actually sorta liking being heroes. 
  • Bucky-Buckeroo a daddy-type-figure to Kobik the sentient cosmic cube.
  • AND FINALLY ... as we currently see him, The Winter Soldier (again) in a strange team-up with Hawkeye (whom he does not like ... I'll get back to Tails of Suspense reviews soon ... I'm sorry I'm bad at keeping ontop of things, I'll do a complete review once 1-5 are dropped!!!) 

One thing that remains considerably consistent however is his CYBERNETIC ARM. Even though it has been blown off or destroyed ... umpteen times, his cyborg left arm remains consistent. Upgraded, downgraded, repainted, it's ever present in most cases and there's a tonne to unpack. 

The arm alone is actually our big point of investigation. It REALLY fascinates me, it's just really cool, but it's part of a wider trend of OP cyber-limbs that occurs across several books, films and other media (not to mention it comes up more than once in the Marvel Universe alone, -Misty Knight-).
The problem with these cyber arms is that they are notoriously overpowered ... and I wonder what that means for real-life amputees.

What if we saw a Winter Soldier with a regular prosthetic instead?

It's a pretty big topic to be honest which is why I'm going to take some time for it to mature. I don't want to pick apart my favourite character and tear him apart for misrepresenting or spreading misinformation about disabilities!!! But ... I think Marvel does a lot of things WELL (some not so well but lets leave that aside for now) hopefully this will be more fun than fighting!!!

My title for this post is a little dramatic, I'm pretty sure this won't go down as badly as my Halo posts but I guess a lot of that is confirmation bias as opposed to objective reasoning ... Halo struck a little close to home whereas ... I am not an amputee so my relationship with the Winter Soldier as a character and his disability in particular is not the same as someone who is an amputee or who is missing a limb or limbs. I find it hard to critique Bucky because I just find him so interesting, empathetic, ENCHANTING and flawed. He's a perfect character to me, even his imperfections so I didn't really think I'd be spurned toward writing a post picking him apart in a way that isn't to serve my own headcanons and personal biases. I will be investigating OP prosthetic limbs though, I think it's something we need to think about, I'll try keep it lighthearted though, I'm not an expert so it's just a little musing!!!

I'll be thinking about that for a bit and just throwing around some ideas for a while (and ... gathering my things to talk about Tales of Suspense). But in the mean time ... lets just appreciate all things Bucky <3 

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

100 Days of Writing!

Amanda Edens is running a fantastic 100 Day writing challenge. Sign up (totally for free, no strings, no mess, no fuss!) and get a new prompt each day and WRITE! WRITE! WRITE!!!

I'm already signed up and ready to give it a go. I hope you'll join in too (even if you only write 10 out of 100, those are 10 little things you wouldn't have written at all if you didn't give it a try!)

I'm not sure if I'll post my shorts/prompt responses on this blog, but I'll definitely take time to post an update to let ya'll know how I'm doing with the prompts and I want any readers who stumble upon this blog to take the plunge and join in too (and y'know, like, comment, subscribe- Wait this isn't youtube what am I saying?!).

Give it a go and leave your blog link in the comments if you post your prompt-responses or thoughts online. I'd love to see how other people get on with this challenge.

What are you doing sitting here reading this?! Click it and sign up!!! (she has a gorgeous website, just go check it out okay!)

Let's see if I can commit to writing prompts more consistently than I post blogs (I know, I know, you're screaming "Where are all the Secret Empire, Thunderbolts and Tales of Suspense posts? What about Rogue & Gambit?" ... I've been tired ... I'm sorry!!! haha I am reading all those comics and I really should schedule a comic round-up or something for every month. I'll try do an Iceman 1-11 once I nab #11. If nothing else, Iceman deserves coverage on here since his title got the axe after 11 issues, I have a lot of thoughts about his "controversial" coming out comic that I think ought to be discussed.)

Why are you still here? Go subscribe to Amanda's challenge!!!

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Suffering and Shower Thoughts ... Here and Now

I was in the shower when I was struck by a strange thought after watching the first episode of "Here and Now". To premise this (without giving too much away), there is a character called Ramon who begins to have strange nightmares and hallucinations revolving around the number 11 (specifically 11:11). Plenty of other goings on occur within the episode but I'll focus on Ramon so I don't spoil the whole thing.
At the end of the episode Ramon is in a doctors office and it appears he may have Schizophrenia although the episode ends before he can be formally diagnosed and begin treatment. I believe the next episode will likely elaborate on his diagnosis and treatment and also include his families response to this revelation.

