Monday, January 30, 2017

The Women's March on the World

I attended my first political rally on January 21st, 2017. It was the Women's March on Arkansas, a sister march to the Women's March on Washington in response to the incoming presidential team and their horrid ideas for policies on women's health, social justice, economic justice, and many, many, many other platforms.

I had some difficulty with my sign. I saw a lot of great signs online, but I didn't want to rip off someone else's clever sign with no way to credit them. I decided on a quote, but who to quote?

At first, I thought Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr--one of those quotes that white people conveniently ignore. A lot of Dr. King quotes, though, use the word "negro," and a white man carrying a sign with that word would probably send the wrong message. My wife suggested I quote a woman since it was, y'know, the Women's March, and I'm embarrassed that she even had to suggest the idea.

Here's my finished sign:


I watched many, many livestreams of the protests in Ferguson, so I wasn't really sure what kind of environment to expect. Even when the Ferguson protests were peaceful, the cops were many and on guard, usually clad in riot gear, driving military vehicles, some with snipers stationed on top. I remember the tear gas grenades, the running, the screaming. The whip-crack of rubber bullets whizzing past whichever brave person was livestreaming the horror.

We decided to come up with a game plan just in case. What if the police were antagonistic and hateful? There are so many police that take the phrase "Black Lives Matter" to be anti-police, which is patently absure, but what would we do if they deployed tear gas or pepper spray? Tear gas would likely be deadly in my case--I've had asthma since I was born. What if the crowd stampeded to disperse from the police, what would my wife do? She frequently has to use a cane to walk due to nerve damage on her left side.

We decided to be as prepared as we could. We bought 2 bottles of milk from a grocery store and kept them in a cooler which I kept in my backpack. We also packed beef jerky, nuts, bottles of water and other snacks just in case, along with my inhaler. We brought along a scarf in case we needed to cover our faces from the tear gas.

My wife and I live in the northwest corner of our state, and Little Rock is nested right in the center of the state, so it was a good 3-4 hour drive to get down there. We left around 6:45 AM to make sure we got there before 11:00 AM so we could find a place to park.

When I actually arrived at the march, I was struck by the size. I have never been to a group as large as that one before, even counting concerts and graduations. There was something immediately reassuring to see so many people that gathered together to protest in a deeply red state where I have felt virtually alone for a long time.

The second thing that struck me was how white the crowd was.


It was after seeing the racial makeup of the crowd--all those white ladies and so many white little girls--that I knew we'd be okay. Plus, the local organizer was a white woman as well.

There were tons of people that--I would later read that the estimated attendance was around 7,000 people. That was the largest demonstration in Arkansas history if I recall correctly. At first the crowd was daunting, but soon the energy, the anger, the passion, and love of this country got me amped and ready to march.



Unlike other sister marches that were apparently long treks through the city, this one was set up to be very short--just 3 or 4 blocks, I believe--to the steps of the state capitol. From there, we would listen to a series of speeches and then go to an expo of various local activist groups so that we could try to stay engaged.

The speakers were almost better than the actual march. As inspiring and amazing as being among so many fed up and awakened people was, the speakers were the real highlight. I have a pretty bad impression of my state. I feel those feelings are deserved given our state's history and our perpetual failure to live up to the ideal of America. So I didn't expect but was pleasantly surprised that this march, organized by a white woman, wasn't even hosted by that white woman. She did speak, eventually, but the event was hosted by a black woman activist, and featured gay, black, Latinx immigrants, and Muslim voices for the majority of the time. I was so glad that the people given a platform were worthwhile, with real messages that everyone needed to hear.


Unfortunately, personal circumstances meant that we had to leave slightly early--I think we only missed the last speaker--and after we got some food, we made our way back to the expo where we checked out some local activist causes and learned about what could be done

This was my first big political thing, but it definitely won't be my last. Even though marching and protesting is one of our constitutionally protected rights and a duty as politically engaged citizens, it felt so good to stand among the many saying that what was happening was not okay. My favorite chant of the day was, "Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like!"

While among those, people, though, something kept fluttering at the back of my mind, buzzing just at the edge like a fly. As you can see from my photos, I was in a sea of white faces. There were other folks there that marched with us, which you can also see in my photos, but the crowd was overwhelmingly white and female. And the same was true at the expo. I saw, mostly from afar, a handful of cops throughout the day. They were polite, friendly, and kept their distance, mostly leaned against their cars which were blocking off side streets to clear a path for our march. It wasn't until we were leaving the expo that the idea took full shape.


As we were leaving the expo, we pulled down a side street to try to figure out how in the hell we were going to get back to the interstate. I haven't been to Little Rock since probably 2010 or 2011. It's been a long ass time. And even then, I've only been to Little Rock a handful of times. City travel makes me nervous--lots of traffic, surprise "right turn only" lanes, dummies with a deathwish, and general unfamiliarity with the terrain. So we paused a stop sign while my wife pulled up the GPS on my phone.

