ROGUE ELEMENT 135

ROGUE ELEMENT #135: CHEW FINAL THOUGHTS
CHEW written by John Layman, Illustrated by Rob Guillory

Reviewed by Avril Kulla

The last issue of CHEW hit the stands several weeks ago, and with it the much-anticipated final piece to a multi-layered, utterly bizarre, often hilarious, surprisingly heartbreaking and overall genius comic book series. Layman said from the beginning that CHEW was a finite series previously plotted out with an ending already in place; he had a story to tell and he needed sixty issues to tell it, and then the tale would end. Though I originally got into comics by reading perpetually ongoing superhero stories, I have mad respect for a storyteller who commits to his/her plan and follows through. If upon its completion a story leaves the reader wanting more, it is either such a thrilling and addictive world you cannot bear to part with it yet you accept the ending because it was awesome and complementary, or the story is lacking an essential element that gives it a sense of conclusion.

I needed time after finishing CHEW issue #60 to figure out which category the story fell into. Immediately after reading it my jaw was literally hanging open, inviting all manners of flies to nestle within the cavern of my astonishment. There may have been a ‘what the fuck?’ here and there, and certainly some scrolling was involved, both up and down, to insure that yes, I read/saw that correctly and no, there is no more story. As there was no one I could vent to in the moment, I boxed up my feelings and waited for my poor unsuspecting husband to come home. With his arrival brought forth the tsunami of feels ranging from confusion to frustration, back to the ‘what the fucks’ and thankfully ending in a healthy discourse of what the ending truly meant for the story. One of the many reasons I married Jesse is that, on occasion, he seems to know me better than I know myself, and in this case he let me spew forth my vitriol before engaging me in intelligent and insightful conversation, thereby revealing my true feelings about the CHEW conclusion.

Time was also needed for a decision to be made: in my final review of CHEW, the only comic of which I have reviewed every single issue, should I freely discuss the ending? Though I have no evidence my words have any effect on any individual’s decision whether or not to read this comic, I still cannot reveal blatant spoilers regarding the culmination of CHEW, if only for the hope that there is one person who may be inspired to pick up this utterly unique book and give it a spin. I refuse to be that chick who divulged the ending before someone has a chance to fall in love with the beginning.

That being said, there is a minor, vague spoiler I do feel comfortable in sharing, and that is a fair warning for anyone who needs a tidy little bow on their neatly wrapped up ending: you’re not going to find it in CHEW. Consider the finale to Guy Ritchie’s ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,’ or the original British ‘The Italian Job’ which closes with a literal cliffhanger. The central story was told but those last moments are an unforeseen monkey wrench which is vibrating with tension and the mystery of what happens next. My good friend Jack and I sat down one night to watch an old Paul Newman movie entitled ‘Fort Apache, The Bronx.’ From the start there was a particular feel to this film, entrenching it firmly in the ’70’s action noir category (despite it being released in 1981) and giving enough away that my perceptive, movie-fan friend accurately predicted the ending in the last few minutes. “Watch,” he said, “they’re totally going to end on a freeze-frame action shot, with them jumping over a wall chasing a bad guy. You just watch.” I did, and it did, and we couldn’t stop laughing.

But I suppose that is part of the point in ending on such a note, to get you thinking, talking, arguing, laughing, whatever. To get you fired up one way or another. Despite my initial ‘wtf’ reaction I realized Tony Chu made an unsurprising choice given what we knew about his character and what he endured throughout his life. The subsequent unseen consequences of his actions, well, we all get to wonder and debate what those might be. Though I was initially hung up over the idea of Tony not giving a rip whether his remaining living loved ones would suffer due to his choices, ultimately I realized there was no choice: this was who Tony was. He reacted extremely poorly to betrayal of known individuals with whom he shared a personal rapport, but regarding unknown entities who came into his life to harm him and his, there was no debate, no doubt, and no remorse. CHEW ended exactly how it should have, with a magnificent ‘what the fuck’ moment, followed by the thought this comic, and its creators, may be a bit batshit crazy, the realization that duh, of course they are and finally, the wave of varying emotional responses detailed above.

Comics have been a part of my life for almost fifteen years, and though it took me a long while to branch out from my familiar X-Men to other explorations of the medium, finding new, off-the-wall story arcs is now one of my favorite pastimes (as my budget allows). CHEW is a magnificent example of why the comic book exists: namely, it needs every storytelling aspect the comic book can provide. Still Art – Graphics are definitely needed to colorfully express the range of food powers displayed throughout the series. Writing – Where else would you find a story about people being able to do various things via food consumption, ranging from the awesome (power collector) to the um, what? (Immortal while stoned, paints tasty pictures, can string guitars with pasta, etc.). Captive Audience – Where else would you find readers more than willing to dive into such a random story?

Comic books never shine brighter than when a story like CHEW is there to be told. CHEW is one of the reasons comics endure. CHEW is one of the reasons people who aren’t into comics get into comics. CHEW is a defining moment in creative history, and proof that no matter how utterly cracked out your story idea may be, if you get coherent thoughts to paper and strike gold with a talented artist, then you have a career-defining tale to be told. You can be one of a kind.

As it turns out, converting someone to CHEW is not my primary goal with this column (though it is a close second); number one would have to be ideally inspiring someone to take action on their creative idea and do whatever it takes to see it in print one day. Then again, I think CHEW did that all on its own. One of the many reasons to be thankful for a comic like CHEW is not only giving a novel satisfaction for veteran comic lovers, or for enticing new readers into the fold, but for sparking a seed inside minds not even aware they could conjure something so singular. So here, I’ll make it simple: read CHEW and be transported. I cannot tell you where, I can only assure you’ll be more than pleased with the journey.

 

ROGUE ELEMENT 134

Rogue Element #134: A ‘Strange’ New ‘Arrival’ of ‘Fantastic’ Films, aka Avril Goes to the Movies

By Avril Kulla

November has heralded a bizarre mixture of weather (70 degrees in Chicago? The Chinese have certainly created a believable climate change hoax), indescribable elation (Cubbies win!) and utter horror (at least for those of us who do not support nominating a racist, sexist, xenophobe who just settled a multi-million dollar fraud suit, and his homophobic, anti-choice running mate who is uncomfortably way more qualified for the top seat). So, what’s a gal to do when she just can’t even? Go to the movies, of course! (Spoiler free reviews below)

Doctor Strange

I am not as intimately familiar with the origins and adventures of Doctor Stephen Strange as I am of other notable Marvel characters. He has made cameos in the books I read, particularly when he started tutoring X-Men character Illyana Rasputin aka Magik in the intricate details of the sorcerous arts, but I went into ‘Strange’ about as blind as I could be. While the trailer appeared rather shiny I was not convinced based on the minimal compilation of clips and dialogue that ‘Strange’ was going to deliver a solid story, and that is ultimately how I felt about the film.

Telling an origin story alongside a good versus evil tale is a challenging undertaking. While I adore ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ most people feel it is the weakest of the Captain America films (even I can admit nothing beats ‘Winter Soldier’ for sheer awesomeness) partly due to the necessary storytelling aspect of having to introduce the character in a well-paced, believable manner, before setting him on his path of superhero greatness. ‘Strange’ did an excellent job of introducing the protagonist, but it missed several key details when transforming him.

Dr. Strange was a supremely gifted neurosurgeon until a horrible car accident robbed him of his fine motor control (but really, what did you expect to happen when you’re speeding down a narrow cliff side road while distracted by your phone?). Unable to find assistance in the realm of science he turns to sorcery. He insults The Ancient One until he gets bitch slapped into the astral plane and kicked out of the temple, but somehow proves his commitment to learning by waiting outside for five hours (big whoop; I’ve managed to not leave the couch for two days straight, saving sloth-like trips to the bathroom and kitchen).

His magical training was supposed to be a montage of his evolution from arrogant dickbag to humble sorcerer supreme, intent on using his gifts for good. Instead we just see a few snippets of his struggles but no real ‘Aha, there’s his good, self-sacrificing side!’ moments, find out that he’s a fast learner (but we already knew that) and he breaks the rules to better serve his own goals. Yes, he steps up and battles the bad guys, but only when forced to by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and when someone else dies leaving him no choice.

The special effects are utterly outstanding and may be worth the ticket price alone, if that’s your thing. When the building and dimensions fold and expand like an accordion I swear I squealed a little, and their travel mode looks way cooler than first class. While the story wasn’t necessarily bad nor boring (the cloak was adorably comedic…yes, you read that right) it also did not feel complete. There are scenes needed to make the transition from smug surgeon to superhero sorcerer more believable, and while the movie was still entertaining I tend to desire a bit more quality and effort from my heroes.

