Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Ari: Female Superheroes in Film

Hello! Ari here, resident comic book geek, here to talk about female characters in films and TV programmes. "Why is this an important thing? At least there are female characters in the things you watch. That should be good enough." To which I respectfully reply, while having female characters in there is enough, oftentimes it is simply not good enough. The point of feminism and ultimately the point of this post is equality. The same for both genders, and for people who identify as either gender. What goes for one, goes for the other. This really isn't a hard concept to understand, even for the most unscholarly of us.  So, in this context, for every one male character/superhero I see in a comic book film, I want to see one superheroine. In the last thirteen years, there have been 48 comic book adaptation to the big screen (accounting for series from Marvel, DC and Dark Horse. For the sake of my argument, original scripts such as Super (2010), Chronicle (2012) and Hancock (2008) have been omitted) and I'll cheerfully (or cheerlessly if we're talking about Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) admit to having watched nearly all of them. However, out of those 48 films, only two of them, which is less than 5% have female characters as the lead. Frankly, that's an awful number and a rather dire representation of women in film and superhero fiction, and I for one want it to change. 
Let me preface this mini-rant by saying I LOVE COMIC  BOOK FILMS. I cannot get enough of them. Every time I get the news that another of my beloved characters is making the transition to the big screen, I shriek with glee and hunt down every single piece of information about the potential film that I can. Also, like a lot of other straight girls, I especially love watching attractive actors taking my characters and making them into something new, and I have absolutely no complaints about the gratuitous topless scenes featuring the aforementioned actors (Watch the TV series Arrow and you'll see what I mean!) or anything else, and view it as an interesting view on the 'female gaze' as opposed to the male gaze. 

Referring back to the 48 superhero films and the characters contained within them, the female characters tend to be one of of two extremes: powerful warrior women or weak little girls in need of being rescued. If we look at Bryan Singer's X-Men (2000) we can see the two extremes almost straight away. Storm/Ororo Munroe, played by Halle Berry is a powerful warrior woman. Jean Grey, played by Famke Janssen, is a powerful warrior woman. Then, we have Rogue, one of the most powerful mutants in the world reduced to be being a weak little girl who then goes onto be rescued by Marvel's fucking poster boy, Wolverine. Of course, we can't blame 100% of this on Wolverine, but the story itself shouldn't need such a cheap writing device to get the point across. At it's heart, X-Men is about social injustices and prejudices, a fascinating subject in itself, especially when you transfer the message to the attitudes for/against the gay community. However, all this said, the female characters in this film are successful and powerful and fairly positive representations of the characters that they're portraying. While it does (only just) fail the Bechdel Test (like many superhero films tend to) it's not one of the worst offenders within this group. 

Like many superhero films, the narrative is often derailed and deviates (in some cases very,
very far) from the original source material, and one of the worst offenders of this is Fantastic Four (2005) and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007). Funnily enough, it was these films that got me hooked on reading Marvel comics in the first place, but now I can wholeheartedly say that I hate them. Whether they were intended to be loose adaptations of the Ultimate universe Fantastic Four or whether they just lost track of the story somewhere down the line, I don't know. However, one problem I've always had with the film is the way Susan Storm is represented. I understand catering to a larger audience by using eye-candy or whatever reason they found for having Sue act/dress the way she did, but it just sat very uncomfortably with me. In the comics, Susan Storm/Richards is an intelligent, deadly, and modest woman who developed the use of her powers without a humiliating and unnecessary scene that left her wandering the streets of New York in her underwear. Call it humour, call it allowing for the male gaze, call it whatever you like, but I know the original Sue Storm would never be in that situation. Frankly, I could talk about how the Fantastic Four films have annoyed the crap out of me with their terrible character representations, weak narrative and ridiculous script, but for the sake of brevity, I won't. 

Fortunately for those who are supremely annoyed by this shit, there's slowly but surely been a difference in the way women are shown in superhero films. In Superman: Man of Steel (2013) Lois Lane (a character I talked about in my previous post, which you can read here) is a strong, female character who didn't fall prey to being damselled or otherwise incapacitated for whatever reason. While her romance with Superman did feel rather tacky and awkward at the end, her character still came out on top, which was an absolute delight to witness. Not only that, but in the promotional shots did an unspeakable justice to the characters, and instead of featuring Lois in either the stereotypical damsel pose (see here for an amusing parody) or any other ridiculousness, but Lois was at the forefront of the picture, and Superman was stood behind her, mirroring her pose. Here, we see a strong, confident woman who doesn't need to be saved by Superman. Here, we see a damn change. 