Ramon in the therapists office. (HBO/Here and Now)
This got me thinking about how we discuss mental illness in general and by extension disabilities.

As a writer, I began to think of characters and stories. What if my character Catriona was schizophrenic? Would this affect how she performs her job? What would her colleagues think or say? How would schizophrenia affect her?

I caught myself mentally saying "What if Catriona suffered from schizophrenia?" and I had to stop myself.

Suffering is a powerful word.

A powerful word that has a negative sting to it. Suffering implies misery, pain, loss, discomfort. I cannot speak for people with schizophrenia so I thought about how I describe my BJHS. In my original post about Disabilities in Space I said "I was diagnosed with" or "I struggled with" but ... never said I suffered from it. I know it may seem as though I'm being pedantic but, struggled implies difficulty not necessarily prolonged pain and suffering.

Disabilities (both mental and physical) introduce some difficulties and struggles, but everyone encounters obstacles in life. Struggles can be overcome. A person with a mental or physical illness can learn to live with their condition but suffering is a state of being, not an obstacle. Do you feel the difference in the language here?

I feel better saying "I struggle with my connective tissue disorder sometimes." 
It is true, it is honest, it is how I feel.
I do not say "I am suffering with a connective tissue disorder."

There is something "fatalistic" about suffering. It feels as if I will always suffer and that my BJHS is the beginning and end of suffering in my life and since I have this condition for life, that suffering will never end.

When I struggle, it means I'm having a clumsy day, it means that even on my good days there are some activities I just can't do but that's okay because I can do lots of other things just fine. When I struggle it means I have a condition that causes some difficulties but I have learned to move around them or navigate the problem in a different way. Struggle means I might have difficulties but they are temporary or negotiable and I have the power within me to move beyond them or find an alternative route.
Suffering does not mean the same as struggling.

Here and Now on HBO

I'll stop here because that's what I wanted to say. I don't think "suffering" is a word we should apply to physical or mental disabilities. Suffering is a death sentence when it's stuck to a person and someone who has the potential to struggle and overcome might not even try if they've been told that they "suffer" instead.

Here comes the part-two of this statement, the part where I admit that these are just MY thoughts and that I totally understand that there are people who will disagree.

I want to preface this next point by making it clear that these are my own thoughts and I don't speak for anyone else. I'm sure plenty of other people agree or disagree and all have important points to make (points I'd love to hear because echo-chambers can be harmful. Please be polite though.)

I know it is ... brave? no, probably more in the realms for foolish, for me to talk about mental illness when it is something that I do not experience in my own life and it isn't something that has touched anyone in my immediate family. I simply don't know, which is why I likened it to my physical condition to try grasp an understanding. I'm aware that this doesn't necessarily correlate well, physical and mental illnesses are in entirely different realms but there is a lot of shared language which is why I became interested. Even if we set aside the mental illness part and I discuss "suffering" in relation to physical disability, I'm sure there may still be some individuals or groups who think I cannot speak about ALL disabilities because I have one particular episodic condition. That is partially true, I can't speak for everyone ... HOWEVER my points aren't invalid either.

I recall reading Cassandra Clares books a few years back. In her Mortal Instruments series (in the 4th or 5th book I think?) the main protagonist is sexually assaulted, she is almost raped in an incredibly difficult to read scene. Ms Clare was later faced with a barrage or tweets and tumblr messages complaining about how her character reacted to the assault and how the character behaved following the assault.
It was after this backlash that Ms Clare revealed that she herself had been assaulted.

Cassandra Clare, the brave author or the Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series' (Image from the Shadowhunters wiki).

I want to pause here to say that
1. She was incredibly brave to come forward about her experiences and
2. She should never have HAD to say that. No one should be forced to publicly discuss such a private and traumatic event or justify and explain their writing to someone.

You either like a book/character or you don't, that isn't the fault of the author and you aren't entitled to have an author censor or edit or justify their work to suit you, the reader (things are different with editors but I'll not get into how an author/editor relationship is different to the author/audience relationship).

Ms Clare quite eloquently explained that there is no right or wrong way to respond to a rape or sexual assault. Calling the person who fights back correct and the person who cries and freezes in fear wrong is ... absolutely horrifying in my opinion. There IS no correct way to be sexually assaulted and suggesting that there is a particular way to behave only harms victims.