Arrival

Twelve alien ships have landed at random points across the globe, and Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) has been recruited in an attempt to communicate with the creatures. The trailer looked amazingly intense, and once again my initial gut reaction to a sneak peek was spot on, only this time it wasn’t exactly what I expected.

Reviewing this movie without divulging its secrets is incredibly difficult as one cannot talk about the elements of what makes this movie such a fascinating surprise without revealing core aspects of the film. However, there is one piece of praise I can freely give: it is absolutely gorgeous. The cinematography of the scenery is quite well done, but it’s the alien language that really captures the imagination. When the communication first appeared on screen I gasped in shock, awe and delight at the beautiful and brilliant alien writing.

I went into this movie thinking it was a science fiction tale of first contact and in some ways that is entirely accurate, but the true essence of the film is…love. Most first contact concepts are typically centered around humanity banding together, whether it be to repel the alien invasion ala ‘Independence Day,’ or to learn from one another and/or deescalate aggression, in the case of the movie ‘First Contact’ and the Watchmen comics. ‘Arrival’ manages to merge several popular alien landing themes while also taking the plot in a slightly skewed direction and ending up in thought provoking territory. You can agree or disagree with the protagonist’s choices but you will also have to stop and really think about them.

When the movie ended my husband and I both had tears in our eyes (yes, real men do cry) but not necessarily for the same exact reasons. While we typically discuss a movie the whole car ride home, this time we were equal parts chatty and contemplative. I honestly could not say whether or not I truly liked the movie until I had more time to process it, and that unusual delay in turn made me enjoy the movie even more.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I am a Potterhead. I have read the Harry Potter series dozens of times (with the exception of the last 100 pages of ‘Deathly Hallows;’ still not over Fred and you can’t make me), I attend every Harry Potter trivia night in Chicago (My team Pet My Niffler won FIRST PLACE at the most recent event!) and ever since I stowed away on the Draco/Hermione ‘ship I’ve read almost nothing but Dramione fanfiction for nigh three years. I may be slightly obsessed.

So when my fellow teammates and other Potter fans proposed a group date to see ‘Fantastic Beasts’ on the big screen I was all in. Given how expensive movies are regardless I am all about the added comforts of assigned seating, better screens and the alcoholic option for hydration. Surrounded by fellow nerdlings, being thanked by a ten-year-old for holding a door, having two different people compliment me on my Clinton/Kane button and engage me in pleasant conversation regarding what we can do to keep our heads up and how adorable toddlers are in pantsuits; well, this was the best I’ve felt in over a week. And that was before I saw the movie.

I was actually neutral regarding the trailer; I thought it looked pretty interesting but there wasn’t anything I was totally fangirling over or harshly judging as of yet, and I made a concentrated effort to avoid further exposure to extended clips or spoilers. I haven’t even read the book (though in my defense it is a Wikipedia of sorts regarding different magical creatures; no actual plot or storyline). Essentially I was relatively uninformed heading in, the way I like it, and I was blown away heading out, the way I love it.

‘Fantastic Beasts’ was utterly delightful and fantastical, in every possible sense. The multi-purpose plot included not only adorably awkward explorer Newt Scamander and his suitcase filled with wondrous creatures, but also the complexities of relationships (romantic and otherwise), foreign communications, as well as heavy themes of abuse, neglect and oppression. This film is loaded with story and yet does not feel convoluted or bogged down at any point, and the ‘slow’ bits are studded with amazing CGI magical animals doing their incredibly imaginative thing in JK Rowlings’ unique universe.

Action, adventure, romance, humor and darkness, all wrapped up in a delightful new Harry Potter series. I refuse to pigeonhole ‘Fantastic Beasts’ as another “chapter” in the Potter universe, because love him though I do, Harry Potter had nothing to do with this story. This was all Newt and Tina and Kowalski and Queenie and the cute as shit creatures and the gigglewater and dozens of other magical moments that make this movie one of a kind. ‘Fantastic Beasts’ is magic at its essence: simultaneously light-hearted and terrible to behold, and utterly irresistible.

If you are like pretty much everyone else regarding your tangible distain for the majority of the shitstorms 2016 has unleashed upon us, then by all means grab some candy from your local CVS, overpay even for a matinee and go hit the theaters, because if you’re into escaping reality then there’s nothing like catching a movie this November.

ROGUE ELEMENT 133

Rogue Element #133: Changes

By Avril Kulla

Change is a controversial topic to say the least. Change can be good, bad, meh and everything in between and outside the spectrum. Hell, change IS the spectrum; it is whatever it wants to be, takes whatever form, breaks through previously impenetrable barriers. Change should never be taken lightly, except for when it should. Change is complicated, simplistic, fun and terrifying to behold. Change is one of the most powerful forces in the universe, right up there with love, because anyone and everyone can wield it. We all certainly experience it, but we can choose how much we actively practice it.

Personally, I’m scared shitless of change, a character flaw I can more easily acknowledge than overcome. “I know what I like, and I like what I know,” a television character once said. Of course she was discussing Mac versus PC whereas I apply those words to almost everything in my life. The unknown is pants-wettingly terrifying, and what’s so wrong with the way things are now? Is change strictly necessary when life is maintaining a decent status quo? What is so special about change?

Everything, and nothing. Change is needed just as often as it is not, and it is welcomed as often it is shunned. However, it has to happen for there to be forward motion. I’ve been discussing forward motion a lot lately; my husband is a big fan of it. As much as I kick, scream, dig my heels in and clutch onto the hallway bannister lest I be pulled into the fiery pits of lava (sorry about that Dad, but it was totally Chels’ fault as well) I have come to accept, embrace and soon practice the idea of forward motion.

Marvel Comics has been floundering a bit lately. Whereas their movies and television shows have reached new heights (suck it, DC), many of the books I read have reached new lows. While I continue to collect my books I wasn’t reading them as often and recently found myself with a large stack of comics awaiting my perusal. When I finally sat down with my various titles surrounding me like a witches’ circle of pretty colors and ‘Pows!’ I felt that familiar tingle: the excitement thrumming in my veins as I prepared to ride along another impassioned adventure in a world of mutant powers, flying heroes and lovable guardians who are saving lives all up and down this galaxy. I was pumped and couldn’t wait to read what happened next.

I cannot say I was disappointed (I’m as horrified of that word, or more accurately provoking that word from my loved ones, as I am of change) because I did still enjoy a majority of my books, but I was slightly disillusioned. My X-Men are not consistently my favorite characters to read at this time, which is discombobulating to say the least. X-Men are the reason I started reading comics in the first place. For years they were all I read, through thick and thin, good stories/art and bad stories/art. It took me years to branch out, because why would I? The X-Men are the best superheroes in the world; the team and their powers are so varied there’s always something new and exciting to read about. Over fifty years old and there are still fresh stories to be told, even with the original team. Sure, three of them are dead (for the moment; as they say in the X-Men, that trick never works) and the other three have gone through more looks and personality changes than Cher and Madonna’s love child, but hey, that’s comics for you.
Point is, I’ve been in a relationship with the X-Men for over twenty years and I’ve seen and put up with a lot of shit, but I’ve kept reading because there are always new writers and artists who can take the characters and stories in unique directions. When they’re on I savor it, when they’re off I ride it out until the next creative team takes the wheel. I’ve always read the X-Men because captivating or crappy, they’ve always been there to read.

Soon, however, they may not.

I recently glanced at an article on a comic website which had a tally of the titles Marvel will be releasing come the fall after yet another revamp of sorts, and there were no specific X-Men titles. Now it did state that this was likely not a complete list, and there are still X-Men out and about (Rogue and Cable are on the Uncanny Avengers team, which will continue in October), but there remains the possibility that the X-Men, as a team and a book, are no more. This change is…challenging for me to accept.

Nothing is finalized yet, but I’m an ‘assume the glass is half empty so if it’s not I’ll be happy and if it is I’ll at least not be surprised’ kind of gal, so I am trying to mentally prepare myself. The truth is lately if I decide to reread a story it’s typically not a recent X-Men title. I’ll read ‘Transmetropolitan’ until I break the spines, I have enough ‘Harry Potter’ in my head to kick ass at trivia (go team Pet My Niffler!) and I may have read ‘Fray’ almost as much as I watched ‘Buffy,’ but there are few recent X-Men story arcs I have a craving to revisit. Older ones, such as Joss Whedon’s run, House of M, the classic ‘90s issues and the first couple years of Gambit’s solo title, I’ll reread the crap outta those comics, so maybe that’s telling. I’ll always have my favorites to dip back into; nothing can take away how those adventures and relationships can still make me feel. Therefore it may not be the worst thing in the world if Marvel moved on from the X-Men for a spell, and in that forward motion they may find each other once more down the road, and build something new.