At the corner of where we were stopped, the city had cut into the hill to make space for the road and the sidewalk and built an off-white, grayish brick wall that staggered upward and downward matching the rise and fall of the hill's slope. A young black man was resting against the to of the wall, which was about waist high or so, reading his phone. If I had to guess, I'd say he was somewhere between 16-18. He was slight in build, average height. He wore a light gray hoodie or a sweatshirt. I didn't really even pay any mind to him at first--he was background just like the old couple walking on the other side of the street. What drew my attention was when not one, but two police SUVs pulled up in front of him and set off their lights.

This kid wasn't doing anything suspicious. He was leaning on a street corner reading his phone. Maybe he was waiting for a ride. Maybe he was resting. Maybe he'd stopped and was checking out a YouTube video someone linked to him on Facebook, or responding to a text from his mom. Who knows? But as far as I know, standing on a sidewalk isn't against the law. And yet, two different police vehicles felt the need to stop and flash their lights and interrogate him. For what?

The discussion was slightly animated. The kid talked with his hands a lot. He was clearly annoyed about being bothered for Standing While Black, but thankfully, the cops eventually went on and left him alone.



I saw two different kinds of police that day. The police at the march kept a respectful distance. They smiled, laughed, and joked with the protesters. They were relaxed. Hell, we even had someone with a giant stack of purple fliers with "Black Lives Matter" printed on them. No one seemed hostile or put off.

The other cops were more predatory, watchful. They weren't the cops I saw at the march around all those white ladies. They were the cops I didn't even notice at first in the largely black, slightly run down neighborhood the expo was held in later. It was only after seeing the young man questioned that I suddenly became aware of how many cops there were in the area--a cop watching the building the expo was held in, a cop that someone pulled over in an old beauty salon parking lot, and at least two or three cop cars that pulled up to stop lights while we were looking for a place to park.

At the time, none of this really registered with me. I'm white, and while cops make me nervous for various reasons, my discomfort is probably the same that most white people feel around them. It's the same discomfort teenagers feel when a teacher walks past them in the hallway. It's a deference to authority. But I've never been afraid of being shot, of being targeted for my skin color, of being questioned because I was standing and reading my phone. Police can just be another thing in the background for me.

It was a sobering reminder that I and most of the people that I marched with have wildly different experiences than black folks and many other communities of color. And when people began to inevitably praise the Women's March movement as "protesting done right" because of the low arrest records and lack of police pushback, I couldn't help thinking about the sea of white faces I saw and of that young man's face when those two vehicles pulled up.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Thanks, Obama

Pete Prodoehl from Flicker    Some rights reserved
I want to write today about our 44th President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama.

There was a phrase that became popular in the early part of Obama's presidency--"Thanks, Obama." It was originally used by conservatives and Republicans, people that disagreed with some policy that Obama was trying to enact--probably the stimulus package, which everyone said was wasting money and would never work to kick start the economy, that the better idea was to cut taxes on rich people further so that they could keep making jobs.

It seemed to liberals that conservatives blamed Obama for every problem the country faced from the word go--conveniently ignoring that he inherited the state of the country from a previous president. There are some people that were critical that Obama wasn't aggressive enough on 9/11--when he wasn't president, or blamed him personally for the Iraq war--again...when he wasn't president. And eventually, the "Thanks, Obama" meme was born--mocking conservatives that seemed to blame everything bad that happened on Obama.

There are plenty of critiques that one could lay against Obama. He had a tendency to lean on respectability politics--"pull up your pants," "the real struggle of black communities is the absent father," and other tired gems. He never closed Guantanamo Bay--which is one of many tainted spots on America's reputation as a land of free people. He was far too naive in thinking that Republicans that had the run of the place before would suddenly play ball not just with a Democrat, but a black man. He downplays the amount race factored into opposition to him, he was too moderate in some of his policies, and often too eager to play false equivalence when he talked about how race affects citizens.

But for all of that, Obama is likely to be the best president in my lifetime, and very likely one of the best presidents in our history. He had his problems, as every president does, but he was dignified, he was highly educated and knowledgeable, he was charming, he was cautious, he was everything a president should be. One of the biggest shames of Obama's presidency is we didn't get to see what he could have done if the Republicans hadn't made it their mission statement to stop him at every opportunity.

Consider how much opposition he faced when trying to pass the Affordable Care Act, which was just a slightly reconfigured RomenyCare--a Republican program. And yet, the Republicans made up all kinds of lies about death panels and government take overs and all manner of nonsense. Republicans weren't willing to give him anything--not a single victory. They were so threatened by him that admitted that their goal was to make him a one term president. They radically disrespected him, shouting "You lie" during State of the Union addresses. They openly told the American people that their goal was to keep Obama from accomplishing anything--including going so far as the shut down the government.

And yet, in spite of all of that, Obama saved the American economy with the stimulus package and programs like "Cash for Clunkers," he managed to take unemployment back from the brink, he helped legalize gay marriage, and pushed through one of the most revolutionary healthcare reforms in US history.

