Gasping

It’s been eight months since the last dose of Doctor Who and last night BBC’s science fiction behemoth finally returned to our screens. The long wait has made fans anxious for new episodes but the opportunity to see Peter Capaldi in his first full length feature as The Doctor has even the most patient fans salivating. There really is nothing like Doctor Who. While there may be plenty of other sci-fi television shows available to watch, download or stream across the world, none of them feel quite as assured or adventurous as Doctor Who always is. Even the weakest episodes tend to be mad expeditions into the unknown.

If I’m being honest, this premiere felt like one of the weaker episodes from recent memory. It wasn’t awful. The story was fine, with just enough twists to keep it from becoming predictable, and the acting was good, though it’s unlikely to win any awards. The failing in this episode was the character writing. It’s hard to say that Capaldi’s Doctor was badly written because this is his first real appearance but Clara? If you told me that someone who had never watched an episode of Clara’s time with the Doctor had written this episode, I would completely and utterly believe you.

First of all, I take issue with the idea that Clara got what she wanted or that the Doctor gave her what she wanted because she was pretty. The Doctor chased after Clara back in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ when she was just a voice in his head. He pursued her because her very existence was a mystery to him. And it’s not like the writers couldn’t have known this because they used the ‘impossible girl’ as part of a puzzle in the episode.  Sure, Jenna-Louise Coleman is easy on the eyes but Clara was more than that to the Doctor. I don’t think that the Doctor has ever selected a person to be a trophy companion. Not even Rose Tyler got that treatment. ‘Deep Breath’, however, attempts to rewrite the Eleventh Doctor’s entire motivations regarding Clara.

Jenna Louise Coleman returns as Clara Oswald in the series 8 premiere of Doctor Who, entitled 'Deep Breath'.

Yes, Clara, the portrayal of your character in this episode confuses us too.

Quite possibly the worst line in the entire episode is when the Twelfth Doctor states to Clara that ‘he is not her boyfriend’. Clara rightly assures him that she never thought he was but the Doctor says it wasn’t her mistake, again effectively retconning the Eleventh Doctor’s motivations and feelings in regards to Clara. Perhaps you could make an argument for Matt Smith’s Doctor playing boyfriend with Clara in the Christmas special, ‘The Time of the Doctor, but as I said in my review of that episode that implication felt out of place because there was no precedent for it. The Eleventh Doctor and Clara were friends. Perhaps they were a little flirty at times but Matt Smith’s Doctor would have flirted with a broomstick.

Furthermore, there is an insinuation that Clara doesn’t like or is in someway biased against the Doctor because he looks old now. Madam Vastra explains the Doctor’s century long lifespan to Clara despite the fact that Clara lived in. That’s what makes it especially hard to accept that Clara is somehow unimpressed with the Doctor because he’s changed and looks old; fragments of Clara have appeared throughout the Doctor’s timeline, aiding him and saving him when he’s needed it. The Doctor may have been unaware of her interventions but she saw him in every incarnation, older and younger, varying personalities and all. Given the character’s history, that she would be unable or unwilling to accept this incarnation of The Doctor as an extension of the previous eleven is absurd.

Clara herself is quite quick to put down Madam Vastra’s argument, but for all the wrong reasons. She gives examples of older celebrities whose posters she once pinned upon her wall as a little girl, rather than her own personal history with the Doctor. And all that really does is make Vastra become enamoured by Clara. The whole episode was centred about how pretty Clara was, which might been significant if it were worked into the body harvesting plot…but it wasn’t. In one scene, Vastra appears to be painting a portrait of her maid/wife but is actually documenting instances of supposed spontaneous combustion in the area at which point Clara enters and Vastra suggests she remove her clothes as well. It’s not funny and it drags down the plot.

Peter Capaldi makes his first appearance in a full length episode of Doctor Who in the series 8 premiere, Deep Breath.

“I’ve seen this face before”; Witty in-reference or a nod towards a bigger thematic issue?