The X-Men not only introduced me to the marvelous macrocosm of the mutant universe, they introduced me to comics, an entertainment medium I continue to adore. Though it took me a bit of time I did start to explore other aspects of the comic world besides the X-Men one to which I was born, and while I still dig me some superheroes some of my favorite books now are of the non-powered variety.

Forward motion. I’m preparing to commit to the biggest change I’ve ever, and likely will ever, experience, so talking comics may seem a little trivial in comparison, and yet it has its importance as well. I’m not there yet (calm down, everyone) but if all goes to plan someday soon I may be someone’s mother, teaching them about change and love and comics. Nothing lasts forever even though comics can make it feel that way sometimes (Captain America was first printed 75 years ago and that sucker is still going strong), but there’s also no better place to learn about the joy and pains of change then between those glossy pages where anything can, has and will happen. So for now I look for merriment in my forward motion and say with my glass and head held high, cheers to change.

ROGUE ELEMENT 132

Rogue Element 132: Let’s Get Together: Captain America: Civil War vs. X-Men: Apocalypse
By Avril Brown

A well-made, entertaining and successful superhero ensemble film is a tricky beast to tame. As with any movie, the story matters. As George Lucas once infamously said (and later ignored, much to ‘Star Wars’ fans’ dismay): “A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.” In this digital day and age, a superhero film is rarely boring judging by special effects alone, but whether it soars or sinks is very dependent on the quality of the story being told.

Part of what makes an ensemble story not suck is the amount and quality of due diligence given to the major players. What is the point of inviting so many people to the party if we are denied an opportunity to see their tricks? A display of power is not the only thing we want to see from the front runners; we need a reason to care about them, so we need an adequate amount of background intel in order to giving a flying fig.

Balance is key, and finding it is like finding Waldo in the middle of a Where’s Waldo cosplay convention. A proper accord must be struck between telling a compelling story, presenting the major characters and providing several extensive fights scenes (these are, after all, comic book movies).

That being said, let’s explore what worked and what didn’t in this years’ biggest ensemble films.

Civil War

The third installment in the Captain America franchise started with a bang; almost too much so, I felt upon initial viewing. Both action and story clipped along at such a rapid pace I found myself wishing they would actually take a beat and let us absorb everything before moving onto the next phase. However, this was actually a slow-burn type of film where by the end of it you can fully appreciate the sheer genius of the understated villain story, and the well-executed hero one.

An important element to remember is this is a Captain America movie, so his ideals, actions and allies are the true core of the story, but Captain America has become an Avenger, and therefore the villain is not after the Cap specifically, but all Avengers. Hence the ensemble. Here is a man driven to vengeance by his losses, and what he seeks is not death but devastation, and in some ways, he wins. Kind of hard to swallow for a superhero movie, yet it works.

Civil War succeeds spectacularly at achieving the main bullet points for a winning team movie. The main characters and their relationships are decently explored (there are some rather adorable scenes between Cap’s besties, Bucky and Sam), the story was well laid out (the twist ending was a gut-wrenching surprise) and there were some kick ass fight scenes, each unique in their own special ways. Plus, the biggest and baddest of the battles was in the middle of the movie rather at the end, but you didn’t feel the movie was lacking because of that particular change up.

That’s not to say the movie didn’t have flaws. You definitely had to have seen ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ to understand pretty much every important aspect of this movie, though they did a fair job of trying to catch up new viewers without being redundant. Bucky was a central catalyst to the whole story and yet he had a very muted and lackluster conclusion. The incident which was the final straw for those seeking to control the Avengers, an explosion inadvertently caused by the Scarlet Witch which killed a dozen Wakandan peacekeepers, would have killed possibly hundreds more if she’d let it explode where it was: in the middle of a busy market, and yet no one is pointing out that fact.

I may be getting a little nitpicky on that last one, particularly since I can say with absolutely no reservations that I loved Civil War and consider it almost on par with ‘The Avengers.’ I also just like to acknowledge that nothing’s perfect. Speaking of…

Apocalypse

Any X-Men fan will tell you that Apocalypse is one of the most formidable of their foes; definitely an extinction-level, multi-chapter, spawning an alternative universe kind of bad guy, so one would expect a lot of large displays of badassery. On that score, ‘Apocalypse’ did not disappoint.

The introduction, though a little drawn out, did its job of establishing En Sabah Nur (aka Apocalypse) as a seriously intense fellow, at least judging by his four horsemen. These trusted disciples are as fierce as their powers, and while we don’t see much of En Sabah Nur’s particular skill set, you’re made to assume he’s packing given what his people are capable of.

Given the early reviews I was expecting a distinct lack of power display, but thankfully this was not the case. We get to see quite the array of amazing mutant abilities in addition to some key background character history. In the comics Apocalypse brainwashes his horsemen in addition to giving them a serious power boost, but in the film they join him of their own volition, so establishing some emotional vulnerability is vital to understanding why they chose this path. The only one who was denied this treatment was Psylocke, and yet she seemed the most committed to the cause. Hm.

Again, with a name like ‘Apocalypse’ you’re to expect quite the emphatic exhibition and they deliver, but most of these are from everyone else besides the big man. Yes, he boosted their powers, and sure, he can melt people into walls, but what is it about this mutant that is so apocalyptic when he seems to gets everyone else to do his heavy lifting?

Things get pretty repetitive towards the end as well; lots of the same speeches, posturing and delaying the predictable. While the teams really come together and the side battle scenes are tight, the main battle is somewhat, well, dull and easily foreseeable. While it was stated early on that Jean Grey was a powerful mutant with a tenuous control over her powers, we were given no substantial visuals to back that up. To really build up a game-changing, pivotal character like Jean, we need to see what it is that makes her so potentially dangerous.

There were many elements of humor which kept the audience laughing; definitely an important factor in a feature film of this length and depth. Quicksilver once again stole the show with his breakout scene, and while one could argue they essentially used the same gimmicks and set up as his debut in the previous X-Men film, the truth of the matter is it worked damn well then and even better now.

Part of the problem with a lot of sequels is they are following a rather tough act, and it is by this successful stick they are measured. ‘Days of Future Past’ was a highly enjoyable film, and everyone was expecting, or hoping, the quality would continue upwards, as it did with the Captain America trilogy. ‘Apocalypse’ was leaps and bounds beyond the last third installment in an X-Men franchise, but that’s not saying a lot. It delivered action, drama, and build up, everything an end of times super powered film should have, but it carried on a bit too much in all aspects and was, therefore, not quite what it could have been.

When you think about it, all X-Men movies are ensemble films, therefore one cannot help but be a harsher critic on the franchise which, in theory, should have this formula for success down pat. So in terms of the box office encounter between the ensembles, Civil War most certainly takes the cake, but Apocalypse has its good points which cannot be discounted. However, when it comes to the next generation of superhero film franchises, as En Sabah Nur said himself, Only the Strong Shall Survive.

ROGUE ELEMENT 131

Rogue Element #131: C2E2 2016 The Panels

By Avril Brown

Your Brain on Comics
Kerry Freedman, Meryl Jaffe, Joe Magliano, David Rapp
Moderated by Josh Elder

In order to more fully explore the effects reading comic books can have on the brain, and how teachers, parents and mentors alike can utilize said effects, particularly in aiding children who are struggling with reading, comic creator Josh Elder moderated this panel of several brain-focused PhDs.

Elder is the founder of Reading with Pictures, a Chicago based organization which focuses on getting comics into schools and helping children learn how to read. He opened this panel with a story of a little boy who, when his mother was unable to finish reading him his bedtime comic book, would pick up the book and read the story himself. Though too young to understand the words on the page, he nevertheless was able to follow the story via the pictures and comprehend how his Transformer heroes saved the day. Thus began Elder’s foray into reading, and comics, both passions he clearly has fueled over the years.

Though getting brain-based brainiacs to explain their research in layman’s terms is a challenge, Elder was able to do just that, and all of the panel members contributed their two cents on the mental mechanics which go into reading and processing a written and illustrated story.

