Thursday, 4 January 2018

The Horrible Truth of The Suicide Forest Video

Without a doubt Logan Paul was wrong, beyond wrong to behave as he did in Aokigahara, also known as Japan's suicide forest. The forest (which is heavily sign posted to ensure visitors stick to the main trail during their visit) is "famous" for lack of a better word for the unbelievably high number of suicides that take place within its dark leafy depths each year. Paul visited this site with the sole purpose of vlogging (and therefore profiting) from his trip to the forest. He ignores the warnings to avoid restricted areas and traipses right in to the thick of it where he expected to find a body.

While I find it distasteful to approach this particular forest with the purpose of creating a "funny" video, Aokigahara is certainly a place worth documenting. The first problem with Paul's video is the tone. It isn't solemn, educational or a documentary, it's exploitative and disrespectful. 

As the video progresses, Paul and his crew come across the body of a recently deceased man. Rather than stop filming, they continue getting close ups of the victim all the while they are laughing/shouting and joking. This crossed a line I hadn't even known existed. So far I think Logan Paul's abhorrent escapades have been thoroughly covered so there's really no need for me to continue chastising him, it's already been said a thousand times over.

Paul apologised (as disingenuous as his apology was ...) but I find it hard to believe he feels any real remorse for his actions. He intended to film in the forest, upload it and make money/clicks. He got exactly what he wanted, bad press is better than no press and EVERYONE is talking about it. He isn't sorry for what he did, he is sorry people are disgusted by him. His apology isn't for the victims it is for himself. 

Paul claimed the video was for suicide awareness (though he does little to suggest how we can prevent suicide or identify symptoms of suicidal thoughts/behaviours) and oddly ... he's actually had a massive impact. Unless we see a wave of "Logan Paul-inspired"suicides his video might actually ... God I don't want to say it. 

I LOATHE to say it, really I do, I don't want to give this literal P.O.S (forgive my language) credit for helping raise money for suicide prevention after his insensitive video but ... Several big youtubers, tweeters and social media starts who are jumping on this story are donating and encouraging fans to donate. Suicide charities are likely seeing a boost in donations thanks to this exposure, even if none of it comes from Logan Paul or his "Logang", youtubers such as Markiplier, Philip de Franco and Boogie2988 to name a few have made donations and urged their following to do the same.

Logan Paul's despicable stunt certainly drew attention to suicide but here's the thing that bothers this blogger as she writes this post. We are already AWARE of suicide, we are aware of several things. Cancers, domestic abuse, substance abuse, homelessness, natural disasters, poverty, war. We are AWARE, we don't necessarily need to "raise awareness" for suicide and mental disorders we need to raise an action plan and actually DO something about these issues. 

The "raise awareness" excuse is exhausted. I applaud donators who fund helplines for victims and at-risk individuals, you are saving lives, your donation put someone on the end of a phone that could save one life, a hundred lives, maybe even thousands. You put your awareness of suicide prevention charities into action when you donated, however big or small your donation was.

Logan Paul "raised awareness" but his actions weren't actionable.

His video didn't teach someone how to help a suicidal friend or stranger, he didn't share a personal story with a message of victory, overcoming suicidal thoughts. He didn't help anyone. His video isn't actionable.

His video was entirely irredeemable, but if we learned one thing from this experience it is that there is no point in "raising awareness" unless it is actionable. Paul's video did rally other creators to action, it did raise awareness, but he did nothing actionable himself and that is something he should be held accountable for, in addition to his utterly tone-deaf approach and lack of empathy but that is a whole other story.

To cut a long story short, the horrible truth is that Logan Paul's stunt may actually inadvertently save a life but that isn't the whole picture and we need to look at the whole picture. Awareness that isn't actionable is just like watching a trainwreck in slow motion. Lets stop raising awareness to things we are aware of and start some ACTION.  Logan Paul's actions are utterly inexcusable whether or not the end justifies the means. In this case, even if Logan Paul helps more people than he's harmed in the process it's really a hollow victory for him at the very best. Lets be real though, financially the Paul brothers have no need to worry. If they never received a penny from tomorrow onwards, they've already grossed millions of dollars, more than enough to comfortably sustain themselves for decades.

The horrible truth is that Logan Paul has in essence inspired a wave of youtubers to highlight suicide and make donations, we are talking about suicide and funding suicide hotlines more than we were the day before he released the video.

The horrible truth is that his "awareness" video, as sick as it was, has raised awareness and prompted a discussion.

The horrible truth is that Logan Paul is profiting on the suffering of suicide victims. 

The horrible truth is that children aspire to be the next Logan Paul. 

The horrible truth is that with morons like the Paul Brothers paving the way for future generations we can only expect to see more bodies desecrated for views online unless something changes and fast.

