A New New Bechdel Test

Recently, Tumblr users created the Mako Mori Test, a kind of alternative or addition to the Bechdel Test. Citing its inefficiency in evaluating a character like Mako in a movie like Pacific Rim, fans wanted to create a more versatile test. The results: a movie must A) have at least one female character, who B) has her own narrative arc that is C) not about supporting a man’s story. While I appreciate the usefulness of the Bechdel Test as a tool, it can be limiting. The Mako Mori Test allows for a different perspective than the Bechdel Test. Instead of focusing on the verbal and physical presence of women in movies, the Mako Mori Test emphasizes the development and complexity of a female character.

I know what this looks like, but I swear this isn’t really about Pacific Rim. The Mako Mori test, like the Bechdel Test, has the ability to draw our attention to the inadequacies of writing, beyond the scope of only one movie. The lack of Makos on film is a quality that is so engrained in the film industry that it practically defines it. One of the many things that struck me about the writing in Pacific Rim is that Raleigh’s development as a character is inextricably interconnected with Mako’s. Raleigh doesn’t advance at the expense of Mako; he wouldn’t have been able to grow as a character without her growing, too.

So I started to think. Though useful and well-meaning, tests like these always focus on female characters, essentially creating more and more rules for them. More restrictions, more ways we can critique the perceived inadequacies of female characters. Taken to an extreme they can become a version of the dreaded Strong Female Character, or the equivalent to slapping the Mary Sue or Manic Pixie Dream Girl label on every fictional woman.  So I thought: why not start regulating our male characters?

Today I propose the Raleigh Becket Test.

A movie successfully passes the Raleigh Becket Test if there is A) a central male character, whose narrative arc B) requires the development of a female character, and who C) never becomes romantically or sexually involved with this female character.

Obviously the first one is pretty easy. Almost every movie in existence passes the first one, but the other two are not so easy. As much as I’d love to see more Makos on the screen, I’d also like a few more Raleighs. He cares so deeply for Mako’s personal growth, without ever once wanting to have sex with her. That’s pretty revolutionary, too.

-Joanna

Finding the Words

My apologies for the spotty posting recently. I can’t give any particularly good excuse, other than my (temporary) mindless minimum wage job. In general, the issue is that I’ve been finding it hard to muster the appropriation indignation for events like the Mark Millar “rape doesn’t matter” incident. My reaction was basically: am I going to get really angry about this, or am I going to just throw up quietly somewhere because this man is an actual, real writer of comics who has more cultural power than I probably ever will? I basically chose the second option. His comments went into the deep recesses of my brain, to join similar incidents whose deeply tonedeaf wrongheadedness have made me nauseous. (I’d give examples, but the specifics have become ether and joined the “background radiation of my life.”)

As for what hasn’t been making me want to find a hole to live in until the world is no longer terrible, I could very easily turn this site into a Pacific Rim fan blog, but I won’t.

Today, in light of my blogger’s block, I will consider the benefits and pitfalls of being able to find the words.

Being able to identify and express harmful aspects of our society by using precise terminology can be extremely empowering. For better or worse, words hold power. Language reinforces and influences culture. This is one of the reasons that, every so often, the internet finds itself in a debate about the real, quantifiable definition of sexual assault. Armed with the specific words to describe an incident, it can be easier to cope with. Being able to say, “that is sexist” or “this is racist” helps to reinforce the idea that inequality not only exists, but marks our everyday lives. We can point it out, say This Specific Thing is Bad.

But language is not always enough. When we lack the discourse and actions required to solve the problems we are able to point out, we remain as powerless as we are without the terminology. It seems that we, culturally speaking, have the vocabulary for identifying racism, but lack the teeth to enforce the punishment that should logically result from saying racist things and holding racist beliefs. We all, at some level (excepting extreme cases), think that racism is a real phenomenon, even if we think it means only Jim Crow or apartheid. Even if the definition is woefully inaccurate or incomplete, we believe at some level that it is real.

By contrast, it is much more common to hear women identifying sexism without ever using the word. Women will say things like, “if men got pregnant, abortion wouldn’t be an issue.” Or, “women have to work twice as hard as men do to get just as far.” But they will rarely say that sexism is the cause of the problems they are identifying. And I think that a lot more women would deny the existence of “sexism” than people of color would deny “racism.” Yet, I would argue that the US’ cultural discourse on gender is (marginally) better than its racial discourse, if only because mainstream media outlets are free to frame gender discussion around upper-class white women.

