Up on the Aqueduct

It being that time of year, my annual review post is up on the Aqueduct Press blog. It was a little late this year due to my being in Montréal for part of December, but I got there in the end. It went live on Christmas Eve, but I didn’t think there was any point in publicising it then. There are lots of other great contributions too. You can read mine here.

Up On The Aqueduct

It being that time of year, I have once again contributed to the annual Aqueduct Press “The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening” series. If you want to know what I have been spending my leisure time on over the past year, you can read all about it here.

There have been a bunch of other great posts in the series this far, and I’m sure there will be many more to come.

Graphic Novel Review – Vei

Asgard is big business in Hollywood these days. With the announcement of Thor: Love and Thunder, and the Loki TV series, many of us are eagerly looking forward to the latest adventures of our favourite Norse gods.

But what about the Norse themselves? Stan Lee didn’t invent Thor and Loki. Actual Norse people did. In Iceland workship of the Æsir is still a living religion. Is anyone in Scandinavia upset about all of this? Well maybe, but not that I know of in Sweden. It is hard to get the Swedes upset about anything except losing an ice hockey game to Finland. But that doesn’t mean that they are not doing anything. Two Swedes in particular — Sara B. Elfgren and Karl Johnsson — are staking their own claim to the stories of the Æsir with their own imaginative, and beautifully illustrated, story. For more about what they are up to, see my review of the first volume of their graphic novel series.

(The text in the sample page below is in Swedish, but you can get the book in English.)

New Asterix Book in October

I get all sorts of odd PR emails from publishers, many of which are of no interest to me whatsoever. This one was different. I grew up on Asterix books, and while I know they are not quite the same these days as there has been turnover in the creative team, a new one is always of interest.

The book will be called Asterix and the Chieftan’s Daughter. The basic plot is that Vercingetorix, the famous Gallic leader who defied Caesar, had a daughter. She has now come to the little village in Amorica. The blurb doesn’t explain why, other than that she’s on the run from Caesar, but I’m assuming that she will want Asterix and co to support her in a rebellion against the Romans.

The book is due for publication on October 24th. Full press release here.

Marvel Iconography

I went to see Captain Marvel today. I loved it for all sorts of reasons. I continue to be in awe of how Kevin Feige and crew manage the overall story arc. I enjoyed the glimpses of young Fury and Coulson. I can’t wait to see Monica in Endgame, which she surely has to be. Annette Bening totally stole the show. And of course there was Goose.

But there was one thing in particular that sticks out for me about the character. Captain Marvel’s symbol is an eight-pointed star. And she is accompanied by a particuarly dangerous cat. What’s that all about? Well here’s a clue.

By the way, Wonder Woman’s tiara originally sported a classic Texan five-pointed star. They changed it to an eight-pointed one for the movie. DC’s iconography is all over the place.

Deadpool 2 Fashion Report

Unsurprisingly, Deadpool 2 is a steaming heap of dingo poo with far less self-awareness than the average Internet troll, at which market is it clearly aimed. It does have some good stuff. The DC joke was actually funny. Domino is awesome and clearly needs her own movie, though of course she is unlikely to get one. Also we have our first glimpse of Teenage Mutant Lesbians, neither of whom get killed off. Indeed, while the cis, white women in the film have life expectancies in nanoseconds, the other women escape unscathed. I’m assuming that the scriptwriters didn’t notice this. Otherwise the film is pretty much forgettable.

While I have little to say about the plot, I was intrigued by one small fashion choice. See above. Ellie (Negasonic Teenage Warhead, on the right) is wearing a green and black, metallic-look fluffy sweater. I recognised it instantly. Something very like that was in fashion back in the late 80s, and early 90s.

This being a Deadpool movie, it is pointless trying to fit it into X-Men chronology. We last saw our favorite mutants in the 1980s, but there are sufficient pop culture references in the film to date this one to at least the present day. Also Deadpool knows that Wolverine is dead, which doesn’t happen until around 2024. Besides, why would the film crew spend any time thinking about setting-appropriate fashion choices when they could be writing another dick joke?