The humour throughout is rather flat. Strax hits Clara in the face with a newspaper in an odd instance of slapstick humour that would be more at home in an American sitcom than a British science fiction drama. It is difficult to know whether some of the Twelfth Doctor’s incoherent madness in the earlier parts of the episode are meant to be categorized as humour or if it is simply a case of him adjusting to the regeneration because he does appear to mellow out by the end of the episode. And that’s why it’s hard to criticise the writing of his character because, like Clara, I’m still trying to figure out who he is.

I did like that we don’t really know whether the man with half a face jumped or was pushed and it’s obvious that they want the viewer to wonder about this Doctor’s morals and ethics. I could have done without the heavy-handed assertion of the question at the end and the Twelfth Doctor has a long way to go until he rivals Ten’s ability to be absolutely merciless and terrifying but as a theme for this new season, I can dig it.

On the whole, ‘Deep Breath’ was, in a word, boring. It should have been more interesting but instead it was drab. It was a run of the mill episode that deserved to come in the mid-season lull not as opener to this eighth series. That, coupled with the bad writing of Clara, made it an episode which made me angry rather than excited. Maybe the second episode will fix that. If anything in Doctor Who should bring the excitement it should definitely be the Daleks.

Barefoot Grannies lead efforts to promote reproductive health

The following is a statement from Michael Ahabwe Mugerwa, Founder and Executive Director of the ICOD Action Network.

 

BAREFOOT GRANNIES; GRANNIES LEAD EFFORTS TO END FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION AND PROMOTE REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH IN THEIR COMMUNITIES.

BAREFOOT GRANNIES; GRANNIES LEAD EFFORTS TO END FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION AND PROMOTE REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH IN THEIR COMMUNITIES.

In February 2014, our team started a journey to capture extraordinary stories about girls, women and communities whose lives had been broken down after being forced to undergo Female Genital Mutilation. Our journey took us to some of East Africa’s most remote communities where health and social services are totally broken. It’s been a journey that has helped bring unique stories about these communities out to the world. It’s been a journey that has inspired us to work harder to end Female Genital Mutilation and build safer communities for girls and women.

We recently launched another unique model called the Barefoot Grannies to create sustainable change in communities where we work through grassroots activism.  The Barefoot Grannies is a federation of 8 grassroots organizations comprised of 219 grannies in Northeastern Uganda’s Karamoja region working to end Female Genital Mutilation and promote women’s reproductive health and girl-child education. The grannies are leading efforts to change their communities’ perspective about women’s rights and ensure equal rights all women no matter where they live.

Through technical support, resource allocation, mentorship, leadership training, and network building, we are building them into exceptional grassroots leaders capable of moving their communities forward. We have worked with grassroots organizations for the past 5 years and achieved amazing results, we are glad to be working with the Barefoot Grannies to build safer communities for girls and women in Northeastern Uganda

On August 3, 2014, we launched a 30 days campaign on Indiegogo to raise funds to support the grannies work. All donations will directly go toward funding Barefoot Grannies projects. Join us in this wonderful cause; please donate to the Barefoot Grannies today through this linkhttp://www.indiegogo.com/projects/barefoot-grannies-cultivating-change/x/639146. The campaign has only 14 days left.

Written by:

Michael Ahabwe Mugerwa (ahamitch@gmail.com)

About ICOD Action Network

We are a Uganda based nonprofit founded in March 2008. ICOD Action Network’s work extends beyond material support and touches upon the need to empower communities so that they can be able to sustain themselves. We believe that local driven interventions and innovations are the foundation of sustainable community transformation.  Our core values at ICOD Action Network are deeply rooted in sustainability, human rights, justice, inclusiveness and participation, commitment, accountability and transparency. Resources and responsibilities for decision–making are used in ways that are mutually transparent and answerable to all stakeholders.

Network

The so called biggest party of the summer is upon us. The second of the big four PPV’s, bridging the period between Wrestlemania and Survivor Series, is here and with it comes Brock Lesnar. The rumours about John Cena defending the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against Brock Lesnar that I talked about back in July were true. The Beast Incarnate looks to pick up his first WWE Championship title in a decade and the only man standing his way is the Hulk Hogan of our era, John Cena. Lesnar Vs. Cena is but one match on the card, albeit possibly the most intriguing match. Other matches will see Dean Ambrose finally get his hands on Seth Rollins in a lumberjack match, Randy Orton will battle Roman Reigns and Brie Bella attempts to take Stephanie McMahon down a peg or two.