Credit to Kate Leth of Kate or Die. Taken from
Another example of a female character who was surprisingly awesome was Catwoman/Selena Kyle, as played by Anne Hathaway in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises (2012). One of many big complaints about Catwoman (aside from the film from 2004) is the sheer impracticality of her outfit, as illustrated in the strip by Kate Leth of Kate or Die! comics. Kyle's outfit/catsuit/whatever-the-hell-it-is remains zipped up and covered throughout the whole film, and the film itself doesn't rely on her cleavage as (if you'll forgive the pun) cheap titillation for the audiences. Admittedly, the fact she's wearing high heels to fight crime is rather redundant, but her characterisation and representation were certainly satisfactory. Again, like X-Men (2000) its passing of the Bechdel test is rather rocky. Lastly, we can't consider women in superhero films without considering one of the biggest superhero ensemble films of the decade- Avengers (Assemble) (2012) directed by Joss Whedon. While I (and many others) have problems with the way in which Whedon creates sympathy for female characters by frequently placing them in peril (see this post over on the Mary Sue for more details, and read the post on the Geek Feminism wiki for more information) it doesn't seem to happen in Avengers, prompting a celebration from this blogger. Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, played by Scarlet Johansson fights her way out of every situation she finds herself in without any problems, and ultimately, if it wasn't for her, the Avengers wouldn't have been able to save New York, as Romanoff was responsible for closing the portal that the Chitauri were pouring out of. Not only that, but Maria Hill, played by Cobie Smulders, member of S.H.I.E.L.D. was similarly kickass, and basically beat the crap out of anyone that dared to get in her way. If you wish to read more about Feminist readings of Avengers, read this article by the Opinioness of the World. 

So with all that said, why are there so few female-led superhero films? As I mentioned in my previous post, there are absolutely no shortage of awesome female characters who could easily hold a successful film. Sure, Elektra (2005) and Catwoman (2004) were absolutely dire. But not because of the characters in the film. Because of a series of creative decisions, directorial decisions, and generally bad writing. However, you can't place the success/failure of female-led superhero films on bad creative decisions, and with the correct writers, directors cast and so on, a female-led superhero film will be brilliant. Not even a film in necessary in this juncture; even just a TV series would be a start, such as the Birds of Prey series that shakily made its way onto screen and then off again after one paltry series several years ago. The last female-led superhero TV show that wasn't animated was Wonder Woman, from back in 1975-1979, so we're certainly due for a new one! Returning back to Joss Whedon for a moment, his newest series (premiering this autumn) Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. already features a strong, equal cast, but we'll ultimately have to wait for it to air before we can make assumptions or readings on it.  

A strong point I'm trying to make here is that in the original texts (the comics books) there is a never-ending, wonderful smorgasbord of strong, female characters, and yet they have little to no equal representation within the world of film and TV. You know what? That is awful. Why is there such a small fraction of female characters in the big screen adaptation? Because people haven't realised how flippin' awesome the ladies in comic books are, and this is wrong. 

"Now," I hear you say. "Ari, you've been waffling about female characters in superhero films for
a very long time. Why do you want them so badly?" Well it boils down to simply wanting an equal representation in the fiction and media I love. I want to see my favourite characters on screen. I want to see Carol Danvers on the big screen being sassy and beating the crap out of people that deserve it. "But it's not always that simple!" You say. Well sadly, I'm aware of that. Not everyone likes to see strong female characters (for whatever reason) and not everyone is interested in making films like that. I don't know why, but it is damn frustrating. All that I (and many others around the world) want is for both genders to be equally and fairly represented, and it really isn't a big ask. However, unless these films or TV programmes are to be made by the right people, there is that horrible possibility that the characters will fall into one of two camos: They'll be either hyper-sexualised, or frequently put into damsel-in-distress situations, both of which are boring, overused concepts and ultimately lazy writing. 