His very existence is an amazing statement of America--the first African American president of the United States. And while there's a conversation to be had about the "twice as good to go half has far" aspect of Obama's presidency, it's still an amazing and beautiful moment where America seemed to rise up and become better than its legacy, if only for a moment. And no matter what follows, no matter what gets undone, it happened, and we were here to witness it. And for that, I'm grateful.

Thank you, Obama. For helping us hope. For helping us believe we could be better. For pushing us to be better.

Thanks, Obama.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

My Comics Project Final 2016 Update


As part of my on-going comics project, I update monthly with what comics I bought and anything weird or interesting I stumbled across. Each post will have a running list, and I'll update with the new titles where they fall chronologically.

I came up with the order of the books from this comment of all the Batman trades in chronological order (up to Flashpoint), this trade reading order list for Superman, and this one for Batman. I judged the rest for myself based on release dates and what the story depicted.

I want this list functional and readable, so I didn't focus on perfect chronological order. I tried to keep decent chunks of individual runs together where possible, then backtrack chronologically if necessary for a chunk of a different title--except in cases where something important was introduced, like a character dying, coming back to life, etc.

Below you'll see the list of canon DC titles that I own at this point. The ones in bold are the ones that I got this month.
  1. Crisis On Infinite Earths
  2. Batman: Dark Victory
  3. Justice League International, Vol. 1
  4. Justice League International, Vol. 2
  5. Justice League International, Vol. 3
  6. The Death of Superman
  7. Impulse: Reckless Youth
  8. JLA: A League of One
  9. Young Justice: A League of Their Own
  10. JLA Titans: Technis Imperative
  11. Birds of Prey, Vol. 1: Of Like Minds
  12. JLA: The Hypothetical Woman
  13. Superman/Batman Vol. 1: Public Enemies
  14. Superman/Batman Vol. 2: Supergirl
  15. Teen Titans Vol. 1: A Kid's Game
  16. Teen Titans Vol. 2: Family Lost
  17. Teen Titans Vol. 3: Beast Boys and Girls
  18. Teen Titans Vol. 4: The Future is Now
  19. Teen Titans/Outside​rs: The Insiders
  20. Teen Titans: The Death and Return of Donna Troy
  21. The OMAC Project (Countdown to Infinite Crisis)
  22. Infinite Crisis
  23. Batman: Face the Face by James Robinson
  24. Superman: Up, Up, and Away!
  25. Superman: Back in Action
  26. Superman: Last Son of Krypton 
  27. Superman: Camelot Falls, Vol. 1
  28. Superman: Camelot Falls (Vol. 2)
  29. Blue Beetle (Book 1): Shellshocked
  30. Blue Beetle (Book 2): Road Trip
  31. Blue Beetle (Book 3): Reach for the Stars
  32. Blue Beetle, Book 4: Endgame
  33. Superman: The Third Kryptonian
  34. Superman: Redemption
  35. Superman: Escape from Bizarro World
  36. Superman: Shadows Linger
  37. Time Masters: Vanishing Point
  38. Superman: Action Comics, Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel 
  39. Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin (The New 52)
  40. Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls 
  41. Batman Vol. 2: The City of Owls 
  42. Batgirl Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection (The New 52)
  43. Batgirl Vol. 2: Knightfall Descends 
  44. Batwing Vol. 1: The Lost Kingdom
  45. Justice League Vol. 2: The Villain's Journey
  46. Justice League International Vol. 1: The Signal Masters
  47. Aquaman Vol. 1: The Trench (The New 52)
  48. Aquaman Vol. 2: The Others (The New 52)
  49. Aquaman Vol. 3: Throne of Atlantis (The New 52)
  50. Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family 
  51. Batgirl Vol. 3: Death of the Family 
  52. The Movement Vol. 1: Class Warfare (The New 52)
  53. Secret Six Vol. 1: Friends in Low Places
  54. Bizarro
  55. Cyborg Vol. 1: Unplugged
I intended to post more updates in November and December, but, well...you know.

Anyway, this is essentially my update from October's purchases as I didn't buy any other canon DC comics for the rest of the year. I bought a few Marvel titles, and a few indie titles--Ms. Marvel vol 6, Bitch Planet vol 1, and wytches vol 1--I bought some extraneous DC comics--DC Bombshells vol 1--and I got one comic for Christmas--Army of Darkness Omnibus vol 1--but I didn't really have the money or the time to really work on the project much.

I managed to find Blue Beetle vol 4 marked way down from what it was, and I jumped at the chance to get it. Same for Blue Beetle vol 1. One day I checked Amazon and BOOM, it was just cheap. And thankfully, in great condition.

Justice League International Vol. 1: The Signal Masters isn't really the proper Justice League International. It's from the New 52, in which Ted Kord (until Rebirth, anyway) never existed and Jaime has always been the Blue Beetle. That said, I've heard good things, so I picked it up on a lark to fill out a sale my LCS was having.

