Admin Posts

What is Starr Stuff made of?

Welcome to my new blog series.  I’ve called it Made of Starr Stuff, because I love that Carl Sagan quote.

““The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

I like the idea that everything is made up of the same particles and elements, and it suits how I’m going to treat this blog.  I’ve tried to start blogging before only to fall flat because I haven’t felt like I should, say, share a movie review on a history blog, or talk about history on a comics blog.  So this time I’m going to explode the fixed genre idea of what a blog is, and just talk about everything in the one blog.  I’ll make gratuitous use of tags so people looking for my history hot takes won’t have to sift through Star Trek studies, and movie monographs will be easy to find between book based broadcasts.  (Yes I used a thesaurus to make those all alliterative, no I’m not sorry).

So come join me while I chat about all the things I just mentioned and more.  While I do have an academic background, my intention is to write in an accessible, useful way.  I won’t be academically citing my works on history, but I will be adding little reading lists that will help you dealve into subjects I’ve talked about if you’re interested.  Likewise, I’ll add some jumping off points suggestions if I’m talking about huge sprawling series like X-Men or Star Trek, or discussing genres in fiction.

If you want to interact with me in real time, I live on the internet, so come hit me up on Twitter: @Femme_Jaime.  If you’re interested in requesting a post on a specific historical event or piece of media from me, I’m happy to do this for a donation on Paypal of £10 or more depending on the size of the request, how much time it would take, and if I’d need to buy/rent anything to facilitate writing it.  If you just want to express appreciation without requesting anything in return, you can put something in my Ko-fi tip jar.

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Movie Monographs

Who never skips review day? LEGO Batman!

I’ve been to see LEGO Batman three times in the cinema now, and if that doesn’t tell you how this review is going to go, well, then you’re not the world’s greatest detective.

The whole film is great.  It’s really fun, and the story is more pitched at fans of Joel Schumacher and the animated series than the Batman vs Superman grimdark-verse.  It’s bright and poppy, the kind of thing that makes parents and studio executives relaxed and happy. Zach Galifianakis was probably my favourite Joker after Mark Hamill – you could tell how into it he was the whole way through the film.  Rosario Dawson was ten out of ten as Batgirl, and I know I wasn’t the only one in the screenings I went to who let out a little cheer when she asked “if you can call me Batgirl, can I call you Batboy?”  I especially loved that the studio saw reason and made her Lego figure *and* Jim Gordon’s both brown, given Rosario isn’t a white woman, and I’m hoping it carries through into Lego’s ongoing branding for Batgirl toys too, even after the film’s popularity fades (if it ever does).

The plot is really beautiful, exploring the concepts of fear of attachment after trauma, and how to build a chosen/non-blood-related family in a way that super hero narratives like Batman just seem designed for, given how many of them have Tragic Orphan Syndrome as a pre-requisite for a backstory.  The soundtrack is also mind-blowingly cool – the end credit song is playing as I write this review, and I don’t think I’m ever going to hear (I Just) Died In Your Arms without laughing ever again.

[MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW]
On a more serious note, I noticed how the film absolutely didn’t give Batman a pass for being mean to Babs, Alfred or Dick because he has PTSD – he had to work on his reactions that were (reasonably) upsetting them by taking away their autonomy, and he had to both explain why what he’d done wasn’t okay, and do better for them to forgive him.  It wasn’t just magically forgotten because the plot demanded it, nor was Batman expected to stop having PTSD because Barbara got mad at him for reacting badly to her, Robin and Alfred being in danger.  The quote from the beginning was really meaningful for anyone who’s ever had to change their behaviour to come back from the place you go when you experience trauma.  Hoo.

I’d rate this film 4/5, because while it was fairly excellent it still wasn’t as good as Batman Forever.  Fight me.

Movie Monographs

The Space Between Us

We went to see The Space Between Us yesterday, and I’m so glad we made the effort to go out despite the terrible weather here, as it was one of the sweetest space stories I’ve ever seen.

