Bitch Planet: Extraordinary Machine
by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, and Robert Wilson IV
2015 • 156 pages • Image Comics
While I’m familiar with the long history of feminist dystopian fiction (have I mentioned how much I loved Only Ever Yours?), I’m far less familiar with exploitation films, especially the women-in-prison variant. Nonetheless, the idea of reclaiming women-in-prison films for the purposes of feminist discourse naturally appeals to me. I also very much trust Kelly Sue DeConnick due not to anything like Captain Marvel (as I haven’t read her run yet), but to her adaptation of Barbarella (which I also haven’t read, but I’ve read DeConnick’s interviews regarding the art of adaptation). Reframing and adapting supposedly empowering female narratives from the past to actually be empowering? Nice.
Bitch Planet takes place in a future where women who are deemed noncompliant—i.e., too loud, too butch, too queer, too brown, too assertive, too “insufficiently feminine”—by the ruling Fathers. Women who are terminally noncompliant are arrested and shipped off to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, nicknamed “Bitch Planet.” The latest crop of ladies struggle, suffer, and resist against their guards. But inmate Kamau Kogo is approached with an offer: put together an all-female team for the bloody Duemila sports competition. While kowtowing to the powers that put them in prison doesn’t appeal to Kamau, the opportunities it might provide, for both her fellow inmates and herself, do…
Star Wars: Darth Vader: Volume 1
by Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larocca, and Edgar Delgado
2015 • 160 pages • Marvel
It’s embarrassing, but I’ll admit it—I wanted to read Star Wars: Darth Vader because I thought Kieron Gillen wrote “Thank the Maker.” If you’re unfamiliar with “Thank the Maker,” it is actually a 2000 Star Wars comic written by Ryder Windham about Darth Vader encountering C-3PO during The Empire Strikes Back. Vader flashes back to rebuilding C-3PO as a child, defending droid rights to his mother as she tells him that creating a droid is a big responsibility. I was so touched by Vader feeling actual pain over how far they’ve traveled from that point in time that I immediately determined to read… Star Wars: Darth Vader.
In my defense, I knew Gillen was writing a Darth Vader title when I saw a few pages of “Thank the Maker,” so the two naturally conflated in my mind.
In a way, though, Star Wars: Darth Vader answers the same question as “Thank the Maker”: how do you square Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker in light of the prequels in a meaningful way? And I don’t mean that in a joking way at all. I’m watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars while I get ready for work in the morning (this is how I watch any and all half-hour programs), and I’ve been very much enjoying how the show tries to balance Anakin’s character and bridge the gap between Jedi hero and Sith villain. He’s heroic, dashing, and loyal, but he’s also possessive, violent, and impulsive.
Kieron Gillen, naturally, has a very good answer to this question, which is Star Wars: Darth Vader. Continue reading
2016 • 108 minutes • Walt Disney Studios
As an Aunt to Werewolves, I get excited whenever I see something amazing happen that, to them, will be just a part of their childhood and the way the world works. My nieflings will never know an America without marriage equality or a Star Wars without women and people of color. (Sidebar: if you haven’t seen the Rogue One trailer, what you are doing reading this review go watch it immediately.) And they’ll always have had Zootopia to introduce them to complex concepts like bigotry and internalized bias, something I never expected of this movie when we first began hearing about it.
The Scorpion Rules
2015 • 384 pages • Margaret K. McElderry Books
If you’ve been a reader for long, you may know that I have a soft spot for young royal women with steel in their eyes and the world on their shoulders. This stems from being reared on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, wherein that incarnation of the eponymous princess sacrifices seven years of her life and, perhaps, the player protagonist to save her kingdom. It’s a soft spot that goes often unsatisfied, because grim-eyed shield maidens have strangely not become a popular archetype in fantasy. But when it’s satisfied, it’s often satisfied well, as in the case of both Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue and Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules.
My Life in France
by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme
2006 • 317 pages • Alfred A. Knopf
Oh, did I ever need Julia Child this past week.
For reasons I don’t particularly want to go into, my ever-fluctuating confidence in myself was quite shaken last week, so being able to escape into My Life in France was an absolute godsend in terms of both general stress relief and relieving my anxiety. (I don’t think I’ve ever read myself out of being nauseous from nerves before, so that was a novel experience.) I’ve never been a particularly ambitious woman, which, combined with being a queer introvert who doesn’t want children, sometimes makes me feel disconnected from the usual cultural milestones my culture tells me I should be hitting to qualify as a real person. So spending my commutes reading the words of a woman who found her true, passionate calling late in life, never had children, and pursued her passion in life simply because she enjoyed it? It was heartening on a spiritual level.
While I’ve never read Mastering the Art of French Cooking and have never been an active fan of Julia Child—I’m young enough that I only really know her from pop cultural osmosis and a viewing of Julie and Julia—I’ve long thought of her fondly, to the point that I can summon her voice in my ear despite not having heard her voice in years. (How odd, to put it that way, since she passed away in 2006. Memory is such a weird and wonderful thing.) Anastasia is actually the reason I hunkered down and put My Life in France on my reading list three years ago, and her recommendation was quite successful.
