Jessica Jones and the Mechanics of “Post-Series Depression”

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Image from afterellen.com

Warning: The following content contains spoilers.

While I should have been studying for exams, I finally gave in to the hype and watched the first episode of Jessica Jones… and then the second episode, quickly followed by the third. Several days later, I found myself finishing the entire first season and dealing with that strange post-series depression; the kind of ache that arises only after you know you have finished a great show.

I know I’m late to the party since Jessica Jones aired on Netflix in November 2015, but this empty, void-like feeling after finishing this great show has got me thinking—why do we feel this way only when we have finished something that we really enjoy? After mulling over this for quite some time, I decided to do what I always do when I do not know the answer to something: write about it. I have decided that the answer to this question lies within Jessica Jones itself, or more specifically, its treatment of human psychology.

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Image from screenrant.com

For those of you who haven’t seen the show, Jessica Jones is a Netflix series produced by Marvel that follows the titular character’s quest to stop a mind-controlling psychopath named Kilgrave. Kilgrave himself is fixated on Jessica, and will stop at nothing to possess her. The show is one of the few television programs that accurately depicts a psychologically-tormented protagonist with an equally psychologically-complex villain. Characters on both sides of the good/evil spectrum suffer from mental illness. This is one of the reasons that Jessica Jones is so complex and compelling—it shows that people with mental illness are neither inherently bad nor good. Illness has no direct causal effect on a person’s morality, and thus we must examine the other, deeper reasons behind a character’s actions.

Everything about Jessica Jones is phenomenal, except for one glaring aspect that I find myself somewhat troubled with: Kilgrave’s death. There were so many interesting avenues to develop—Kilgrave was obsessed with gaining power and in one of his last scenes, his father warned him that the serum to expand his abilities might kill him. It was the perfect set-up for his death: in trying to develop his powers, his quest to become more powerful would end up killing him. Jessica’s ethical conundrum of having to kill someone would be avoided because Kilgrave’s own mad desire for control would do it for her.

So imagine my disappointment when Kilgrave falls for Jessica’s trap and gets himself killed in what felt like the most anti-climactic death in the entire series. I was so upset at this seeming cop-out of an ending. I ranted to all my friends about it, wrote this angry blog post about it… until I started thinking about why I was really so distraught by Kilgrave’s death.

I missed him.

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Image from screenrant.com

I missed Kilgrave, the psychopathic, mind-controlling, cold-blooded murderer who rapes women and makes people commit suicide with his voice alone—but let me explain. I did not miss the unspeakable acts that Kilgrave committed. Rather, I missed Tennant’s chilling yet incredibly entertaining performance of him. I missed seeing what Kilgrave was up to next, and guessing at how he was going to carry out his next grand plan. Most of all, I lamented the potential to explore the possibilities of Kilgrave’s powers as a villain.

It is here that we come back to that empty feeling, that “post-series depression” we all get when we finish a great show. I would like to examine the effects of post-series depression first through the series’ most captivating (albeit disturbing) character, Kilgrave. He is a textbook psychopath, cunning and manipulative with an aura of superficial charm, and a complete lack of guilt for the atrocious acts he has committed. He does not see people as individuals, but rather as tools for his entertainment; characters in a play of which he is the director. We see this in the way he treats and imagines Jessica—although he claims to love her, he has no problem in trying to kill both her and the people she loves. What Kilgrave loves about Jessica is his ability to control her, to possess her, and it is this control that Kilgrave misses about Jessica when she is gone.

On a less extreme level, we miss our shows in the same manner. We miss our everyday interactions with them, seeing the characters we love, and the degree of control in what we choose to watch and when. Once the show finishes, we do our best to find other shows similar to the one we have just finished, but it is never really quite the same. Kilgrave’s character demonstrates the darker implications of this emptiness, since he tries to replace Jessica with Hope Schlottman (with the hope of filling the void), but this ultimately fails. Kilgrave’s behaviour demonstrates that possessiveness towards the things we love is not by any means the kind of relationship we should strive for.

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Image from rollingstone.com

Jessica is the offered solution to this problem in the show. Although she suffers from depression and PTSD, she does not let these illnesses define her, nor is she isolated by them. On the contrary, Jessica has people she cares about and people who care about her. Despite her repeated attempts to “not give a shit,” she finds herself caring about people anyway, and in the end she chooses to accept these friendships rather than reject them.

