Nerdy New Year

Because we’re milking the holiday season for all it’s worth, it’s time for some nerdy New Year’s Resolutions! (Hey, we’re on vacation too.)

1. Watch all three Lord of the Rings movies (extended editions) in a row, for the 10th time.

2. Sell soul and/or jewelry for Comic-Con moniez.

3. Stop crying because I see dragons (Joanna).

4. Finish ALL THE SKYRIM!

5. Complete superhero movie collection.

6. Re-evaluate Ren Faire garb/add more pieces.

7. Work on my real-life Mage Hand (Joanna).

8. Begin to play D&D (BatCat).

9. Create a fantasy internet web series.

10. Become internet blogging sensations with pointless ten-bullet lists.

-Joanna and BatCat

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Best and Worst of 2011

It’s that time again! That time of the year when everyone everywhere is making lists about the year coming to a close. Not ones to be left out, here’s our short list of the best and worst of the year.

Worst

Worst Advertisement: Skyy Vodka

This has nothing to do with geek culture, but it pretty much sums up everything awful about 21st century American society. Unfortunately, we have to post the picture here, or else those of you who have been spared from seeing it wouldn’t know what we’re talking about.

What else really needs to be said?

Worst Character Redesign: Suicide Squad Harley Quinn

We’ll admit that we haven’t actually picked up Suicide Squad. However, anything that involves Harley Quinn making clown car jokes about her ladyparts and dressing like this:

is something we’re incapable of approving of.

Worst Mass Reboot: The New 52

As we have expressed in earlier blogs, we’re not entirely satisfied with DC’s opinion of what a strong woman is. Our feelings are best described by this comic rendition of every day of our lives, done by David Willis:

Worst Non-Geek Movie: The Change-Up

Any movie where a five-year-old girl is, even jokingly, referred to as a “bitch” is not a movie we ever want to see. Unfortunately, we did see it. The first ten minutes of the movie was just poop– literally. And that set the tone for the next two hours. Other than that, it was a poorly, redundantly plotted storyline with stereotypical characters and, well, Jason Bateman could have done so much better.

Worst Propaganda: Frank Miller’s Holy Terror

Leave it Frank Miller to make the most offensive, ignorant right-wing graphic novel of 2011. Miller, in defense of his comic, cited the fact that Superman and Captain America both had the privilege of punching Hitler. However, there’s a big difference between punching Hitler and punching Germany.

Best

Best Video Game: Skyrim

Need we say more? If you don’t know what that is, that’s a person absorbing a dragon’s soul– two, if we’re not mistaken. Yeah.

Best Reason to Look Forward to December 2012: The Release of The Hobbit Trailer

Even though we have to wait a whole year for this (and then another whole year for part 2), the return of Tolkien to the big screen is better than Breaking Dawn: Part Three and Orlando Bloom’s acting combined. (Not that that says much.)

Best New Comic Character: Alejandra

While Ghost Rider got the axe early, it was full of inspiration and triumph… for four issues. Alejandra was pretty badass. She wore clothes, and destroyed all sin. Of course, that last part can be problematic, but there are always occupational hazards.

Best Marvel Moment: Comic-Con

Of course this wasn’t organized by DC. Marvel held a series of panels at the New York and San Diego Comic-Cons, highlighting and discussing the place of women in the comics industry, both as creators and as characters.

Best Buddies: Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in Paul

While the rest of the movie was pretty lackluster, the portrayal of two big nerds was relatable to nerds everywhere. Unlike many pop culture portrayals of nerds, it was realistic. Also, buddies on a big nerd road trip is basically our ideal movie. We also saw our lives flash before our eyes, especially because Nick Frost’s character was writing sci-fi novels and Simon Pegg’s was illustrating them.

-Joanna and BatCat

Smart Guy-On-Guy Romance: Artifice

I can’t remember how exactly I discovered the webcomic Artifice, but I know it was definitely though a banner that read: “Smart Guy-On-Guy Romance”. I had been growing bored with typical Japanese yaoi and dime store gay romance novels*, so a webcomic that would advertise itself as ‘smart’ peeked my interest.

Artifice is a sci-fi webcomic created by Alex Woolfson and artist Winona Nelson. The story is centered around three central characters thus far: Deacon (an android), Jeff  (a human), and Maven (psychologist to the androids). The story begins with Maven interrogating Deacon about his mission to Da Vinci Four. Deacon, along with his fellow androids, had been sent to Da Vinci Four to eliminate the human colonists there. However one colonist survived, Jeff. At first Deacon needed Jeff to operate the computers so that he could recharge himself, but their attachment didn’t end there. The story is told in a flashback style for now, but I have a feeling the timelines will merge later on.