So is it better to have the terminology, even without the power to enforce it? Or is it better to be able to state the problem without naming it? Do they leave us ultimately in the same position culturally? I don’t have any answers to these questions. But I figured I’d offer these somewhat coherent thoughts to you, O Internet, to consider. Next week, I promise to return to more tangible analysis. Until then, be glad this didn’t turn into “Mako Is Tha Best!!!!!!111 Part Two.”

-Joanna

One Year After Captain Marvel: A Comics Retrospective

This month marks the one-year anniversary of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel. A lot has changed in a year. When we first started the blog, Marvel had one woman with her own title: blog-favorite Alejandra of the ill-fated Ghost Rider, who wasn’t even really the lead after the first few issues. Now, there are so, so many books with female creators and/or characters that are making me remember what’s so great about comics:

Ming Doyle and Brian Wood’s Mara; Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios’ Pretty Deadly; Gail Simone’s Red Sonja, and the upcoming anthology that features genre greats like Tamora Pierce, Mercedes Lackey, Marjorie Liu, Rhianna Pratchett, and Kelly Sue DeConnick; a Matt Fraction-penned genderswapped Odyssey adaptation (file that away under Ideas I Wish I’d Thought of First); the all-female group of D&D-like adventures of Rat Queens; X-Men; Fearless Defenders; Captain Marvel; titles like Uncanny X-Force that feature a mostly female team; the best decision DC has made in a long time: Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti’s Harley Quinn ongoing; Greg Rucka’s Lazarus.

And these are just the books I can think of off the top of my head. There are even more than that.

All of this change is obviously good, and I’m hoping these positive alterations to the comics landscape continue. Yet, some things haven’t changed much at all. Most of the women in that list up there are white.

The closest the Big Two are getting to Thinking About Race are Gail Simone’s The Movement and the upcoming relaunched Mighty Avengers featuring Luke Cage, Falcon, White Tiger, She-Hulk, Spider-Man, Blue Marvel, Monica Rambeau, Ronin, and Power Man. Both of these books are trying intentionally to be racially inclusive. Executive Editor of Mighty Avengers Tom Brevoort, “who acknowledged that the idea for the new title was first discussed during Black History Month, cited [Dwayne] McDuffie as an inspiration for the series. The editor said he wanted to help create a team book that McDuffie would have made himself, with a cast comprised of at least 50% non-white and/or non-male characters.” [x]

While the subject of gender has been broached with varying levels of success, no one wants to talk about race. As Joseph Hughes of Comics Alliance wrote in his excellent, important piece “Outrage Deferred: On The Lack of Black Writers in the Comic Book Industry,” “So where is our collective outrage about our current situation? Why isn’t any of this being discussed more? There are certainly many reasons behind that, some of which go well beyond the comic industry and reflect America’s current climate and the changing (and perhaps diminishing) discourse on race, but the biggest factor may simply be a lack of voices… In short, the women at the forefront of this discussion, by making their voices heard, have improved the industry.” During the past year, the comics industry has been made just a little safer for white women. While there is still great resistance among some readers and executives against anything they deem “PC,” many others have responded positively to the acknowledgement that women are a part of comics, too.

So how do we make comics a little safer for everyone else? By talking about it. By pre-ordering the titles that are trying. By demanding more that try. We need to normalize the idea that people of color also read comics and also deserve to see themselves reflected not just on the pages of their comics, but in the list of credits. Women have been at the forefront of the conversation changing gender in comics, but we shouldn’t have to wait for the voices of people of color to be heard before white people try talking, too. If you think the inclusion of white women in mainstream comics is important, then you have to feel the same way about the inclusion of people of color. And you have to talk about it, not for people of color, but with them.

As Joseph Hughes is right to point out, the lack of discussion about race in comics is indicative of the country’s disinterest in racial discourse more generally. But wouldn’t it be great if the comics industry could be more progressive than the rest of the country, instead of perpetually right of center? And wouldn’t it be great if in the future, comics movies lead the way in fighting both racism and sexism by making the Black Panther, Carol Danvers, Wonder Woman, Storm movies the world would love? Wouldn’t those SDCC announcements be less disappointing than this year’s? Change starts somewhere, and it doesn’t start with colorblindness or silence.