It is worth noting that all of Jessica’s plans to defeat Kilgrave fail, and it is not until she starts including her friends in her plans that they start making progress. She includes her best friend, Trish, in her plan to take down Kilgrave. In addition, the very last scene shows Malcolm, one of Jessica’s allies, answering Jessica’s phone at her apartment, and viewers are left with the hopeful assumption that Jessica and Malcolm are to run Alias Investigations together.

Maybe the right way to love our shows is not to find another one to replace them with, nor to let post-series depression keep us from discovering new things, but to share our experiences with the people we care about. Having a good relationship with art means having a good relationship with people; we should want to share the things we love with others, not keep them exclusively to ourselves. It’s the reason we always want our friends to watch the same shows that we do, so that we can talk about the shows with them and have a shared experience. In a way, it is like we are keeping our experience of the show alive in our everyday conversations so that, technically, a show is never really over if we keep talking about it—and that, I think, is a comforting thought.

-Contributed by Carine Lee

Anybody Can Be a Hero

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Image from gameranx.com

Heroes never die!” – Mercy

Released in May 2016 by Blizzard Entertainment, Overwatch is a team-based first-person shooter (FPS) that has quickly taken centre-stage in the gaming world. In a landscape already saturated with FPS games, what makes this one so different?

Perhaps a successful new IP was to be expected from the developers of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo. But what makes Overwatch unique, is that it appeals to diverse audiences with its similarly diverse content, a hard find in an industry still dominated by white male developers who cater primarily to gamers like themselves.

Overwatch has garnered an avid fan-base and a burgeoning competitive scene, surpassing 30 million players as of April 2017 across PC, PS4, and Xbox One. It has also amassed an intriguing collection of lore that spans across a variety of mediums.

Set on a futuristic Earth where robots (known in-universe as Omnics) have gained sentience and turned against humanity, the original “Overwatch” organization was an international task-force that ended the war, kept the peace, and tried to prevent new crises from arising. As with most powerful global organizations, however, corruption soon tore it apart and ended its official operation. The game’s main timeline begins after the fall of Overwatch, when ex-member Winston—a scientist and gorilla who was raised on the moon—recalls the old team to face the new threats to the world.

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Image from nowloading.com

As a class-based shooter like Team Fortress 2, Overwatch features heroes who each have their own role to play on the team. However, Overwatch takes its narrative aspect much farther, incorporating unique skills and abilities that are rooted in each hero’s backstory. From Tracer, a spunky British pilot who can blink through time; to D.Va, a South Korean eSports idol in her tanky mech; to Lucio, a black Brazilian DJ and freedom fighter who supports the team through sound waves; to Bastion, a decommissioned battle unit with PTSD accompanied by a small bird on its shoulder; Overwatch’s characters span cultures and professions, ages and races.

A relatable international cast makes Overwatch appeal to audiences world-wide, and the development team has made it clear that representation is a priority. Jeff Kaplan, the game director of Overwatch, has said that the team “want[s] everybody to feel kick-butt,” alluding to the role that heroes play in this universe and in pop culture in general. They recognize the importance of acknowledging that anybody can be a hero.

The follow up to these ideals has been significant as well; for example, when Tracer’s over-sexualized victory pose stirred up controversy early in the game’s beta period, Blizzard listened to fan critique and changed the pose to better fit Tracer’s overall depiction. This change occurred in spite of the protests from other fans who accused the team of pandering, as well as limiting free speech. The decision to put the concerns of problematic representation above adherence to the status quo is a promising sign of Blizzard’s commitment to inclusion in gaming, and an acknowledgement of the way gaming audiences have changed.

Overwatch is perhaps the embodiment of ludonarrative dissonance, a phenomenon where the gameplay doesn’t necessarily match the plot of the story. This is how mortal enemies like Reaper and Soldier: 76 can be on the same team, defending a magical artifact they would canonically be fighting over from an attacking team that might consist of Russian weightlifter Zarya and Omnic monk Zenyatta, despite Zarya’s hatred of Omnics.

Overwatch allows for maximum gameplay potential using its team-based structure without sacrificing its rich world-building and ongoing speculative narrative. Players can choose how much to engage with the lore, whether just through playing the game and picking up references to the deeper story, or through reading each new comic and following the animated shorts for clues about alliances and histories.