The horrible truth is that two months on, we will barely remember this and Paul will continue to grow online. 

The horrible truth is that YouTube cares about money and clicks more than the humans captured in humiliating, harmful videos and the children who watch them. 

PARENTS and TEACHERS are our last bastion here. Paul's viewers are largely children and preteens/early-teenagers and the Paul's are not here to protect them but to exploit them. Parents and teachers are the only people who can protect children from these online predators (yes, I am calling exploitative YouTube manipulators predators. They aren't pedophiles but they're a different kind of predator and we need to take this threat seriously).

While we're talking about suicide, I just want to pause and urge you, if you feel down, even just a little, it's okay to ask for help and help is there! Talk to Childline, Samaritans or a suicide/self-harm prevention network that operates within your territory/country. has local numbers, they've helped me through some of my hardest times and you can phone or email them at any time.

If you or someone you know is having a hard time, talk, listen, find just one reason to smile and hang on a little longer. Hang on to that one thought or that one memory that keeps you going and soon ... well, you'll find yourself nurturing more thoughts and memories to hold onto and this dark feeling will pass. It will get better if you give it just one more day, then another, but if you take that step toward suicide there's a chance you might not come out the other end to find those other happy thoughts. 

I promise you, just hang on, you are worth saving, you are worthy of being alive and being loved. 

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. 

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The Rise and Fall of the Black Widow - Secret Empire & Uprising

Anyone else ready for a belated avalanche of Secret Empire posts? Just me? Alright then, here goes!

Secret Empire Uprising ties in with the Secret Empire/HYDRA-Cap stuff, focusing on Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff and her rag-tag team of teens who hope to kill Captain America (who ... unless you've had your memory erased by a cosmic cube or something, was a HYDRA double agent).

SE:Uprising is good because its a single issue so I can do it all in one post here, I also wanted to talk about Uprising because ... I have issues about it, or rather I had issues with Natasha in her most recent appearances in general and Uprising is where we really see this come to a head.

Before we proceed ... Thar be spoilers, so read at your own risk! Yknow ... if you haven't already read Secret Empire, in which case ... where have you been exactly?

Natasha, when we last saw her in Secret Empire/Steve Rogers, had gone into hiding with other heroes such as Hawkeye, Tony Stark and Ant Man. They'd formed a rebellion of sorts, resisting the tyrannical reign of HYDRA Supreme, Steve Rogers. Like many rebellions, the rebel factions aren't as cohesive as Roger's dogmatic militia, the issue here is structure. HYDRA has one Supreme whereas the Rebellion has a bunch of leaders or folks vying to take the reins. While Tony wants to "save" Steve, Natasha believes their only option is to kill him. Without taking into account all the other individual ideas and opinions of the rebels, the rebellion is already divided in half by these two differing standpoints alone which is probably their biggest problem. A divided resistance is a weakened resistance.

Uprising sees Natasha take matters into her own hands when she runs away with Spiderman Mile Morales (who has seen a vision of himself killing Captain America thanks to the Inhuman Ulysses), Amadeus Cho/Hulk, Viv Vision, Riri Williams a.k.a Ironheart, Nadia Pym a.k.a the Wasp,  and Falcon Joaquin Torres. Nat sets up her "new Red Room" with these young recruits and this is where her character starts to lose a bit of character ... But bear with me on this.

Everyone was up in arms when Steve Rogers turned coat and Hailed HYDRA but I accepted it as a plot point ... (I wouldn't say defended it, but I've given it the BOTD to see where the story goes). It makes logical sense I'd defend Nat when she goes down this dark path right? Well ... No... Not really.

Maybe I'm an Inhuman with precognitive senses but when Steve said those magic words "Hail Hydra" I suspected there were strange forces at work. It wasn't Steve Rogers, or at least it wasn't the Steve Rogers we knew and loved. Natasha on the other hand, she'd played so many sides and assumed so many identities it was hard to pin down her character, she is a chameleon, a double agent, a Black Widow. She hasn't been replaced by an evil cosmic clone or brainwashed though, even though she has many different faces, we know that this is "her" and these are entirely her actions.

The Red Room is constant in the BW story and Natasha's feelings for the Red Room were particularly clear in Black Widow (2016). She "rescues" the girls from the new Red Room, she wants to put an end to the Red Room forever after the torment she endured as a child ... Why the ever loving Infinity-Gauntlet would she set up her own Red Room?! 

This is where she breaks character. Unlike Steve, we know Natasha isn't being manipulated. Kobik has nothing to do with her, Faustus isn't controlling her mind, she hasn't had her murder-trigger-flipped like the Winter Soldier. Natasha is fully aware and fully in control of her choices and this is seriously out of character.

Whats more confusing, Natasha is a lone wolf like Bucky. She tends to enjoy and flourish when she works alone or in the event she is in a team she's not necessarily a leader but rather a shadow on a wall infiltrating a base to let her allies storm the place or watching someones back.