Now I'll bring this diversion into sexual assault back to the main point of this post (sexual assault is really serious and I don't want to make light of it but this isn't the post for that type of discussion so I'll cut it short here.)

My reaction to the word "suffering" is akin to the "rape-reaction" allegory. There is no right or wrong way to have an opinion on language (or a reaction to an assault). I don't think someone who claims they "suffer from" schizophrenia is wrong, nor do I think someone who says they "struggle with" schizophrenia is wrong.

It is my personal opinion that "struggles with" or "diagnosed with" or "I have [x-condition]" is a more positive (not to mention accurate) way to discuss illness and/or disability. But that's all it is, an opinion. I don't know if other people are having this discussion but I hope it's given you some food for thought about your language.

I'll admit (as I have already in this post), that I had to correct my language in my own head because it felt wrong to say "suffers from schizophrenia", and that's okay. The fact that someone corrects themselves means that they are becoming aware and thinking about things. This is why I think it's important to think about and discuss these things. It is only through my own experiences with a connective tissue disorder that I've begun to seriously examine the language surrounding disabilities and media portrayals of disability.

I have no idea if Here and Now will give a fair and accurate representation of schizophrenia, I sincerely hope it does and I will look around for reviews and responses from blogs and writers who have schizophrenia. In the mean time, I hope this has given you something to think about. Do you say someone (or yourself) "suffers" with something? What kind of language do you use and why? 

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Was I Wrong About Halo? Disabilities in Space Prt-2

Back in November I talked about my views on disability in the Halo Universe.  In this post, I want to change some parts of my discussion as well as continue this dialog. I am by no means retracting the sentiments I expressed in my previous post but I am refining them.

I. Made. Some. Mistakes. 

I'm human, and hell, even a Smart AI can make mistakes but I digress. In my previous post I generalised the whole Halo-verse because one story in a collection of short stories in Halo Evolutions made some very pointed comments regarding disability, quite specifically Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

I re-read Halo Mortal Dictata (the Kilo Five Trilogy) recently and it sort of made me pause. For some reason my brain was COMPLETELY blanked of the entire Trilogy even though I've read it before (it wasn't bad, it just somehow slipped through my mental-fingers). I'll admit that the chapter Pariah in Halo Evolutions (which my previous Halo post is focused on) was something that burrowed painfully into my mind. It coloured my perception of the entire universe. For an academic, I got careless and was blindsided by my own bias. For that, I apologise but hey Pariah felt pretty personal and I reacted pretty personally to it. At least I came to acknowledge that now rather than never!

What I want to correct from my previous post is the sentiment that the ENTIRE Halo universe is NOT ableist or deems disabled characters "unfit". Certainly it has some faults (doesn't everything!) but the events of Pariah in Halo Evolutions were one story by one author and DO NOT speak for the entirety of the universe or even the rest of the book. It was a standalone story and while it is part of the canon Halo Universe ... it's a drop in the ocean. That's not to say I think that author Brian Evenson should carry on making harmful sweeping statements as he did in Halo Evolutions, absolutely not. I think instead of critiquing the whole Halo universe, one must remember that it is made up of several parts and not all parts are telling the exact same story even if they are all somehow canon. One cannot blame the entire universe or view it through a single chapter or a single book because Halo is a transmedia event.

Some people enter the Halo-verse through the games, others the books and graphic novels, others watch the movies/animated series, sometimes people like one sometimes people like them all. Each artefact, game, book or video, is a piece of a larger puzzle but also a standalone. On its own, Pariah was a hurtful chapter but the wider universe, particularly Halo Reach (the game) and Halo: Mortal Dictata (the book) actually challenge the perception that Halo means no disabilities allowed.

Kat from Reach is a SPARTAN-III. Like the S-II's but with less kidnapping and deadly-should-be-illegal operations (not much better mind you but ... there was a little less Halsey in the S-III's to put it lightly).
Kat was an amputee following an injury in combat. Her arm had been replaced by a prosthetic and she continued in active duty during the events of Halo Reach.
She's pretty awesome. I don't want to delve into the stereotype of amputee superheroes with OP synthetic limbs because that's a whole other discussion but the point is she exists and was in active duty up until she was KIA.