JLA: A League of One was an impulse purchase because I'd found it online and it looked to be a decent Wonder Woman story. I haven't read it yet, so I can't confirm that, but I'll keep you posted it if is. The absolute dearth of good Wonder Woman stuff compared to the rest of the heroes is frustrating. I'm glad to see them re-releasing Greg Rucka's and George Perez's runs on Wonder Woman, but where's Gail Simone? Or Phil Jimenez? People are practically expecting you to trade one of your limbs for those trades.

I hope, as the weeks and months unfold, to keep at this little project. I actually just the other day got several comics from a Barnes and Noble sale--although half of them were Marvel.

Keep your eyes peeled here for further developments. I hope to post more about comics, books, and generally happy things in 2017 to counter all of the politics I'll likely be posting because...well...I mean...

Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Favorites from 2016--Books, Comics, and Music

 Photo by kerl. on Flickr  Some rights reserved
As per tradition(ish), it's that time for a post where I talk about my favorite things from the previous year. So here's a few lists of my favorite movies, comics, books, and music that I consumed in 2016.

A reminder that these are things I consumed, not things that necessarily came out in 2016.

The movies list went longer than I thought, so it got it's own post. Here's the comics, books, and music list.

Books

I didn't read a lot of books in 2016, something I'm a little ashamed of. But Let me give you my top 5 that I read, anyway--in no particular order.


1. Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig was a great book. I've never been much an "extended universe"  kind of guy, but I love Chuck Wendig's books, and I love Star Wars, so it was an easy choice. I highly, highly recommend the audiobook from Audible as it was almost more like an audio play--Star Wars theme, laser fire sound effects, dramatic music. The narrator made distinct voices for every character--so highly recommend. The book itself is also great, and I'm stoked to start on Book 2.

2. The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle was something I picked up when I was looking for a spooky read. I don't know that I'd call it spooky. It was beautifully written, a heartbreaking look at the abysmal state of mental health care. It was very One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest with a supernatural bent. This was my first Victor LaValle book, but I will definitely be picking up more.

3. The Guild Conspiracy is FULL DISCLOSURE by my good friend Brooke Johnson. It's also a great book about a kick-ass girl using her position and knowledge to try to stop a conspiracy and prevent a war. It's a little less kissing than the first book, but I'm expecting there will be quite a fair amount in the follow up--you know as everything spins even more and more out of control. Fun, tense, and steampunky.

4. Ratf**ked: the True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy by David Daley is nightmarish and dismaying look at how Republicans have lied, cheated, and stolen their way using technology, subterfuge, and careful planning to steal local and state governments away, bit my bit. Using census data and advanced mapmaking, Republicans figured out which districts needed to be cracked, weakening Democrat footholds and strengthening Republican numbers, and which districts needed to be shoved together to ensure that all democrats were kept in one area. Disctricts were drawn in serpentine and ridiculous ways. They hired young Republican college students to pose as regular citizens and submit maps they "drew" that were passed to them by professional map makers. The book only pays passing lip service to how race factors into this, but the tactics on display are horrifying, but absolutley not surprising, especially in light of the 2016 election.

5. Buffering by Hannah Hart is not what I expected. Hannah Hart is known for being a very funny YouTube personality, especially for her series My Drunk Kitchen--which is gut-bustingly funny and you should check it out. This book is funny at times in a wry sort of way. But more often than not, it's poignant. She tackles coming to terms with the fact that she's gay and sorting through her feelings after being raised by an extremely religious man. It deals with her own struggles with mental health--anxiety, depression, ADHD--and being raised by a mentally ill mother with only 1 foot in reality more often than not. Powerful, moving, beautiful, and absolutely worth a read.



Comics

1. Deadpool Book 1 by Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn is very funny. Deadpool is a character that has to walk a fine line. Humor is dangerous in how it can help and hurt. This book does a good job of being very funny while avoiding being hateful. As opposed to the Deadpool videogame which was a misogynist pile of trash from what I've seen in playthroughs.

2. Ms. Marvel being on this list is a bit of a cheat. I don't care the talk about specific books about Ms. Marvel. Each book is fantastic. Even when crossover events peak into the books, this book manages to keep its stories relatively untouched and enjoyable. G. Willow Wilson has a firm grasp of this character, and each time we get another outing with Kamala, it's a blessing.

3. Superman: Up, Up, and Away is a bit of a throwback. I went about buying up all of Kurt Busiek's run on Superman and Action Comics post Infinite Crisis. This book is the first after that event--Superman has lost his power in the event and has been living a full year as Clark Kent. Most of this book is Clark being Clark--which I would argue is the true Superman. He puts himself in danger, his life on the line, to help people because with our without powers, Clark is still Superman.

4. The Omac Project is one of the many lead up books to Infinite Crisis. But if you like Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, and if you like the Keith Giffen and his era of the Justice League, you will like The Omac Project. Admittedly, the book starts strongest with the great Countdown to Infinite Crisis, but there are some great follow ups with Batman and the rest of the former Justice League that are worth a read, too. Plus - crazed robots taking over the world and heroes acting like heroes.