Steve Rogers is a leader, Natasha isn't.

I'll let this slide a bit since we see Bucky in a similar role leading the T-Bolts (I've discussed Thunderbolts extensively on this blog so do check those posts out -linked at the bottom of this post-). It's actually a pretty interesting angle for both characters, especially when you contrast their teams and how they operate. Ultimately Nat becomes a bit tyrannical over the teenage-team members whereas Bucky has a considerably looser grip over his TBolts (it can be argued that both teams have their individual strengths and weaknesses, neither are perfect).

She is a lot like Bucky which is why they make such a fantastic pairing (please don't get me started on how quickly she moved on after Bucky's apparent death. Her reaction in SE is utterly unlike her reaction last time he died or any other events that put either of them in serious peril). Bucky was DEVASTATED to lose Natasha when Constantin manipulated her and messed up her memory, Natasha was working things through with Bucky again, her utter disregard for his sacrifice is also very unlike her. Very unexplained as well. It could be because I'm a WinterWidow fan but, Hawkeye's infatuation for her and how quickly they became an "it-couple" rubbed me up the wrong way.

Now, I'm not utterly writing her off because I like to give characters a chance. I like to see things through and fortunately Nat DOES get her redeeming moment, the "ends justify the means" sort of thing but ... it feels a little false because "ends justify the means" is exactly the type of mentality Nat has fought against. The ends justify the means is a Red Room method of thought, its a HYDRA-Cap method of thought but that ISN'T Black Widow. She, like Captain America is an idealist of sorts but she isn't (usually) willing to compromise her morals, her integrity to get there. Yes, she'll do the dirty work, the double agent stuff, but she has red in her ledger, she's conscious of her every decision and tries to take the high road. We don't see an ounce of compassion during SE:Uprising which is detrimental to her character.

Uprising shows a dark side of Nat that is very out of character but unlike HYDRA-Cap ... this is Black Widow and she is fully in charge of her faculties here. While she manages to redeem herself in the main Secret Empire story in the end, the whole point of the series (or at least a sub-point) is that you can't just wipe out the past. So this dark side is supposed to stay with her, and although it would be an interesting thread of a story to see her deal with her guilt and aftermath but ... how she got there in the first place is off in my opinion.

Nat ultimately prevents Miles from killing Cap, she elects to take him out herself to spare Miles the burden of that guilt which is TOTALLY the Nat we known and love, but as I said earlier the means don't quite justify the ends here. Nat TERRIFIED her Red Room recruits, she caused damage to the young heroes who came to her, Nadia in particular struggles with her past in the Red Room and Nat was cruel to her. She left scars much like her Red Room instructors broke her and while she may not have been on the same scale as HYDRA Cap or the old Red Room crew she went against her own morals, her own M.O.

Maybe Natasha's hard, cold persona is her way of grieving Bucky. Maybe setting up the Red Room is an act of anger and torment and grief, rather than a fully rational choice. We've seen she's turned very reckless, almost sadistic but she also sacrifices herself when it comes down to the wire.

This Natasha is changed and changed terribly but unlike Steve who's having his strings pulled ... there appears to be no influencing factors tugging at Natasha. Her actions are hers and hers alone. We know she's not gone forever of course, in the epilogue, Secret Empire Omega, Bucky watches Nat's funeral on tv (don't comment about Hawkeye MJ ... don't even go there ... okay moving on). For a long time he's "mourned" her in a way, his grief is subtle, quiet ... or maybe he already knows she's not dead ... We do get semi-confirmation (okay, total confirmation, Bucky knows Nat!) that she's alive and kicking but ... what she's doing now and what her state of mind is is ... anyones guess.

Aside from killing off my OTP (I know Bucky/Nat were on a break before SR and SE, but they were working things out, Bucky's "death" and Natasha's indifference to this news really undermine their breathtaking romance ... or at least, the breathtaking romance they once had). She has been pushed back into this ruthless assassin who feels nothing. She's as clever and lethal as ever but her soul is gone. Nat's sacrifice in Secret Empire was a grand gesture, but ... who exactly is Natasha Romanoff now? What has happened to this darkness within her and how do we move past it? 

As promised, here's all my posts tagged "Thunderbolts" if you want to read about Bucky's team! Seriously worth checking out ... but of course I would say that wouldn't I? 

Monday, 6 November 2017

Is There Room for Disabilities in Space?

I was 17 when I was diagnosed with an episodic disability, it was also around this time that I discovered I had no place in the Halo Universe ... Wait hang on, I know what you're thinking "Dude, it's a made up world you were never there to begin with" and I guess to an extent you are correct but bear with me.