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Image from @OverwatchNews on Twitter.com

Multiple mediums such as comics, animated shorts, social media, and even alternate reality games expand upon the lore and characters of the game. The compelling narrative of Overwatch has gained many followers, some of whom have never even played the game. Fan art and fiction of the characters in various canonical and alternate universe situations proliferate in online communities, as well as shipping of just about every possible character combination (a number of queer couples in particular). Not to mention the impressive amount of pornographic content that existed even before the game’s official release.

Fans enthusiastically follow the developer updates and hunt for clues about upcoming characters and maps. Beyond the addition of permanent content, however, the game also has constant updates that reflect real-world events, such as the summer Olympics or the Lunar New Year. The events create a link between the futuristic setting and the real-time experiences of its players. Limited-time cosmetic items and game modes come with these events, and sometimes they have accompanying narrative context that occurs outside of the game.

For example, the heartwarming winter wonderland comic “Reflections” that was released near the end of December portrays a number of the primary cast celebrating the holidays. The main plot of the comic follows Tracer as she urgently searches for a present for her lover, who is revealed to be a woman after months of speculation about canonically queer characters in the cast. Since the main face of such a popular game is queer, and in such a relatable and normalized way, that sends a strong message about Blizzard’s intentions for diverse representation in the game going forward. Queer representation is no longer relegated to fandom, and the developers are actively creating characters with diversity in mind while attempting to avoid tokenization.

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Image from mic.com

This is why it’s so significant that Overwatch won Game of the Year in the 2016 Game Awards, and continues to boast a growing community with developer support more than halfway through 2017. In a time when the real world could definitely use a few more heroes, seeing a popular multiplayer game strive to represent the increasingly diversified community of gamers in empowering ways is uplifting. Overwatch’s success gives me hope that the often misogynistic and white-dominated world of gaming is experiencing a long overdue change. Although new conflicts arise and old ones grow more complex in the futuristic world of Overwatch, those with the power to make an impact come from many different backgrounds. Perhaps we can all imagine a future in which anybody can be a hero.

As Tracer says at the end of the launch trailer, “the world could always use more heroes.” Her words carry a sentiment we can all take to heart.

-Contributed by Victoria Liao

When You’re Always the Little Guy: What Makes Mouse Guard a Fundamentally Human Story

What defines our humanity? For ages, we’ve seen ourselves as different and unique in the animal kingdom and above the “wild beasts” in many ways. In his series of graphic novels called Mouse Guard, David Petersen challenges this notion.

Heroic deeds throughout human history and in literature are called heroic for two main reasons: Firstly, because of the difficulty or size of the task that the hero faces. Secondly, because the acts do not directly benefit the hero as much as the people they fight for. The greatness of a hero might be measured by how great the foe is and how much good they bring to their people.

Take the heroic epic Beowulf, for example. While Beowulf’s strength is proven through fighting the ogre Grendel and besting a dragon, he is heralded as a hero not just because of these triumphs alone, but also because of how his ability allows him to bring peace to his people and rule them as a just king. The strength of monsters he fought is proof that nobody else could have done what he did, but the act that defines this as true heroism is the legacy of those saved.

Mouse Guard echoes this idea within the very first chapter. The Guard, the elite society devoted to the protection of all mice within the Mouse Territories, follows this essential belief: “It matters not what you fight but what you fight for.”

From this point on, Mouse Guard focuses on the camaraderie amongst mice and the society that they have to build while following these morals. The first two volumes, Fall 1152 and Winter 1152, have moving epilogues in the form of a detailed log from the Guard’s Matriarch, their leader, reporting on the state of the Territories. Accompanied by stunning artwork, each considers the nature of how one must rule.

In light of the first volume’s threat of a hostile mouse overthrowing the Guard, the epilogue includes a line that exemplifies the tolerance that the Guard is expected to show: “Mouse should never raise blade against mouse. There are enough outside threats in this world.” More subtly, the walls of Lockhaven, the Guard’s capital, are adorned with words encouraging selflessness and generosity. In the storeroom, for instance, are there words: “Only what ye need and not a morsel more.”

Considering this focus on leadership and the duties of the individual in Mouse Guard leads me to believe that Petersen’s world is, in some ways, the foundations of a utopia that he may wish to see in our own world.