Mortal Dictata (and the wider Kilo Five trilogy) includes Serin Osman, a "washout" SPARTAN-II. Remember in my last post I grumbled about "don't get me started on the washouts". Well, that point still stands, a lot of washouts were killed (and cryogenically frozen for future experiments ... probably) or so horribly disfigured that they were reduced to brains in jars/smart AI's. Serin isn't necessarily the "brain in jar" case though. She washed out halfway through the procedures when her body showed signs of rejection but through sheer luck or perhaps a miracle, she was rehabilitated and became fit enough to continue working, this time in ONI. She rose the ranks to Admiral and is generally a fantastic character.

I dunno how much can be said about "disability" in her case. Aside from severe motion sickness during slipspace jumps, she's generally in fine health. For arguments sake, lets assume she isn't disabled. She is still a SPARTAN-II washout but without a doubt she is an incredible hero and character. She's proof that washouts can be successful. At this point I don't think we can justify a disabled and active duty SPARTAN-II, throughout the Halo-verse it ... it just doesn't add up, that said, S-III's, S-IV's and ODST's can fill in these gaps, there is a little more leeway.

I'll be the first to say that disabled characters shouldn't be "filler" or "side characters" or ... treated as a consolation prize compared to the non-disabled colleagues and counterparts. A disabled SPARTAN-II would have been an interesting and inspirational character but at this stage in the game it won't happen, it's too far gone to retcon.

I can accept that we can have disabled S-III's, IV's and ODST's and ONI spooks instead. I think that's a really good thing too, it sets these different heroes apart from the S-II type and opens up a new "breed" of heroes that play on the strengths and weaknesses of the S-II's.

But Pariah still doesn't sit well with me. That is a point I don't feel willing to change at this present time.

Maybe I'm just too soft, but Pariah is ... almost gruesome. I don't know what constitutes as torture-porn in literature but Pariah revels in its darkness. Soren is set up as a beacon of misery and misfortune from his very inception and Evenson indulges in it. Osman also has a difficult background but Traviss (who wrote Mortal Dictata) derives much less pleasure from revealing it at the end of the novel. Rather than opening a doorway to depression, Osman's past actually brings a degree of closure, as bleak as her origin had been. Soren is offered no such comforts or growth, he starts off in misery and proceeds to linger in it with virtually no growth of character.

A snippet of Soren's story, summarised on the Halo wiki, is as follows;
"Soren stole the key to the room and found his mother's decomposing body. He came to the conclusion that his stepfather was responsible so later that night he stabbed him in the neck intending to kill him, hitting him between the neck and clavicle. The stepfather survived and Soren ran into the forest surrounding his home. After this Soren lived off the wild and watched his stepfather. [...]
One day he saw that his stepfather was sick with the same illness his mother had died of. When his stepfather collapsed on the way to his field Soren finally revealed himself to his stepfather and instead of getting him medicine, he watched him die. " Halo Wikia
Evenson constantly brings up the horrors of this childhood trauma, during the augmentation Soren dreams of lying in a bed with his mothers rotting corpse ... This horror contributes very little to the story other than unnecessary gore.

At every turn, Evenson rubs salt in the wounds when he writes  that Halsey encourages Soren to "not get left behind", only for Soren to succumb to complications during the augmentation process and be left behind as the other children progress. The operations leave him disfigured with a claw-like hand, a bowed leg and painfully over-developed upper arm muscles.

To make matters even worse, CPO Mendez cites that Soren's disability would make him a burden to the other SPARTAN's. Disabled people as burdens or less fulfilled than able-bodied persons is unbelievably harmful.
"Mendez told Soren that if he were to join a team of other Spartans, they would constantly be reminded of the Spartans which didn't make it through the augmentation procedures, and they would see it as their responsibility to keep him alive, thus hurting their focus and ability to perform." Halo Wikia
I don't think the problem with a disabled SPARTAN being unfit for combat is the heart of the problem with Pariah. I think the problem here is that Pariah is misery porn and it uses a disabled teenager as its primary actor.

A story about loss or disability doesn't necessarily have to have a happy ending, but Pariah lacks the sensibilities and nuance to tell this story sensitively which makes a huge difference.

