A weekly digest of thoughts on fiction, non-fiction, and all the news I see fit to print.
An Interesting Week for Women in Comics
Coming hot on the heels of the announcement that Margot Robbie has pitched a Gotham City Sirens film to Warner Bros. (and that Warner’s is down for it), was the revelation that the powers-that-be at Marvel Studios unequivocally forced Shane Black and his creative team to swap out a first-draft female villain for a male one in Iron Man 3 in order to sell more toys. This unilateral decision might perhaps be chalked up to Ike Perlmutter, the CEO of Marvel Entertainment who was recently ousted from the Marvel Studios branch of the business due to creative differences with producer Kevin Feige, but in an interesting move Marvel has wasted no time releasing information about the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok film, which will feature a female villain. Indeed the timing of these announcements almost makes the cynic in me suspect they were made in concert with one another. Since the removal of Perlmutter there’s been some rumblings about behind the scenes battles for better female representation (for example the rumors that Feige had to schedule an Inhumans film in exchange for permission to do a Captain Marvel film), but it remains to be seen whether the representational imbalance can entirely be blamed on Ike.
Over on the small screen, AMC’s adaptation of Preacher will air its pilot episode tonight. CBR has a great interview with actress Ruth Negga, who plays Tulip O’Hare, about the importance of female anti-heroes in fiction and how the increased racebending of characters is indicative of a larger (though slow-moving) trend in Hollywood to challenge the traditional status quo. I’ve been on the fence about Preacher, although not—perhaps—for the typical reasons, and the casting of Negga (who was positively wasted on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) has done a lot to get me interested in the series. I read the original comics and had mixed feelings about them, so I’ll be watching the TV show with a close eye to see which elements of the story make the transition and which do not.
How Do You Like Your Horror?
I finally had a chance to sit down this week and read the first story arc of Gail Simone’s Clean Room. The series is ostensibly about a hidden battle between humans and entities of as yet unspecified origin (they seem to be sometimes mistaken for aliens and sometimes for demons, though they aren’t quite either), but it is about so much more than that. One of the beautiful things about the comic book medium is the way it enables mystery. With the visual component of comics, it’s possible to jump with fluidity between multiple temporal and spatial settings in a way that allows the audience to work their way into a story from the outside perimeter. Clean Room does a particularly amazing job of establishing multiple characters who are highly ambiguous in their motivations and intentions, and this brings up important questions. What does it mean to fight the monsters? What happens to you when you do? Do you become a monster yourself? And if so, is there a way to avoid such a fate? It’s unnerving and intense and firmly in the horror genre, but I cannot recommend Clean Room enough. (Learn more about the series here.)
Also recommended? This article about the little-known facts surrounding the creation of Alvin Schwartz’s seminal Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series.
And this short film by Robert Morgan:
I actually hadn’t thought about this film in years, but Facebook’s “on this day” algorithm dug it up for me again and I was once more struck by its lyrical, yet horrifying, beauty.
Fairy Tale Endings (and Beginnings)
A new study has found that some fairy tales may be as much as 6,000 years old, and the notion absolutely delights me. I’ve always been fascinated by stories and why we tell them, so the idea that we as species have been telling certain stories for thousands of years speaks to me on an almost primal level. Four of the oldest suspected tropes include “the boy steals ogre’s treasure,” “the smith and the devil,” “the animal bride,” and “the grateful animals.” Animal stories are very common in Japanese folklore, although it’s unclear to me exactly what their antecedents are, which makes me wonder if those motifs aren’t even older than suspected. Most comparative analyses of folklore focus on Indo-European tales, which is understandable but limiting. I’d love for someone (or a group of someones) to do a comparison of Indo-European and Sino-Tibetan and/or Japonic stories. That’d really tell us something about the tales that have endured.
I’ve actually been thinking quite a lot about writing my own fairy tale recently, and this line of thinking has been helped by a variety of readings. I devoured Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale (the title of which is largely attributable to a translation error in the first edition), which is all about fairy tale types, and I recently finished a retelling of Snow White by Helen Oyeyemi—Boy, Snow, Bird—that was quite captivating. I still haven’t organized all of my thoughts about the novel, but one of its most striking characteristics is the way in which is doesn’t really end. My knee-jerk reaction to this was to feel irritated by it, but upon reflection it strikes me as a brilliant rejection of happily-ever-afters (which most original fairy tales do not have) and of endings in general (which they inevitably do). The implication of Oyeyemi’s tale—or one of them at least—is that fairy tales brought into the real world will ultimately be stripped of their endings because endings are a false construct. (This is something Peter S. Beagle also noted in his fairy-tale-inspired novel, The Last Unicorn, in which a character remarks that “there are no happy endings because nothing ends.”)
I’d like my fairy tale to combine elements of the oldest tales still known to us, weaving them into an interlocking pattern of pure story, but I’d also like it to fall into the so-called real world where the story may end but the journey never does.
Ron Perlman wants to play Cable in the Deadpool sequel, and all I can say is FUCK YES.