The Halo Universe is pretty expansive spanning several video game titles, books, animated series and movies. When you play Halo 3 you BECOME the Master Chief, when you read Fall of Reach you join John 117 as he transforms into a SPARTAN II. There isn't really a barrier between you the reader or player and the character, you quite literally explore the world looking through Master Chief's visor.

Seems easy to jump in and be the Chief right? Well if you turn to page 35 of the Halo Evolutions Volume 1 there's a list of "risks" that will rule you out of becoming an active duty SPARTAN II.

One of which is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

"There's also considerable risk." 
"What sort of risk?" 
"There's a chance, a nontrivial one, that you could die during the augmentation. Even if you don't die, there's a strong risk of Parkinson's, Fletcher's syndrome, and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, as well as potential problems with deformation or atrophy of the muscles and degenerative bone conditions."

 Halo Evolutions Volume 1, Page 35

Before I get into the genetics and how it is absolutely 100% impossible to develop EDS as a side effect of anything and how the mere suggestion makes my blood boil ... I want to bypass that entire argument and direct your attention elsewhere. (it's better for both of our blood pressure this way, trust me).

What happened in Halo Evolutions Volume 1 (pg. 35) was that a line was drawn, a line which separated me from the Halo Universe a line that separated SPARTAN's ... and rejects.

I was a reject

While I struggled to come to terms with my diagnosis of BJHS (which falls under the EDS umbrella although fortunately it is on the mild end of the scale) I always thought I'd have games, I always thought I'd have the Chief and that my bad days could be remedied with hot water bottles for the pain and Halo. Suddenly the fantasy world I enjoyed didn't want me anymore. It wasn't a personal attack but it felt like one. Before someone screeches "special snowflake" just pause for a second. I'm not calling for a boycott of Halo, I believe it's time to grab the pitchforks if someone were to intentionally try and ostracise the disabled community and I do not believe this is an intentional attack on disabled people just some ill-informed writing. Halo pointed the finger at people with disabilities (EDS, Parkinsons and Fletchers syndrome), and said "You can't sit with us" and whether or not they considered how this message would be received, it is there and what we have to do now is simply consider how we move forward.

Aaaand that is why I can't really enjoy Halo anymore ...
... which sucks because I have a tonne of books and some action figures and all the old Xbox360 Halo games. 

Yeah, it sounds overly dramatic I'm exaggerating, of course I can still enjoy a good story or game but throwing in a particularly specific disability just because the name sounds cool for the sake of spooking the reader is ... considerably insensitive don't you think? Especially when said disability is in no way related to the story or augmentations taking place. At least if it made logical sense I could shrug and say "Well you aren't wrong there" but it just doesn't and that frustrates me.

What happened in Halo was that I could no longer "be" Master Chief when I played. This one condition that caused a lot of struggles suddenly disabled me from imagining I could be a space marine because the Halo Universe effectively said that I wasn't allowed. Having a disability, episodic or otherwise introduces obstacles, yes, but plenty of disabled people simply learn how to make do with the abilities and resources available to them. Keep calm and carry on is the sort of attitude to adopt and for a lot of us there isn't really much we can't do, we just do it differently.

As I got older, came to terms with my range of ability and even managed to surpass myself in some areas, I couldn't shake off the trauma of what happened when I read that page and got booted from the Halo universe. I started thinking more about stuff and thinking differently. This year in particular disability and inclusion has been something seriously on my mind which brings me to my next worry ... Is there room for disabilities anywhere in todays society? Much less is there room for disabled astronauts and space marines?!

Even though the SPARTAN II rejects that weren't dead were somehow rehabilitated (please don't get me started on their rehabilitation ...) they are still the rejects, the "washed out" SPARTAN's. They are the ones who get left behind and forgive me for saying it but ... goddammit disabled people can be heroes too!

Which brings me onto a character I absolute love (in a franchise everyone loves to hate since the third instalment).

Jeff "Joker" Moreau, Mass Effect 1, 2 & 3.

Joker is a legend, if you don't like him what the hell is wrong with you? This guy can jump a giant ship halfway across the galaxy and land on a target the size of a pinhead!!! (His own words, ad libbed a little bit). Did I forget to mention he has Osteogenesis Imperfecta otherwise known as brittle bone disease. Joker himself briefly outlines the nature of his disability, his bones are made of glass he regularly suffers breaks and fractures but ... this same guy who has some serious mobility issues is the guy who single handedly (until EDI shows up) manages to fly the Normandy through all sorts of hellscapes, excels in flight school and even surpasses his peers who jeer and deride him for being the "kid with the creaky legs" (and don't get me started on the part of ME3 where you get to PLAY AS JOKER and sneak through the Collector-infested Normandy).