When I first began reading this comic, I was immediately absorbed by both the writing and the artwork. So absorbed I even signed up for the Yaoi-911 subscription service, which features two more comics by Alex Woolfson. Each Saturday I waited for the next page (‘camping’ as veteran webcomic readers call it). Both Deacon and Jeff are such interesting characters, and Maven… well, like many people who read Artifice I am not sure how I feel about Maven. Maven is what I would call a strong female character, but she is also a total bitch. Some people adore her, I personally wish the story would switch back to  Deacon and Jeff when I see her in the panel.

Part of what makes this comic so successful is the fact that it is a guy-on-guy romance written by a man. Crazy unconventional idea am I right? A man writing a guy-on-guy romance! Instead of read a woman’s fantasies of men, we get a story from the male perspective. Alex Woolfson has made it clear that Artifice is not just for a gay audience, but tries to write for everyone. That being said, his comic is not strictly about graphic images of sex either (that also being said it is still NSFW for erotic themes and images). In ‘Artifice’ we have the plot we have been so desperately missing in your Japanese erotic yaoi. Alex is also a major presence in the comments and welcomes everyone’s opinion:

“I will say one thing, though—I love that you all are having this debate. Yes, Artifice is meant to be an entertaining sci-fi story first. But one thing that has always impressed me with our readers is the thoughtful responses to this work you all have—both to what’s happening to the characters in my world and to the larger implications of my choices as a creator in the world we live in. Be it a discussion about whether homosexuality could be determined purely through genetics (and the ethical ramifications of that) or the role of women as antagonists in comics, I can always count on you to offer really enlightening thoughts on the matter. It’s one of the coolest things about putting this comic out there. And I thank you for it. :)” – Alex Woolfson page 60

He also diligently thanks everyone who contributes to Artifice– so if you want to give your money to someone, give it to ‘Artifice’ this holiday season (so poor moochers like me can have a bonus page)!

Winona Nelson is an amazing artist. She really knows how to depict the subtle emotions that all people unconsciously make when speaking and gazing. Her realistic style almost makes you believe that each panel is a manipulated photograph. While the artwork in Artifice is amazing, I strongly suggest you check out her website. I have noticed a trend, that even Marvel admitted to, about the female artists that get published in comics are webcomic artists as well. In addition to Artifice Winona also has illustrated for ‘Magic the Gathering’.

I hope that I have made it clear that Artifice is not just some fluff comic where two guys constantly bang each other, because it also deals with some pretty controversial issues. Most notably the fact that Jeff is homosexual because he has a C37 pair on his X chromosome. This admission has sparked an awful lot of controversy in the comments. Can homosexuality be linked to ONE abnormal chromosome? In this world it can. But Jeff also admitted that most people get an abortion when they discover their child is gay. In the present storyline we haven’t seen Jeff yet, but if his society believes he should have been aborted, I am sure he is a lot worse off than Deacon is in Maven’s iron claws.

Although there wasn’t much dissection in this blog as I normally try to achieve, the story isn’t through yet and I would hate to say something too soon (see: my Ghost Rider blog). Artifice is at the very top of my recommend list for guy-on-guy romances, for other recommendations check out the Links page at the top of the screen.

-BatCat

*I feel that I have to justify this remark. I do love me some gay romance. This is mainly because I cannot relate personally to female characters in your typical straight romance novel. I can usually identify more with a character from a guy-on-guy romance. Why is that?

Upcoming: ‘My Little Brony’ an interview with my little brother and his friends about coming out as a ‘brony’.

The Relevance of Tolkien

With the release of the first official trailer for The Hobbit, the nerd and cinema worlds are once again abuzz with Tolkien-related hype. For those of you who haven’t seen the trailer:

It looks like it’s going to be everything I could hope for and more. I’m so excited that I wish they had a specific release date so that I could start planning my December 2012 accordingly. Because a year just isn’t enough time to prepare.

As a fantasy fan, it can sometimes be difficult to reconcile amazing, classic fantasy with the desire for strong female characters. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, fantasy, even classic fantasy, often portrays women as evil, sluts, or both. The subject of women in Tolkien is a little tough, or at least not as simple as I’d like. In The Hobbit there are zero female characters. That’s a pretty low blow, sure, but nothing we twenty-first century people can’t handle; we might actually be more confused as to why Bilbo doesn’t bag some babe at the end. I’m going to make a broad statement I not-so-secretly hate that I feel I have to make: sometimes I’d prefer there not be women in literature and movies, rather than have to deal with a misogynistic or just plain ignorant portrayal of women. This fact contradicts all I feel about inclusion, women, and the fantasy world, but sometimes it’s just easier that way.