Winter 1152’s epilogue introduces that the various cities of the Mouse Territories will begin to meet for seasonal meetings, rather than attempting to govern independently. They agree that “no city shall impose itself over another’s laws or importance” because, against the harshness of their environment and their need to survive, peace is paramount. Finally, in the third volume, The Black Axe, the Matriarch fears that the death of the selfless hero Celanawe may lead to the mice reverting to a more primitive way of life. Yet by the end of this installment a new hero, Lieam, rises to take on Celanawe’s role as a hero who acts for the greater good.

Ultimately, what Petersen seems to be saying is that no matter how big the world may be, for a functioning society to truly prosper against all odds, it must be run by those who give more than they take, and it must possess noble heroes that care for others more than they care for themselves.

While today we don’t fight dragons, enormous snakes, or owls, it’s important to think of how there are, nonetheless, foes we face that are greater than any individual. What we see on the news every day may not be literal, physical fights to face, but they loom over us and threaten our lives like the threat of wolves and foxes in the Mouse Guard.

Mouse Guard isn’t a story about our personal lives; yet, we can see ourselves in the shoes of many of its characters, especially through its representations of heroics, interdependency, and leadership.

Petersen’s series may rely on the tropes of heroic fantasy, but at the same time it offers a fresh world with which to explore issues facing modern readers. It makes you think that writers and creators of fantasy worlds have some good ideas about how our real world ought to look.

The Mouse Guard series by David Petersen began in 2007, and its universe now spans over 5 volumes and has its very own role-playing game and board game straight out of the Mouse Guard world. If you found this post interesting, give the books a read!

-Contributed by Cal Janik Jones

Move Aside, Masculine Mayhem: Mad Max: Fury Road is Here to Stay

I happen to like my fast-paced, car-chase, post-apocalyptic movies chock full of social commentary; the more nuanced the better. Does that mean that I have many favourite fast-paced, car-chase, post-apocalyptic movies? No. At this point, I happen to have one.

Enter Mad Max: Fury Road.

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Image from superherohype.com

 

What may unexpectedly turn out to be the cinematic star of my summer, Mad Max: Fury Road has shocked me for all the right reasons. I might be partially to blame for letting my assumptions and preconceptions about this genre—one that has only ever offered me anarchy, specifically of the masculine mayhem variety—guide me into believing that I would see an average, mildly entertaining film at best. I thought it would be safe to place my bets on the stale trifecta of blockbuster films: the conventionally attractive, white male protagonist; the manipulative, often sexually abusive male antagonist; and the conventionally attractive, token female love interest.

Truth be told I wasn’t entirely wrong. The main cast consists of two men and one woman. However, the dynamics between them are different from the traditional configuration. The antagonist, Immortan Joe, is indisputably the villain, but the role of protagonist alternates between Max and Impertator Furiosa (henceforth referred to as Furiosa). While I would initially be inclined to say that Max is the main character—the series is named after him, the first two films have starred him as the protagonist, and the narrative opens with his internal dialogue—he takes on a strongly supportive character role to Furiosa. I will refrain from going into specifics for the moment, and save the spoilers for later, but here is what you need to know.

The cast is large in reality, ambitiously large for CGI. This makes the car chases rather intense because Fury Road is not one car going head-to-head with another; rather, it is an army of vehicles equipped to the brim with fire, harpoons, guns, poles long enough to swing soldiers into adjacent cars, and an actual—non-animated—flaming guitar, all chasing after an army rig full of female sex-slave escapees. It can be a lot to take in.

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Image from wallpapers.com

That being said, the cinematography of the movie is actually quite intelligently done, considering the constant and ferociously hectic material of the scenes. The plain, desert landscape facilities the madness without adding excess clutter, and there are a shocking number of creative ways a person can fall off of a vehicle going at high speeds. As an audience member, you’re guaranteed an explosive visual feast. However, the visual effects are not what I and many others are praising this movie for, so we’ll move on.

Out of the entire cast there are sixteen characters important enough to be given names; six are men and ten are women. It is also important to note that there are five other prominent female members of the Vuvalini gang who are active but unnamed. With them I’ll also include the unnamed male guitarist who never speaks but is a reoccurring and noticeable character. Together, these additions culminate in a grand total of twenty-two ‘important’ characters, of which seven are men and fifteen are women. I may be watching the wrong blockbuster action movies, but that is not a common ratio.