I'm gonna stop fangirling about Joker here but my point is that Joker is amazing because yeah, he has a disability but at no point does it prevent him from doing his job. There is nothing stopping him from being just as much a hero as Commander Shepard. What's more, as I said earlier he surpassed his peers, Joker isn't just an "okay" or "adequate" pilot he is exceptional. Joker restored some of my faith in sci-fi ... we need more characters like him stat!!!

I could go on all day to be honest but this is pretty long as it is. I do love the Halo Universe, really, I do. I adored the books and the lore and watching Chief progress as more and more games came out, I have more Halo books than I'd care to admit about philosophy, art, and of course the novels but one page, one line was all it took for me to feel like an outside observer rather than someone who deserved to be a part of the story or the universe. The more media I consume the more I think about who is missing from the story, who is not only "absent" but actively being pushed out?

The Mass Effect trilogy, whether you liked the ending or not (the ending is SO much better if you study the Reaper Indoctrination Theory btw) had something I've yet to see fully explored in a similar fashion in almost every other sci-fi universe I've encountered. Mass Effect had a character that was disabled and a hero and he wasn't just a side note he was in every instalment of the trilogy start to finish and he was even playable character (albeit briefly!). Try rattle off a list of female playable characters it may not be as long as male characters but there's quite a few, now try list of disabled characters and take into account the range of disabilities. Are there many characters on that list? Are there many different disabilities or the same ones consistently reoccurring? Dig even deeper and ask "is this how a character with [X-disability] would behave/speak/appear"?

Mass Effect covered issues of race (mostly alien races but I digress), class issues and identity (Quarian's and the Geth for example), sexuality and as I've already outlined, included a fully fledged hero who happens to be disabled. It isn't that hard to create a disabled character, just look at Joker, if you removed his Osteogenesis Imperfecta, he's still essentially the same character, but when you include his disability you speak to a person who is disabled. If more franchises did this it would transform a character from someone admirable for a disabled person into someone who is admirable AND relatable and there's honestly nothing that I can compare that feeling to.

So ... Yes ... There is room for disabilities in space, more than enough room in fact and all it takes a developer is to give that character a name and a space suit. 

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Secret Empire, If you read it you're a Nazi

Wow ... this title is bigger click-bait than my April fools Black Widow movie post... Sorry to disappoint you with a post directly opposite to the title, but ... reading Secret Empire will not make you a Nazi and anyone who tells you that is wrong. Reading Mein Kampf will not make you a Nazi either even though it's written by the head honcho, Hitler himself! Lemme tell you why.

Ohhh boy ... here we go...
Since it's very inception (or rather since the infamous HYDRA-Cap panel hit the interwebs), the whole Secret Empire/Steve Rogers arc has come under fire as being a Nazi comic. I would like to stress that Secret Empire is not a Nazi story even if it is/was a story about a Nazi. I honestly can't believe I have to write this ... after reading all of the Secret Empire and Steve Rogers stuff so far, the "YOU'RE A NAZI" reaction is just so far fetched.

I found this list of books about the Third Reich and Hitler, they are stories about Nazism but they are not Nazi stories. To make this differentiation clearer, allow me to explain so I can show you just why Secret Empire is not a Nazi story and you are not a Nazi for reading it.

Mein Kampf is a Nazi story. It's Hitler's autobiography and political manifesto. It's a book of Nazi ideologies, penned by a Nazi for other Nazi's to read and assimilate with. That said, historians read Mein Kampf all the time and they don't become Nazis, this is because they read, they study, they debate but they don't assimilate. Let's take a look at what assimilate means shall we; take in and incorporate as one's own; absorb: He assimilated many new experiences on his European trip. bring into conformity with the customs, attitudes, etc., of a group,nation, or the like; adapt or adjust: to assimilate the new immigrants. cause to resemble (usually followed by to or with). compare; liken (usually followed by to or with). 
verb (used without object), assimilated, assimilating.
7. to be or become absorbed. conform or adjust to the customs, attitudes, etc., of a group,nation, or the like:The new arrivals assimilated easily and quickly. (SOURCE) 
If you don't assimilate, that is, adopt the policies, change yourself to suit the ideologies presented, you aren't becoming what the text is influencing you to be. So if you read Mein Kampf and assimilate with it and adopt the principles within the book, you become a Nazi, if you read it and disagree with it or learn from it without adopting its policies, you don't become a Nazi. It's just that simple.