I’m therefore forced to conclude that the sweater is there because Brianna Hildebrand owns it and thought it would suit Ellie’s style. But how? She wasn’t born when it was originally in fashion? Does she collect vintage clothing? Or has someone brought it back? If they have, please point me at it so that I can buy one.

HFRN – Day 2

Yesterday began with a great keynote by Philip Morgan (no relation) on battlefields. He wanted to know how they got named (the Battle of Hastings took place at Battle, not at Hastings), whether a memorial was built on the site, and if so whether that was contemporary or long after the event. These are not simple questions, and hence they make for a great research project.

There were lots of good talks, including some that I missed due to being in the wrong stream. One of my favorites was by Greek historian, Ioulia Kolovou, on the subject of Anna Komnene. She was a Byzantine princess and a historian. If you would like to get a sense of the paper, Ioulia has a blog post about Anna up on the Dangerous Women Project blog.

My paper went well, which is a relief because I am giving that talk twice more this week. The first will be at the Diversity Trust event in Bristol tomorrow. The second, which will be an extended version, is at Bath Spa University on Wednesday.

Also in my session was new pal, Lucie Cook, who gave a magnificent paper on how the Victorians wrote about Anne Boleyn. My favorite bit was when a historian produced a new book critical of Anne and a clairvoyant claimed that she had been visited by the ghost of the angry queen who wanted the record put straight. For some reason the historian declined the opportunity to interview the ghostly Queen to find out what he had got wrong. Lucie noted that most historians of the era were men, that this book was deeply misogynist, and that the clairvoyant, as was typical for the era, was a woman.

The third paper in my session was by a long time friend, Tanya Brown, whom many of you will know from SF conventions. She did a paper on Christopher Marlowe in fiction, including coverage of Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age novels. This was every bit as entertaining as you would expect.

The wrap up session for the event was a panel discussion on how we remember history. This was inspired by things like the Rhodes Must Fall campaign and the removal of Confederate statues in the USA. I chaired it. Tony Keen, who when not at SF conventions is a Classicist, talked about how the Romans would sometimes erase mention of past emperors who had not been popular. Catherine Padmore from Australia talked about the Australia Day controversy. My friend Will Pooley from Bristol talked about the controversy surrounding Edward Colston, a local philanthropist who made much of his money from the slave trade. And finally Yasmen (whose last name I didn’t catch) from Turkey talked about a soap opera about the Ottoman Empire which gives a very positive view of the ancient Turks. Oh, and there was me. I talked about the World Fantasy Award trophy controversy.

Getting home proved a lot more difficult and expected. A bunch of us arrived at Stoke station just in time to see the line closed because of a “person hit by a train” incident. Understandably there was much chaos. It took almost two hours to get Lucie, Will and myself to Stafford where we could pick up the mainline trains from Manchester. Fortunately there is an alternative route south that avoids Stoke. I was greatly relieved to get to Bristol in time to catch the 10:15pm train home. I hope Lucie made it to Portsmouth.

Return of the King

It was great to have T’Challa in the last Avengers movie, but giving him his own movie was always going to be a whole new level, and one Marvel could easily have botched.

I can’t pretend to understand all of the political issues that the film has to deal with. Africa is not a country, and African-Americans are not the same as Africans. I could see some of that being played out, and I know it will be impossible to please everyone. From my point of view, as a Black Panther reader from way back in the Don McGregor days, and a cat person, this was a fine movie. I also understood and enjoyed the parts where it made comment on wider political issues.

The film isn’t perfect. I’ve been seeing people online complaining about lack of queer content. But all things considered it could have been so much worse. Or it could not have existed at all, which would have been terrible. I very much hope that other people enjoy it as much as I did.

Oh, and stay right to the end of the credits. You always do that in Marvel movies, right?