What’s even more uncommon is that the bodies in this film are widely varied to include characters who are old, young, thin, fat, pregnant, able-bodied, physically disabled, and mentally traumatized. In every case, none of the characteristics that are conventionally added to make a character sympathetic or to weaken them were used as such. While they were not all capable of performing in the same way, every person was capable in their own right.

Spoilers follow with a deeper discussion of these variations.

Disabilities play a large role in this film, and are addressed both seriously and practically. Furiosa, already discussed as one of the m ain characters—if not the main character—is highly competent both as a driver and as a combatant, and demonstrates her ability to fight with her prosthetic arm or with it detached. Moreover, none of the other characters comment negatively on her arm, or use it as a trite excuse to question her authority, ability, or credentials. The five wives trust her implicitly with their safety, and Max, along with Nux and the Vuvalini, treats her as either a superior officer giving orders or a comrade directly on par with him.

Nux is an especially interesting case in this situation as he begins the movie with low feelings of self-worth that result from his hero worship of the antagonist Immortan Joe. He idealizes the possibility of dying as a suicide bomber, and tries repeatedly to take out Furiosa’s truck and Furiosa herself at the expense of his own life. However, on his third and final attempt, Nux fails before Immortan Joe, who dismisses him as a worthless failure, unfit to enter the ideal afterlife at the crux of their religion. Nux, who has likely been raised as a war dog explicitly for the purpose of serving Immortan Joe and dying valiantly, cannot function after this. It takes one of the wives—whose name, appropriately, is Capable—to find him. Capable understands the similarities between their sufferings—both have been exploited in some way, and both have been indoctrinated into a religion by a man who sees them as less than property. Nux’s mental trauma inflicted under Immortan’s patriarchal regime is directly combatted by Capable’s humanity and the ‘feminine’ prospect of expressing emotion, as well as by the validation of personal agency.

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Image from http://www.indiewire.com

Mad Max: Fury Road offers a great deal to its audience: high action, explosions, car chases, and wickedly fun cinematography, but there are also deep, reoccurring undercurrents of truly meaningful topics. This movie does not back away from the challenge of a visually difficult scene or even of a socially nuanced one; moreover, it is evident by the writing that these ‘feminist moments’ were given a great deal of thought. There are a number of films touted as progressive for having Strong Female Characters or for ‘empowering’ marginalized groups that are fundamentally undermined by the white, male protagonist’s need to be The Saviour.

The truly standout moment of Mad Max: Fury Road is, in my opinion, at the very end. The final scene of the movie depicts the wives, women, and Max return to the Citadel bearing the dead body of Immortan Joe on top of their car to announce the end of his oppressive reign. The impoverished people of the Citadel, always excluded from prosperity under Immortan Joe, join the women on a platform that will take them to the top of the fortress, and as they are being raised and the movie is winding down—there, you see it. Arguably one of the best cinematic shots of the movie. As the platform is being lifted, the camera pans to Max, who is not on the platform but is disappearing into the crowd below. He looks up, and there is a single shot of Furiosa, prosthetic arm off and standing with the women, watching him leave as she rises and the movie cuts to black.

Max is not the Saviour. He chooses to not go on the platform, and this Citadel is not his to reclaim. In its last shot, Mad Max: Fury Road cements that Max was never really the focus of the movie at all—this movie is about people who are easily forgotten and exploited taking back their own lives.

And it is the best fast-paced, car-chase, post-apocalyptic movie I’ve ever seen.

-contributed by Lorna Antoniazzi

 

Impractical Immortality: Do You Really Want to Live Forever?

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Image from moviepilot.com

Well, do you? Really?

The idea of immortality, in one form or another, comes up frequently in speculative fiction: elves, Timelords, divine beings, cursed humans, and undying monsters are all easy to find between pages and on screens. Immortality is often a flexible concept, ranging from gods that are all-powerful and cannot die but can—with the right spell, artifact or leverage with another rival god—be subdued, to creatures that can be slain but never fall prey to disease or the ravages of time. The latter includes Tolkien’s eternally beautiful elves and the sometimes benevolent—but usually malicious—Immortals of author Tamara Pierce’s fantasy kingdom Tortal.

Freedom from mortality may sound appealing to some of us, but as a wise wizard once said, “Humans do have a knack for choosing precisely those things which are worst for them.” Immortality is easily one of the worst things that heroes and villains have ever sought after.