In this adaptation of The Hobbit, there are two women on the cast list: Galadriel and Tauriel, a Mirkwood elf invented by Peter Jackson. Interestingly, it appears that Galadriel will play a decently-sized part in the films, despite her absence from the source material. From what I gather, the presence of characters not in the book relates to an attempt to frame The Hobbit in the larger context of its relation to LOTR and the War of the Ring, without being a prequel. I, despite my previous statement about exclusion, can appreciate Jackson’s decisions to add or increase the importance of female characters in his Tolkien adaptations. While sticking in two female characters hardly constitutes a breakdown of traditional gender ideas in modern fantasy, even that little bit helps. It shows that someone is thinking that women should be present in fantasy, that it’s not a stretch to try to be inclusive, even when it means parting a bit from the source material.

We also have no concrete reason to believe that Tolkien didn’t like women, and didn’t want them invading his books. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there are basically only three women: Arwen, Eowyn, and Galadriel. In the books, Arwen, the idealized woman in the classical tradition who is more of a goddess than a person, barely exists until Aragorn is set to marry her. People cite Arwen’s strength as lying in her willingness to sacrifice her immortality. These ideas are both obviously problematic. Yet in the context of LOTR, I’d prefer the female lover to be otherworldly, untouchable, and making sacrifices for those she loves, rather than wearing hip-high slits in her skirts and cleavage-squeezing bodices, while not thinking much of anything. While chivalry is dead for good reason, there is a respect in the former view of women that the latter lacks. It shows the reverence with which Tolkien saw women and their love, especially in light of the fact that amongst the elves, women and men were seen as equals, according to the Laws and Customs of the Eldar, published in Morgoth’s Ring.

As for Galadriel, she occupies a strange, gender-neutral place that I can’t really disapprove of. While she is beautiful, it is a distant beauty. In the films, she is portrayed as wise and revered; everyone respects Galadriel. While she is not going on blade-wielding adventures, she is hardly a weak character.

With Eowyn, Shield-Maiden of Rohan, Tolkien could have done what C.S. Lewis liked to do: give girls daggers they are told not to use, with Father Christmas making the admonition that “battles are ugly when women fight.” Though Tolkien wasn’t exactly a destroyer of traditional gender roles, Peter Jackson also wasn’t exaggerating Eowyn’s importance and badassery in the film adaptations.

Sure, at first Eowyn is scared, confronting Angmar. Anyone would be. But then, after her declaration to the Witch-King that she is no man and the ripping off of her helm, this happens:

Indeed, Eowyn’s reply to the Witch-King that, “I am no man” is one of the most empowering statements from a female character that I can think of, regardless of genre. She doesn’t slay Angmar in spite of being female, or because her femaleness wasn’t important right then, but essentially because she is female. Sure, she has some help from Merry, who stabs Angmar in the knee, but even he isn’t exactly a man. He’s a hobbit, a little halfling equally unfit for battle by the standards of the time and place. Besides, it’s not Merry’s wound that kills the Witch-King, but Eowyn’s. The fact that they work together is doubly empowering, proving that to Tolkien you don’t have to be a big, strong tough-guy to kick ass. I would even go so far as to say the moment is more dramatic in the book than in the movie; the movie doesn’t show the Witch-King realizing, oh man I’m about to die, the way that it should. In fact, it should look a little more like Matt Stewart‘s interpretation of the scene:

(Actually, all fantasy art should look like this.)

I suppose I should ask the question of whether having one female badass, who resists the orders of everyone around her not to fight, compensates for the fact that she is just one woman. I would say yes. Characters like Eowyn set the example for women and writers, male and female, to appreciate the sheer awesomeness that all women have within them. It may sound trite, but in a way, all women are Eowyn. And if more people recognized that all women have the capacity to whip off their helms and stab the Witch-King in the face, the world would be that much better.

-Joanna

Ladies’ D&D Night In

I’m re-posting a great article by Aminah Mae Safi over at Geek Feminism. It’s called All My Nerd Ladies, Put Your Hands Up, and suggests that women get together and play D&D, an idea that I’ll honestly admit never actually occurred to me. It’s obviously not rocket science to suggest that a bunch of women start their own D&D group. I’ve probably never thought about it because I’m used to not having a large enough group of girlfriends to do that. But it also might be because, somewhere in the deep, dark dungeons of my mind, I never actually thought you could do things like D&D without men. Obviously, if you were to ask me, “Is it possible to play D&D without men?” I’d say, “Well, duh.” But the thought has never really consciously crossed my mind. That fact makes me deeply uncomfortable.