We are supposed to feel sympathy for Soren as he turns into a "villain" of sorts. We understand his motive, his pain, but at the heart of it his disability is blamed and his story doesn't seek for him to overcome his obstacles. The story only serves to feed his anger and thirst for revenge.
Fhajad-084, another S-II washout suffers from severe Parkinsons disease however he overcomes the limits of his physical difficulties and excels in academia. Osman, as I already mentioned, did not become a SPARTAN-II but managed to excel and live a fulfilling life. 

Soren's rehabilitation and fulfilment are purposefully denied for the purpose of wringing more misery out of the story. He is an object of pity rather than a person who feels and struggles and tries his best in life. We, the reader/player/observer know that the SPARTAN-II program was built upon gruesome foundations. Naomi's recollection of her kidnapping in Mortal Dictata is harrowing but it is sensitive, it is aware that it is a painful piece. Pariah is insensitive, dehumanising Soren at every turn but reminding readers every so often that he is a wounded child, just for us to pity him if nothing else.

Disabled people are more than just objects of pity and Pariah fails in every sense to convey Soren as anything other than a beacon of misfortune for the reader to pity.

I cannot hate the Halo-verse though. Really, I can't because Pariah is one chapter in an expansive world with all manner of complicated characters and moral grey areas. Mortal Dictata achieved everything Pariah should have with regards to painting the SPARTAN-II program as horribly cruel and inhumane without compromising the characters involved. Naomi and Staffan's stories are mutually heartbreaking and compelling without bordering on exploitative. Pariah feels as though it's exploiting Soren's horrible circumstances for the sake of entertainment because, that's why we read right? To be entertained?

Ultimately, there is no moral to Soren's story, there are no repercussions, no redemption, no lessons learned. It was a story that could have had such incredibly potential but ultimately failed on every front.

I'm still pretty biased of course. I hated Pariah. There is little in the story I can be bothered to try defend aside from its possible intentions. A story of a washed-out SPARTAN is an incredible one with incredible potential (just look at Osman). Pariah is not that type of story. The Halo universe DOES have room for disabilities and Pariah is an affront to the Halo-verse.

But hey, that's just my opinion, Halo has a wealth of other characters that succeed where Evenson's story failed, it's just a shame Soren had to get left behind rather than developed into a fully operational character. 

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Hawkeye V Winter Soldier Tales of Suspense #100 Part 1/5

Well ... my scanner broke so we're back to phone-snaps of panels a-la my early Thunderbolts post way back forever ago. Fear not faithful reader, this promises to be a good one even if technology has failed me!!! (I'll reupload slicker pics when I can!)

Today sparked the start of Tales of Suspense #100 Hawkeye and the Winter Soldier. A five-part series following my favourite former Soviet assassin Hawk- ... Winter Soldier obviously, but hey, Clint's here too.

This picks up after Secret Empire. Natasha Romanoff a.k.a the Black Widow is presumed dead after her showdown with Cap v Spidey ended rather abruptly with a shield to the face. The not-so-dead Natasha has been taking out various targets, catching the attention of not just one but TWO of her former flames, the aforementioned assassin (Bucky-bae!) and the arrow-slinging Hawkeye (Clint Barton). I'll preface this by highlighting my obvious and extreme bias towards Bucky, Winter Widow is my OTP so of course I'm not really rooting for Clint to catch Natasha's attention when they inevitably all collide. Without going into why Bucky is the superior partner, I'm going to delve into the fun that was issue one but before we do that I'm going to clear the air with my main (and probably only complaint). THERE WASN'T ENOUGH BUCKY!!!! (In Matthew Rosenburg's defence ... my appetite for Bucky is insatiable so that's totally not his fault and in fact Bucky is the kind of character where sometimes less is more.)

Clint easily fills about 70% of this first volume, it's not a bad thing by any means since this isn't a Winter Soldier story, its a story about Clint and Bucky tracking down Natasha. The volume opens with a funeral scene, pretty interesting way to draw symmetry between Natasha's funeral and the "death" of Clint's belief that she's actually dead. We saw in Secret Empire Omega that Bucky was already pretty certain he'd crossed paths with Natasha in Madripoor, perhaps he never believed her death was real whereas Clint seemed pretty convinced during her funeral in that same issue.