Rock She Wrote
edited by Evelyn McDonnell and Ann Powers
2014 (originally published 1995) • 496 pages • Plexus Publishing
Have I ever mentioned how much I love reading women’s voices in chorus? I always love learning about women in community, especially when it involves women that the powers that be prefer to isolate, such as Jane Austen in the Western canon (did you know Jane Austen was influenced by Fanny Burney?) or Dolly Wilde as a footnote in Oscar Wilde’s history. Anthologies of women’s writing can sound a little dry, but something like Women in Clothes can be so astonishing just by the sheer variety of voices it entails. Feminine experience is multifaceted, varied—we’re so often denied this truth in even supposedly progressive media that to encounter it all at once is a choice experience.
Rock She Wrote fights back against the (white, straight) boys’ club of criticism by presenting a sample of over thirty years’ worth of writing on rock, pop, and rap. Editors Evelyn McDonnell and Ann Powers, in the introduction, describe both the motivation for curating the collection and the treasure hunt of tracking down authors, soliciting recommendations, and hunting for lost fanzines. (As someone who dreams of discovering some secret trove of eighties Star Wars slash zines, I can relate.) And, blissfully, it’s not just a collection of straight white female authors—women of color and queer women also have their voices represented here.
1981 • 145 minutes • United Film Distribution Company
Knightriders isn’t, as some might think, the only non-horror film on zombie auteur George A. Romero’s dance card. In his early career, he directed the romantic comedy There’s Always Vanilla, and its utter lack of a legacy is proof that something can be willfully faded into obscurity via its creator hating it enough. But There’s Always Vanilla was Romero’s second film, released in 1971; Knightriders, released a decade later, came after a string of horror films, including the sequel to Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead. Knightriders, then, is quite an outlier in Romero’s filmography, but it would be in anyone’s, really: a personal drama about a Renaissance Festival troupe on the brink of collapse doesn’t exactly get butts in seats the way zombies do.
Which makes Knightriders is, even over thirty years later, an honestly refreshing and unique movie. I was surprised by how much I loved this movie, rewatching it recently; I got to the point where I could recognize its flaws but still sink into the film and its world like a hot bath, my eternally tense shoulders actually relaxing for once. It’s slow and awkward and elegiac and shaggy, and infinitely endearing because it is all of those things. And it is easily one of my favorite movies.
by Rainbow Rowell
2015 • 522 pages • St. Martin’s Griffin
Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On may be the most anticipated deconstruction of Harry Potter since we all stumbled out of our midnight screenings of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, feeling very strange indeed.
Of course, there have been other deconstructions. The Magicians, The Unwritten, and Mr. Toppit are all deconstructions of Harry Potter to a degree, but they’re at once more broad and more narrow than Carry On. They pull from a variety of other texts, like The Chronicles of Narnia and Winnie the Pooh—but they pull only from those texts. What Carry On does differently from those deconstructions and, in fact, any other deconstruction I’ve read is that it also pulls from the metatext that is the vastness of the Harry Potter fandom, the ur-gateway fandom for Millennials.
In her acknowledgments, Rowell states that Carry On is her take on a Chosen One narrative, but you’d have to be (unfathomably) unfamiliar with Harry Potter to read this and not think of the Boy Who Lived. And, of course, that’s rather the point. Carry On is a deceptively soft deconstruction of Harry Potter: while it lacks the sheer brutality of The Magicians, it’s more interested in picking at holes you may have not noticed in the original text to unearth and engage with the strange implications underneath than trying to shatter your childhood innocence in one blow.
(No, I’m still not over how The Magicians ended, if you haven’t noticed how I’ve not finished the trilogy.)
2012 • 130 minutes • Columbia Pictures
Anonymous holds a special place in my biography—it’s the film that introduced me to theaters that serve real food while you watch, planting the seeds for my lifelong devotion to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. I saw Anonymous because I knew an underclasswoman in college who desperately wanted to see it. But the only place showing the film was a weird theater on the north side of town, so she needed somebody with a car, a free afternoon, and the willingness to submit themselves to Anonymous. And I, connoisseur of bad cinema, was that somebody. Off we went to Cinebistro, a restaraunt/theater joint with luxuriously cushy seats, a full bar, and twenty minutes of previews. I fell in love instantly.
And as for Anonymous? Well, Anonymous may well be one of the greatest bad movies of our times.
by Fran Ross
2015 (originally published 1974) • 240 pages • New Directions
After watching Amy Schumer host Saturday Night Live, I remain as ambivalent as ever about the comedian. It’s not that I’m not glad for Schumer—I am! And it’s not that Schumer isn’t making considerable strides for women in comedy that will heartily be appreciated by the comedians that follow her. But, as Katie Barnes at Feministing points out, while her comedy is feminist-minded, it’s not terrifically inclusive. And all things, especially comedy, benefit from an appreciation and understanding of intersectionality, as well as a broader perspective. Greater awareness and sensitivity to the world around you doesn’t inhibit comedy; it expands comedy.
Case in point: Fran Ross’ Oreo, a comic novel published in 1974 that promptly (and undeservedly) fell off the radar, which gleefully seizes upon the intersecting identities of and imposed upon Christine “Oreo” Clark, a half-black, half-Jewish girl from Philadelphia, as comic grounds. How before its time is Oreo? It includes a joke about doctors providing subpar health care to queer people… made by a gay character at the doctors’ expense.