Reading this will NOT make you a Nazi ... but it might make your stomach churn because WW2 was horrifying. 
Similarly, Secret Empire is not a Nazi story because, although Steve is successful in establishing a New World Order under HYDRA, this World Order is not accepted or approved by Steve's closest friends or his closest allies (Vision is "reprogrammed", Scarlet Witch possessed and the vast majority of Steve's old allies have turned their backs on him).
We aren't supposed to assimilate with Steve because he's wrong wrong wrong. You can like him, sure, but ... his actions and beliefs are condemned not celebrated. Secret Empire doesn't want you to become a Nazi, it wants you to see what would happen if Steve became a Nazi and we don't like what he's become. He isn't supposed to be admirable. 
Steve deceives all of his friends and allies, he works with the villains who are clearly still villains. Being successful isn't the same as being right and the only people to affirm Steve's actions are ... Zemo, Madame Hydra, Arnim Zola and other V-I-L-L-A-I-N-S. He isn't a hero, he isn't acting heroically, he has become a tyrannical leader which is clear from the start. We readers are not supposed to "like" what Steve has become, we are supposed to be uncomfortable that our hero has become his own worst enemy.

If Secret Empire was trying to promote Nazism, heroes wouldn't claim "This isn't Steve", "Steve's been changed", "He has to be stopped/killed" they'd cheer for their brilliant leader. What he's doing is wrong and no one is arguing otherwise.
Liking HYDRA-Steve isn't an inherently bad thing though. I'm first to admit I love good villains, sometimes more than the heroes, but liking villains doesn't make someone a Nazi (I already covered that in my discussion of assimilation). HYDRA-Steve is interesting, but we don't want to become like him even if we like watching what will unfold next. Liking a fictional Nazi villain won't make you a bad person, but appreciating the mass genocide that occurred in WW2 will.

If anything, Secret Empire is the comic we NEEDED to see because this is how crazy the discourse around Nazism has become.

If people believe reading a book about Nazis is all it takes to turn people into Nazis then we block our ears and don't engage our brains, we leave ourselves open to be manipulated by future Hitlers who feed us perfect messages that aren't true and aren't challenged or challenging. Remember, when Hitler first came to power his message wasn't "genocide" it was "jobs", he earned the peoples trust and admiration before he commit terrible crimes and many regular German people thought Hitler was the bees-knees although he went on to commit unforgivable crimes against humanity.

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it may not actually be a duck and THAT is why we ask questions.
Look at the picture below.
This is a duck right?

"Quack ... or ... whatever"

No. It's a swan-goose. But it looks like a duck and probably sounds like one too (I mean I'm no bird expert, but to the untrained eye, this would fool me!).

Secret Empire doesn't come with the message "Steve's always right because he's Captain America", it challenges that very message because the heroes became complacent and followed Steve's orders without question even when they were questionable orders! They didn't question his actions or behaviour and suddenly, it was too late. He walked like Captain America, talked like Captain America but he wasn't Captain America. Now they can see Steve isn't who/what he seemed and they are trying to stop him.

How on Gods Earth does this seem good for Nazis? Everyone loved him before they knew he was HYDRA, now that he's revealed his allegiance to HYDRA, he's Billy-no-mates (except for a bunch of cheeky villains we're not supposed to like either).

HYDRA-Cap is doomed to fail, we can already see his New World Order unravelling, with Viper acting shady/treacherous, rebellions at every corner, Namor and T'Challa, while not openly rebelling against Cap, are firmly opposed to HYDRA's ideologies. This isn't the Happy Ending story Nazis want to see, and if they think this current arc is a good thing for a HYDRA-Steve, then they're even stupider than I expected (not that I give modern Nazis much credit in the IQ department to begin with).

Yes, a HYDRA did successfully take over the world, but unless Steve can stay in control (spoiler alert, he most certainly will not), it is no victory at all. Hitler dominated huge swathes of Europe but he lost it all by 1945 and commit suicide in a bunker and to this day, any rational person will agree that Hitler's ideologies and actions were deplorable and they will condemn him.

I can't see the logic to the arguments people present which state that "Secret Empire/Steve Rogers is promoting Nazism" because ... it isn't.
Lets leave aside the fact that Nick Spencer is arguing that HYDRA and Nazis aren't the same, because even if that were the case, it doesn't change the fact that HYDRA is the enemy and we aren't supposed to root for this fascist empire to succeed. If HYDRA took over and gave everyone ice cream and kittens then we need to stand up and say "wait a minute, HYDRA's supposed to be bad, why are you making them cuddly and delicious?". HYDRA, ruling the world under Cap, is presented as a terrifying, dictatorship, with Cap himself struggling to keep things in check despite his almost seamless takeover and none of his policies are appealing. He's a draconian dictator and he won't last long.

b-but it's not really Cap tho!!

Is the story completely free from problems? Hell no, but this is already a very long post so we'll pick up on that another time in greater depth!

Captain America was created by two Jewish men during WW2, his very purpose, since his inception, has been to fight against fascism and Nazism and HYDRA. Would his original creators disagree with this current story? We'll never know, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby are both dead, but Stan Lee, creator of Marvel, and a WW2 veteran called HYDRA-Cap;
“hell of a good idea [...] it's crazy, but it’s a good idea.” (Stan Lee, source).
If Stan Lee, a Jewish-American can call Secret Empire a good idea, perhaps we should try give it a go and engage our critical thinking instead of switching off and branding it Nazi trash. There's a message there, an important one about questioning those in power, although it is a difficult line to walk. If those we trust most suddenly turn into our biggest enemy, what do we do? How do we survive?