Rosenburg takes an interesting approach to Clint, trying to transform him into a super-sleuth, trying to apply Natasha's own tricks to track her down. We quickly discover that he's really not cut out for this. Clint is not a spy, he's not an assassin, he's an archer and an Avenger. Similarly to Bucky's Thunderbolts, as I've discussed at length here before, it's really fun to see a character shoved out of their comfort zone. Like when lone-wolf Bucky not only joined up with but led the Thunderbolts. Ultimately, Bucky doesn't excel in teamwork compared to working alone or working with Black Widow (or Daisy Johnson during Man On the Wall or Captain America during his pre-WS days). That doesn't mean he doesn't succeed as a leader to some extent but he is by far better suited to solo and stealth work.

Clint's brute-force approach lacks the subtlety and finesse of Black Widow and Winter Soldier operations but he does manage to get what he needs, a location, and so he pursues a target. After the collapse of Captain America's HYDRA regime, there still remains those nasty little off-shoots of HYDRA goons. Natasha appears to be picking off these HYDRA dweebs and so Clint finds himself in the unusual position of trying to protect these guys in the hopes that he can catch Natasha during a hit.

Once he gets to Chernaya, a city in chaos due to protests ... Clint observes that this provides a suitable distraction for an assassin to swoop in and make a hit. While he confronts riot squad police to try and get closer he catches a glimpse of Natasha- ... Oh no no no, don't be fooled silly reader! That is definitely not Natasha and if you fell for the ruse, SHAME ON YOU... She isn't the only assassin on the block and without even reading the title of the issue; Hawkeye with the Winter Soldier, it's fairly easy to suspect Winter Soldier is close considering he is also tracking Natasha's suspected targets. Even Clint isn't entirely convinced it's her but he casts enough doubt to at least make a casual reader do a double take.

Clint arrives to find the target alive and well (for now) only to narrowly avoid a barrage of gunshots through the door. He makes two observations.
1. Nat wouldn't shoot at him, even to get to a target
2. If she did shoot ... she wouldn't miss.

That sounds like someone else I know ... The Winter Soldier doesn't miss either and despite their differences, I'm pretty certain he wouldn't take pot-shots at Hawkeye just to remove a romantic rival. Hawkeye however lands an arrow straight in the Winter Soldier's arm ... I reckon he could easily avoid it because he's the Winter FRICKIN Soldier, but he just stands there and takes it like a boss so he can throw a few punches at Clint. Needless to say, Clint is less than pleased to see Bucky as well.

After a couple of blows are traded, they both figure out that neither of them are there to kill Nat's target, they're both trying to protect him and so Hawk Soldier? Winter Hawk? Whatever you want to call them, a partnership is born ...

Or rather, it would be born if Bucky hadn't noticed Natasha's "kill-calling-card" marked on a wall just before the target opens a drawer triggering a bomb that blows up WinterHawk before they can officially decide "yeah, lets team up".

Overall, great start, as I said ... not enough Winter Soldier to sate my insatiable hunger for Winter Soldier ... but the panels he DOES appear in are SO. BLOODY. BEAUTIFUL. It's a pretty solid issue. The THREE (yes you read correctly) the total of THREE pages that feature WS in all his glory are nicely drawn, arranged and inked, possibly one of my top-5 styles at the moment.

This review also shares a lot of similar sentiments and beautifully outlines the successes of the writing and art in this volume, I THOROUGHLY agree that we get a strong sense of Brubaker's WS in this run and Brubaker is a genius, his Bucky work is second to none. While this is a fresh take, a new chapter in Bucky's story it builds on the shoulders of giants (or however the saying goes) and it's clear to see that Rosenburg didn't ignore the strong foundation work laid out before him. This is an interesting new edition to Bucky's tale rather than a sporadic tacked-on one-shot, nothing is worse than picking up a new book and finding a character has totally betrayed their roots or been repurposed for a story that simply isn't theirs. Rest assured that Tales of Suspense #100 is not that kind of book (at least not in so far as vol 1 is concerned).

Now before I go insane, let me make the case for BuckyNat (because you honestly didn't expect me of all people NOT to do just that!!!)
With all the Secret Empire madness that was going on, Bucky and Nat obviously didn't have much time to resolve their relationship troubles (Nat had been brainwashed and "forgot" Bucky although it appeared as if she was gradually remembering or at least rekindling her relationship with Bucky). Bucky threw himself into his mission as Man on the Wall and later the Thunderbolts. While they weren't an "It Couple" at this time, they have an INCREDIBLE and incredibly LONG history. You just can't separate the two.