Before that though, let’s discuss the WWE Network. A lot of critics and fans have denounced the WWE Network as a failure simply because it didn’t bring in as many subscribers as Triple H and the McMahon family had hoped. Maybe they did overestimate the immediate appeal but I have no doubt that, over time, the WWE Network will prove to be a success. While the WWE may have given up a sizable amount of money by moving away from the pay-per-view system, the network is a much more contemporary and innovative model for delivering their product. The days of sitting down in front of a television and either pre-paying or purchasing a show from box office are bygone. Streaming and on-demand are now the premiere ways of watching and catching-up with your favourite shows and sports. Almost every television network and channel in the western world now offers some form of on-demand content.

The WWE Network front page.

The United States, Australasia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Mexico, Spain and the Nordics can all watch SummerSlam on the WWE Network.

The WWE Network may seem unproductive at the moment but it places the WWE a step ahead of other sports such as MMA and boxing which haven’t quite moved towards this modern concept of show distribution. And that’s not to say that MMA or boxing are lagging behind. They’re doing what works for them at the moment and at the moment MMA is probably still more popular than wrestling. But I think within the next decade we could definitely see MMA and boxing move in a similar direction and by that time WWE will have profitable and flourishing delivery system for their shows already in place.

It is just this modern culture of immediate gratification that says we should have seen notable results from the network by now. People forget that netflix didn’t become what it is today overnight either. It started by offering a good service and titles people wanted to see. Then it started offering something that people wanted but couldn’t easily find. Breaking Bad was one of the big shows that really promoted Netflix so much so that by the final season of Breaking Bad the episodes were going up on to the British site faster than they were going up on the American page because it was in hot demand. Once Netflix had established that fanbase, then they began creating their own shows such as House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. It was a step by step process and it’ll be the same for the WWE Network.

Given the WWE’s existing fan base it is understandable that they thought they could perhaps skip a few steps but their fans aren’t sheep. They aren’t going to fork over $9.99 on blind faith. WWE has to offer quality. Part of that is getting their own shows in order and producing consistently great episodes of RAW, Smackdown, Main Event and NXT. However, it would also behove the WWE to invest in a show that wrestling fans can’t easily get. Had New Japan Pro Wrestling not recently partnered with Jeff Jarrett’s upcoming Global Force Wrestling promotion I would have suggested that NJPW could have been their Breaking Bad. NJPW shows are available on stream but the WWE Network could offer them better exposure, better advertising and better quality streams all across America. Maybe there’s still an opportunity to do something with Pro Wrestling Noah or Consejo Mundail de Lucha Libre. Either way, working with other promotions in the same way that the WWE worked with ECW in the late 90’s could benefit the WWE Network by attracting unconventional viewers who might then be hooked on to WWE content. Then WWE could begin developing original shows such as Legends House and Tough Enough.

Brock Lesnar appears on WWE RAW with a new t-shirt to promote his WWE World Heavyweight Championship match against John Cena at the 2014 WWE SummerSlam event.

Is conquering John Cena best for business?

Maybe that’s just not possible. Netflix and the WWE Network are different so the same format might not work for both. Regardless of how WWE want to handle the network the one thing that will continue to be paramount is the wrestling. Great wrestling with provocative storylines will continue to engage fans and so far the build up to WWE Summerslam has been hit or miss. The Brock Lesnar Vs. John Cena storyline was at it’s strongest when the competitors weren’t on the show, oddly enough. The aftermath of the pay per view will be more of a reason to watch than the match itself.

Brie Bella vs. Stephanie McMahon has been second most heavily promoted match on the card, with Randy Orton and Roman Reigns hot on their heels. Orton will be Reigns first real test as a singles star, whereas Bella vs. McMahon is mostly just a grudge match. The build up for the latter feud has been a little over the top and cheesy at times but it’s mostly been saved by Stephanie McMahon’s presence, such as her adopting the Yes chant to rub Bella’s face in Bryan’s alleged affair with his therapist. If anyone had been told in 2000 that 14 years later Stephanie McMahon would be as entertaining as Vince McMahon they would have called shenanigans. But it’s true.