For starters—there’s a catch. Always. Immortality comes at a price.

Sometimes the magic that makes you immortal also makes you susceptible to other, unfriendly forms of magic, or you find yourself unable to leave the cloister that the Sangrael is housed in, lest you lose all that you’ve gained. Maybe you get eternal life, but not eternal youth with it. I’m sure the Greek goddess Iris’ lover, who was granted the former but not the latter, would have much to say on the subject.

It is also likely that your immortality is dependent on you having your magic McGuffin on or near your person at all times, meaning that you’re at a disadvantage in life. Your magic ring or medal will be stolen, I promise you. It’s only a matter of time. In this case, the price of immortality is a life of looking over your shoulder, guarding your prize because your eternal life depends on it.

In other cases, the cost of immortality is too hideous to contemplate. Aloysius Crumrin, the aged warlock in the Courtney Crumrin comic series, is offered eternal life by an old flame—in the form of vampirism. He turns immortal life down but does accept her last elixir vitae; the potion lets him live a little longer despite his wasting illness. “Do I want to know what’s in it?” he asks the vampire. “No,” is her firm reply, and seeing as she herself keeps living by draining the life of others, it’s for the best that Aloysius doesn’t question her further.

And of course you’ll be lonely. How could you not be? You’ll outlive everyone you love.

In Ella Enchanted, the fairy godmother, Mandy, tells her goddaughter Ella that the Faeries tend to earn the ire of even their dearest human companions: “We’re immortal. That gets them mad…. [your mother] wouldn’t speak to me for a year when her father died.” The benefit of living to see a whole family line grow is somewhat tempered by knowing that you will have to bury them all.

Similarly, Skysong, the baby dragon who is born in Tortal away from other dragons and is raised by human mages, will outlive her guardian and all the mortal animals who become her friends.

And speaking of being lonely, it must be said that Captain America—who managed to survive a crash landing in the Arctic and being frozen there back during World War II—is starting to look very lonely, having outlived most of his comrades. He is stuck existing in a world that he doesn’t really belong to.

Even if you do your best to fit in the world you find yourself in, you won’t. Yuta, the protagonist of a manga series called Mermaid Saga, tries to live like a normal man after gaining immortality. But his wife can hardly fail to notice that, though she grows old over the years, he remains the young man she married. “I’m afraid of you,” she tells him. And who could blame her?

Finally, just what are you going to do with all that time?

Bowerick Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged devotes himself to insulting everyone, forever. If that sounds lame, consider that living forever will leave you running out of hobbies soon enough. You will run out of places to see and things to do because you will simply have too much time on your hands. If you have no plan, you’re doomed.

All that can truly occupy the immortal is watching history being made. This is a dubious prospect; ask the elves of Middle Earth. They never fail to seem jaded about the decisions made over the years, or the doings of the mortals around them. Elvenkind has simply seen too much to fully trust any other race; they remember too much.

Watching eras pass is bad enough, but living through them is much worse. Yuta lives through feudal wars, famine, the bombings of World War II, and murderous multigenerational feuds among those he befriends. Madame Xanadu loses her young lover in the witch-burning fervour of the Spanish Inquisition. And Wolverine seems to do nothing but get caught up in somebody’s war. For every triumph of humanity there are a dozen failures. History is a harsh place to live.

Take the Fame lyric “I’m gonna  live forever” literally and what you have is masochistic madness.

In the genres that ask “what if…?” any exploration of immortality yields fascinating answers. The concept of immortality and the presence of immortal characters in fiction forces us to take a long look at the way we live our lives. An immortal traveler who has seen far too much once said that “A longer life isn’t always a better one.”

What happens if you do away with mortality, a fundamental part of our humanity ? Nothing that we would ever really want.

-contributed by Miranda Whittaker

Sandman : Handful of Dust

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Image from empireonline.com

 

When a young Neil Gaiman first approached Vertigo comics about The Sandman, he was pitching a simple revival of the 70s series of the same name by Joe Simon and Jack “The King” Kirby. But DC editor Karen Berger insisted that while they keep the name, Gaiman should create a new character.

And thank goodness he did, for otherwise the world would have been robbed of something beautiful. Running from 1989 to 1996, for a total 75 issues collected in 10 volumes, The Sandman managed to create its very own expansive self-contained mythology.