If Steve were to make Nazi's a good thing, if we were encouraged to accept HYDRA as a positive change, then this comic is a failure, but as it stands we are supposed to stand in solidarity with the rebels, those who refuse to say Hail HYDRA (and mean it). It is for that reason, the fact we're told to stand against our beloved hero because he now stands for Nazism (or HYDRA) and that is bad is encouraging us the reader to be MORE opposed to Nazism because we are told to say no even when Captain America tells us that HYDRA is good.

Anyway but this just about wraps up my post on Secret Empire this time, stay tuned for more. Black Widow in Secret Empire: Uprising is coming up, along with Secret Empire 1-5 and an investigation into Winter Soldier (KGB-Bucky) and HYDRA-Cap, I'll draw some comparisons and parallels and really pick apart the whole "history was rewritten" thing there because thats certainly one of the more prominent "problematic" issues of Secret Empire.

I'll be focusing on the drawbacks/pitfalls of Secret Empire as we continue talking about it in the future, but right now, give Secret Empire a read. You may like it, and that's okay, it might not be your cup of tea at all and that's okay too. Secret Empire is many things, but, it's not a Nazi manifesto, if anything, it highlights the dangers of fascism growing right beneath our noses.

Remember, ask questions, think critically and ... say no to HYDRA! 

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Fan Fact and Fan Fiction! The Science of Fandom

As part of my degree I had to do a wee bit of research... As a film major, there was no shortage of topics, naturally, I decided I wanted to study Captain America but at this point I already felt like I know the structure of Steve's Super-Soldier DNA because I already analyse the movies in such depth. A content or even semiotic analysis of the films would only yield so much new info and I wanted to challenge myself. So that left me wondering, what new things can I learn and examine here and I turned to fan fiction because it's an area of the Captain America fandom that is constantly new and evolving and an area that I really only know a couple of things about. New trends and memes spark interesting new fics and the sky really is the limit. 

So with a pen and notebook and not the foggiest idea where to start, I worked on a methodology, a research question and I set to work. That was over a month ago, and I recently got my grade back on my final 4000-ish word paper (honestly, it could have easily stretched to a 10,15 or even 20,000 word piece). I wanted to stave off sharing any of my findings on here until I got feedback from my professor about it. I knew I was really proud of what I achieved in my study, however I obviously had a huge personal bias after all my hard work. The feedback was absolutely fantastic (so I'm even more proud than I originally was!) and I thought I'd take that feedback, my own findings, and share a bit with the fan and academic communities alike. Now that I can confidently say that it was a good paper since it passed with flying colours I thought I'd talk about it publicly.

I will perhaps build on my findings and present more interesting stuff later if there was ever any interest, but for now I'd like to share what I learned so perhaps if you conduct your own study you will learn from my methodology and my mistakes!

First step is discovering your question and developing an argument of why your question is worth thinking about. I think this is more for the sake of readers than the researcher themselves because, I could research Cap stuff and not really care where it takes me or what new things I discover or why I examine a particular thing, but that makes for a poor, disorganised paper. So first step, like any research project is to define what you want to figure out and why its worth other people reading.
In my case, I wanted to examine fan behaviours but framing my question was difficult, I took to reading other academic works to find some existing study I could build upon. I came across Juli Parrish's work (all referenced papers are listed at the end of this post) and one particular quote stood out to me.
A reader or writer, even one who is already sold on the complexities and pleasures of fan fiction, is probably unlikely to be catholic in her reading material. Instead, she is more likely to focus on the fan writing of just a few shows, or even more specifically of just a few relationships. (Parrish, 2007, 40).
So my project focused on whether or not fanfic writers wrote multiple pairings and relationships or whether the tended to specialise.
My reason for selecting Captain America largely boiled down to its popularity (thousands of fanfics, several movies, comics, animated tv shows, games etc to draw from), and of course, the fact that #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend trended globally on social media back when Civil War came out! That aside, I'm a huge Cap fan, so when it came to studying fanfiction, Captain America was one of the texts I considered but similar questions can be posed for different fandoms.

To cut a long story short, I discovered that, from where I stood, from where my research began and where it was situated, my question simply didn't have a particularly conclusive answer. Some fan writers write lots of pairings some write only one or two, but separating "people who write many pairings" from "people who write few pairings" is toeing the line of the "how long is a piece of string?" question. What defines "few" and what defines "many"? Is 10 different pairings a lot, is 3 few? Does the quota that separates "many" or "few" change depending on fandom? Game of Thrones and the Marvel Universe have a plethora of characters but fan fiction based on rock bands with 3 to 5 members, obviously can't be directly compared, the pool of characters to draw from is significantly smaller.