While reading is something which has to be learned, the ability to recognize a scene is built in, and this core concept is what allows children to follow a story without being able to read it. Kids are willing to engage in reading a comic, but more importantly they CAN; they already have the knowledge base in order to process it. “A block of text for troubled readers may as well be in Sanskrit,” Elder explained, but images are innately understood.

Kerry Freedman studies visual culture and has done research on groups of adolescents who gather around specific visual pop culture (such as gamers and fan artists). She explained how our brains have an incredible visual memory capability, and in particular we have a sweet spot for images accompanying our narratives. We enjoy seeing things we recognize but we crave variety as well, which is why most people tend to get bored watching the same movie over and over again but get excited about a series of films as the characters are familiar but presented in new circumstances.

Joe Magliano is a psychology professor and he helped explain the challenges comic creators face. Artists have to use their work to expand upon ‘mind-reading’ by showcasing emotions on the characters faces, thereby letting the reader learn what is happening inside their mind.

There were some stunning revelations regarding colors as well when the team explained that certain color schemes can provoke particular emotions. Children’s comics tend to have more complimentary colors as it presents a more calming portrait. Contrasting colors show up more in action comics and can cause more stress and conflict. In fact, colors exude such a strong emotional influence, whether we’re conscious of it or not, that they can be the reason a person picks up a comic book or passes it by, according to Freedman.

There was plenty to take away from this fascinating panel, not the least being detailed proof that comics can truly help make reading a less stressful and more successful process for children, especially for those who need a little extra help. Perhaps one of the best moments came at the end with the final question from the audience. A woman declared herself a writer and an artist but stated she always felt comics were ‘junk food’ reading and held no intellectual value. Elder put it best: “Well, as I explained earlier I learned how to read because of comics; they opened up a whole new world to me.” He grew up on welfare but it was his love of reading, originating with comics, which drove him to earn a National Merit scholarship from Northwestern University. “Then I got a film degree and disappointed everyone. I may have wasted my life since then,” he joked, “but comics transformed my life.” Translation: ‘junk food’ my ass, you ignorant woman.

Let’s Make a Villain
Adam Withers, Comfort Love, Dirk Manning, Mark Waid

These four comic creators armed with a vast array of backgrounds and styles, aided by an eager audience, helped bring a brand new villain to life, and explained the process along the way. Adam and Comfort (I guess her parents were hippies?), who are so married you just can’t even, have produced several original comic titles available on the market today. Dirk Manning holds a torch for the horror genre, and my first experience with Mark Waid’s work was ‘Irredeemable,’ a comic which begged the question: What if a superhero with nigh limitless power went batshit crazy?

Needless to say, this was a fun panel to experience, and I do say ‘experience’ because not only did these creators really dive into the details of creating a villain, and thereby a story, they invited the audience to help create such a creature on the spot. With prompts and questions from the panelists a scarred, greedy, idealist pirate queen was born as Adam sketched her out over the course of the hour.

Villains, they explained, can shape the story. For example, if you are reading a story with a zombie bad guy, you already know something about the environment and structure of the tale. The villain guides what’s going to happen because her/his role is to propel the plot forward. They are the ones who want something, be it an item, the success of their villainous scheme, revenge, etc., and part of what makes them the villain is what they are willing to do in order to get it. The villain is the proactive character, the hero reactive, thus fueling the plot. After all, what would the hero do if the villain didn’t do anything?

The antagonist has a special relationship with the hero; they are uniquely intertwined as the villain is the one who brings traits out in the hero, a feat which no one else can accomplish. Batman’s villains were brought up as an example: each one of his challengers shows in their own particular way why Batman is a hero.

As important the villain is to the story, you cannot let your readers care more about the villain than they do the hero, the creators stressed. “Mind the sympathy line,” Manning advised. “You can brush up against it but don’t cross over otherwise people will start rooting for the villain instead.” The hero should always be the more sympathetic character, the more relatable, no matter the species or setting. Plus, s/he needs to be in danger of some sort, otherwise there’s no urgency to the story.

While the creators were unified in suggesting creating the setting first, as the environment shapes the story and therefore the characters, they cautioned to not get bogged down by it either. “As a writer, there are only so many plots to pursue,” Manning explained. “What do you want to say about the world around you? That should be the tone of the story.”

“Plot doesn’t matter apart from the structure you hang your story,” Waid declared. “People remember characters, they remember emotion.” Villains can be fun to create, but make sure they balance out the story. Also, sometimes you have to kill a character off to make the story work. “Don’t take a character away to be cheap, do it to drive the story.” A character death can be a gateway into a new world. Manning used Sirius Black’s death in ‘Harry Potter’ as an example of a death that proved they were no longer having fluffy children adventures; that there was a cost to their actions. “I mean, I’m a grown ass man, and I was like, ‘WTF man?,’ but it served the story and made the stakes real.”

When asked by a certain Spider Jerusalem whether one’s emotional state affects their writing, the answers were a resounding ‘YES’ across the board. “Find the project that channels the emotion you’re feeling and power on through, get it out,” recommended Waid. Manning referred to another writer who wrote under a pseudonym for one particular series because, as he put it, he was a different person when writing that book.

“Nothing is scarier than someone who has no business smiling that cannot stop,” Withers declared as he put the finishing touches on the pirate queen. “A villain’s way of wrecking the hero’s day should be iconic,” he stated as he turned one of her hands into a gun, “and because guns for hands are cool.” Well stated, sir.

While the Adam and Comfort comedy act was tough to weather through in the beginning (I fancy even Dirk and Mark thought them a bit much; they looked bemused, like watching toddlers trying to keep the adult’s attention past the allotted amount of time), I am thoroughly pleased to have attended this panel. As a writer I learned a lot and watching a creative process in action is always a joy. Now onto creating a dastardly villain!

ROGUE ELEMENT 130

Rogue Element #130: C2E2 2016

By Avril Brown

Ah, my darling C2E2, how I have missed thee! Though a touch early this year (the Con is typically in April) you are as welcome as ever. Walking towards the McCormick Center Friday morning surrounded by geeks of all sorts literally vibrating with barely repressed excitement, it feels like coming home.

However, just like returning home after a long stretch abroad, things are not quite what you remember, and it can take some time to adjust to that fact. Meg Ryan once said, “People are always saying change is a good thing, but what they’re actually saying is something that you didn’t want to happen, did.” True that, but change can be good, or change can be terrible. The goal is at the very least a semblance of balance, or ideally, coming out a wee ahead.

The Good

This year C2E2 introduced a gaming pavilion, and MAN was that a check in the win column! They had tables set up with everything from the original Nintendo console to the latest Xbox to a multiplayer dance-off. Kids of all ages (and I’m including my husband in that tally) were clearly having a blast playing old games, competing with each other and learning new tricks. I saw one woman killing it on Super Mario 3 like she’d woken up that morning saving the Princess, and the same phenomenon occurred when Jesse picked up the vintage Nintendo Zapper gun and took out the baddens of Hogan’s Alley.

Kids dominated the dance games while parents stood off to the side capturing every moment on their phones. One tween girl was acing Bruno Mars’ ‘Uptown Funk’ while another girl barely out of her toddling years was right next to her doing her darndest to keep up and learn the slick moves on the fly. While my brother-in-law was observing an unfamiliar game a nearby stranger engaged him in conversation, explaining the core concept of the game and what he’d learned so far.

Unknown individuals bonding over nerdy things; ‘cause that’s how C2E2 folk roll, yo.

The Bad

The tattoo pavilion was missing this year, which was a disappointment. The Artists’ Alley of body art has always brought me an intoxicating combination of feelings: the thrill at witnessing artists at work, seeing their creative new pieces and the depths of geeky awesomeness people have explored in their body art, and sharing conspiratorial/commiserative smiles with those under the needle are all positive emotions. Hearing the needle at work, however, sets my teeth on edge. I suppose the sound wouldn’t bother me as much if I fancied myself finished with my own body art, but such is not the case. (Sorry not sorry, Mom and Dad.)

The layout was somewhat spastic, lacking a coherent flow in addition to the sizable gaps on the floor. There were cement spaces in the midst of red carpet where a booth clearly should have stood but failed to do so, for whatever reason. I understand last minute shit happens, but seeing the blank spaces where creative vendors should be sharing their wares was saddening, and frustrating.

For reasons I cannot get into on a public forum, my husband’s gym was once again denied the ability to procure an entire booth and were therefore unable to fully express all they had to offer. People enjoy the variety Forteza has to offer; my coworker’s boyfriend recently took an introductory sword class and loved it, so it was more than a little grating to see the people I care about prevented from reaching their prime target audience to spread the word, and joy, of their hard work.