One thing Safi discusses in her article is that she and her fellow players didn’t have to worry about being insultingly called “girly”  and felt “free enough to admit excitement over planning our characters’ costumes and buying pretty dice.” Women, myself included, often feel like they have to prove to their male nerd friends that they’re nerdy enough to be nerds.  About this Safi aptly says, “I didn’t have to prove myself by quoting an entire Monty Python sketch or discussing my favorite extended universe character.” Just today, I was discussing Skyrim with a male acquaintance, and I felt I had to know all the right terms, all the right evil gods, couldn’t confess my much-lower level. Even though he is a very nice, non-judgmental guy, I found myself nodding at names of people from quests I hadn’t gotten to yet, because I didn’t want him to think, oh it’s another girl who thinks she’s a gamer. This need to prove myself is embarrassing, and yet I can’t really blame myself. My whole life I’ve had to prove that I belong amongst geeks. I had to outdo a kid in seventh grade in a discussion about the Return of the King, because I knew he didn’t respect my knowledge of Tolkien, because he was male and I was female. I even think about what clothes I wear when I go into a gaming or comic store, wondering if the employees will think I really belong, if I’m wearing a lacy skirt or a fashionable waist-cinching belt. And unfortunately, the habit isn’t going to die just because I know it’s unfair.

So, while I’ve never experienced outright hostility in my own D&D group, which is mixed gender and generally welcoming, I think about the idea of playing D&D exclusively with women, and I have to say I like it. When one player decides, “hey I just got some Crackle nail polish, can I paint your nails, it’s so cool,” and another player says, “sure,” and the nail-painting happens between turns, without interrupting gameplay, you don’t have to watch as the male players cringe and shake their heads, just tolerant enough not to actually say anything. There’s nothing to prove. (That really happened one night. I was the one who said, “Sure.”)

As Safi says, she isn’t trying to suggest women permanently segregate themselves into a cutesy little ivory tower of ladies playing D&D. But it is a good temporary suggestion for those of us who want to break free of the habit of having to outdo other nerds with obscure knowledge, just to earn our seat at the gaming table.

-Joanna

Men Who Hate Women

With the upcoming release of the American adaptation of ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’, I felt like it was an appropriate time to give a shout-out to the original three Swedish movies and discuss my feelings about the novels and the new American movie. MAJOR SPOILERS!

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo:

First of all, let me point out that Swedish movie Lisbeth’s tattoo is a giant dragon ripping out of her skin. Not some Japanese ‘I flipped through a book and this is what I got’ tattoo.

Secondly, instead of the pornographic description of Lisbeth’s rape like we read in the novels, the rape scene is so horrifying that unless you were also a rapist I see not way of getting off. Lisbeth’s screams still ring in my ears as I write about it.

Thirdly, Blomkvist (who is the main character of this first book/movie) is not a hunk who sleeps with everyone. Sure, he may have a little something going on with his boss- but its not important. In the books they are involved in a very long affair which broke up his marriage and where she gets permission from her husband. Who cares? I really don’t. It is not an element that is important to the plot or the mystery at all. In the movies Blomkvist isn’t obviously attractive like, say, James Bond, but instead he is kind and charming. Which is what attracts Lisbeth to him.

Which brings me to this next related point: Lisbeth does indeed fall in love with Blomkvist. But not in the way she does in the novels. In the novels she falls madly for him, then is heart broken when she sees him with his boss/mistress (therefore boob job?). In the movie she falls in love with him, but leaves him anyway- for the betterment of both of them.

In the first movie the main focus is really on the task at hand: the mystery to figure out what happened to Harriet. It is sort of like a really long, awesome episode of Law and Order SVU, with Lisbeth as Stabler (because she is a little violent and mentally unsound- posterchild for Asberger’s Syndrome) and Blomkvist as Olivia (because he is the compassionate one capable of talking to people).

GWPWF

The Girl Who Played With Fire:

This is really all about Lisbeth. When she was 12, she got sick of her father abusing her mother and treating her like a whore- so she ran out to his car, poured gasoline on him, and lit a match. In GWPWF we discover that her father is actually still alive and a former Russian spy. After the attempt on his life, he had Lisbeth sent to a psych ward where she was tied up for 381 days and raped. Which unlike the books it’s just alluded to- not shown.

The biggest difference between the books and the Swedish movie is Lisbeth’s boob job. In the books, she gets a boob job to empower her because she is unhappy with her no-cup.

Exactly.

No.