I am SO prepared for their MCU romantic debut. BRING. IT. ON. These two HAVE to get together ... we all saw them running SIDE BY SIDE in the Infinity Wars trailer. I SHIP IT! (also can we take a moment to appreciate how divine Sebastian Stan looks here? Don't get me started on Scarlet, I missed her iconic red hair but Blonde-Natasha is ... seriously stunning.)

Natasha and Bucky romanced when they were both KGB spooks, Bucky fighting against all the torture and programming at the hands of his handlers to pursue a clandestine romance with her until they were both brainwashed and ripped apart!
Natasha leaves the KGB for SHIELD while Bucky remains trapped. Finally, after Captain America uses the tesseract to restore Bucky's memory and undo his mental reprogramming... he vanishes. Fast forward a few bits and bobs and Bucky and Natasha quickly rekindle, Natasha gets brainwashed again during Fear Itself, Bucky watches her from a distance (Edmondson's Black Widow covers this period), briefly crossing paths with her to keep her safe. Although she doesn't remember him (and that clearly tears him apart), there's no denying the draw between them, and eventually she begins to remember or at least she wants to create new memories with him (We'll always have the moon, god I'm choking up now!)

Source; google/Red Bubble. This is a line from the comics, Natasha and Bucky have a moment on the moon before she jets off again before they can really get together properly. The Casablanca line, "We'll always have Paris" refers to the star crossed lovers Rick and Ilsa. Although the two do NOT rekindle their love (due to Ilsa reuniting with her husband whom she thought dead ...) I think BuckyNat has a chance. Marvel already brought Red Guardian (Natasha's ex husband, presumed dead at one point) and their relationship is too soured to repair ... plus ... BUCKYNAT OKAY!
The two fundamentally belong together and it appears to me that they are taking things slow, but it's just known fact that they belong together when the time is right. Secret Empire throws a spanner in the works, Bucky was occupied with the Thunderbolts and Kobik and couldn't swoop Natasha up in his arms and whisk her away to the moon. Natasha went underground with the resistance and later set up her own Red Room to take down Cap... Bucky and Nat were too busy to get together but Clint was there...

That's not love ... that's "Hell, we might die, I'm scared and you're here and I'm here so why not ...". Not to mention Natasha knocked Clint out after kissing him so that he couldn't stop her escape to carry out her own mission ...

Something I thought seriously amiss during SE was how little Nat seemed to miss Bucky after his apparent death in Steve Rodgers/Secret Empire. This really bugged me but ... with so much going on perhaps the writers didn't deem it worthy for a panel or two. Yes, they hadn't officially restarted their relationship but ... the moon happened. It's time to revive BuckyNat.

I found this summary of Winter Widow pretty astute.

The fact of the matter is ... you can't have Winter without the Widow, they're a perfect pairing. At the same time, Natasha is a strong independent woman in every sense of the word, she doesn't need a romance but Bucky and Nat are such a dynamic duo. She isn't the "girlfriend of a hero" they are equal in every sense of the word. He cares for her deeply and unreservedly and there is so much respect between them. That's not to say love triangles aren't interesting, they are but you can't help but root for your favourite suitor!!!

Source; Marvel Wikia, this is the cover of Tales of Suspense #101 which is out in January!! Can't wait! 

 I can envision this run of Tales of Suspense ending one of three ways.

1. They don't actually catch Natasha. They find her but she slips away in her usual Black Widow style, officially rejoining the fray in another main series. This short run focuses on Hawkeye and WS and their mutual affection for Black Widow is what brings them together, it's a premise but finding her doesn't necessarily have to be how it ends although that is a possibility...

2. They do catch her and she decides she's happy being free and single and doing her thing (something I think Bucky can understand and respect, as he has done since the end of Fear Itself when he originally lost her due to brainwashing). I do wonder how Clint would confront her about the whole knocking-him-out-and-running-away-to-kill-Captain-America-herself thing back from Secret Empire ...

3. She chooses Bucky because COME ON!!! Clint? Really? He just does. not. compare. They both "died" during Secret Empire, surely when they reunite after those experiences they'll come to the conclusion that life is short, so clear the air and get together already!!!

What are your predictions?
One thing I absolutely hope DOESN'T come to pass is that this is some freaky copy-cat killer rather than the real Nat ... it would totally kill me if she was actually totally really dead. Like ... Marvel, can you not do that please, I don't think I could take it.