The Bright and Shiny Cosplay

I cannot get enough of cosplay. Y’know that Michael Jackson meme cut from the theater scene in ‘Thriller,’ when he’s just chowing down on popcorn and someone captioned it, ‘I’m just here for the comments’? Sometimes I feel the same way about cosplay at Comic Cons, and my fellow geeklings did not disappoint.

• Best SNL skit cosplay: As I predicted, there were several Kylo Ren as Matt on ‘Undercover Boss’ outfits, liberated from a Saturday Night Live skit that took the internet by storm. Pure Gold.
• Best random cosplay: I saw two, count ‘em TWO different men dressed as Doug Funnie/Quail-Man. I haven’t thought of that cartoon in years, but I betcha anyone else who was a tween in the 90’s knows what I’m talking about.
• Best use of a baby: This is a three-way tie between two ladies dressed as Rockford Peaches from ‘A League of Their Own’ holding a baby dressed as a baseball, a woman who dressed her baby as Squirrel Girl (complete with acorn earrings!) and a couple dressed as Jon Snow and the Red Lady, with their baby sporting a cap that read, ‘Shadow Baby.’ Well played, parents.
• Best political statement cosplay: Stormtrooper vatos with a sign that read ‘Palpatine: Make the galaxy great again, and then we shall have peace.’ Honorary mention: a guy holding a sign depicting Trump as Lex Luthor asking people to NOT vote for him.
• Best cosplayer hero: Colonel Quickstitch is fully armed and able to help with any cosplayer crisis, and she does it for free with a smile on her wonderful, generous face!
• Most prolific cosplay: ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ characters, including a killer cross-gender Immortan Joe.

I really could go on and on. There was a Kylo Ren who looked EXACTLY like Adam Driver, someone who dressed as the Pug Monkey from that cracked out Superbowl commercial, a family of Ant-Men (and mama Wasp), Tank Girl, Colby and Poyo from CHEW, Mrs. Banks in her Sister Suffragette outfit, Kung Fury, a sad Rancor daddy, and the most perfect Q since John de Lancie.

And then there was Spider Jerusalem from Warren Ellis’s ‘Transmetropolitan.’

spider j avril 1

This foul-mouthed, mad bastard, filthy fucking journalist is on a mission to print The Truth. It’s an election year, and neither power-hungry half-aliens, corrupt cops nor insane politicians are going to stop him. Or her. Last year my cosplay was about feeling strong, in addition to expressing my love for the character. This year it was about education, liberation and a word of caution. ‘Transmet’ is some seriously twisted, powerful and important shit, and never more so than in a polarizing election year such as this; the similarities are uncanny, and disturbing. I was proud to portray such a strong, vocal and intelligent character, and I was more than pleased to encourage people to pick up the book to experience Spider for themselves. One gentleman recognized me but his female friend did not. “You’re not there yet,” he told her. Turning to me: “Don’t worry, I’ve got her started on Warren Ellis, but we’re still on ‘Nextwave.’”
One of the best things about being Spider was when I was recognized, people GOT me. I felt like every ‘Hey, Spider!’ was more than just acknowledging my kick-ass cosplay, it was recognizing WHY. Another perk was the sexy simplicity of the costume: funky green and red glasses (which prompted more than a few questions on their own), black slacks and an open black blazer, showing off a hint of cleavage. Plus, I wasn’t cold. Here’s to keeping clothes on for cosplay!

spider j avril 2

Only downside: carrying a fake cigarette around for two days prompted a craving I haven’t experienced in almost nine years. Thankfully the $12 per pack price tag they go for here in the city kept me on the wagon.

The New Beginning

Admittedly I pouted a bit things didn’t turn out the way I was hoping, but it was yet another life lesson learned from another fantastic Con. I have grown wiser and more tolerant in my many years of Conning. Gone are the days when I’m frantic over arriving at the gate early, or driving myself bananas choosing which panel to attend. Rather than break my own feet I’ll lean against a pillar and let the Con walk by me. I lament the friends I missed but I leave warm and secure in the knowledge that there’s always next year. You can always go home again, especially when home is where the nerdy heart lives.

ROGUE ELEMENT 129

Rogue Element 129: Star Wars: A Fanbase Awakens

Written by Avril Brown

“Star Wars. I burn for Star Wars.” – Simon Pegg
During the preview for the trailer for ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ (’cause that’s a thing now), Simon Pegg, actor, comedian, writer and nerdling extraordinaire, said those words and simultaneously voiced the opinion of millions of fans across the globe. Since 1977 men and women of all sorts have, on some level or another, burned for ‘Star Wars.’

My own ‘Star Wars’ adventure began in the early ’80s where watching and re-watching ‘A New Hope’ on Betamax remains one of my earliest and most cherished memories. While I’m sure I clamored to sit for repeated viewings of various other films, I remember feeling even at such a young age that watching ‘Star Wars’ would never get old.

No cinematic experience has really come close to touching me the way the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy did and still does. I suppose the combination of seeing them (a lot) at an impressionable age coupled with an equally appreciative audience helped mold my love and devotion towards the films. If I hadn’t had such a cool father and sister who loved the movies and were willing to watch them whenever I wanted, I wouldn’t know and adore them as well as I do.

For me ‘Star Wars’ is a practically perfect story. The trilogy is not three separate films; the movies are three chapters of one complete, immensely satisfying tale of adventure, romance and friendship. I never sought out the books, comics or any other extension of the universe, despite my obsession with the films. I just loved my ‘Star Wars.’

Because THAT, in essence, is what makes ‘Star Wars’ so lovable: everyone is free to take away from it what they will. You want a good guy hero? Enter Luke Skywalker. You want a bad boy turned hero? Hello, Han. Craving a female protagonist who kicks ass at everything? Well, I would say bow before Princess Leia but she’d just say get out of her way, she’s got a rebellion to lead.

Crazy creatures great and small, lightsabers, epic space and land battles; good versus evil, love and friendship overcoming all odds; humor and hope in the face of darkness, respect for all living things; ‘Star Wars’ is a world you hope to find in your dreams.

The reason I’m harping on about this is I’m trying to explain what it’s like to see a new ‘Star Wars’ movie from a fan’s perspective; or at least, this fan’s perspective.

When the trailer arrived for ‘Phantom Menace,’ the first of the prequels, man, I was PUMPED. I got tinglies from head to toe; I couldn’t remember being so excited for a movie. My dad pre-bought us tickets at a theater thirty minutes from our house so we could get the full digital experience and we waited in line for over an hour to get the best seats possible. I was ready for a new ‘Star Wars’ adventure to take me away…

…and then I came crashing back to Earth in a painfully disappointing fashion. I’m not going into why I loathe the prequels so, mostly because there are way too many reasons. Quite frankly I’m happy to pretend they don’t exist, or at least I was until a recent discovery which brings as much agony as it does entertainment. Michael Barryte of Belated Media created a ‘What if?’ story for all three prequels, and damn, they are GOOD. Like, a lightsaber-to-the-soul good because you wish to the stars and back they were the real deal. The ‘Star Wars’ universe would be brighter, fans would be happier and even the hype for ‘The Force Awakens’ would be different if it was following truly excellent ‘Star Wars’ movies rather than embarrassingly bad ones.

Sadly, this is not the world we live in and I, like many fans, was trepidatious upon learning about an upcoming new batch of ‘Star Wars’ flicks. Burn me once, etc., and even though the trailer-teaser was somewhat inspiring, as was hearing the original cast was on board, I remained cautious… for a time.

The more trailers, rumors and reviews that spilled forth, the more I dared to hope that maybe this one would be like my ‘Star Wars.’ So I went forth with my fellow fans, a burning in our hearts as we cheered upon seeing the giant writing on the wall. We all laughed at the first joke, whooped when we saw the Millennium Falcon and hailed the return of Han Solo and Chewie. We all fell in love with ‘Star Wars.’

Yes, ‘The Force Awakens’ is an excellent ‘Star Wars’ movie. It told a lively and funny story in classic ‘Star Wars’ fashion: friendships form over the mutual saving of asses, powerful heroes arise from unlikely places, the good guys take away the bad guy’s weapon and it concludes in a satisfying yet clearly open-ended way.

‘The Force Awakens’ more than succeeds in its mission of telling a story both for the old and new ‘Star Wars’ fans. The almost overwhelming references to the original three stopped just short of the line between, ‘I like what you did there’ and ‘Ok, that’s enough now.’ The familiar characters receive decent screen time and story arcs and the new faces are passionate, playful and easy to root for.