-Joanna

Pacific Rim: Beyond the Smashing

Pacific Rim met and shattered my expectations. Initially, after seeing the trailer for the first time, I remember feeling disappointed once giant robots showed up. I have a deep ambivalence to giant robots. They are the reason why I will never watch Neon Genesis Evangelion, although I have received multiple lectures on why it is one of the greatest anime ever. But I love monsters, and armored female characters with cool hair, and dramatic speeches performed by Idris Elba. The more I learned about the movie and Guillermo del Toro’s intentions while making it, the more interested I was in seeing it. Del Toro addressed basically every fear I had about the movie.

On my wariness of glorifying the military in every movie about apocalyptic situations: “I carefully avoided the car commercial aesthetics or the army recruitment video aesthetics. I avoided making a movie about an army with ranks. I avoided making any kind of message that says war is good… I am a pacifist. I have been offered movies that have huge budgets that have war at its centre and I said, ‘I don’t do that.’ What I wanted was for kids to see a movie where they don’t need to aspire to be in an army to aspire for an adventure. And I used very deliberate language that is a reference to westerns. I don’t have captains, majors, generals. I have a marshal, rangers . . . it has the language of an adventure movie.”

On my love of well-drawn female characters: “I was very careful how I built the movie. One of the other things I decided was that I wanted a female lead who has the equal force as the male leads. She’s not going to be a sex kitten, she’s not going to come out in cutoff shorts and a tank top, and it’s going to be a real earnestly drawn character.”

What I love most about these comments is that del Toro was successful in his goals. He avoided the perils of “army recruitment video aesthetics” (which, by the way, is my new favorite phrase). He featured a complex female character who, although she was unfortunately the only major female character, was also the most interesting character. Period.

There has been some undeserved criticism about the character of Mako Mori. Despite the fact that Raleigh the Typical White Guy was ostensibly the main character of the film, Mako Mori was not just the film’s emotional heart, but also the most developed character. Mako is afraid and vulnerable, but wants to pilot anyway. She faces and overcomes fear and weakness, which is the true meaning of bravery, not swaggering unthinkingly into danger.

There were times I wished that we let Mako comment on the events instead of Raleigh, and I don’t think she got equal screen time during the end’s triumphant battle. Those are legitimate issues. When thinking of the role of women in the film, it’s unfair to criticize the characterization of Mako. What the film really needed was more female characters, not a single “perfect” female character.  This is one of the many problems that arise when a movie only has one central female character: people burden her with the weight of representing a “strong female character.” As other bloggers before me have said, I don’t care if fictional women are “strong.” I want them to be interesting, well-written, and three-dimensional. Mako was all of these things.

(Now get ready for a few spoilers.)

It is very easy to read the film’s emotional conflicts as showing the negative effects of barring women from traditionally male pursuits. While the given reason why Mako isn’t allowed to pilot is that she is Pentecost’s adopted child, it is hard to believe that Pentecost would prevent his adopted son, especially when he has quantifiable talent, from piloting. It is never explicitly addressed, but there is only one other female Jaeger pilot, and the candidates for the job as Raleigh’s co-pilot, all male, clearly underestimate Mako’s abilities in a physical fight. She proves herself, as so many of us do, only to be shut down unfairly by a paternalistic figure. Ultimately, Mako’s persistence pays off, and she and her super-buddy Raleigh save the day. Far from having a  “woman problem,” Pacific Rim warns us against the dangers of underestimating women. I would even go so far as to argue that, after meeting Mako, Raleigh functions mostly to assist Mako on her journey to personal growth, reversing the typical character trajectory that features the token woman functioning to support the male protagonist. The fact that Mako and Raleigh have such a deep, platonic emotional connection is also commendable and practically unimaginable in most movies.

I haven’t even mentioned Idris Elba yet. Idris Elba brought nuance and depth to Stacker Pentecost, a character who otherwise might have alternately bored and infuriated me. Had the role gone to Tom Cruise, as it almost did, I think I would have disliked Pentecost’s controlling nature, his fear of Mako’s power. But as Idris Elba, Pentecost became complex and loveable, a man who I wanted to respect with Mako’s intensity.

Although the importance of the father figure is one of the oldest tropes in fiction, it should be noted that black men rarely get to be fatherly in movies. The complexity of both Pentecost’s love for his adopted daughter and her love for him is remarkable in itself, partly because the reasons behind it are explored at all. In general, when a character has a conflict with her or his father, it is taken as a given that this person would want to love and respect her or his father. Fathers deserve these things because they are fathers. But Pacific Rim acknowledges the complexity of paternalistic attitudes, rather than suggesting that all fathers inspire love and respect simply by being fathers. Pentecost has earned Mako’s respect, a feeling she pointedly distinguishes from obedience. Furthermore, sometimes Pentecost’s paternalism is harmful, resulting in him preventing her from being the pilot she is qualified to be, because he wants to protect her.