The original artists Mike Dringenberg and Sam Kieth fashioned the title character after Gaiman himself. The Sandman, also known as Morpheus or Dream, and by many other names, carries with him an aura of inhumanity. While early issues exist in the DC comic universe with appearances by The Martian Manhunter and John Constantine (hellblazer), the creators quickly realized that Sandman should be a world unto itself, and so that is what it became. Sandman used several different types of stories to keep itself going and to keep it feeling new and alien all the way through to its final issue, but over its run, three types of stories were prevalent.

The Sandman was able to hold on to many overlapping threads throughout its near decade-long run, with characters who appeared in early issues later returning to have their stories told in elaborate detail. This worked well for the first main kind of story that was used. While several volumes are focused on the Sandman himself, there are also a number of stories in which the title character only appears in a minor capacity, and sometimes he fails to appear at all, instead being merely alluded to or referenced by the other characters. These stories were all set in the present and centered on ordinary people who are pulled into problems or adventures that they don’t understand, becoming involved with magic and monsters.

But even when Dream himself didn’t appear, Gaiman never lost focus on what the series was about. Even in these more domestic stories, the focus is on these ordinary people’s dreams, and the effect that dreams can have on the waking world. Whether it be the story of a young woman named Barbie who becomes trapped in her own dreaming, or of a girl named Rose who finds herself with mysterious powers, the underlying idea behind the story is always clear—what is important are the dreams that these characters have, and how these dreams provide a glimpse into the effect that Dream has on the world he inhabits .

The next kind of story that Gaiman used most often involves the various preexisting mythologies that the world has to offer. In The Sandman, the deities from various cultures and mythologies coexist. This allows Dream to engage with different stories from various mythologies, and allows Gaiman to teach the reader about histories and mythologies that they might not have been exposed to otherwise.

The Sandman also includes Biblical figures such as Cain and Able, who in the series exist as servants to Dream in his mystical realm. Cain is doomed to always kill his brother and Able is doomed to be endlessly resurrected. The devil himself is a key figure in several volumes, with Dream actually visiting hell to sort out his conflicts with the infamous fallen angel Lucifer. One such conflict is when Lucifer decides to retire and leaves Dream in charge of hell, leading to all sorts of problems .

Dream also has stories with characters cut from Egyptian mythology, such as the cat god Bast, and characters from Norse mythology, such as Thor, Odin, and Loki, with the latter two becoming important figures in The Sandman’s later volumes. The three Fates from ancient Greek mythology also figure, and in the end they become Dream’s most important foes.

sandman family
Image from wikimedia.org

But the third—and probably my personal favorite—kind of narrative that The Sandman employs is historical: the blending of the Sandman’s unique and eerie magic with historical figures and events. This is used to showcase the Kings of Rome and Marco Polo, and, most notably, is used when Morpheus visits the dreams of William Shakespeare, helping to inspire some of the famous playwright’s most beloved works. In issue 19, collected in the third volume Dream Country, Shakespeare’s company puts on A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Morpheus, with actual Fairy Folk sneaking into production. This issue is the only comic book to ever win the World Fantasy Award.My favorite example of this blending of history and fantasy will always be from Volume 6, Fables and Reflections, in which Dream inspires the broken and suicidal Joshua Abraham Norton in the year of 1859 to become the self-proclaimed Emperor of America, a real historical figure who solved social disputes in the city of San Francisco.

The Sandman is an intelligent, unnerving saga that follows an inhuman, monstrous magical figure. It traces his deeds and misdeeds throughout history with his siblings Destiny, Despair, Desire, Destruction, Delirium, and Death. The Sandman is a unique and beautiful series, and should always be remembered both as one of Gaiman’s crowning achievements and as one of the greatest creations of the comic book medium.

-contributed by Ben Ghan

Remembering the Mighty Monty Oum: A Review of RWBY

RWBYSpec2
Illustration by Yamandú Sztainbok

 

This review contains spoilers.

On February 1, 2015, the world lost a great animator, director, and creative genius. Monty Oum suffered a severe allergic reaction during a routine check-up, causing him to become comatose before passing away. The lead animator for hit series Red vs. Blue, Oum quickly gained a large fan base in the Rooster Teeth community and decided to create his own series. RWBY is the product of his grand imagination and extravagant animating skills. Hyped up with various character trailers and critiques applauding its amazing animation and soundtrack, RWBY launched with a bang, filling the auditoriums during its premiere screening.