On that point alone, I quickly discovered that my question itself was flawed. From there, my research turned into an examination of things I observed within the Captain America fandom itself, whether these findings are comparable with other fandoms has yet to be seen (but thats another study for another day).

Setting aside the "how many is "many" and how few is "few" issue, Captain America presented further problems. Relationships are weeeeirrrddd. Fanfics included a variety of pairings, from the staple pairing, Stucky or Steve/Bucky (which was overwhelmingly popular across most areas of my research, without a doubt, Stucky is a significant pairing worth studying) to fics featuring no romance at all or polyamorous relationships and love triangles. Trying to count these relationships proves to be a challenge in itself.
Take for example, one fanfic features Steve/Bucky, a second fic features Steve/Sam and Steve/Tony. These are three examples of monogamous relationships within two fics featuring the same character (Steve). Depending on how you choose to collate the data, these pairings could be categorised together or separately. Both are monogamous, both feature Steve, but there are three different combinations, what does this mean in your study? Does a fic with two or more relationships (even if those relationships are all monogamous) fit in with a fic which only features one monogamous relationship?

The problem only gets trickier when you have fics with lots of different monogamous and polyamorous couplings. Do you separate a 3-way love-triangle from a 3-person polyamorous relationship or do they belong in the same category because both involve 3 characters in one romantic situation?

Then there is that problem of fics which include characters but don't pair any of these characters romantically. Where do they belong? A fanfic without romance is still a fanfic, but it doesn't include the "shipping" element of romantic/sexual pairing fics.

Add to this already confusing mix the presence of crossovers, AU's, genderswaps (is Cap categorised the same way as femCap?), the fact that Captain America from the movies and Captain America from the comics could be considered different or the same depending on how you choose to frame your research... It gets very convoluted very quickly.

In the end, I concluded that

"[...] it can be seen that fan fiction writers can vary in the diversity of the texts they consult and the diversity of characters and relationships that exist within their works. It is at present too reductive an approach to attempt to categorise Captain America fanfic writers into either exclusive or diverse categories through analysing the number of or types of pairings they choose to explore." - (NotSpidergirl, 2017)
It's certainly something worth examining, but rather than developing a binary, a spectrum might better encompass the variety of writers and pairings and styles. Even then, stringent selection criteria would need to be developed to organise all of this data if organising it were even possible (is it possible to indiscriminately categories all this data is perhaps the first question that needs to be confronted when it comes to the world of fan fiction studies).

Jenkins writes;

“participation within fandom often extends beyond an interest in any single text to encompass many others within the same genre” (2013, 37).
Pair with this knowledge the fact that some fans write within several fandoms, combine multiple fandoms within one text, invent OC's, reinvent old characters, and you have a wealth of things to examine and learn and also a lot to try organise. Fans can fall into several fandoms, each with their own nuances and quirks, attempting to map how fans navigate a plethora of fandoms would be a particularly intriguing study.

At the end of the day, I think we can all conclude that fanfic writers are down-right fantastic and talented! Stay tuned for future posts where I dare to tackle issues such as morals/ethics in fan writing, how to give/take critique like a champ and so on!

Further Reading:

Cited in this blog post: 
  • (myself) NotSpidergirl (2017) Star Spangled Lovers: Patterns of Behaviour and Shipping in Captain America Fan Fiction, unpublished, Pp. 2-20. 
  • Parrish, Juli. (2007). Inventing A Universe: Reading And Writing Fan Fiction, University of Pittsburgh. Accessed Online At: Accessed Online On: 4/4/2017
  • Jenkins, Henry. (2013) Textual poachers: television fans & participatory culture, Updated 20th Anniversary ed., New York, New York Routledge. 

Other goodies!:
  • De Certeau, Michel. (1984) The practice of everyday life, Berkeley, University of California Press.
  • Greene, Shoshanna., Jenkins, Cynthia., and Jenkins, Henry. (1998). “Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking: Selections from the Terra Nostra Underground and Strange Bedfellows”. In: Jenkins, Henry, ed., Fans, Gamers, and Bloggers, 1st ed. New York, New York University Press, pp.61-88.
  • Jenkins, Henry. (1988) “Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten: Fan Writing as Textual Poaching”, CSMC: Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 5:2, pp.85-107. 
  • Thomas, Angela. (2006), “Fan fiction online: Engagement, critical response and affective play through writing”, Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 29:3, pp. 226–239.
  • Van Steenhuyse, Veerle. (2011), “The Writing and Reading of Fan Fiction and Transformation Theory”,  CLCWeb:Comparative Literature and Culture, 13:4, pp. 2-9.