While Pacific Rim may seem to be yet another blockbuster about various things smashing each other, it would be unfair to dismiss it as such. It may not have been perfect, but for me the depth of the characters was the true heart of the movie, a judgment I usually don’t make on summer blockbusters. While del Toro may insist that the movie is not a homage to anime or monster movies (Japanese or otherwise), he did take a variety of genre tropes and breathe life into them, giving us the kind of monster movie all monster movies should be.

-Joanna

On Rage and Invisibility: A Reminder

Invisibility is a tricky subject.

On one hand, those who are truly invisible in our culture tend to be the ones who suffer most. Yet the factors that reinforce this suffering are also, by necessity, invisible. If people never see injustice, they will never realize that it is there. If they never know it is there, they will never do anything about it. And so on. Ad nauseum.

For example, take this ordinary, everyday scene. It demonstrates how tiny aggressions, seemingly meaningless moments, can render you invisible.

After meeting Ming Doyle on Free Comic Book Day and getting a quick sketch of Mohawk Storm from her, I showed off my spoils to someone I know. This someone is male, and was with his male friend. He turns to his male friend. “Is that who draws Saga?” I answer, “No, that’s Fiona Staples.” There is a split-second pause. His friend replies, “No, that’s Fiona Staples.” Then, and only then, does he nod and acknowledge this answer. The friend was deemed more knowledgeable solely because of his maleness. He was not the one who had just stood in line, beaming, to meet a favorite artist. He was not the one who answered first.

Taken on its own, this incident is small. It perhaps seems petty to dwell on it, to force upon it some significance about gender and the geek community. But this incident will never exist on its own. It sits among a wide array of minor offenses, all of which made me feel devalued and underestimated because of my gender: in the 7th grade, during a spat regarding The Return of the King, I was told by a boy in my class that I was wrong because I was a girl. On countless visits to Game Stop, staff speak only to my boyfriend, never to me. The same man from the incident above once offered to lend me some comics, thinking he could get me into some books I’d never heard of (although I had), as I was “suddenly into comics.” Despite the fact that the first time I met him, I was dressed as Delirium from the Sandman.

I remember these incidents, because they reinforce and practically verbalize the cultural messages we receive every day: Girls don’t know anything about Tolkien. Girls don’t play video games. Girls don’t read comics. Again and again and again. These words are intended to make me and my lived experiences invisible. They are intended to force me to devalue myself. Sometimes the microaggressions hurt more than the big ones, the obvious ones. When someone says women should shut up about equality until they’re ready to sign up for the draft, or that women can’t be in leadership roles because of their periods, or the countless other overtly hostile messages we hear every day, it is almost less hurtful. Long ago, I conjured an armor made of eye-rolling and quick-witted replies to defend myself against these attacks. But there is a part of me that still doesn’t know how to deal with the smaller offenses. When a comic store employee ignores me waiting in line so he can talk to some boys about Magic: The Gathering, there will always be a part of me that wonders if it is all in my head. I don’t have the right armor for this situation, and I don’t know the best way to forge it.

When we talk about all the factors, micro and macro, that reinforce cultural notions like racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and myriad other ills, the burden of proof always lies on the victim. Someone will always ask you if this incident you describe is an isolated incident. It never is, but you can also never explain the compounding of all the insults, huge and small, that has shaped your understanding of this incident. It is impossible to describe, because it is the story of living every day, since birth, in an unequal world. When a stranger says “hey beautiful” to me on my way to lunch, it is not that particular man I want to break in half, but all of the men who have ever, since I was a preteen, shouted things at me or stared at me in public.

The same problem arises when you critique media. People inevitably try to argue that it is an isolated incident, that it isn’t that bad because it’s just this one movie or book. It’s just one employee in one comic shop. Or they rely on individual interpretations: oh, well, when I read that book, I pictured this character’s dark skin as meaning a tan white personHe was just giving you a compliment, you should be happy. These tactics are both themselves invisible, and a method for suppressing complaints, rendering justified criticism invisible. The people who make these arguments do not realize that they are enabling oppression, because most of them would deny that oppression exists.