Each episode spans around ten minutes (with two volumes out so far) filled with action-packed fight scenes and intense plots. Monty’s animation style features design elements of Japanese anime mixed with Western animation, creating a unique combination that stunned audiences. The flawless visuals and excellent presentation have rightfully given this series the reputation of being one of the best North American-based anime in recent years .

The series follows the adventures of Ruby Rose, a young, energetic girl who wields a sniper-scythe (yes, it is a scythe that can shoot people). Ruby enrolls in Beacon Academy to become one of the Huntsmen and fight against evil monsters known as the Grimm. The story focuses primarily on her interactions with the other main characters, but also incorporates the stories of supporting characters in order to progress the storyline. There is no such thing as a filler episode as there is always some movement in the plot that flows perfectly with each episode’s mini-story.

Ruby is faced with problems ranging from teenage drama with schoolmates to battles with expert assassins. Monty is able to balance effectively a slice of life style premise with an action/adventure storyline. He also presents endless opportunities for development by keeping an open end to the adventure as the story branches off into various missions while continuing Ruby’s original goal of becoming a Huntress.

Image from i.imgr.com
Image from i.imgr.com

The weapons. The end.

Seriously though, the weapon list in this show borders on insanity: a sniper rifle combined with a scythe, a spear that can transform into a sword, brass knuckle gloves that shoot out bullets? These are ideas we all had as children but were too ridiculous to even be considered to be possible in real life. But Monty made it happen. His fantastical designs are the type of creativity no one knew they needed.

Combined with his animating genius, the minute-long fight scenes seem to last a lifetime as hordes of monsters are slain in matters of seconds. Pausing at each frame, you can see the immaculate animation. Lines are clean and colours are vibrant. Anatomy and proportions stay correct and movement is natural. Everything about this show’s visuals is perfect. Considering the small size of the animation team, the amount of detail that went into each scene is jaw-dropping.

The amount of detail used for each character is often overlooked. The main characters’ names correspond with their colour palettes (e.g., r for Ruby and Rose, which are red), and the supporting characters’ names allude to historic and mythical beings while also relating to their personalities (e.g., Sun Wukong is a half-human half-monkey character in the series and was based off of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King in Journey to the West).

The pairings are also well-thought-out. Ruby’s childish persona contrasts with the serious demeanour of her partner, Weiss Schnee. However, their true natures are shown through conversations that reveal their childhoods, providing reasons for their actions and outward attitude. A great example is how everyone thinks that the queen of combat, Pyrrha Nikos, is noble and free of worries at first, but then one episode focuses on her inner loneliness and disconnect from the rest of the world.

This series is relatable to the audience in this regard: every character has empowering traits that people exhibit, but they also have realistic flaws that make them more human. The attention given to the characters really paid off, resulting in heroes who wield impossible weapons but are also down-to-earth and familiar to the audience.

The music and character songs feature the voice actors of the show and are excellently composed. I’m sure  every RWBY fan went through a phase where they listened to the soundtrack on replay for a few weeks. (Or months.) The upbeat and battle-themed songs were not only catchy but also strongly connected to the corresponding characters and story. Listening to each song at face value was just as good as analyzing the meanings of their lyrics. The voice acting in this series was of great quality as well. The actors were able to capture the personality of each character and display it properly with each line. The best part was that Monty himself voiced one of the characters, Lie Ren, showcasing his vast arsenal of talents.

Image from youtube.com
Image from youtube.com

A downside to this series is the fact that its production team is so small (relative to other anime and animation franchises). The simple lack of manpower limits the animators’ resources, meaning that there isn’t enough time or a large enough budget to perfect the series. The only characters that were really individuated were the main characters. Unimportant background or side characters were mere silhouettes in the first volume, and only a few that interacted with main characters or monsters were generically drawn (e.g., with a white shirt and one-colour pants). The bustling city of Vale seemed very empty with only a handful of walking silhouettes. This was also a reason for the short length of each episode. There were simply not enough team members to be able to produce longer episodes at the rate at which they released the episodes.

The result of an experimental web series has proven to be more than the Internet could handle. Monty Oum’s animation child has grown to its third volume with a proposed video game and DVD release of the series in the works. Hopefully, the series will continue to grow as a monument of Monty’s greatness and will reach the hearts of viewers around the world.

 -contributed by Elizabeth Lau