The visual effects were truly attractive and there was a Force level of balance between computer graphics and cool costumes. The original three had some incredible special effects which appeared seamless and, for the most part, have held up over time. However, when they ‘revamped’ the trilogy with added CG it looked lopsided and jagged; one of these things was clearly not like the other. The prequels were essentially all CG but at least it was consistent. ‘Force Awakens’ combines the latest in digital design with some awe-inspiring alien ensembles.

Sure there were some cheesy scenes, but that’s also so ‘Star Wars.’ (I still cringe when watching ‘A New Hope’ and Han says in the face of the encroaching trash compacter walls, “One thing’s for sure: we’re all going to be a lot thinner.”) Unbelievable at times? Um, duh, it’s an epic space opera (according to Wiki’s definition of the genre).

But was it fun? Did it tell a terrific story that a majority of fans can get behind? The mind-boggling box office records ‘Force’ is STILL setting, even weeks after its release, should be proof enough the answer is ‘Hell yes!’ (So enough of those sour grapes Mr. Lucas, if you please)

I saw it twice in the theaters and enjoyed the hell out of it both times, but what I’ve come to realize is while ‘The Force Awakens’ is a wonderful ‘Star Wars’ movie, it’s not my ‘Star Wars.’

And that’s ok.

I’ve never felt the need to seek out ‘Star Wars’ fanfiction the way I have almost every other nerdy obsession in my life. My desire to read more Rogue and Gambit led to my initial discovery of fanfiction, and ‘Spuffy’ (Spike and Buffy) insured I’d never leave. My life was essentially over when I realized the appeal, nay the truth, of Dramione (Draco and Hermione of ‘Harry Potter’).

‘Star Wars,’ however, has always remained just ‘Star Wars,’ and while ‘Force Awakens’ did this galaxy and its beloved inhabitants justice, a part of me will always consider it a separate entity from my ‘Star Wars,’ rather than a continuation.

I am quite content with this compromise, for while I left my heart in Tatooine, deep in the belly of the mighty sarlacc, where my love for the original three will slowly burn for a thousand years, ‘A Force Awakens’ has birthed a new love for young lightsaber-wielding heroes, and I cannot wait for the next adventure.

After all, the Force will be with me…always.

ROGUE ELEMENT 128

Rogue Element #128: Don’t Shoot the Dog!

By Avril Brown

Being an animal shelter employee for a decade means I’m a bit of a raw nerve when it comes to the mistreatment of animals. When you’re in this biz for any length of time, you find yourself either numb to emotional responses related to the four-legged clan (if this is the case, get out, get out NOW) or able to cope but still rather sensitive regarding our furry friends. You cannot work with companion animals and not care, but you also cannot care too much lest you suffer from ‘compassion fatigue,’ which drains you of any energy to care for yourself, amongst other troubling symptoms.

Another side effect of shelter work is (ideally) witnessing and accepting that not everything is black and white. Some things are, but surrendering your animal to a shelter is not one of them. Unfortunately there are some shelter workers who become more and more sensitive to the needs of the animals and less so to the humans who relinquish them to an unknown fate. Yes, there are people who just suck and decide to drop their pet off at a shelter because the cat peed once outside the litterbox, or the puppy who wasn’t taught anything is simply ‘untrainable.’ Yet there are some folk out there who’ve found themselves in a horrible situation, one way or another. My beloved sister-in-law, the kind of person you almost want to dislike ‘cause she’s so amazing (beautiful, intelligent, successful, kind, loving, the list goes on) went through an agonizing period with her previous dog. Being the excited ‘doggie auntie to be’ I helped her and her now husband find a dog through my shelter, and for a while things seemed to be perfect. Not the case. Annie, the dog in question, suffered from a level of separation anxiety: eliminating in the home, chewing the couch, howling (anyone with a Hound knows they can vocalize like Adele on a bullhorn, only less dulcet). They made the incredibly painful decision to bring her back to the shelter, which, ultimately, was the absolutely best thing that could have happened for everyone.

Annie was diagnosed with heartworm, an expensive and dangerous condition to treat. Another rescue group sponsored her treatment, insured she got the proper supervision during her care and eventually found the perfect family for this high-energy, can’t-be-alone Hound dog. My sis and her hubby couldn’t deal with a dog who suffered from separation anxiety. You know who can? About five percent of the population. A three word summation of treating separation anxiety: 1) Slowly 2) Expensively 3) Fingers-crossedly. It sure as shit ain’t easy, and I will never judge someone who realizes they cannot deal.

Point being, animals are important to animal people, and we feel all the feels regarding their care. I disconnect in many ways, some more healthily than others, but one of my go-tos is, shockingly, fantasy. When I come home from work, I want to see my husband’s goofy grin, a tasty meal, maybe a cold brew or two, and perhaps a gander at one of my favorite ongoing escapes from reality. However, there is always the chance that a beloved fancy into fiction crosses that Line into that which hits too closely to home.

iZombie

I have a myriad of emotions relating to this show, most of which are overwhelming positive, but it also guts me. This is a show about zombies (duh), one in particular who works in a morgue and uses her ability to see flashes of the previous lives of the brains she’s consuming to help the police to solve their murders. iZombie is clever as hell and more often than not pee in your pants hilarious. Rife with pop culture references and new material (Liv, the morgue zombie, takes on the personality of whomever’s gray matter she’s masticating, from frat boys to horny pansexual artists), there is so much win in this show it’s addictive. However, there is also a boatload of pain based on the general theme that bad shit can happen to anyone, but it’s the choices we make that can invite more bad shit to your door.

Last season was all about Liv having a bad thing happen to her but making bad choices which compounded her general unhappiness. This season (thus far) appears to be about other people making poor decisions, with an unfortunate creature getting caught in the middle. The second episode involved the murder of a man who was well disliked amongst everyone who knew him; he was a racist, sexist, anything-ist asshole. As it turns out his ‘killer’ was one of his neighbors, a man whose dog was repeatedly threatened by said asshole. When dog went missing, neighbor went a little nuts and in a fit of anger kicked the jack, causing the car asshole was working on to drop on top of his face. Bad choice, yeah, but his tearful goodbye to his beloved dog (who, as it turns out, was simply stashed in the basement), saying that Daddy was going to go away forever, made you wish for house arrest for this poor bastard.

Then, they had to go and do it again! Major, ex-fiancé of zombie Liv and former good guy (seriously, he was a legit boy scout and youth center helper) is now on drugs, fucking evil corporation bitches and killing zombies. Thus far on his kill list: a father of two loving, devoted children, and a guy who runs/ran with his basset hound. The later begged not only for his life while stuffed in the trunk of Major’s car, he begged his unknown assailant not to hurt his dog. I don’t fucking care if this dude eats brains; for one, if he has a dog he loves he’s probably nice enough to eat already-dead brains, so where’s the real harm? Secondly, hearing the voice of a man who knows he’s probably going to die, and has no idea why, BEGGING for his murderer to spare his dog, is like nails on a chalkboard to my SOUL. Major ends up taking the dog in just as he decided to take the jogging zombie dude out, but it was still quite horrible to watch. iZombie, I heart you, but take a fucking beat.

AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.

This show has seen its ups and downs, but the first real solid ‘up’ it experienced was the end of the first season when the storyline merged with the fallout from ‘Captain America: Winter Soldier’ (aka one of, if not the, best superhero movie EVER). When the Hydra infiltration was discovered in the general Marvel movie universe, it reverberated within the S.H.I.E.L.D. TV ‘verse as well in a game-changing way. Agent Ward, the hard-ass love interest of one of the ‘rookie’ agents, turns out to be a Hydra agent. Despite the murdering of many innocent people and the whole lying thing, I was really pulling for this dude. I have a real ‘bad guy turns good for love’ thing, and Ward seemed to fit the bill, emotionally and physically. Dude was abused by his family, manipulated by his mentor (who supposedly ‘saved’ him from his family, and prison) and generally taught to follow orders and let the chips fall where they may.

By the end of season one Ward does a lot of horrible things, but it wasn’t until the flashback episode where we see some of his time with his ‘savior’ who dumped him in the woods with a dog, that we see the side of Ward we cannot unsee. After being abandoned in the woods by a man who absconded with him from prison with whispers of ‘I know you,’ and ‘I can give you a better life,’ Ward has nothing save a small knife, his intelligence and a dog. They live and hunt together for months until pseudo Daddy dearest shows up all, ‘Well done, kind of, now shoot the dog and let’s boogie.’