The Gifted – First Impressions

Sky is putting a lot of marketing effort behind The Inhumans right now. As everyone who has seen it tells me the series is awful I am not inclined to bother. However, rather more quietly they have also shown (on Fox) three episodes of another new Marvel series, The Gifted. This is set in the X-Verse rather then the main Marvel Universe, and Bryan Singer directed the first episode. The story takes place after anti-mutant laws have been put in place in the USA, and the X-Men and Brotherhood have both vanished from the scene. It follows the adventures of an upstanding white family who discover that their teenagers are mutants and therefore wanted criminals.

From an X-Men point of view, it features Thunderbird, Polaris, Blink and a number of others running a Mutant Underground. This makes me very happy because a) Johnny is not fridged, and b) having Lorna around takes me back to those heady days when there were suddenly two girls in the X-Men rather than just Jean. It was a Big Thing for me as a teenager.

From your point of view the interesting thing is that, like SHIELD, this show is heavily political. It is all about people being declared un-citizens, about them being rounded up by clandestine, quasi-military government organizations, about lynch mobs, and about clueless white people discovering just how hard life is for the less privileged.

Wonder Woman – The Extras

The Blu Ray disc of Wonder Woman promises more than 2 hours of bonus content. That’s small by Lord of the Rings standards, but quite impressive otherwise. So what do you get in all that?

To start with there is all the usual stuff. The Director, Patty Jenkins, talks about her vision for the film. There are extended scenes, and a blooper reel. The main thing you learn from this is that Gal Gadot has an absolutely amazing smile that she doesn’t get to use much in the film. We also got some contributions from Greg Rucka and Liam Sharp, who were the creative team on the comic when the film came out. I’ve known Liam for a long time and it is great to see him doing so well, and producing such amazing art.

But there are other things too. There’s a section on the training that the Amazons went through. I had no idea that many of the people playing the Amazons were top-class professional athletes. That didn’t excuse them from a formidable training regime. Just watching all of those women working to get themselves to a peak of physical fitness was hugely impressive.

Then there is a segment called “The Wonder Behind the Camera”, which is partly the creative team on the movie talking about their work, but also follows a group of teenage girls who want to get into the movie business when they have a day on the set. It is inspiring stuff.

My favorite segment, however, is one called “Finding the Wonder Woman Within”. It is a series of interview snapshots with a bunch of high profile women: women from Hollywood, women writers, women from NASA, sports stars such as Sloane Stephens and Danica Patrick. All of them talk abut what it means to be a wonder woman, and the theme is very much one of the battle for equality. Nothing is actually said about the child occupying the White House, but it is very clear that everything he stands for is under fire here. All of this is set to a backdrop of some amazing poetry from Mila Cuda, who is the Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate.

I’m not quite sure what I expected from this disk, but I’m damn sure I didn’t expect to find terms like “gender identity” and “non-binary” being bandied about in the extras for a superhero movie.

Well played, women of Hollywood. Well played indeed.

Creative Histories – Day 1

As promised, I am in Bristol. I have not yet got to explore the zoo, but I have listened to four interesting papers and made a bunch of new friends. I have also discovered that you get very well fed at the zoo. Or at least you do if you are a human (or masquerading as one). I can’t vouch for anyone else.

Creative Histories is all about engaging with history in creative ways, not all of which involve fiction. The first session today was all about more visual arts. We learned about a project to make textile arts based on stories found in the historical archives of Hertfordshire (which featured alchemists, pirates and witches). We also heard about preserving the artistic heritage of Wiltshire, including making pottery in the style of the Bronze Age “Beaker People” (because Wiltshire looks down its historical nose at most of the rest of the UK in the same way that Egypt does at Greece and Rome).

Session two was all about children’s fiction. We saw a great interactive ebook project based on a YA novel about the Spanish Civil War (which sadly sank without trace because Apple’s big plans for interactive ebooks never amounted to much). There was also a really powerful paper about the evolution of children’s historical fiction in Australia which had some of us in tears. Also bonus Shaun Tan mention.

Tomorrow I get to do my paper. I am in a great session. I have Sonja who is currently based in Newfoundland but is a newcomer to Canada. She’s talking about writing about Colonialism when you are a person whose culture was colonized. And I have Joanne who is talking about teaching history though comics. Her paper is titled, “Punching Hitler” and she has an awesome batgirl-logo necklace.