Ask fans and they’ll tell you that they’re looking forward to Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose and Chris Jericho vs. Bray Wyatt. Both promise to be classics for the modern era. Heck, even AJ Lee vs. Paige, Rusev vs. Jack Swagger and The Miz Vs. Dolph Ziggler have the potential to be great matches. A full prediction post will go up on my tumblr account later tonight. If you’ve been following along, I’m 22 for 31. Can I maintain my above average track record or will SummerSlam have some surprises in store? The only way to know for sure is to tune into SummerSlam tonight.

Double

Fox’s Gang Related is a show that I’ve had my eye on since September of last year. Terry O’Quinn’s presence drew my interest but the premise itself was intriguing. Ryan Lopez, played by Ramon Rodriguez is an undercover cop but not in the sense that cops are usually undercover. He’s undercover in the police force working for the Acosta family and their family, Los Angelicos. But he’s not just a part of any police department, he’s a member of O’Quinn’s special task force dedicated to taking down the gangs of Los Angeles.

Working simultaneously for and against Los Angelicos is a natural source of conflict and one that the show plays well. O’Quinn’s Samuel Chapel is a no-nonsense captain, hellbent on taking down Cliff Curtis as Javier Acosta, the head of Los Angelicos and the Acosta family. Javier and Chapel are really two sides of the same coin, however, and neither one is really a saint. Chapel’s tactics fall under the Jack Bauer school of thought rather than the by-the-book approach. At one point, there’s even a debate about whether or not he pushed a suspect out a window.

Javier, on the other hand, is a businessman. He makes deals with other gangs, supplies drugs and just generally manages to portray his work as a legit business. It is almost easy to forget that a lot of people are dying on his orders because we never see him get his hands dirty, at least not until later in the season. This is good writing and it is directed well because Ryan’s plight is much more sympathetic. Both men come across as father figures to the orphaned Ryan but Javier is the kindly, considerate parallel to Chapel’s tough, get the job done persona.

Terry O'Quinn stars as Gang Task Force leader Samuel Chapel in Fox's Gang-Related.

It was a sacrifice that the Island demanded.

It also helps that Javier is trying to go clean. He makes a deal with another gang, the Metas, to hand over their fish scale business along with all other aspects of their operations. In return, the Acosta family keep their non-gang affiliated businesses and are freed from the dangerous life they have led thus far. Javier’s  youngest son, Daniel Acosta, played by Jay Hernandez, is also Ryan’s best friend,  went to college and opens his own bank. Daniel represents all that Javier wants for his family and has nothing to do with the gang at all and yet, Chapel still goes after him, intending on using Daniel to get to Javier.

Ryan’s is conflicted and the audience can easily emphasise with him. Rodriguez is a likable actor but the portrayal of the situation around him helps immensely. Had Javier been a typical, blood thirsty criminal it would have been much harder to understand why Ryan stands by him at personal risk. The whole Acosta family appears to be good-hearted and making the best of their bad situation really with the exception of the older son, Carlos Acosta. Rey Gallegos acts in the role of Carlos, who appears to revel in the gang lifestyle, even going so far to kill Ryan’s partner. That is really the instigating moment. Up until that point, Ryan seems happy to live the double life. It is Carlos’ willingness to kill without caring for the consequences that makes Ryan rethink what he’s been doing for the Acosta family.

Complicating matters are the District Attorney’s office who begin investigating the police department for informants, especially Chapel’s daughter Jessica, played by One Tree Hill’s Shantel VanSanten. She begins a relationship with Ryan, who has to keep the affair hidden from both Chapel and the Acosta family; Chapel because if he is willing to push a low-level criminal out of a window what might he do to the guy sticking it to his daughter and the Acosta’s because having an Assistant District Attorney in his bed threatens to expose their entire operation. Ryan knows this but continues pursuing Jessica anyway. Their relationship seems like a reprieve for Ryan from the constant pulling from the opposite sides.