In conclusion, I'd like to say that this isn't a losing battle. It's an uphill battle. There is a distinct possibility of there being more comic book films featuring female characters in the starring role. As the DC cinematic universe looks to be following in Marvel's footsteps by making an ensemble film (Justice League) it would be extremely hard to do it the correct justice (haha!) without having a standalone film featuring Wonder Woman, exactly in the way of Captain America or Thor. Furthermore, it is frequently rumoured that such a film will exist featuring everyone's favourite Amazon, so again, we'll have to wait and see. On the Marvel side of things,  there are two currently unnamed films coming in 2016, and there is the distinct possibility that one or both of these could have female characters in the lead, and there has been enough support from the Marvel cinematic and comic universe fandoms to make individual films starring Black Widow and/or Peggy Carter, which is a wonderful idea. With Black Widow, you could do a film about her origins, and for Peggy Carter, you could look at her character development post-Captain America. 

So, to sum up: Wonder Woman film? Yes please. Captain/Miss Marvel films? Yes please. Black Widow film? Yes please. Peggy Carter film? Yes please. We want superhero films led by women, and they are absolutely capable of leading them. However, if we so much as get the slightest whiff of damsel in distress or hyper-sexualisation, we will fuck your shit up. 

All we want is a fair representation in the media. It's not difficult. 

Monday, 17 June 2013

Geek Window Shopping: A selection of awesome online suppliers!

Gina here!

I am a list-lover. I write lists like there is no tomorrow, and today I'd like to share my list of 4 great suppliers of Geeky merch on the internet! Of course I couldn't search every geek-related crevice the web has to offer, but here I present a few of my personal favourites. So grab the nearest credit card (maybe it'll be yours, maybe not...) and get to spending!   

A foreword about Etsy.
Etsy is a fantastic place- I've stumbled upon some absolute gems from the most random and uninspired of boredom-induced shopping searches. I would like to demonstrate to everyone the joys of Etsy and, more importantly, the importance of supporting independent sellers and artists! Take a look at my list of fabulous Etsy sellers!
  • Etsy store: Geek Tweek. An eclectic mix of video game novelty items! Want a Mass Effect hair bow, or an 8bit inspired necklace? How about some Walking Dead earrings or a circuit board necklace? Geek Tweek has got you covered. They even create custom bottle cap jewellery!

  • Etsy store: Design by Nick Morrison. Do you enjoy adorning your walls with a proud display of your nerdy prowess? Yes, of course you do! Then you'll want to check out some of the fabulous – and very reasonably priced- prints at this Etsy store. There's something for everyone, whether you're into The Avengers, Iron Man, Harry Potter or just really enjoy displays of anatomically correct hearts.

  • Etsy store: Non-fiction tees. Sometimes you just need a non-fiction t-shirt. You need a shirt that says something (anything!). Sometimes you'd rather have a shirt that's more intelligently stimulating than tedious and nauseating. Head on over to Non-fiction tees and bag yourself a shirt displaying Isaac Newton's colour theory, dinosaur evolution, or hey... corn farming. Stun your friends and family with the sheer amount of info you can cram on to one t-shirt! You may even learn a thing or two with these tees, which available in men's and women's sizes!

  • Etsy store: Authored adornments. If you're anything like me, you love books. You adore to read because reading feeds your imagination and inspires you and makes you a smarter, and sometimes wiser person. If you have a connection with books, then you should check out Authored Adornments, who offer jewellery and accessories emblazoned with a selection of excepts from some of the greatest books ever written. Check it out!

And there you have it, my list of four unique and fantastic suppliers of geeky knick knacks and apparel. Be proud to display your love of all things nerdy, and don't forget to let me and Ari know of any more awesome stores we should check out in the comments!

Note: If you are interested in being featured on our blog, please send us a message with the details of your store/awesome 'zine/comic/anything else you wish to share and we'll be happy to check it out!

Friday, 7 June 2013

The Xbox One and the cost of modern gaming,

Interested in being featured on a new blog about geek culture? Me & Ari are welcoming submissions for a feature/review/interview post on our blog about your geeky blog/shop/hobby/other nerdy type interest!If you're interested, email with details of what you'd like to be featured and we'll get back to you!

Gina here! So tell me, how many of you like gaming?