In the movie she doesn’t get a boob job. But she still gets shot four times, buried alive, crawls out, lands two injurious blows with an axe to her father, and shoots her monster half-brother. Like a boss.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

This movie is a direct continuation of the last, picking up with Lisbeth and her father in the hospital. This film is a long, drawn-out conclusion that ties up all of the loose ends.

Most notably, it ends with Lisbeth’s trial. Throughout the proceedings her doctor from childhood is present who claims that everything Lisbeth says to have gone through is just a result of paranoia. Eventually, Lisbeth’s lawyer is able to find evidence that Lisbeth was tied to a bed for over a year. But that wasn’t enough- Lisbeth’s claims about her guardian (the one who raped her) were just totally untrue. So, they show him the tape.

One of the things that I think was most interesting was Lisbeth’s clothing. Sure, she’s this Euro Goth-Punk most of the time, but she known when it is, and when it isn’t appropriate to be dressed in full platformed-regalia. Thank God! Thank the stars someone realized that it isn’t practical to wear heels or shit all the time! Although you can apparently wear whatever you want in Swedish prison (and you also get a dorm room with a desk) Lisbeth saves her gothy trappings for the courtroom. It is in this movie, in court, where we see her dressed like a warrior. By realizing the difference between Lisbeth’s choices of dress, the pattern is obvious that she dresses in spikes and chains for protection (which didn’t work too well with her guardian actually).

In the end, Lisbeth goes  free and finally has a chance at a real life.

Overall, I feel that the books are pseudo-feminist and use this to disguise their misogyny. Let me ask this: Why did the adapters of the Swedish movies eliminate all of the problematic areas of the novels and actually turn Lisbeth into a strong female character? Let me rephrase: Why didn’t the editors who published the books? At what point do we see this as limiting our ‘creativity’? Honestly I wish the books’ editors had done what the later films achieved. Not only because it would be great for everyone, but also because then I wouldn’t have to preface every conversation I have about the series with- “I only like the Swedish movies”. If the editors had edited, I wouldn’t be forced to sound snooty 🙂

Perhaps my biggest concern with the new film is this: that they will actually make it like the books. This seems likely since they chose Daniel Craig to play Blomkvist and since America is boob-obsessed. From the trailers you cannot really glean much. But there one line in particular that bothers me. “Would you like to help me catch a killer of women?” See? This is about women and feminism and all that right? Wrong. The Swedish movies achieved feminism without having to make it so in-your-face.

Although I know that having to read for 2.5 hours isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But seriously, if you want a to watch a kickass movie watch the Swedish Millennium Saga.

Note: The first movie is not as action-packed as the last two. There is a lot of talking.

-BatCat

Think [Female] Geek

It’s a rare moment when I decide to plug a company, but I think the time has come for me to come out and declare, I love Think Geek, and everyone else should too.

It’s easy to love Think Geek, a website with a leviathan-sized inventory of great geek things, from Prancing Pony barware to a Tim the Enchanter hat to a pocket chainsaw. If Think Geek had a brick-and-mortar storefront, it would be geek heaven.

But even better than the wide variety of cool stuff Think Geek sells is the fact that Think Geek recognizes that women are geeks, too. In addition to having super-badass Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley T-Shirts, they have shirts recognizing that women also work in IT, as coders, play video games, read superhero comics, play D&D. (And even better than having Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley T-shirts for women, is that they have them for men, too!)

A few choice examples of the women’s T-Shirt collection:

(That last shirt is available in girls sizes, too! The perfect response to the girls shirt that got JCPenney in some hot water, because it said, “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me.”)
It probably helps that women work for Think Geek. After all, the easiest way to make your company woman-friendly is to actually hire women and allow them to make actual decisions. And it’s more than just hiring women and tossing them a little power; it’s hiring women and giving them the freedom to be acknowledged as women who work in an area, like geekdom, traditionally seen as a man’s world. Even more than being allowed to be women, these women should be allowed to be geek women, for example, without that meaning “the counterpart to the real geeks– men,” or “the second option, where the first and preferred option is men.”

Sure, there are some things Think Geek sells that I’m not particularly fond of, like the Women of Star Wars deck of cards, but those things are in the minority. That item is the only one I’ve seen on their website that I find offensive. Obviously, I’d rather the uncomfortable-count be zero, but I would say that the good woman-friendly things about Think Geek hugely overshadow the one or two imperfect things, like the fact that the Electronic Rock Guitar and Wifi Detector shirts don’t come in women’s sizes. I’d rather give my money to a company that, most of the time, recognizes that I am a geek, not despite being a woman, but in addition to being a woman.

So, as you’re looking for presents for geeky loved ones this money-spending/holiday season, spend some money at a website that thinks women are people, and geeky people, at that.

-Joanna