Ramon Rodriguez and Shantel VanSanten feature as the cop with a double life, Ryan Lopez, and ADA Jessica Mary Chapel in Fox's Gang-Related.

Dating the bosses daughter while working for the bad guys might not be the best idea.

None of the plans go as intended predictably and yet the show has enough surprises that it often that it feels fresh. This is not your typical cop show and is a welcome change from the many NCIS and CSI procedural shows that seem to fill the airwaves. It helps that the show airs for a thirteen episode in the summer months between the end of the 2013 schedule and the upcoming 2014 schedule so it avoids being pitted against or compared to many of the other cop procedural shows. Of course it has what viewers want most from a cop show; action. Each episode generally features the team of Rodriguez, RZA, Sung Kang and Inbar Lavi suiting up in their task force gear and making drug busts or saving hostages but the show is much more character driven than action orientated.

Even the supporting characters have their own development over the course of the first season. Lavi’s ICE agent, Veronika Dotsen, gets stuck with a needle during a mission and may be HIV positive. Kang, better known as Hans from The Fast and Furious franchise, plays FBI agent Tae Kim but it is implied that might not even be his real name. But it’s really Ryan’s story and his character development that moves the plot along. Rodriguez might not be the best actor but he is endearing in role which helps in seeing him juggle the demands of Los Angelicos and the GTF.

The dilemma is really the driving force of the show and keeps the story interesting. Do we, the viewer, want to see Ryan succeed if Chapel is worse than the man that he is chasing? Do we want to see him fail if it turns out that Javier is more devious and black-hearted than originally perceived? With only one episode left in the season, these are still questions that hang in the air. Unfortunately, the show has yet to be renewed for a second season so this might just be another show that, despite my best hopes, gets cancelled anyway.

Team

It’s nice to know that despite the success of The Avengers and the shared cinematic universe as a whole that Marvel are still interested in taking risks. In an age where most movie studios are content to rest on their laurels and produce only the slightest variations on previously successful titles, it is refreshing to see Marvel Studios make something different. And Guardians of the Galaxy is certainly different. Not in the way it was made or really how it feels, because it still at its essence feels like a Marvel movie, but different in the sense that this is only loosely tied to the overarching story that the Avengers has presented thus far.

In broad terms, the potential viewers of the Guardians of the Galaxy fall into two categories. Marvel fans, especially those who have read the comics, will readily accept and hotly anticipate the film. Casual fans on the other hand may be a bit weary simply because Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t have the name value that Iron Man or Captain America does. Those characters had Saturday morning cartoons and have been major characters in the comics so even casual viewers of Marvel films will have likely been exposed to them at some point in their lives. The closest a film in the series comes to being a risk is Thor but even that was for different reasons. People mainly questioned whether they could make the magical god-like being believable in a franchise that thus far had focused mostly on science and technology. The question facing the Guardians of the Galaxy is more accurately ‘who are these guys?’

First and foremost, these guys aren’t exactly superheros. They aren’t even really heroes for the most part. At least in The Avengers you could say Thor and Captain America were heroic. Most of the guardians are mercenaries or out for revenge. Gamora is an alien trained as an assassin by Thanos sent to steal a precious orb in Peter Quill’s possession. Quill is also wanted by a group that he betrayed, so Rocket Racoon and Groot are after his bounty. Drax the Destroyer’s family was killed by Ronan the Accuser for whom Gamora is currently working, which puts them at direct odds. These aren’t just reasons for dysfunction, however. The set up not only brings the group together but by the end actually makes them stronger.

 

Chris Pratt,  Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper star as "Space Lord" Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Groot and Rocket Racoon in the Marvel's space opera team-up blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy.

Expect to see plenty cosplays of these characters at next years Comic-Con.

 

At first glance the guardians are discount versions of The Avengers. Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt is mostly human but lacking powers, he instead utilises technology that allows him to breathe in space and fly for short bursts. He also sleeps around, makes snappy remarks and references a lot of pop culture. So he’s basically Tony Stark if you take away the money and most of the brains. But he’s also more likeable. There is a reason that Tony Stark is becoming Superior Iron Man in the comics. Quill, or Starlord as he likes to be called, is a scavenger for hire so while he isn’t the most honourable guy in the galaxy he generally does the right thing.