Gaming isn't so accessible when you're down on cash. Actually, gaming isn't really so accessible for anyone who doesn't have a lot of spare money. Period. As gaming gains constant popularity, particularly in regards to the use of consoles, more and more young people are getting involved. With the upcoming release of the Xbox One console, I'm asking whether the gaming industry is cheating itself, and its followers.

As someone who held her first controller at around the age of 5, I've been privileged enough to keep up with the release of new consoles as I've grown up. The Sega Megadrive, the PlayStation 1, 2 and an Xbox 360 were (and some still are) fixtures of my living room, but it seems that the more advanced the technology becomes, the more expensive it gets, and the more publishers and hardware companies find new ways to increase their profits. My first brush with the competitive world of the online gaming community was after I received a month's free Xbox Live subscription with my console. I enjoyed the wonders of being able to connect and play against gamers around the world; it was like something my young 8 year old self would have idly dreamed up while wishing I had a constant friend who would take up their post in controller port number 2. I vastly enjoyed the experience and the challenge of Live gaming, and after the free subscription finished I purchased another year of it for around £50. It's true, I did grit my teeth as I handed over my hard-won allowance money, and after that year was up, I didn't subscribe again.

As a young person, employed or not, you're not going to have a whole heap of cash available to throw at your chosen console company. I found that the expenses encompassed in owning an Xbox 360 and buying regular games were on the less-manageable side of my budget spectrum, though I could manage if I only bought new games occasionally, very rarely buying games at their new-to-the-shelves retail price of around the £40 mark. Now however, with the soon to be released Xbox One console, I find myself for the first time at a crossroads; I'm unsure of where my gaming future will take me, or even if it will continue to be, as it always has been, on consoles. With the inevitability that my 360 console will one day become completely obsolete and the publishing of new games for it will cease, (possibly at an increasingly fast pace as the new console is not backwards compatible) the likelihood of me purchasing an Xbox One console seems to be slim-to-none.

When the Xbox 360 Arcade console was released in October 2007 as the most affordable model of the 360 system, its asking price was around £183. It had several other, more expensive predecessors , the most expensive of all being originally priced at around £260. So way back when it was released and in high demand, the most advanced Xbox 360 console with the most capabilities and memory cost £260. To pre-order the new Xbox One on Amazon, complete with the Kinnect sensor will set you back £599.

Now, I'm well aware that as technology advances, so too must the complexity of the systems and thus the price increases – at least for the first year or so -, but the people at Microsoft clearly saw that their premium 360 console was out of a lot of gamers budgets, and so created another two, more modestly priced options for those with less cash. Will this happen for the Xbox One? Well, we don't know yet, but since this is the most expensive Xbox console bundle to date, it's doubtful that any possible future options will be as affordable.

There are ways that gamers try to cut down on spending, and a primary option for many of us that has exploded in the last several years is the second-hand gaming market. Here, gamers can purchase second-hand, traded-in games for a fraction of the retail price, but they likely won't be doing that for much longer if they're avid followers of the Xbox console evolution. Why? Because it's been heavily hinted at that the Xbox One will include a software that detects when you load an already-played disk into the drive, and will charge you an additional fee for its usage. Will it be a small fee, or the full retail price of the game? We don't know yet, as little information has been released about the gaming aspect of the console, but it's an action that, if taken, will alienate and possibly completely prevent gamers from buying Microsoft's new Xbox One consoles. Let's say you pay that £600 for the new console: you then have to purchase some games to play, and if it doesn't cost any less buying used games, that will be £30-£40 per game, and then you get an Xbox live subscription. That will be a minimum of £50 for a year. So a rough estimate of your total costs would bring you to around the £690 mark for a console and kinnect, a year of live and a single game retailing around the £40 mark. Wow.

Obviously there's a lot that we still don't know about the console, and there are a lot of cool features that will surely be integrated into the system (I think the whole 'snap' idea is pretty cool, assuming it isn't laggy and difficult to initiate), but what I do know is that a lot of people are going to be put off, if not literally unable to afford buying the new console and any additional accessories and games. And that sucks. It truly does. I've never been in the position of not knowing how I'll be able to play games in the future, and it's not a fun position to be in. My faint hope is that the console giants will take a moment to think about their younger players, and their players who don't have a large chunk of disposable income that they can afford to spend on video games. 