NO. GALLONS OF NO. Dog sits in front of him, all trusting and shit, and Ward give him the signal to go flush. Me and my hopeful self are like, ‘Puppy’s gonna be so sad when he comes back and there’s no Ward, but at least Ward didn’t shoo-OHMYGODWARDWHATTHEFUCK?’ I didn’t ditch SHIELD right then and there, however sorely I was tempted, but I did dump Ward and any hope of redemption.

The Leftovers

I’ve spoken of the one and done phenomenon and by gods was this one of them. I was wicked excited to see this show: hair-raising trailer and cool premise (one third of the population just up and disappears); I was on board. Until I wasn’t. In the first ep they had a teenage orgy (ok, kinda get that given the mass vanishing act; totally plays on the general teenage emo thing), a helluva lot depressed people (get that too) and a smoker’s cult. Like they smoke an ungodly amount of cigarettes. Now, I’m all for celebrating vices, particularly in the face of the apocalypse, but I would prefer to spread out my funds amongst booze, weed, etc. before fulling cashing in my ticket. Even when I was a smoker I couldn’t stand an overabundance of smoke, and yet these people use a stifling amount of nicotine and silence (they don’t speak) to deal with their issues? Call a fucking shrink like normal people you cancer-loving weirdos. The unforgivable was hinted in the middle but came into fruition towards the end: the dogs who witnessed the ‘vanishing’ went bad; feral, in essence. The dude who appeared to, on some level, keep it together, ended up shooting a pack of dogs who were feasting on a deer corpse. While he was crying and clearly conflicted over the whole event, STILL. With all the fucked up shit that happened in this world, did they really have to throw in the bipolar canines?

There are Lines, and to each their own. I once met up with someone from high school, an individual whom I couldn’t STAND by the way, but time had matured him and he’d become an international war reporter; he’d spent time, and was going to spend more, overseas in hostile territory. This guy was so mean to me in grade school, yet when I told him I worked in an animal shelter his eyes softened and I could swear I saw his heart break just a little. “I could never do what you do,” he said. I thought of bombs exploding and people screaming, men and women rushing into danger to save others, and I said with all honesty, “I could never do what YOU do.”

We all have our limits, our Lines, and most of us would do anything to keep from crossing them. Almost anything regarding companion animals gets me right here, and I’d prefer my fantasy world to treat them with a loving respect you don’t always see in the real one. Hell, even Blacklist saved the dog, with the assistance of Pee Wee Herman for fucks sake. I get it; all stories need to push boundaries and make you bleed, otherwise they either become stagnant or boring. So do what you gotta do, story weavers, but for the love of Pete, don’t shoot the dog.

ROGUE ELEMENT 127

Rogue Element #127: In Defense of ‘Back to the Future: Part III’

By Avril Brown

Recently a good friend and most excellent writer wrote a fantastic article on the ‘Back to the Future’ trilogy, in particular the second installment and how it helped shape the series. The essay is quite the enjoyable read not only for the obvious love and passion he feels towards these iconic films, but for the thought-provoking nature of his interpretations.

However, I have to strongly object to the shade thrown towards ‘Part III.’

I have never understood the lack of love for the final piece of this time-traveling trilogy. What is not to adore about this movie? We’ve got Old West adventure, romance, great humor, new takes on familiar lines, a new milestone in an unbreakable friendship and one of the best happy endings to a movie ever. ‘Part III’ was the perfect wrap up to an ageless series, and it deserves some respect.

While my first experience with ‘Part II’ gave my little seven-year-old brain a bit of a time travel headache (hell, even the series title confused me at first; how does one go back to the future if the future is ahead?), I remember ‘Part III’ as being non-stop fun. Marty literally hit the ground running as soon as he arrived in 1885, between the Indians, the bear and later being dragged through the town square by his neck; you could tell right away this was going to be one hell of a final ride.

Now that I’m a little older I can more fully appreciate the delicate balance of themes this film managed to find. Of course, Doc and Marty’s friendship is at the forefront. You can’t necessarily call it an evolution; it was more of a fortification than anything else. Their friendship didn’t need to be tested; it was tried and true from the beginning. The trilogy allowed us to see all aspects of it from several different perspectives, and ‘Part III’ gave us the most bang for our buck. We get Marty and Doc from the past, but he doesn’t need to convince this Doc of his legitimacy as a time traveler like he did in ‘Part I;’ they’re already bros. Then we have the ‘original’ Marty and Doc, hanging out in the past, keeping each other alive and in trouble. Finally we have future Doc popping by for a quick hello to let his friend know that not only is he ok, but he’s living the dream with his beautiful family, and will probably stop by here and there for a visit and an adventure.

Some argue that the running gags present in all three movies are overdone, but I say they’re all part of the trilogy’s inherent cheesy charm. Plus, they were already repetitive by ‘Part II’ which is mostly ‘Part I’ seen from a different angle. ‘Part III,’ however, gives them new life and whimsy. Marty and Doc switch up their signature lines, with Marty uttering “Great Scott!” during a moment of stress and Doc following with, “I know, this is heavy.” Marty once again wakes up to a familiar face after yet another blow to the head (he really should get a MRI; his concussions probably have concussions at this point), only this time he has no clue whom this familiar face belongs to. Of course there was another dance, but this time the tuneage is provided by ZZ Top; try and argue against their awesomeness and you’re dead to me. Of course there’s also the jargon confusion, but ‘Part III’ has the best scene, and possibly the most hilarious moment in the series. In ‘Part I’ Doc questioned Marty’s use of the word ‘heavy,’ concerned there was something wrong with the Earth’s gravitational pull in the future. In ‘Part III’ a pissed off Mary storms up to ‘Mad Dog’ Tannen and tells him to, “Lighten up, jerk!” The look of pure bewilderment on Tannen’s face, and his cronies whom he turns to for a translation, is gold. Not wanting to lose face in front of his foe, Tannen nevertheless recognizes fighting words when he hears them and responds, “Mighty strong words, runt!” despite having no clue what those words really mean.

There was also an abundance of strong women in ‘Part III’ which were distinctly lacking in ‘Part II.’ Young Lorraine in ‘Part I’ represented; I have mad respect for a woman who is confident in her sexuality and isn’t afraid to go after what she wants…even if it is her son from the future. ‘Part II’ unfortunately dropped the ball, with an overexcited Jennifer either babbling to the point where Doc puts her out, or she freaks and makes herself faint, two times over if you want to get technical about it. I’m not going to hate on trophy wife Lorraine; I’ve seen people in abusive relationships and they get points for just surviving. ‘Part III’ has two, count ‘em TWO women who kick supreme ass. First up is the unknown relative who turns out to be Marty’s great-great-grandmother. From her first lines you know this is not a woman to be trifled with as she introduces herself to Marty with a strong reiteration of the ‘Mrs.’ She’s a married woman and she won’t tolerate any shenanigans. She also practically lectures this almost stranger on his need for an attitude adjustment and considerations for his future.

Then we have Clara Clayton, a woman of education, grace and violence. She makes almost being killed via runaway horse meets cliff look positively ravishing, hair all perfectly tousled and cheeks red from exertion. She latches onto Doc’s obvious intelligence, wanting to pick his brain about his science background and gush over their mutual love of Jules Verne. She also knows how to protect her man, put him in his place and find him when it’s clear love will prevail. When Mad Dog shows up at the dance with murder on his mind, she willingly dances with him to get him, and his gun, away from Doc. She’s not about to put up with his shit, though, and gives his shin a solid kick with her stylish, and pointy, boots when he gets handsy. When she felt Doc was mocking her as well as breaking her heart she didn’t hesitate to crack one across his face saying she deserved respect. Yet when Clara realized his feelings were genuine she again jumped into action, pulled the train’s emergency brake and ran to find her love.

One of the clearest indications of an excellent series is an ending is so satisfying you can’t even be mad the adventure is over. ‘Part III’ delivers a happy ending so well-rounded I was practically hugging myself in joy as I left the theater. Everyone survived, everyone is happy and in love, and Doc is still traveling in his new, super slick train time machine which means he can visit whenever he wants, so the Doc/Marty bromance is alive and well. There is nothing lacking (save for the poor kid they named Verne; he’d probably get beat up a lot if he had a normal childhood), so there is no yearning for more story. I remember feeling quite content after seeing that movie for the first time; actually more like thrilled that the trilogy ended on such a great note. And if anyone even THINKS about making a sequel or ‘revamping’ the series, I’m going to run a DeLorean over their face.