Asa Butterfield plays Gardener Elliot, the first (and only) human born on Mars, who decides to travel to earth as a sixteen year old to visit his Skype friend Tulsa.  They go on a road trip and start falling for each other.  That’s the summary you get from the trailer, and it looks fairly bubblegum happy.  Friend, it is so much deeper than that.  You experience isolation, loss, love, witness someone choosing to make life altering decisions as a (film version of a) disabled person.  Gardner chooses to go to earth despite the fact that he might die from the differences in atmospheric pressure and how they’ll affect his body which has only ever known life on Mars.

I really loved the portrayal of both Gardener, and another character as disabled people chosing to do things even if it was risky – it’s a life lesson a lot/most disabled people have to make at some point or another: is it worth it, to live, to have this experience, even if it makes me worse in the long-term?  Even if I might die?  Now most people don’t have experiences of that last question, but I’m pretty sure everyone has thought about what they would do if they had to choose in a life or death situation like that.  I know I have, and I’ve also had to make the other choices – should I have this risky treatment, even if it might make things worse, should it go wrong?  Though Gardener makes the choices with all the spontaneity of a sixteen year old boy, it’s made very clear to us through the film that he understood what he was doing, and it’s worth it.  The same is true for the other character I can’t mention without spoiling the film.

There are some beautiful scenes between Gardener, who is essentially orphaned, and Tulsa, his Skype friend who takes him roadtripping across the US, and it felt really important to see the kinds of emotional honesty that both characters were given in their respective genders – Gardener, a wide-eyed innocent boy who has no guile whatsoever, and Tulsa, a foster care hardened, justifiably angry girl who tries to explain the world to him.  “You can’t just say how you’re feeling, because if we were all honest, then maybe we’d be happy or something,” she tells him at one point when he declares how beautiful he finds her.  And having a boy being the intensely soft, emotionally driven center of the film felt really refreshing, especially after having watched Moonlight a few days earlier, where we watch a soft boy being toughened to an armour plated man.  That moment never comes for Gardener in the film, and I was really grateful, as too often it’s portrayed as natural for boys to have their emotional softness taken away at a tender age, while girls are expected to retain it.

The acting and cinematography are wonderful in this film – Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson deserve so much kudos for their roles, and naturally Gary Oldman knocks it out of the park as the Richard Branson-esque Nathaniel Shepherd.

The one criticism I have of the film, is in its treatment of both Gardener’s mum, Sarah Elliot, and the astronaut who takes care of him on Mars Kendra Wyndham.  Sarah is an astronaut who discovers she’s pregnant while flying to Mars, who is constantly defined as “irresponsible” for not knowing she was pregnant when the mission began – as if a) she didn’t become pregnant through actions undertaken with another person, and b) Nasa wouldn’t routinely screen their astronauts for potential pregnancy before they launched.  It’s all very much hand waved as a “woman’s problem” that she’s irresponsible for not handling before they left on the four-year long trip to Mars.  And then when later in the film, Kendra is vilified for telling Gardener she never wanted children, she’s not seen as having done something good and kind for having raised this random kid she found on the space base on Mars, she’s seen as a monster for not being thrilled that she’s been left to take care of him because nobody else is doing it.  It’s a very big let down in a film that gets men’s emotions so right, and I wish I could pretend that flaw wasn’t there, because otherwise it’s a wonderful, cute and happy emotional rollercoaster of a film.  So it gets 4/5 from me.

Comic Critiques

The Backstagers

I’ve just picked up issue #7 of The Backstagers after bugging my local comic store for over two weeks after I’d finished reading issues #1-6 back to back when I found them in their £1 comic box.  It’s so good, folks.  It’s whimsical, has a beautiful purple heavy colour pallet and so many different kinds of boys and men, beyond the usual high school archetypes of ‘the jock’ and ‘the nerd’.