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Ari: Behind Every Great X-Man Is An Even Greater X-Woman- Female Comic Book Characters Are Great, So Where's Their Titles?

I'm Ari, resident comic book geek here at Geeky Femmes! Apologies for the long delay, but I'm hopefully gonna get the ball rolling today. I'm ready to talk about the new all-female X-Men team, a comic that's recently started and has been making waves in the comic world. It's written by Brian Wood and features artwork by Olivier Coipel. 

 As long as there have been comic books, there has always been the female voice within it. Sure, maybe in the early days of DC and Marvel it was somewhat subdued or caught entirely in the romance sub-genre of comic books, but it was still there. Women have always been in comic books, and have quite often had big roles. Look at Betty and Veronica in Archie. Look at Olive Oyl in Popeye, ad nauseum. This isn't even considering the bigwig titles that started coming from Marvel & DC in the 50s and 60s, such as Superman, the Fantastic Four, X-Men and The Avengers. Lois Lane, fellow intrepid reporter alongside the unassuming Clark Kent will have been in comics for 75 years
this year, which is downright impressive. She's dallied with having her own title here and there, but sadly, not enough has ever been made of it. Then of course, we can't think about female superheroes without considering Wonder Woman, the powerful Amazon. She's always had her own title, and is easily recognised from either the comics themselves, or the gloriously cheesy TV programme from the 1970s, starring Lynda Carter as the lead character. As a character, Wonder Woman has always fought against the patriarchy, and given girls a positive role model in comics. Same with titles like FF, where Susan Richards (neĆ© Storm) has always been a constant in the team (however, we won't look at the gendered roles she was often given back in the day- it's enough to give me a headache!) and as the team work as a family, something rarely seen in comics of the day, it gave FF the relevant edge to stand out in a world full of Supermans and Batmans. 

The same can be said of the X-Men. Originally conceived back in 1963, the 'children of the
atom', featuring among their ranks Scott Summers (Cyclops), Warren Worthington III (Angel/Archangel) Henry 'Hank' McCoy (Beast) and Bobby Drake (Iceman) also had the supremely powerful Jean Grey (Marvel Girl) amongst them, and she was without doubt the strongest mutant out of all them, her psychic prowess matched only by their kindly teacher Professor Charles Xavier. Since the early days of the X-Men (and of the Marvel Universe altogether) there have been dozens and dozens of female X-Men, mutants, and super-humans, and many of them being just as strong, if not stronger than their male counterparts. So why, I ask, are there so few female-led superhero books from Marvel? Ever since Marvel unofficially rebooted last year in an enormous creative shake-up and renumbering that annoyed thousands of fans the world over, there's been a dismal amount of female-led comics. Before Marvel Now! There was the incredible X-23 series, which focussed on Wolverine's daughter/living weapon Laura, there have been Ms. Marvel titles over the years, but sadly these titles have never lasted long. Out of all of Marvel's current superhero titles (and boy, are there a lot of them!) there's a tiny fraction that are lady-led: Captain Marvel, Fearless Defenders, Journey Into Mystery, and the newly minted X-Men.

Frankly, this is ridiculous. Don't get me wrong though, I love comic books. There is rarely a day that goes past where I'm not talking/writing/reading/thinking about comic books, and many of my role models have fallen straight out of the pages of my favourite comic books, so it upsets me that so few of them have their own titles. As I previously mentioned, it's definitely not that there isn't any interest- female led titles have often proven to be successful, fan favourites, but they've always been cancelled prematurely. The fact of the matter is, it's frustrating how long it's taken for a full-female team of the X-Men to have their own title. There's plenty of female characters within the X-Men's universe, so it's never that there hasn't been enough interest. I for one am really happy to finally see this book see the light of the day, and despite the negative attention a couple of douchbag assbros have given the book, it's a good thing, and it should be celebrated as being A Good Thing. 

So what's the point of this post? The few lady-led titles from Marvel are totally kick ass. Kelly Sue DeConnick's run on Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers) has really opened my eyes to a new character, and I never miss this title when it comes out. Cullenn Bunn and Will Sliney's take on The Fearless Defenders is also an awesome title, and the art is downright gorgeous. I could go on and on about my favourite Marvel comics all day, but for the sake of brevity, I won't. 

I’ll leave you with this: How freakin’ awesome would a female-led Avengers title be?!