Some people in the US think racism ended with the Civil Rights Act and that feminism became obsolete after Roe V. Wade. To suggest otherwise is to force people to consider their own, personal relationship to inequality. It is difficult to face reality. Sometimes knowing the truth about our world makes me not want to live on this planet anymore. But it is so much healthier than pretending to be too cool for politics, or whatever bullshit helps people avoid seeing what is happening around them. When people bemoan the apathy of others, they are really upset about the forces that keep us and our lived experiences invisible, and that, in turn, keep the forces themselves invisible.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that it is important. It is always important. The offenses great and small that remind you of your place in the social stratum. They are real. They are worth talking about. Even if they happen on a TV show, or in a classroom, or in a game store. They matter. If it makes you angry, there is always, always a reason why.

Stay strong. Stay angry. <3

-Joanna

(P.S. I just needed a rant today. Early next week, expect a post about Pacific Rim: part cogent analysis, part gushing compilation of Guillermo del Toro quotes.)

‘Under the Dome,’ Representation, and Scary Boyfriends

Earlier this week, the pilot for the TV adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Under the Dome aired. Ever since learning that Brian K. Vaughan was developing the series, I’ve been looking forward to it. I’ve never read any of King’s novels, but because I exist in this universe, I’ve seen plenty of the numerous adaptations of his work. In general, I’ve enjoyed them, though there is certainly a wide range of quality. While the better adaptations have showcased the qualities that have made King’s work classic popular fiction, I have always noticed that white men tend to be at the center of his stories. While female characters are often fairly well-developed, they are usually secondary characters, commenting on the action rather than advancing it. And I really can’t think of any significant people of color in any of (the adaptations of) his work, which I’m sure is at least partly due to King’s penchant for stories about rural Maine.

With that in mind, I was curious to see what Vaughan would do with these predominately white, male primary characters. As the writer for critically-acclaimed comics that also have an good track record with gender and racial representation, I was pretty sure that Under the Dome wouldn’t end up being a totally whitewashed show where only the men are active. In interviews, Vaughan expresses a thoughtfulness in his writing decisions, which is always an admirable trait in a writer.  (He also wrote for Lost, which, for all its failings, did a decent job with representation.)

So far, it seems that my suspicions have been correct. While our Chiseled Brooding Antihero, who seems thus far at the center of the story, is as white as can be, other casting decisions have been pretty impressive. So far, we have a Latina cop, who, though she seems pretty tough in her own way, isn’t a Fiery Sassy Latina. We have an alternative radio station operated by a black man and an Asian woman (who is also fat, which is so so great. I have no idea when I last saw a fat woman on TV). We have an interracial lesbian couple with a teenage daughter. We have all this truly diverse representation, with every character so far seeming three-dimensional rather than defined by their race, gender, or sexuality, AND it’s all happening in a rural town. With the exception of the couple with the daughter, all of these people are from Chester’s Mill. Often TV shows think of “rural” as code for “white,” which is both factually inaccurate and just an excuse to keep casting only white people.  (Shout out to my home state, North Carolina, for acting as the filming location. I’m going to just imagine this as Chester’s Mill, NC and no one can stop me.)

Ok, so I’ve established that the quality of representation is good. But what about the actual story? you might be asking. The pilot did an commendable job establishing both the premise of the show (in short: an invisible dome falls over part of a town), and the personalities, situations, and proclivities of the characters. After 45 minutes, I feel like I know some of these characters better than I knew most of the characters after two seasons of The Walking Dead.

While there is a certain hokeyness that is nearly impossible to avoid when the show takes place in Small Town America, I’m hoping that the hints of conspiracy and corruption will manifest in a way that complicates the diners-and-sheriffs vibe of the town. Already, we have been exposed to the idea that not all parts of town are created equal, especially because of the lack of medical care in one section of the town. I’m hoping that, in the future, the show makes more attempts to subtly expose the dangerous, structural inequalities of American life that the show’s premise could easily consider.

The huge black mark on the pilot was the subplot with Junior. (Arr, here be spoilers.) When we first meet Angie and her boyfriend Junior, it seems as though they are two happy young lovers. As the scene progresses, we see that that is clearly not the case. Angie is uninterested in a serious relationship with Junior, who says he loves her and is dropping out of college to stay in Chester’s Mill. He says he has loved her since the third grade and that she’s the only one who knows the real him. She responds, “and that’s why I can’t be with you,” suggesting that Junior is not the sweet romantic he appears to be.

Then come a few moments that are hard to watch. As Angie is walking away from him, Junior grabs her arm, trying to forcibly pull her back to him. She cries out in pain, and hits him. It’s unclear, though seems likely, that this is the first time something like this has happened. Later, Junior sees Angie talking outside of the hospital to our Chiseled Brooding Antihero named Barbie and decides, as all normal boyfriends in healthy relationships tend to, that he should kidnap her and lock her in his father’s underground bunker.