Comparisons could be made for the rest, such as Drax being an amalgamation of the Hulk and Thor (they even changed his skin colour to avoid similarities to Bruce Banner’s angry counterpart) but Guardians of the Galaxy is a much more complete film. The Avengers lost some of its allure if the audience had failed to keep up with the previous instalments of Iron Man, Thor, Captain American and The Hulk. Guardians of the Galaxy introduces the team, builds up the threat and remains entertaining while doing so proving that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a bonus, not a crutch.

All is not well, however. There has been a trend in some of the phase two films where the tension of the story is undercut by moments of inopportune humour. I criticised Iron Man 3 and Thor 2: The Dark World for being too silly at times and Guardians of the Galaxy falls into that same hole a few times. It’s mostly Quill who brings the comedy when it’s not needed. I can understand the reasoning of why the humour crops up but it ends up dragging the film into the realm of self-parody at times. Not as bad as those awful Disaster Movie type parodies but rather like Scary Movie; a light-hearted mocking of it’s own tropes while still being apart of the same genre.

 

Thanos in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, with voice work and motion capture provided by Josh Brolin.

Fans get their first good look at Avengers villain Thanos.

Those moments are few and for the most part the comedy is actually hilarious. Drax, played by Dave Bautista, is especially funny as an alien whose race has no concept of metaphor. It’s a character trait that could have fallen flat but Bautista makes it work and is a surprisingly good actor. Of all the wrestlers who might make good actors  he would not have been one I would have picked but I’m more than happy to be wrong. Furthermore, Vin Diesel has more character development as a tree than his character Dominic Toretto experienced in six Fast and Furious films.

Guardians of the Galaxy was always going to be a risk because it ostracised casual fans who have no idea who or what these characters are. A far ballsier move by Marvel is that this film bares only only a fleeting relation to the main franchise. Even the post-credit scene does nothing to build towards The Avengers: Age of Ultron.  And yet, the film is so funny and exciting that it easily draws in all viewers.

Despite some minor flaws, it is hard not to like this film because it  hits all the right spots that a summer blockbuster should. The story builds nicely, the characters are all well defined, distinctive and developed throughout and none of the conflict feels shoed-in or awkward. Most importantly it avoids being bogged down by the big picture and focuses on just being enjoyable. For a well structured, serious yet enjoyable superhero film take another look at Captain America: The Winter Soldier; for a fun, boisterous film that takes an easy going approach to the destruction of the universe, Guardians of the Galaxy is a must see.

Female

Who knew that, in this day and age, a woman could cause so much controversy. When Marvel announced that Thor was now going to be a woman Twitter and the internet at large spent the next three days discussing how this was a complete travesty and it was going to ruin the character. As usual, the internet went a little bit overboard in its reaction to a simple gender change. This is not an abomination of the character. At worst it is a publicity stunt; at best it is a genuine attempt at Marvel to move away from male centric and dominated characters and stories in order to provide a more well rounded and appealing landscape for their comic books.

The latter seems more likely than the former. Marvel editor Wil Moss stated “The new Thor continues Marvel’s proud tradition of strong female characters like Captain Marvel, Storm, Black Widow and more. And this new Thor isn’t a temporary female substitute – she’s now the one and only Thor, and she is worthy!” There is a sense that this is being done with female readers in mind and that is no bad thing. Comic books have long been seen as the domain of men, with women being busty and slim in order to appeal to male sensibilities. It is reasonable then to accept that including more well-rounded and interesting female characters will draw female readers and provide worthwhile role models.

Marvel Comic's Thor takes on a controversial female form in the upcoming Comic Book series Avengers NOW!

Thunder and lightning have never looked so cool.

A lot of comic book fans are peeved to say the least. They feel that by changing Thor in order to appeal to a specific demographic that Marvel is derailing the character. I might agree if there weren’t an element of mystery to the new character’s identity and origins. It’s not like Thor just woke up one day with breasts, although that in of itself might make an intriguing one-shot. No, this is a completely separate character. One that just happens to have picked up the hammer and taken up the mantle of being the god of thunder while the original is on leave. This is not just about an aesthetic change; it is about telling a story.