5. Justice League International Vol 1. by Keith Giffen et al is, as it is known, bwahahaha funny. While at times the humor can get just a little too silly for me and start to grate, the camaraderie of the group (and the oh-so-80sness of it all) makes it a fun read. Plus, Batman is funny for maybe the last time ever thanks to the likes of Zack Snyder and Frank Miller.

6. Superman: Redemption is another book from the post-Infinite Crisis Kurt Busiek run on Superman/Action Comics. This trade is one that's very personal for me in that it focuses on 3 biblically tinged stories. The last one is probably the weakest and goes a little up its own ass, but the stories of Superman dealing with his impact on the community and people's lives--some think he's a literal angel--is moving, sweet, and exactly my favorite type of Superman story.

7. Impulse: Reckless Youth by Mark Waid is, as I mentioned before, one of the first times I've felt myself really identify with a character. I know he's a speedster, but his need to constantly push faster and faster and keep himself stimulated is similar to how I feel, and I love his intelligence and cool confidence. Plus, grumpy grandpa Jay Garrick is fun.

8. Superman: Last Son of Krypton is another Superman book--did I mention I read a lot of Superman? My favorite type of Superman--other than "always does the right thing and saves people" is "SuperDad." Superman is most interesting to me when he's trying to impart his wisdom to someone else. SuperMentor is nice, but SuperDad summons ninjas to chop onions nearby. This is done very well, and feels like a spiritual successor to Superman I and Superman II from the 70s. They're doing SuperDad again in DC Rebirth and I am HERE FOR IT. But this can hold you over until those come out.

9. Superman: Escape from Bizarro World is the last Superman on this liste, I promise. But listen, this book is great because 1) Geoff Johns writes a hilarious and fun take on Bizarro, and 2) the back up stories--a sampling "best of" Bizarro from other eras in DC Comics--is also worth the price of the book. Seriously, this book is worth it for the appearance by the Bizarro Justice League.

10. Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash is not a book I can recommend easily. It's a fantastic book, don't get me wrong. Do you love Ash? You will love this book. Did you like Freddy vs. Jason and/or are you  fan of Nightmare on Elm Street? You will love this book. It has very Elm-Street twisted visuals, very Friday the 13th gore, and very Ash Williams snark. So funny. Also ungodly expensive, but if you can find the issues or the trade, it's absolutely worth a read.

Music

1. Coloring Book - Chance the Rapper

This is my 2nd favorite album I listened to in 2016. "Blessings" is my favorite song on the album, absolutely beautiful and heartfelt, with clever wordplay and references. "Same Drugs" is an interesting diddy that chooses to use drugs a metaphor for people growing apart--a risk that might not have landed for me, but folding in a Peter Pan extended metaphor means I find myself tearing up frequently throughout the song. SUCH a good album. If you like hip hop, pick this up.

2. Hamilton - Lin Manuel-Miranda and the Broadway Cast

I've listened to this more than anything else this year. It gives me courage when I need it--both when I need the motivation to pursue my own creative endeavors, and when I need to feel powerful and inspired to stand up against the tyranny I'm witnessing bloom in my own country. This musical means so much that I got one of it's lyrics tattooed on my wrist--"Rise Up." And that's what I plan to do in many ways in 2017--politically, personally, creatively. Let's all rise up.

3. The Hamilton Mixtape - Various

If you love Hamilton, there are some great bonus features included here--cut songs like Cabinet Battle 3 that tackles slavery, Angelica's tragically cut song following the Reynold's Pamphlet, and Hamilton's response to John Adams. It also features glorious re-imaginings of songs, or beautiful covers. Chance the Rapper's "Dear Theodosia" is raw and beautiful, Jill Scott's "Say Yes to This" is sexy as hell, "My Shot" gets me pumped every time I hear it, and "Immigrants, We Get the Job Done" makes me want to learn Spanish in a bad way.

4. Lemonade - Beyonce

Have you not listened to this already? C'mon. It's Beyonce. And more than that, it's Beyonce tackling every major music genre--country, alt-indie-rock, hip hop. It's a powerful album, a gorgeous album. It's Beyonce at the most raw, emotional, and human I've ever heard her--the humor, the sarcasm, the bitterness, the hurt, the love, and the joy on display will leave you speechless.

5. Death of a Bachelor - Panic! At the Disco

Panic! At the Disco is a goofy band. They mash up modern pop sensibilities and classic genres--frequently swing or big band music--and it always comes out a rip-roaring, fun time. "Death of a Bachelor" has a very Sinatra-esque croon, "Don't Threaten Me with a Good Time" is like the Hangover distilled into a song, and "Emperor's New Clothes" is exactly my type of weird, dark fun. Brendon Urie is very glam rock and having a blast wailing like a loon, and I love it.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Favorites from 2016--Movies

Nic McPhee on Flickr  Some rights reserved
As per tradition(ish), it's that time for a post where I talk about my favorite things from the previous year. So here's a few lists of my favorite movies, comics, books, and music that I consumed in 2016.