So do yourself a favor and watch ‘Back to the Future: Part III’ once again so you can see what I see: an amazing amalgam of everything that makes this trilogy great, and a truly complete conclusion. Doc Brown and Marty McFly, on their final ride into the sunset and into cinematic history, showing us how time travel, and friendship, is done in style.

ROGUE ELEMENT 126

Rogue Element #126: C2E2 2015 – The Panels

By Avril Brown

As with whirlwind vacations in exotic locales, every year at Comic Con I tend to struggle over which activity to pursue given my limited time frame. Naturally, the only panels I was interested in attending overlapped one another, so I had to make Sophie’s choice between seeing some of my favorite male fantasy authors and seeing some of my favorite female television actresses. I went with women power, and I was well-rewarded for my choice.

Fierce Females of TV

Despite the semi-lame name and slow start, this was one fantastic panel. There was a broad sampling of women who each brought their own unique voice and experiences to the table, and each starred on vastly distinctive shows, ensuring an interesting blend of fans. Maria Doyle Kennedy from ‘Orphan Black,’ Jewel Staite from ‘Firefly,’ Leah Pipes from ‘The Originals,’ and Neve McIntosh from ‘Doctor Who,’ with Clare Kramer from ‘Buffy’ as moderator comprised the panel and all play rather badass women in their respective shows. I heard the word ‘fierce’ about fifty times in the first five minutes, which got old really fast, but each actress had an interesting response to the word fierce. Jewel shied away from it, calling it ‘scary’ and referring to her coworker Gina Torres (who played a warrior on the show). Neve referred to her character on ‘Who,’ a lizard warrior queen, and says, “She eats people, which is kind of fierce…and they gave me a sword.” Leah plays one of the only humans on a show rife with witches, werewolves, vampires and hybrids, and bemoaned, “I would love to eat people, but I don’t get to.”

All women agreed there is discrimination in the workplace, and some shared personal experiences along with advice on how to confront such a situation. Jewel recounted a time she was working ungodly long hours on a gig in South America and asked to check the time sheets (something she’s been doing since entering the biz at the age of eight). They had brazenly whited out the hour she had actually clocked out at and wrote in an earlier time. Instead of confronting the people in charge directly, she went the smart, legal route and issued a former complaint to the Union, and to this day that production company cannot work with Union people. Neve also told us of her mother’s initial struggle to find work because there were so many ‘men only’ jobs, but then she applied for one anyways, got the job and rocked it.

Though they also concurred there is an increase in the number of quality roles for women because there has been a surge in good television writing, the ladies also encouraged the use of the word ‘no.’ “I’ve said no to more jobs than I’ve said yes to because they were rubbish and didn’t represent women well,” stated Maria. “We need to reject the notion that limiting roles are all that’s there, and instead shape what we want rather than complain about it.”

When asked if they knew who they were, if they were fully confident in themselves, Jewel and Maria had great responses. “I’m just a smart ass,” Jewel said, to approving laughter. “I used to be a people pleaser, but I jumped ship on that one. I don’t have to be liked by everybody, which is crazy liberating.” Maria has also evolved over time. “At twenty-five you think you have it all down. At thirty you realize: what was I thinking?! Now at fifty I still have no clue, and that’s ok.”

All had various characters that inspired them in their youth, and different, yet similar, reasons why. Leah admired Jo March, from ‘Little Women,’ as someone who “went against the grain.” Neve dug rock and roll chicks, because “they knew who they were.” Maria looked up to anyone who did someone unexpected…and Patti Smith.

Above all, it was rewarding to hear these beautiful, talented and hilarious women speak about their colorful lives and careers with such passion, frustration and excitement, and how their gender does not define who they are and what opportunities should be available. Almost all expressed an interest in writing as a future endeavor, and some already do (Jewel has an ongoing blog, and Maria is cursing up a storm on Twitter). They encouraged young women everywhere to discover who you really are and ignore the haters. As Maria so eloquently put it, “Anytime someone says you can’t do anything, you just turn around and bloody well do it.” Amen sister. Amen indeed.

Kick-Ass Women of S.H.I.E.L.D.

When Ming-Na Wen took the stage, complete with bicep flex, the first thing I thought was, ‘I NEED to get her arm workout.’ That woman is sporting some serious guns, and not in the stage prop kind of way. Hayley Atwell had already endeared herself to everyone in the room by briefly appearing on stage before the panel began to greet and hug every Peggy Carter cosplayer who was invited up to show off their power suits. These women had quite the entrance.

Ming-Na plays Agent Melinda May on ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,’ unarguably the most badass (human) woman on the show, and Hayley Atwell is Agent Peggy Cater, former British Armed Forces officer, valued Strategic Scientific Reserve agent, friend and love to Captain Steve Rogers and founder of S.H.I.E.L.D. Both are strong, sexy characters who are unafraid to fight for what they want and what’s right, and who can shut down naysayers with smarts, a strong right hook or both, depending on what the situation calls for.

Both of these actresses were obviously here to have fun and it showed in their somewhat silly attitudes, particularly Ming-Na, who clearly knew her audience. The panel started out with a focus on their characters and interesting ‘what if?’ scenarios. When asked what villain they would love to face, both agreed that a May/Carter team up vs. Loki would be hella fun. Also, Hayley showed some love for Melinda May when she stated she didn’t think May would need any advice from Peggy Carter; they would just need to find a bar and get drunk together.

Speaking of libations, when asked what their characters favorite drinks were, Ming-Na replied scotch, as evident by a first season episode of ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ when May had a bottle dangling from her fingertips, gave hottie Grant Ward a ‘come hither’ look (which he followed) and walked into her hotel room without a glance backwards. Own it, girlfriend. Hayley figured Peggy’s drink to be an amaretto sour, or perhaps a shot of absinthe. When asked what they drink, Hayley’s was a dirty martini. Ming-Na: “Tequila, baby!” I NEED to hang out with these gals.

One fan asked what aspects or abilities of their particular characters they would love to possess, and Ming-Na said she’d love to be able to fly a plane like Agent May. “I wish I could tame a person like Howard Stark…he’s so naughty,” replied Hayley in reference to the womanizing, arrogant playboy inventor, and the man who portrays him. “And Dominic Cooper is as well, so to be able to tame someone like that is a real power.” With regards to the powered up opposite sex, Hayley adorably named her Cap as her favorite superhero, but Ming-Na has her eye on the Hulk. “He turns into this big angry green man who still keeps his pants on.” What’s not to love?

Unsurprisingly sexism in the workplace was mentioned during this panel as well. “Equal pay would be handy,” Hayley stated with a Carter-level dash of sarcasm. She mentioned how her show, set in the late forties, features the obvious sexism which existed more prominently back then, but now we need to root out the more subtle double standards. Ming-Na praised Marvel as being a beacon of opportunity to showcase strong female characters, and shared a story from her past. When she was in college and just starting to dip into acting, a student production company wanted her to star in their movie, which had nude scenes. She refused. One man asked, “How do you think you’re gonna make it if you don’t do any nude scenes?” Several years and a successful career sans nude scenes later, she’s on stage talking about her hit show declaring proudly with a hip shimmy and arm snap, “Well I proved them wrong!” Ming-Na, you are my spirit animal.

As powerful and dangerous as their characters are, both actresses cited fancy dress scenes as some of their favorites, highlighting the fact that it is OK for a strong woman to put on a slinky dress and be sexy as well. “That’s the beauty about being a woman,” Ming-Na said. “We can be soft, and we can be hard.” When asked for another adjective she would use for ‘strong,’ Ming-Na’s alternative was, “How ‘bout ‘take no shit?’”

The panel closed out with another standard, but still important, question for both women: what advice would they give young women today? “I tell my daughter: love yourself,” Ming-Na said. Also, “It doesn’t matter how old you are; take care of yourself.” Hayley quoted her own character in the finale episode, after being overlooked for her efforts yet again: “I know my value,” encouraging people to believe in themselves and don’t let anyone hold you back.

I am fiercely glad I attended both of these kick-ass panels. Power words and clichés aside, and ignoring the fact the DJ played Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holding Out for a Hero’ as we walked out of ‘Fierce Females’ (seriously dude, wtf?), these panels were EXACTLY what women at a Comic Con, or hell, women EVERYWHERE needed to hear. All of these incredible women stood up and said in one voice, We can do this. We can do anything. Now that is a strong – I’m sorry, “take no shit” – message all women can get behind, and I am proud to pass it along.