Basically all is well, apart from the flamingos who have been barracking loudly from their enclosure just outside the windows.

Wonder Woman V0.1

International Women’s Day is coming up tomorrow. I’ll be in Bristol doing training, then in Bath for their Reclaim the Night march, so I’m unlikely to get any blogging done. So I am doing something today instead.

We’ll hopefully see the Wonder Woman movie later this year (and fingers crossed DC won’t have butchered it the way they have done with other major releases recently). Diana first appeared in a comic in 1941, but she is not the first Amazon princess to have captivated America. The photo below is of a 24-year-old Kathryn Hepburn taking the part of Antiope in a stage play in New York in 1932. Antiope was a younger sister of Hippolyte and therefore Diana’s aunt. She famously was either kidnapped by or ran off with Theseus and became Queen of Athens. The play was a huge success and led to Hepburn being spotted by a Hollywood talent scout.

Introducing the Pop Queer-ies

A few weeks ago I did an email interview for a new podcast based in Toronto. Being a stupidly busy feline I then mostly forgot about it. I figured it would go online eventually. Then, a couple of days ago, I noticed that the podcast had a Twitter feed. Checking their website, I discovered that they had not only published my interview, but there had been four other episodes since. Whoa!

The hard-working young ladies responsible for all of this nerdly goodness are Justine and Gwen. They are very knowledgeable about a whole range of stuff I know little about (or, in the case of video games, nothing about). And their hearts are in the right places (metaphorically speaking, I have no idea whether they are Time Lords).

My interview was part of Episode 5, which was all about trans woman in comics. You can read it here, and listen to parts of it here. Much more interestingly, there is also an interview with Rachel Pollack, which you can listen to here.

There are lots more shows available here, including an episode devoted to the Suicide Squad movie that I ought to listen to before I see Rob Williams next. (I decided not to see it in the cinema because there were so many bad reviews of it.)

Ah, so many podcasts, so little time.

Atwood Does Comics


Yes, that’s right. Margaret Atwood, who allegedly doesn’t write science fiction, is writing a superhero comic for Dark Horse. Welcome to the world, Angel Catbird.

Well, quite a few high profile people have taken that leap recently. China Miéville did Dial H for Hero ages ago. William Gibson is doing Archangel. Ta-Nehisi Coates is doing Black Panther. It won’t be long now before some keen young journalist does a piece on how the famous novelist, Neil Gaiman, has started writing comics.

However, I am not here to talk about novelists writing comics, I want to talk about the creative team. I don’t know how much choice Atwood had on who she worked with, but if they are her choices she’s done a damn fine job.

The artist is Johnnie Christmas. He’s Canadian, naturally. He’s also black. I’m not familiar with his work, but I really like what I have seen of the interiors of Angel Catbird. His best known work to date is Sheltered.

Tamra Bonvillain, on the other hand, I am very familiar with. She’s a key part of the creative team for Rat Queens, though sadly she didn’t join the book in time to get in on a Hugo nomination last year. She’s also trans.

Thank you, Ms. Atwood. I shall be buying your book.

Civil War on Disc

The DVD and Blu Ray versions of Captain America: Civil War came out on Monday so naturally I rushed out and bought a copy. For those of you who care about such things, I got the Steve cover, because regardless of the issues if you ask me to choose between Steve and Tony I’ll pick Steve every time. I am, of course, Team T’Challa, but you couldn’t buy a cover for that.

The extras on the disc are fairly standard fare: trailers, gag reel, short “making of” documentaries and so on. The only real surprise was a sneak peek at the forthcoming Doctor Strange movie, due out in November. It doesn’t really tell us much new. We get to see more of Baron Mordo and Wong, and we also get to meet the bad guys for the film. There is, sadly, no sign yet of the Dread Dormammu, or his daughter. The villains are a sect of human magicians called the Zealots who seek power from the mystical dimensions. I continue to be rather worried about this film. Still, the Sanctum Sanctorum looks nice, and Benedict Cumberbatch certainly looks the part.