Still, that potential for storytelling isn’t enough for some people who decry the fact that Marvel are ruining Norse mythology by turning Thor into a woman. Last time that I checked though, there was nothing in Norse mythology about the god of thunder teaming up with a patriotic super solider with a shield and a businessman with robotic armour in order to fight crime and galactic evil. While they are certainly messing with the source material, Thor has long deviated from that origin. And honestly, if Marvel has mutants who can nigh rewrite existence and a radiation afflicted scientist who becomes a large, green brute when angry, why can’t the the god of thunder be a woman? It boggles the mind that to some people the former two are accepted with gusto and the latter is to be ridiculed.

Many supporters have also noted that this is not the strangest character to ever hold the mantle of Thor. I put up a picture on Twitter referencing the brief time that Wonder Woman held Mjolnir during the 90’s crossover series DC Vs. Marvel Comics. One of the most referenced changes, however, was the time that Thor was transformed into a frog by Loki. And if we can be accepting of Thor as a frog, why can’t we at least give a female version the benefit of the doubt? Even if it appears like a cheap trick to lure in female readers, accept it for the story-telling potential because, man or woman, aren’t entertaining and interesting stories the reason that we read comic books?

Marvel unveil concept art for The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron at the 2014 San Diego Comic Con.

Could we see any of these comic book changes translate to the big screen?

Hot off the heels of the announcement that a woman is taking over the role of Thor, fans also got the announcements that Sam Wilson, AKA Falcon, would be taking over the role of Captain America from Steve Rogers and that, similar to the recent Superior Spider-Man storyline, a tough to root for Tony Stark as Superior Ironman would be joining the Avengers. Both of these storylines stirred up additional controversy, although possibly least of all was Superior Ironman. Tony Stark has always been a deeply flawed character despite being a genius at both business and science and was even an enemy of some of the Avengers in the Civil War storyline. That he could go to some dark places isn’t surprising but it could make for a fairly interesting story.

No it was the black guy becoming Captain America that got people riled up, though it is probably the same people who were up in arms about Thor being a woman now. Of course we know the storyline reason for this one, at least in part. Steve Rogers’ super soldier serum is failing him and so his genetics have aged rapidly and his buddy Sam Wilson takes over the role. This isn’t the first time the Captain America costume has been worn by someone else; Bucky Barnes played the role when Rogers was thought to be dead. To me, this suggests Marvel aren’t just looking for cheap ways to lure in readers. Instead, they honestly want to diversify their characters in a very real and potent way. And, as I said on twitter, I wouldn’t mind if this carried over to the movies.

That is what I think is really annoying most fans. Rather than seeing the storytelling potential of these changes what they see is a publicity stunt to herald the coming of The Avengers: Age of Ultron. That’s what is putting the bad taste in their mouth. And I agree. I just don’t see why we can’t have our cake and eat it. Sometimes life imitates art but most of the time art imitates life. If there is going to be a big event that might get a few people to think “wow, that’s pretty cool, I wonder what the comic books are like” then why shouldn’t Marvel create diverse, interesting characters and stories that will keep readers coming back long after they’ve picked up that first issue? The film franchise has been challenge to the comic books to up their game. I’d say Marvel Comics have met the challenge and more.

Formed

A rare Friday blog post this week. That is because this week I am participating in the #IndieBooksBeSeen challenge to post a review for an author that doesn’t have many reviews. So this week I’ve chosen to review ‘Forms of Love’ by Luca Rossi. This is a science fiction short story which can be found in Rossi’s short story collection, Galactic Energies. If that kind of thing interests you then head on over to Amazon and pick up a copy. While you’re there, you might also want to take a gander at his full length novel, The Branches of Time.