Movies

First a few honorable mentions:

1. Jane Got a Gun was a good western starring Natalie Portman that felt very classic and very modern. I liked it very much, and it's a big improvement in many ways over Joel Edgerton's last movie (less rapey and gross).

2. Primer was not a recent release, but it was a twisty, weird little sci-fi thriller about time travel that was far, far smarter than me and left me with lots to think about. Low budget, but worth your time.

3. Haunter can best be described as "horror Groundhog Day played straight." It was very, very good, and very, very fun. Abigail Breslin is become an indie horror treasure.

4. Hush is a tense little horror movie about a deaf woman attacked by a violent psychopath in a creepy mask. It was the best of the slasher movies from the 80s and 90s, but without the worst, and with some fantastic acting, scripting, pacing, and sound editing. Seriously, look this one up.

5. Star Trek Beyond felt like an episode of the classic series, but scaled up to big budget. There were some squicky racial issues that got pointed out on Twitter, but ultimately I really enjoyed it and it's the first time we've had a legitimately good Star Trek movie--especially one that felt like Star Trek. Hope they make a few more before everyone calls it quits.

And now for some dishonorable mentions:

1. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was, with all due respect to those that liked it, trash. The worst big budget movie I saw all year, hands down. Abysmal plotting. Atrocious acting. Awful editing. And virtually colorless. The "Ultimate Edition" helped answer a few confusing bits from the original but also made an already bloated movie longer and helped none of the pacing nor scripting issues. Awful awful awful.

2. Don't Breathe being on my dishonorable mentions list will probably surprise you, but not half as much as the rapey bullshit this movie trots out surprised me or my wife. This movie is directed by the same dude that did the Evil Dead remake, and it was basically hitting a 100% for me until the aforementioned rapey bullshit. This is one of those tropes that instantly kicks me out of the movie, and it's incredibly hard for a movie to recover after that. Some can. This one, for me, didn't. It literally ruined the entirety of the rest of the movie, which is a shame because this director knows how to mash every primal fear button you have--which is why I liked the Evil Dead remake so much. 

If you liked it, great. Lotta people do, and I'm obviously in the minority on this one, but this is a trope that needs to be retired, burned, the ashes locked in a safe, and the safe launched into space. Men should have to go before a council of sexual assault survivors and make the case for why they should be allowed to include sexual assault in their art just so the women can laugh at them and slap them in the fucking face before telling them no, go home and be a family man.

3. The Hateful Eight was beautifully shot and featured Tarantino's quintessential absorbing dialog along with great acting from Kurt Russell, Sam Jackson, and Walton Goggins. The reason it's on this list is because it should have been more, but the film pulls a fast one main character-wise and leaves itself on unsure footing and stumbling for it remainder. The ending feels like a rehash of another Tarantino movie that was done better the first time around, which is a shame. The bones were good, but it just doesn't quite work like it should. It feels a bit like resting on laurels, and maybe Tarantino has earned that at this point. But this film still left me essentially going, "Eh? It was okay?"

And now for the proper list, in no particular order:

1. Elvis and Nixon is a bizarre little movie that told the story behind the photograph of when Nixon met with Elvis. It was funny, offbeat, odd, charming, and featured an equally captivating and baffling performance by Michael Shannon in which he doesn't even attempt at an Elvis impersonation, but brings such pathos to a man so far removed from what most people would consider reality that you can't help feel bad for him even while you're dumbfounded at how he blunders through standard protocols because he doesn't seem to think they apply to him--and they kinda don't since...well...he's Elvis.

2. Deadpool has been talked to death at this point, but it really was a great superhero movie. Unlike other take-offs on the superhero genre, this was a take-off of the superhero genre with an actual established, legit superhero. Ryan Reynolds performs the role he's basically been vying for since he made his first appearance and is as brilliant as you'd expect. Stoked for the sequel.

3. The Last Shift, like Hush, was a surprise little horror gem I found on Netflix this year. It details a woman cop's first night on the force--which is also the night shift on the last night that the old station building will be open since the new one across town opened. It starts slow and steadily builds the creepy atmosphere, using fantastic editing and framing to generate some of the best chills and spooks I've seen in a movie. This is one of those movies that will have you questioning what's real--which are my favorite types of horror movies. So so so so good.

4. The Sacrament was surprisingly good. It shouldn't have been a surprise since it's directed by Ti West, who made Innkeepers and the amazing House of the Devil, but still--I tend to be skeptical of found-footage movies, which this is. And something about the picture Netflix used made me worried it was going to be torture porny, but it wasn't. Brutal, yes. Harrowing, yes. But it all felt honest and not exploitative at all. The fact that it has its roots in real life events just adds an extra layer creepy that gets under your skin if you let yourself think about it while everything is unfolding on screen.