I spent yesterday evening watching Civil War with the directors’ commentary on (which also features the scriptwriters). I do like what they did with this film. The folks at Marvel have very much taken on board the criticisms about endless, formulaic action films and vast amounts of collateral damage. Civil War is very different, and puts a lot of effort into disguising that fact. Some people, I am sure, will feel cheated that they didn’t get a huge slugfest at the end, but so it goes.

Civil War is very much a character-driven film. As the Russo brothers say in their voice-over, the central narrative is all about the personal disagreements between Tony and Steve, and the issues in their lives that drive them to this point. One of the most interesting things about the film is that it couldn’t have worked without all of the backstory that we have got from previous Marvel Cinematic Universe products. Iron Man 2, the previous Captain America movies and the previous Avengers movies all feed into this one. There’s even mention in the commentary of something that Peggy Carter says to Howard Stark in the Agent Carter TV series as being significant to this film.

I guess you can probably watch the film and enjoy it without knowing all of this stuff, but it is better if you do know it. More importantly, given how rigid movie-making has become, there’s no way a Hollywood studio would have let this film be made the way it is without that backstory. They would have insisted on establishing scenes for all of the characters, which would have bogged everything down impossibly.

We don’t get much technical information in the commentary, save for some interesting comments on shooting angles in conversations, but there are quite a few points where the cast get praised for their contributions to the script. My favorite here is in the scene where Tony Stark first meets Peter Parker. An interesting thing about this scene is that we have 18-year-old Tom Holland playing opposite Robert Downey Jr., who is the top paid actor in Hollywood. They are playing a teenage science whizz kid meeting the most famous inventor on the planet. At one point Tony says to Peter, “I’m going to sit here, so move the leg,” and then sits on the bed next to the kid top continue the conversation. What actually happened is that Holland had forgotten the blocking for the scene. Downey improvised a line to remind him where he should be sitting, and it worked so well it got left in the film.

The other technical issue that sticks in my mind is the Black Panther costume. They didn’t have the budget to make it for real, at least not in a way that would have allowed Chadwick Boseman to survive filming. So they made him a much lighter costume for filming, and painted on the panther suit in CGI afterwards. Nice job, ILM!

The big outstanding question has to be where things go next. We know that the blockbuster Avengers movie(s), The Infinity War, are on the horizon, but right now the Avengers are entirely dysfunctional. Several of them, including Cap, are on the run from the US government, and probably quite a few other governments as well. It has been suggested that the natural next step is for Steve Rogers to give up the Captain America identity and become a character known as The Nomad — something he did in the comics back in the 1970s. Well, right at the end of the directors’ commentary there is mention of the possibility of seeing Chris Evans in this costume.



Mike Carey at Waterstones

As promised, I have uploaded the other Mike Carey interview to Salon Futura. This is the one that we did at Waterstones in the evening. It is almost an hour long, so we have a lot more time to talk about Fellside. Mike and I go on a little rant about the economics of private prisons. The conversation also touches on films. The Girl with All the Gifts is due for release on September 23rd. Here’s the trailer.

One of the reasons I didn’t want to release this too soon is that Mike would have had to kill me, because during the interview he mentions the possibility of a prequel to The Girl with All the Gifts. That book is now official, so I no longer have to worry.

Inevitably Mike and I talk about the X-Men. Indeed, I suspect that we could have talked about superhero movies all evening had not one or two people been scowling at us from the audience. Obviously I mentioned the Felix Castor novels, which led us on to the idiocies of publisher branding policies. We even managed to mention the Steel Seraglio books, which Mike wrote with his wife, Linda, and daughter, Louise.

The sound quality is rather poor in places, for which my apologies. My little microphone doesn’t cope well with a cavernous shop, and there were all sorts of issues with capturing audience questions. Hopefully it is all listenable.

This event was arranged by the Bristol Festival of Literature. My thanks to Pete Sutton for doing a fine job.

Next week in the Salon I’ll have the full version of my Finncon interview with Cat Valente.