If you do follow that link to the Galactic Energies then you might be thinking, ‘hey, this already has a lot of reviews’ and that is true. The collection does have about seventy reviews but as far as I am aware there are no reviews for the individual stories, at least not for the English versions. Honestly, individual reviews for short stories can be a lot more telling than a review of an collection which can often end up as ‘I liked this one for x reason. I disliked this story for y reason.’ So, in the interest of being as helpful and thorough as possible, I’m just going to be reviewing this one short story.

Promotional poster for Luca Rossi's short story collection, Galactic Energies.

‘Forms of Love’ is just one of nine stories available in Galactic Energies.

‘Forms of Love’ is the story of the law enforcer chasing a criminal through space. The Captain of the ship has been chasing the rogue thief through space for years, aided by his second in command. But their target is no normal criminal; she is a shape-shifter and has used this ability to elude the police. However, by blocking off her means of refueling and replenishing supplies, they manage to capture her. This is where the short story begins. As a premise, it is sound. Short stories often need to established a lot in a small amount of words and this works. We know who to root for and who to keep an eye on.

What first struck me about ‘Forms of Love’ was the crisp, clean writing. Flourishes of prose is prevalent in science fiction and fantasy writing but Luca Rossi thankfully avoids being overly descriptive or making use of laboured metaphors to put his point across. Reading ‘Forms of Love’ comes very easy as the simple, unencumbered writing conveys information without complication. The dialogue too is tight and clear, lacking any attempt at vocal tics or regional dialect. Some readers might find that unrealistic but I prefer it this way. The use of these, while understandable, can usually end up being distracting and draw the reader away from the story. By not indulging in characterisation of the speech, Rossi keeps the focus squarely on the story and what is being said, rather than how it is being said.

The writing can come across as rather detached at times however. The main character, Captain Ian Bascos, relates events of his own life as if he were reading from a newspaper. There is little sense of fondness for his life and yet his life before he began tracking the mutant Ipsia was a successful one. This lack of emotion is most notable when Ian reminisces about his ex-girlfriend, Alessandra, who Ipsia takes the shape of once she had been captured. He describes her as being his only love but doesn’t give any information as what he loved about her or vice versa. It’s just “we loved each other, my career took off, she left me”. It is especially confusing because he later states that he wanted to be a police officer because his father was one, so Alessandra must have known of the career he was working towards. Unless he did hide it from her, in which case, was it really love?

An alternative, Italian cover for Luca Rossi's short story, The Forms of Love.

Luca Rossi was nominated one of the top ten Italian indie writers by WIRED.

Part of the problem is that much of the information is conveyed in passing. The old ‘show, don’t tell’ maxim is not an absolute; sometimes, especially in short stories, it is pertinent to tell the reader trivial information. Showing too much in one scene can come across as bloated and unfocused, regardless of the type of story. I understand why Rossi tells us information rather than show it, but in some aspects, it leaves the writing and the plot disjointed. For instance, Captain Bascos notices that his relationship with Eianus is becoming stilted and they aren’t communicating. This is a fine assessment but it lacks any real impact. Any conversation the reader sees between the two prior to Ipsia’s capture is mostly formal. The closest the two characters come to anything like friendship or companionship are Eianus’ last words to Bascos, urging him to the complete the mission. Just a couple more conversations between those two characters could have made the change of Ipsia’s presence all the more palatable to the reader.

At the end of the day though, I expect most people are reading this story for the relationship between Bascos and Ipsia. I’m sure that’s not a spoiler as Ipsia taking Alessandra’s form is an omen of where the story is going. Even there though, the story feels restrained and it doesn’t read as well as one might hope. The aforementioned lack of information about Bascos’ relationship with the real Ipsia, leaves the budding romance between the captain and Ipsia as completely carnal. Even then it’s described with statements such as ‘we live in our dream of love’ which actually tells me nothing about what the characters are doing.

Don’t get me wrong, I did like ‘Forms of Love’. I just feel that Rossi could maybe done a little more with it because the story had a lot of potential. I was expecting a twist of some kind, possibly involving the Federation of Worlds, but it just kind of ended. Maybe I’ve read too many mystery and thriller novels. At any rate, if you like cleanly written and tightly focused sci-fi romance stories, give ‘Forms of Love’ a chance and you might just find yourself enjoying it.