5. Captain America: Civil War was honestly more like Avengers 3 than it was a Captain America movie, but it was still very good. It managed to balance the sometimes very serious and heavy subject matter with the jokes and light-hearted banter very, very well. It managed to further a ton of characters' stories and introduce a few new ones. 

I am getting a little tired that these movies seem to be getting longer and longer, but this movie is worth seeing for Spider-Man and Black Panther alone. Good stuff that gets you excited for future Marvel movies--and very refreshing that the major conflict isn't built around stopping a spaceship from crashing to the earth (Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Star Trek Into Darkness, Thor: The Dark World), some portal to another dimension (Suicide Squad, Avengers)  or a bad guy that's basically an evil version of the superhero (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Ant-Man, Incredible Hulk).

6. The Witch came out of nowhere for me. I heard nothing about it up until it was released. I wouldn't have even known about it if I hadn't seen a trailer for it on YouTube. And what I got was a fucked up, dark, twisted version of The Crucible. A Puritan-esque family leaves their village for being too radical and has to live on their own. But things just keep going bad, and after a baby was stolen, suspicion of witchcraft soon follows. Everyone's secrets become exposed and the family's extreme performative piety is soon shown for what it really is. This is a slow burn of a movie, but it left me speechless with how good it was. It was also just a few scenes too long and, I feel, over-explained things at the end. I'd have preferred that it end maybe three scenes sooner, but still so so so good.

7. Zootopia was a daring move on Disney's part. Children's films have tackled racism, sexism, and various other types of discrimination in the past, but to do it so blatantly was refreshing. And not only was the film not at all shy about that being exactly what this movie was about, it also handled the subjects with deft and nuance that most children's movies--hell, that most adult movies--don't display. Well meaning, good people do fucked up, racist, sexist things and get called on that shit because you can still be a good person and fuck up--Judy Hops insinuating that maybe predators are just naturally violent, racists learn the error of their ways with time and maturity, Nick Wilde both displays stereotypes of his people but also resists them, demonstrating that people are complicated and contain multitudes. Every parent should show this movie to their child. A very timely message.

8. Ghostbuster (2016) is hilarious. It's not like the original. What it is, essentially, is a movie that tries to justify it's own existence about a team of women coming together to do a job historically performed by men and must overcome unreasonable and virulent criticism, literally fighting a nerdy white man who thinks he's not being given his due respect, and being attacked by and forced to take down the symbols of their male predecessors in an attempt to save the city and demonstrate that, in spite of all of the negative press, they deserve to be there and are good at what they do.

I would like to know whether Paul Feig wrote the script BEFORE all the Goobergaters and Meninists shit themselves in rage and this was all a hilarious coincidence, or if he used this as an opportunity to tell those men to go fuck themselves. Either way is awesome. 

The movie isn't shot like the original--which was shot more like a horror movie. This one is shot as a comedy, it plays like a comedy. It's a comedy film. This is fine. It's also hilarious, featuring fantastic performances. Do check out the extended cut if you get the chance-it's even better, although it doesn't feature the great "salty parabolas" line, which is a shame. I ain't afraid of no ghosts--or funny women kicking those ghosts' asses.

9. Moonlight was deeply affecting, both in the ways I could and couldn't identify with it. 

Like the main character, I was bullied all throughout school. I was frequently called gay and other hateful words that meant the same--although I was not, unlike Chiron. I know what it's like to be terrorized every single day for existing. Like Chiron, my hometown was poor. Most of us were on food stamps and had free lunches. Drug and alcohol abuse were common. So were rundown homes. I had a friend who lived in a home with a two foot hole in the floor--straight through to the foundation. There were also katana slashes on the wall because the previous tenant wilded out and trashed the place. I had another friend whose mom was addicted to meth. Another friend whose family sold drugs and whose dad died in a drug related firefight. 

At the same time, I'm not black, and my hometown literally had no black people until I was well into high school because all the black people got run out of town by the white folks in racist riot in the early 1900's. The systemic issues that Chiron has to deal with are not the systemic issues I had to deal with, but there was enough overlap there to resonate. 

After saying all that, let me also say the movie wasn't the downer you would expect. In fact, I found it very moving, very hopeful, and very beautiful. It was a fascinating meditation on life, on family, on masculinity and sexuality, and how life's circumstances can shape you, and you can shape yourself.

10. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was my favorite movie this year. I recognize that it had flaws--the characters were necessarily hugely developed, and the pacing at the beginning is a little choppy with too many cuts to planet establishing shots with some nonsense spacey name. There's also a few elements that feel underutilized and seem to sort of drop from the film. 

That said, when the movie gets going, it's a bullet train to the finish. I will write a more spoilery piece later that puts my thoughts on this movie and other movies I saw within recent years in more detail, but I can safely say this is a bleak-ass movie. Where Force Awakens was hopeful, chipper, and optimistic, Rogue One is a grim, grim movie. I would describe it as "grim optimism." The movie is very much in line with Kameron Hurley's books--"everything is shit, but we fight anyway." And because of that, it was beautiful and moving. 