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Set in an all boys’ school, the book follows Jory as he tries to join the Drama Club, and ultimately ends up joining the backstage crew of Aziz, Beckett, Hunter and Sasha.  Now I used to backstage for my mum’s drama school (yes, I was a trans teen doing light and sound for school aged drama productions – I wonder why I like Beckett so much…), and I love the attention to detail that’s been put into this piece – the sound decks and light rigs, there’s a sequence entirely depicted in hastily finished cardboard props in a later issue, and there’s paint just sodding everywhere in the backstage area.  Realism aside, the whimsical magic that’s introduced in the mysterious tunnels hidden in the backstage area, under the school is amazing – I found the comic in an all ages box, and sure enough I felt catapulted to childhood by the colours and the absolute unpredictability of what the characters will find around each corner.  It’s fairly telling that Rian Sygh also has Munchkin as a credit, the backstage world with it’s kookiness is very reminiscent of Munchkin.

Something else I love is that this series has queer and trans characters (including a queer boy of colour as a lead character, if that’s something you’re missing in your regular pulls) who aren’t there to be a teaching experience for the other characters!  They just…get to be nuanced people like everyone else!  Beckett’s trans status is brought up once, by a character he used to know, and it’s not explained, it’s not made a fuss of.  It’s a character I could see myself adoring way back when I was a trans teenager, because he’s allowed to be complicated, and love and hate things without just being a trangst monster.

Issue #7 just came out, and it’s the penultimate one – so there’s plenty of time to pick up the run and then wait in frustrated joy with me for #8.

Rating 5/5

Comic Critiques

Alters

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I read issues one through three of Paul Jenkins’ Alters in a single sitting.  Mostly because not enough happens in each issue to be satisfying, so I pushed on to see if anything would come of the plot lines being started in issues 1 and 2.  If I’m being kind, I think the set up took longer than I was expecting, as issue #3 was fairly decently paced compared to the other two, and had some good character development.  While the line art and colouring is fairly classically beautiful, reminding me a lot of early 80s Bronze Age X-Men art, the writing of the series feels a lot less nuanced than I’d hoped for with such self congratulatory hype about Chalice being the first mainstream trans superhero.  All of the main characters are charactures – from Chalice’s working class Republican father who is introduced complaining that he can’t take a crap in peace, to her brother with cerebral palsy who is nonverbal and is ‘interpretted’ by other characters as agreeing with them or listening without judgement at various points, to Chalice herself, who gets plenty of the tropey scenes from generic ‘mainstream’ portrayals of trans women characters where we see them changing their clothes or removing makeup and wigs.

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The language is also embarrassing in places – her brother is “stricken” with cerebral palsy, and later, a permenantly injured character’s life is described as being “over” because of his injury, when spoken about by a non-disabled character.  Instead of the “nothing about us without us” style of disability inclusion, disability is largely portrayed through the effects it has on other characters – we don’t hear Chalice’s brother express any thoughts until the end of the third issue.

It’s also deeply uncomfortable that the comic is described as the “first-ever superhero series with a central transgender protagonist created by a mainstream writer” when Aftershock is a smaller publisher, and ‘mainstream writer’ seems to be being used as shorthand for cisgendered writer, as trans people have been making art with trans super heroes in ezines for as long as I’ve been around the trans community.

The plot is very classic superhero narrative – new superhero emerges, must choose to go to the dark or light side, and struggles with having a secret identity, but honestly it doesn’t develop fast enough to hold interest, perhaps especially because its not a particularly unique story arc.

Ultimately, I don’t feel like this series is worth the time it takes to read.  If you want a decent mutant series where superheroes have secrets they keep from their families, go and read X-Men; and if you want a decent trans woman to read about, in Gail Simone’s Batgirl, Alysia Yeoh is far less tropey than Chalice, or if you want a broader spectrum of gender representation, you could go for Kieron Gillen’s Inanna, from The Wicked And The Divine series, or James Tynion and Rian Sygh’s Beckett in The Backstagers.

Rating 2/5