The violence between Angie and Junior was, for me, the most disturbing part of the pilot. It’s the only truly questionable part of the story so far, and, given Vaughan’s thoughtfulness as a writer, I’m hoping that Angie’s kidnapping becomes more than voyeuristic titillation or an opportunity to fridge a female character. I’m also a little worried that the show’s viewers will misread Junior as some kind of misunderstood bad boy, while somehow blaming Angie for her own kidnapping. I’ve already seen reviews that describe Junior as “troubled.” From where I’m standing, he’s an abusive boyfriend.

Uncomfortable subplot aside, I look forward to seeing whether the show lives up to its casting choices and explores structural inequality and corruption through its premise. I’m also hoping for some more snappy, BKV dialogue like this:

Joe: “You think the government built this thing?”

Barbie: “Doubt it.”

Joe: “Why?”

Barbie: “It works.”

-Joanna

Mara and Our Toxic Future

In the criminally under-discussed miniseries Mara, writer Brian Wood and artist Ming Doyle tell a superhero origin story that explores the consequences of celebrity culture, militarization, and the effects of a world that runs on both.

There is so much I love, that is perfect about this book. I’m an unashamed Ming Doyle fangirl, and am beginning to love Brian Wood as well. The fifth issue (of six) came out this week, and it did not disappoint. Every month I’ve wondered where this brilliant story was going, with its understated tone and thoughtful pacing. How would Mara choose to use her newly-discovered superpowers?

Unlike the superheroes of the Big Two, Mara Prince exists in a stark, realistic version of Earth’s future. When the story begins, Mara is a superstar volleyball player, in a future where athletes armed with billion-dollar endorsements play each other for the glory of their countries.

The first game we see Mara playing is sponsored by Uninational Oil and Gas, the Army, “and with platinum sponsorship by the Grand Colonial Heritage fund, and the Pax Organization for Excellence in Physical Fitness.” These sponsors are an interesting collection of organizations, and their involvement speaks volumes about Mara’s world. The book makes a telling connection between sports culture and the military, one that reflects the realities of our world.

The narration in the first issue sets up the link between corporations, the military, sports, and celebrity culture: “When Mara Prince was a toddler the world was consumed with endless wars, crumbling economies, and destructive racial divides. The nation compensated with an almost hyper-exaggeration on sports and physical prowess… Corporations flourished as advertising and merchandising took off. Enlistment in the armed forces similarly benefitted…”

The world of Mara is one I can easily picture as a future version of our own. There is a lot of dystopian fiction in film and literature right now, and not all of it explores the unpleasant realities of our present through the suggestion of our future (which is kind of the point of dystopias, but I digress). Mara is unafraid to force us to think about how our world might be creating that of Mara Prince, how we ourselves might be implicated in this future. Furthermore, this future seems thoroughly possible, given the way that athletes, militarism, corporations, and the actions of all three seem almost sacred in our world.

Perhaps the most unthinkable aspect of this sports culture is that it includes women. Mara is not simply a superstar in her marginalized women’s league. Mara is the most famous, the most beloved, the most sought-after athlete in the world. Despite how terrifying this sports culture is, I love that Brian Wood envisioned a future where women’s athleticism is valued. And I love that, despite this, this world and its sports and celebrity cultures are still toxic. Worshiping female athletes isn’t necessarily better than worshiping male athletes.

In many ways, the amount of control that corporations and governments (and their militaries) have over their celebrities is best criticized and explored through the usage of a female protagonist. While male celebrities also are forced into a constant spotlight, female celebrities are scrutinized at a more exacting level. This scrutiny is exaggerated in Mara’s world; Mara is trained from the age of 2, and, once she begins showing signs of her superpowers, is coerced into being studied as a weapon for the military.

Eventually, rejecting the commodification and weaponization of her self and image, Mara goes rogue (I’ll leave out the details for anyone who hasn’t read the most recent issue). In a brilliant, chilling monologue, Mara condemns this world for treating her like a “threat,” and for trying to take from her “my body, my soul, and my freedom.” Having a woman assert her physical and psychological autonomy in such a powerful and, frankly, quietly angry way is exciting and refreshing.

In conclusion, pick up this book! It’s a fresh, interesting, beautifully rendered meditation on our world and what it may become.

-Joanna