I liked this even more than Empire Strikes Back--that's not to say it's as good, but on a personal level it hit a whole bunch of my buttons in the best way possible and used several tropes and ideas that are instant wins for me. So it's hard for me to stay objective. I loved this movie. You will very probably enjoy it, too.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Auld Lang Syne


Well that was some shit, wasn't it?

Hey, y'all. It's been a hot minute since I've been here.

In the days after the election, I thought that I'd processed what happened and worked through my feelings. But that wasn't the case. Each time I thought I was over it, some new unexamined aspect would present itself to me, and I would freak out all over again.

I can't safely say that I'm better. I'm honestly sure I will be. I think I'm mourning the loss of a country that may not have ever existed, and I think it's probably naive that I ever thought it existed, but I did. I sure as hell have a different opinion about things now. November was...perspective shifting.

That said, I do love this country. It's a critical love, a love that recognizes that this country is not perfect, and while it has great ideals, it doesn't always live up to them. But those ideals, that potential that is baked into the very core of this country, is beautiful and worth fighting for.

Anyway, 2016 was a piece of shit that killed a lot of people that gave a lot of hope to a lot of people, saw a very negative shift, and laid the groundwork for some very bad things to come. It was a sweat-soaked pair of underwear that only became more rank and stained as the year went on, and New Year's Eve was our chance to burn it in a coffee can and get a fresh pair from the package--mind you, this new pair looks like it came from the factory slightly off-model and so it's already an uncomfortable fit, but we can try to make the best of what we have.

...that metaphor may have gotten away from me. The point is I'm under no illusions that 2017 will be easy, but at least emotionally we have a new starting point.

Can Santa save us?

December was better for me. I love winter, and I love Christmas, and I took the first opportunity to decorate my house, throw up the tree, and just generally try to indulge in as much merriment as possible. It was a smaller Christmas this year, but a nice one, and while it didn't follow the usual traditions due to some familial scheduling issues, we still got to see our family in December, and even got to spend Christmas Eve with our friends. December was a good month.

But what about your writing?

The one bad thing about December that carried over from November is that I didn't write a goddamned word the whole month long. Not on my book. Not for the blog. Nothing. I was emotionally exhausted, and every time I even thought about sitting down to write something for either, my brain would seize and start hurling ideas at me--HEY HAVE YOU WATCHED THIS CHRISTMAS MOVIE YET? WHY NOT MAKE LEMON BARS, YOU'VE NEVER MADE THOSE BEFORE! MAKE SURE TO MAKE YOUR ANNUAL BATCH OF GINGERBREAD MEN! WHY NOT CLEAN THE ENTIRE APARTMENT THREE TIMES OVER.

Unfortunately, this means I didn't hit my self-imposed deadline. Part of me feels guilty about this. It was a reasonable goal. It was so few words to hit. But I couldn't do it. Another part of me is understanding. Multiple holidays and the seasonal spike in busyness would've already been quite a challenge, but the election and the aftermath left me in a rough place emotionally, so I'mma go ahead and label that one "Yeah, okay, that was rough. No shame, friend."

I stalled out at 74,851 words, which is still incredible, especially since I didn't write for almost the entirety of November, which means most of those words were written at the tail end of September and throughout October. I'm very proud of that achievement, but that's not a finished book. So that's the goal for the start of the year--get this book done. It'll need to sit and rest, but I can start working on something else. But first things first: get that shit done.

What about your comics project?

I do have an update that I've got mostly done. I didn't add much to the actual time line--the comics I did get for the holidays were indie titles, Elseworld stuff, and Marvel. Which is totally fine. Some good shit in all that that I'll need to talk about. This update is basically what would've gone up in November recapping October, but which was pushed back because of various types of shenanigans that I've already gone into enough.

There's still value, perhaps now more than ever, in stories about individuals standing up against insurmountable odds to defend those in need. There's also still value in silly picture books about aliens punching aliens.

Any resolutions?

I'm still working through those. First and most obvious is finish my book. I'd like to read more. It's funny, 2015 was a great year readingwise for me, partially thanks to Audible. And I've still been listening to Audible audiobooks, but most of my reading and listening was dedicated to articles on news sites and listening to various amazing podcasts. Also, if the list didn't give it away, a metric fuckton of comic books.

There are some personal things I'd like to do--watch what I eat and how much; walk a little every day; drink more water; be more mindful of my spending habits. But I feel like, if I had to choose a phrase to describe 2017 and my plans for it, it can be described by my new tattoo: "Rise Up." It's a lyrics from Hamilton, but it also exemplifies everything I feel. We're knocked down. We suffered some good hits. But now is the time when we rise up, push ourselves back up from the mat, and do the work of making the world better.

I'd like to be more active in things. That starts by attending the local Women's March on January 21st, and then attending my local Democrat chapter to try to get things changed.

There's no concrete achievable goals set yet. But the idea is: don't be afraid, don't be silent, make good art, work for positive change--at home, locally, and nationwide.

Goodbye, 2016. Don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya.