Tag Archives: strong female characters

A Better Way To Promote Diversity


How do you encourage meaningful change in media, culture, and social attitudes? That’s a reasonable and relevant question to ask these days. It seems everyone is either trying to push for greater diversity or whining about the lack thereof. More often than not, however, those efforts aren’t mutually exclusive.

Even if nobody has a definitive answer to the question of how, that hasn’t stopped many from trying. There have been major diversity pushes in every form of media from video games to comics to movies to TV shows. Not all of them have been successful. In some cases, they backfired horribly and cost people money.

I don’t want to belabor the specifics of those failures, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that they also have the effect of angering and/or insulting the audience. For franchises that have a huge fan base, that can be pretty detrimental. Some franchises never recover.

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It certainly doesn’t help that there are those who push for diversity for all the wrong reasons. There’s a very vocal contingent of critics/professional trolls who go out of their way to bemoan the lack of diversity in a certain piece of media. Whether it’s a video game having too many people of the same race or a lack of strong female characters, these people will whine about it as loud as the internet will allow.

For the most part, I don’t think anyone should give much attention to such whining. We’ve all dealt with whiny children at some point in our lives. Most people learn, often the hard way, that arguing with them rarely works out. Most people just give up to stop the whining. I’ve pointed out before why this can lead to bigger problems down the line.

It quickly becomes a brutal cycle. The more attention you give to these whiny children, the more incentive they have to whine so they can get what they want. The same applies to these “critics” who keep whining about diversity. It’s not enough for them that “Black Panther” is doing so well with a diverse cast. Some will still whine that it had no LGBT characters.

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It’s inescapable. You simply cannot win against a whiny child. No matter how much you go out of your way for them, they’ll find another reason to whine and so long as they keep getting their way, they’ll keep doing it. In the long run, though, that’s still a terrible way to promote diversity.

Ideally, producers of media will pursue diversity because they want to appeal to a broader audience. They want to make money and money doesn’t care about race, religion, or genital configuration. However, when critics/trolls rely on whining to get their way, then those efforts become less about diversity and more about stopping the whining.

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I believe there is a better way to promote diversity and it does not involve any whining. It doesn’t require some radical rethinking of how we go about producing, consume, or discussing media. It doesn’t even require some major protest, a new law, or diversity quotas. It’s just a simple change in approach that anyone can do for free and without that much effort.

That change can be summed up in two words: positive reinforcement. If you’ve taken a basic psychology class at any point in your education, you already know what this means. Even if you haven’t taken any classes and just deal with a lot of annoying people/children/whiners, you probably know the idea.

Rather than complaining about what is so bad about something, positive reinforcements involve focusing on the good. Rather than whine about what isn’t there, you celebrate what is there. Most importantly, though, you turn that outrage once reserved for those bad things into apathy. Most forms of media can survive outrage. They cannot survive apathy.

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To illustrate this approach, consider the following scenario that tends to play out whenever someone criticizes a movie, TV show, video game, etc. for a lack of diversity.

“Just look at this terrible affront to women, minorities, and LGBTQ people! It’s so racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic! It sends a terrible message and appeals to an audience that wants to cling to their regressive attitudes. It’s perpetuating a destructive, unhealthy mindset that directly impacts our culture. This affront should be censored, changed, or condemned endlessly until the world changes!”

Chances are, you’ve heard something like this over the past few years. Sometimes it involves a female character that doesn’t check the right boxes. Sometimes it involves a story that tries to check too many boxes. In any case, the whiners I mentioned earlier will find a reason to get upset about it. Moreover, they’ll demand some sort of change, coupled with condemnation over anyone who disagrees.

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That’s not going to promote diversity. If anything, that’s going to give people one too many reasons to resent pushes for diversity. Some media companies are already learning that the hard way, with Marvel being the most recent example. Ideally, you want someone to promote diversity because they want to and not because they’re afraid of a backlash.

With that in mind, here’s a second scenario that shows how positive reinforcement can further that effort.

“That thing some claim is racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic? I don’t really care for that. Let me tell you about this other thing that I just think is amazing! I love it. It’s so much fun and it sends such a good message to men, women, and minorities of all kinds. I want more of this. I’m willing to pay for more of this. Please make more of this!”

It may come off as some peppy kid who is way too excited about something. Then again, wouldn’t you rather be around that kid instead of the one that whines to get what they want? When someone is happy and excited about something, it’s kind of infectious. It makes us want to share in that feeling.

Throw money into the mix and suddenly, the same producers that make all the media that regressive types whine about actually have a good incentive to promote diversity beyond just placating whiners. Instead of just avoiding controversy, they actually want to do diversity and do it right.

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The key is focusing on instances where it is done right. They are there. There have been plenty of examples of the media actually getting diversity right. They just don’t make the news because outrage is louder and garners more attention. Even so, excitement and praise can be just as loud.

Instead of complaining about Rey being a Mary Sue in “Star Wars,” focus on how great Princess Leia was in the first trilogy or how great Ahsoka Tano is in “Star Wars: Clone Wars.”

Instead of complaining about Lara Croft being too sexy, focus on how great Samus Aran is in the Metriod games.

Instead of complaining about the lack of diversity on shows like “Seinfeld,” focus on how great the minority characters are in shows like “Fresh Off The Boat” or “House.”

It may not sound as vocal or satisfying as venting outrage about a flaw, but it sends the kind of message that others are more likely to want to get behind. Whereas positive feelings can have many benefits to yourself and those around you, venting outrage can be very unhealthy.

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In the long run, getting others to want to promote diversity is the best way to further it. Whining about it isn’t going to accomplish that. It’s just going to make others want to stop the whining. That may work for kids, but not functioning adults.

Movie producers, TV executives, comic book writers, and video game programmers alike are all still human at the end of the day. Human beings respond positively to positive feelings. Channel those feelings into promoting diversity and you won’t just get more of it. You’ll get people who are actually excited about producing it.

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Why Ahsoka Tano Is The Strong Female Character We Need Right Now


There has been a lot of talk about “strong female characters” over the past several years. I know because I’ve contributed to some of that talk. I also put that term in quotes because it’s one of those terms that people love to throw around, but don’t quite know how to define. The only time most people use it is to complain.

This has been an especially hot topic among “Star Wars” fans lately, a conversation to which I’ve also contributed. It was fairly obvious from anyone who saw “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” that the producers at Disney wanted to promote more strong female characters. The extent to which they succeeded is debatable, but the fact that someone made a “defeminized” edit of the movie should tell much of the story.

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Now, I can understand why Disney and other big movie studios would make a push for strong female characters. I think it has less to do with their commitment to inclusivity and more to do with improving their brand. They could probably care less about gender politics. They just know that a brand that appeals to more than half the population is a brand that’ll make more money. That is, at the end of the day, the primary goal.

With Disney and “Star Wars,” though, that effort almost seems desperate. Characters like Rey and General Holdo were portrayed as so strong and so capable that they didn’t always come off as interesting or very likable. The movies just can’t seem to get any female character not named Princess Leia correct.

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The real irony is that “Star Wars” already created an amazing female character who was more compelling, more likable, and more endearing that Rey or Holdo could ever achieve over the course of a single trilogy. In fact, they created her back in 2008 and put her through a journey that endeared her to men, women, and those of unspecified gender.

Her name is Ahsoka Tano and if the term “strong female character” is to have any meaning, she deserves to be the new standard by which all others are measured. She’s not Rey. She’s not Holdo. She’s not Princess Leia either. She’s very much her own character and it’s a character that we need more of in these fragile times.

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To those who only know “Star Wars” through the movie, they probably don’t know much about Ahsoka and that’s a true shame because her journey is very much in line with the larger themes of “Star Wars.” I won’t go so far as to say it’s on the level of Luke Skywalker’s journey, but that’s okay because Ahsoka’s journey is compelling in its own right.

In the lore of “Star Wars” that extends beyond the movies, Ahsoka’s story takes place primarily between “Attack Of The Clones” and “Revenge Of The Sith.” She was a young, immature Jedi who was assigned to a pre-Darth Vader Anakin Skywalker shortly after the Clone Wars broke out. To say she had the makings of a great female character at that point would’ve warranted a billion Jabba the Hutt laughs.

From the beginning, Ahsoka was not capable or likable. She wasn’t even that crucial a part to story surrounding the Clone Wars. She wasn’t that well-received by the fans either because she came off as annoying, immature, and distracting. That was somewhat forgivable since she was a kid, but she didn’t drop many hints that her journey would be that compelling.

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That changed considerably over the course of five seasons of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” a highly underrated and very well-done TV series that only got better with each successive season. While this series didn’t really affect the movies that much, it is recognized as official canon. That helps make Ahsoka’s story more meaningful.

That meaning takes time to develop, though. Yes, she starts off as childish and annoying as most would expect of someone so young, but she steadily grows and matures. She becomes an integral part of Anakin Skywalker’s story in that he now has this kid sister to look after that he never asked for. Considering what a whiny guy he was in “Attack Of The Clones,” he really needed that.

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What makes Ahsoka’s story most compelling though, especially with respect to strong female characters, is how so much of it is defined by the hard choices she makes. Ahsoka is not like Rey, Holdo, or even Leia in that she often finds herself caught up in situations she doesn’t seek out. Ahsoka is an aspiring Jedi knight. She charges into those situations, making for some pretty dramatic moments.

She’s given no special treatment. Just being a female Jedi who happens to be the Padawan of Anakin Skywalker gets her no passes. She’s held to the same standards. She’s expected to rise to the occasion, which she does time and again. She doesn’t have to be forced into that central role. She becomes part of it like any other non-droid character.

What sets her apart, though, isn’t how well she plays the part of an aspiring Jedi. It’s how she’s allowed to make mistakes, learn from them, and make tough decisions along the way. She’s like Luke Skywalker in that she guides the story through the highs and lows of the conflict. There are times she learns a hard less. There are times Anakin Skywalker learns a lesson too. She both complements and supplements those around her.

In that sense, Ahsoka directly contradicts the Galbrush Paradox that often hinders a female character’s ability to struggle, fail, and mess up without becoming a trope. She’s allowed to be a little flawed while retaining a healthy level of femininity. She gets emotional, but not in the same way as Anakin or other male characters. She’s like an alien Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but with a light saber.

Ahsoka accomplishes all of this without relying too much on sex appeal. Granted, she’s not desexualized in a way that feels overt, which other franchises have tried too hard to do, but her looks are always secondary to her skills and the choices she makes. Yes, she’s cute in ways that men with sexy alien fantasies appreciate, but that’s never the primary appeal to Ahsoka.

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Her biggest appeal is how she navigates the same story as Anakin Skywalker, Yoda, and Obi-Wan Kanobi in her own unique way. That story is full of choices and actions that really set her apart. This is best exemplified in what I feel is the most defining and heart-wrenching part of Ahsoka’s story.

At the end of the fifth season of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” Ahsoka is accused of taking part in a secret attack against the Jedi Temple. As a result, she is imprisoned, but escapes to prove her innocence. She eventually succeeds and is even welcomed back into the Jedi Order. However, at that point, she decides that she has no place in the Jedi Order anymore.

It’s a sad, but bittersweet moment. It’s a moment that breaks her heart and that of others, but one that those who saw “Revenge Of The Sith” knows is the right choice. She chooses to leave the order that she did so much to serve. In doing so, it makes for a truly emotional goodbye between her and Anakin, which also doubles as another sign of his eventual fall.

It’s easy to tell in that moment how much it pains Ahsoka. It pains Anakin just as much. That kind of heartbreak in the face of so much struggle is the kind of impact that helps define a character, regardless of their gender.

It’s that same impact that makes Ahsoka’s later role on “Star Wars Rebels,” another show that takes place before “A New Hope,” every bit as meaningful. In that show, Ahsoka continues following her own path, fighting her own battles, and proving her worth along the way.

It’s in “Star Wars Rebels” where Ahsoka Tano officially outgrows the part of being the snippy side-kick of a pre-Darth Vader Anakin Skywalker and becomes an integral part of the larger “Star Wars” mythos. She’s not hardened or jaded like a Sarah Conners type character. She’s still full of heart, hope, and love, doing her part to make the galaxy a better place. Honestly, what more could anyone want of any character?

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Whether you found Ahsoka annoying at first or didn’t care for the female characters the movies tried to push with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” it’s hard to look at the person she became and not be impressed. She has complexity, personality, and even a little sex appeal as an adult. In terms of quality female characters, she checks most boxes.

After the recent finale of Star Wars Rebels,” which left fans like me drowning in tears of joy, Ahsoka’s story is far from over. It’s a story that offers unique appeal through a remarkable female character from which little was expected. In the end, that ability to transform from that annoying side-kick to a truly endearing character that makes Ahsoka Tano the kind of female character that appeals to everyone, regardless of gender.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Star Wars

My Wish list For “Wonder Woman 2”

I know it’s been a while since I talked about Wonder Woman. In my defense, there have been a lot of distractions between the holidays, the response to the “Justice League” movie, and recent news stories to which I just couldn’t resist responding. Make no mistake, though. I haven’t forgotten about Wonder Woman or the fact that she had a breakout year in 2017.

In many respects, Wonder Woman was one of the best parts of 2017. She didn’t just amaze audiences by proving that there is a market for female superheroes, even after “Catwoman.” She raised the bar for the entire genre, both in terms of critical and commercial success. That bodes well for other female-led superhero movies.

While other female superheroes play catch-up, though, Wonder Woman is set to continue rising the bar. She’s Wonder Woman. That’s what she does through Gal Gadot’s charisma and she does it with uncanny grace. Shortly after her movie came out, a sequel was announced to the surprise of no one. At the moment, “Wonder Woman 2” is slated for release on November 1, 2019.

While that date seems so far away, some details are already starting to trickle in. Director, Patty Jenkins, has already started teasing details. At the recent Palm Springs Film Festival, she indicated that the sequel would be a very different film compared to its predecessor. Naturally, she didn’t give too many details, but it’s enough to get Wonder Woman fans excited.

Since I consider myself among those fans, I already find myself contemplating what a “Wonder Woman” sequel will entail. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve contemplated such things, either. While it’s too early to know or even speculate what “Wonder Woman 2” will bring, we can still hope and imagine the wondrous possibilities.

In that spirit, here is a brief, but basic wish list for what I hope to see in “Wonder Woman 2.” Granted, if Ms. Jenkins is serious about this being a very different movie, chances are not much on this list will apply. I understand and accept that. This is just the giddy Wonder Woman fan in me daring to imagine how wonderful this movie can be.

Wish #1: Establish More Villains (And Make It Personal)

If Wonder Woman has any flaws, beyond those that assholes and trolls point out, it’s that her list of villains isn’t quite as iconic as that of Batman or Superman. For much of her history, Wonder Woman’s greatest battles have been tied to those of the Justice League or those of her fellow Amazons. She’ll be a major force in those battles, but they rarely have major personal stakes.

Wonder Woman 2” presents a golden opportunity to change that because there are a few villains with strong personal ties to Diana. While Ares was more built up boss battle in the first movie, villains like Cheetah can test Diana’s heart, as well as her skill.

The recent Wonder Woman comics have done an excellent job establishing the deep personal struggle between Wonder Woman and Cheetah. While there are multiple women who have gone by Cheetah, the overall theme is the same. She is Diana’s rival, but there was a time when she was also her friend.

Having to fight her friends is an agonizing challenge for Wonder Woman, which we saw play out in the “Justice League” movie. It brings out her heart and her passions for all the right reasons. A more personal villain can only help expand that appeal in “Wonder Woman 2.”

Wish #2: Maintain A (Very) Distant Connection From The Other DCEU Films

While I stand by my statement that “Justice League” did not deserve the negative reviews it got, I don’t deny that the “Justice League” movie has become somewhat of a toxic brand. It’s not quite on the same levels as “Batman and Robin,” but at this point there’s just no way to salvage the backlash.

It’s for that reason, among many others, that I hope “Wonder Woman 2” maintains an extremely distant connection from the larger DC Extended Universe. I’m not saying it should cut itself off entirely. Even the first movie made it a point to establish that this movie was part of a larger world. The sequel should reflect that.

However, the events of “Justice League,” however big they might have been, shouldn’t be a major driving force in the narrative. Whether it takes place in the modern day or in the past, like the first movie, it can’t be too beholden to the events of other major DC movies.

A big part of the success of “Wonder Woman” was its ability to stand on it its own, apart from the rest of DC’s main superheroes. “Wonder Woman 2” should build on that and I imagine Patty Jenkins isn’t going to want to be too constrained by the burdens of other movies. For Wonder Woman, despite her kinky past, there can be no such restraints.

Wish #3: Build On The Amazons’ Mythology (And Diana’s Family Ties)

There were a lot of positives in “Wonder Woman” and I went out of my way to acknowledge them in my review of the movie. However, if there was one flaw in the overall narrative, it had to do with the limited exposure of the Amazons. That’s because in nearly every medium, Wonder Woman’s story is inherently enriched by her Amazon heritage.

The first movie did enough to establish who the Amazons were, why they are so important, and how important they are to Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, it didn’t do much more than that. After Diana left Paradise Island, we didn’t hear from them again. That’s why I hope “Wonder Woman 2” takes the time to expand on the story of the Amazons.

They already showed how badass they can be in “Justice League.” I sincerely hope they get more opportunities in “Wonder Woman 2.” Between Diana’s mother and her more notable siblings, there’s a wealth of material for Wonder Woman to build on. It further raises those personal stakes I mentioned earlier, which can only help expand the appeal of Wonder Woman’s world.

Wish #4: Let Wonder Woman Address Social Issues (In Her Own Unique Way)

Given Wonder Woman’s iconic status as a female icon, it’s unavoidable that she’s going to provoke discussions about social issues. These days, that leads to many heated, hateful, and downright counterproductive conversations. However, that’s exactly why I still want Wonder Woman to address those issues in “Wonder Woman 2.”

Gal Gadot has already shown that she gets the unique spirit of love and compassion that Wonder Woman espouses. Sure, she is prone to making a few controversial remarks, but overall she gets what Wonder Woman is about. She even showed this in the first movie, having Diana navigate the very patriarchal world of the early 20th century, but without using that as an excuse to hate it.

Like it or not, there are a lot of social issues going on in the world. For the most part, we do a poor job debating those issues, as a society. Wonder Woman, with her emphasis on compassion and love for all, is the perfect antidote to that.

I don’t know how she’d go about it in “Wonder Woman 2.” A lot of that depends on the setting, the time period, and the conflicts involved. Whatever form it takes, though, I think it’ll be good for the audience and for the superhero genre to see Wonder Woman confront these social issues as only she can.

Wish #5: Expand The Emotional Stakes (And Let Gal Gadot Channel Her Passions)

This is more of a broader hope for “Wonder Woman 2.” While there are quite a few specific things I’d love to see in this movie, I think it’s more important that it embody the necessary theme that makes Wonder Woman so endearing. Like with some of my other wishes, those themes revolve heavily around the emotional stakes of Wonder Woman’s journey.

We didn’t see too much of that in “Justice League,” but we saw plenty of that in the first movie. Every battle she fought was an emotional struggle. That struggle gave Gal Gadot the opportunity to emote in a way that would make any Amazon warrior proud. Wonder Woman has never just been about fighting injustice or kicking ass. That is always secondary to her heart.

Some of the best moments in “Wonder Woman” just involved her taking a moment to smile, explore, and share herself with others. Whether it was making Steve Trevor feel awkward or making friends with Etta Candy, we got to see Wonder Woman share her passions with others outside the battlefield. That helped make her endearing on so many levels.

Wonder Woman is already a very likable, very passionate character. She’s the kind of person that men and women, alike, can rally behind. Any successful sequel will take those themes and run with them. There’s so much to love about Wonder Woman and how Gal Gadot brought her to life. If “Wonder Woman 2” can build on those themes, then it already has the most important ingredient for more wonderful success.


Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Wonder Woman

Why Rey From “Star Wars” Is NOT A Mary Sue

There are a handful of character types that tend to evoke a collective groan from most audiences. Being an ardent comic book fan, as well as a general fan of sci-fi, romance, and fantasy, I’ve listened to those groans and even contributed to them. At a time when it’s easier than ever to share opinions and/or voice frustration, these frustrating characters tend to be more vulnerable than ever.

Chief among those groan-inducing characters is the dreaded Mary Sue. Chances are you’ve heard that cute little colloquialism after browsing gaming and sci-fi message boards for more than five minutes.

Usually, it applies to a female character, but can just as easily fit apply to a male character as well, often in the form of the equally groan-inducing label of Gary Stu. Sometimes it’s a criticism of a character. Sometimes it’s a flat-out insult. In most cases, it rarely has a positive connotation.

It’s for that reason that characters slapped with the Mary Sue label tend to be either controversial or destructive to an underlying narrative. Many writers, myself included, go out of their way to avoid crafting characters that might attract that label. I certainly made that effort when I wrote “Skin Deep” and “Passion Relapse.” I doubt I’m the only one who tries to avoid it.

These days, though, there’s one particular character getting slapped with that label and it has been generating discussions for a couple years now. It comes from “Star Wars,” one of the biggest franchises in the history of modern fiction and one of many productive cash cows for Disney. The character in question is Rey and I know that discussions about her tend to bring out the dark side in any “Star Wars” fan.

Now, I personally really like Rey. After seeing “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” she solidified herself as one of my favorite “Star Wars” characters of all time. I wasn’t entirely sold on her potential after seeing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” but I’ve since been convinced. Rey is a great character and one of the best things to come out of this new generation of “Star Wars.”

That said, I’m aware of the criticisms levied against her. She is very much at the center of an ongoing debate about female characters, in general, and what constitutes a Mary Sue. I tried to avoid those debates after “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” but I feel comfortable entering the fray now after seeing Rey develop over the course of two movies.

Before I offer my assessment on whether or not Rey deserves the label of a Mary Sue, it’s helpful to highlight just what a Mary Sue is. There’s actually not any clearly-defined criteria, to date, and that criteria is constantly evolving. According to TVTropes.org, the simplest definition of a Mary Sue is a character that’s just too good to be true. More specifically, those traits include the following:

  • A bland, shallow personality that’s overly pure, overly good, and incorruptible
  • Flaws that are forced and only ever meant to glorify her purity and goodness
  • Beauty that is either flawless or idealized for any given world, fictional or otherwise
  • Physical skills that are exceedingly good to the point of never facing any real challenges
  • Mental acuity to the point where she’s never wrong, never foolish, and always on the moral high ground
  • Unlimited and contrived access to every tool or resource, be it something mundane or a Deus ex Machina
  • Always ending up with the perfect romantic partner and/or forging friendships with every meaningful character
  • Being at the center of every plot and sub-plot by default

Again, these are just a few traits associated with a Mary Sue and there are likely more. There are far more thorough insights into the traits of a Mary Sue, one of which was done by the YouTube channel, Overly Sarcastic Production. After their wonderful breakdown of strong female characters, I would put their assessment far above my own.

Whatever the criteria, the Mary Sue is such a fluid concept, which is part of why it’s such an empty criticism. However, it has become a more serious criticism and since it’s being applied to “Star Wars,” it’s definitely carries more weight than usual.

With all that said, does Rey fit that criteria? Is it a valid criticism to call Rey a Mary Sue whose portrayal is weighing down the overall narrative of “Star Wars?” It’s a debate I’m sure will continue for quite some time, but here’s my definitive response, for what it’s worth.

No. Rey is NOT a Mary Sue…for the most part.

Now, I’m aware I’m being somewhat vague by adding that little caveat at the end. However, there’s a reason for that and I’m fairly confident that they qualify as reasons and not excuses.

For one, Rey’s story is not complete. That much needs to be said from the beginning. It’s something that I find many debates involving Rey tend to overlook. Yes, her story is lagging a bit more than those of Luke, Leia, and Han Solo did in the original trilogy. There are other reasons for this, but they’re unrelated to the debate at hand.

Even with an incomplete story, I believe that Rey has done enough over the course of two movies to prove that she’s not a Mary Sue. I think she established that shortly after her appearance in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

In terms of appearance, she comes off as someone who could put on a set of clothes from Wal-Mart, walk into a typical high school, and not generate much reaction. She doesn’t radiate the kind of beauty or royalty that often defines a Mary Sue. Even if she later proves to have a special destiny, that basically puts her in the same category as Luke Skywalker and every other legendary hero.

In terms of personality, she’s not exactly gushing with love and likability, which is another key trait of the Mary Sue. In many respects, Rey is somewhat cold and detached when she first shows up. She doesn’t whine or lament about her less-than-extraordinary life, nor does she eagerly jump at the chance to join the resistance when she encounters Finn. Hers is a more complex journey.

In terms of skill, this is where I think most of the Mary Sue accusations come from. I admit that I thought her excessive skill with the Force, flying the Millennium Falcon, and defeating Kylo Ren pushed the bounds of her character a bit too much. Even I was tempted to throw that label on her after seeing her accomplish so much with so little training.

However, when I step back and look at the larger plot, as well as incorporate the events of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” I see that those traits aren’t enough to warrant calling her a Mary Sue. They are a flaw in her character. That much, I don’t deny. Just having that flaw, though, doesn’t make her a Mary Sue.

I think “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” did a lot to help distance her from that label. It did so by having her make a few bad judgment calls while also not winning her battles quite as easily. When you look at the sequence of events in that movie, she didn’t actually succeed in most of what she sought out to do. Most of the success in that movie came from others, namely Kylo Ren, Finn, and Poe Dameron.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Rey failed miserably in her efforts, I think “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” established that her skills have limits. She has all sorts of natural talent, but she doesn’t always apply it effectively. That’s not unusual for real and fictional characters. You could even make the argument that her missteps help really help to improve her likability.

A Mary Sue is supposed to be sickeningly perfect and hopelessly ideal, so much so that there’s no need for a plot since they just fix everything with their charm. Rey isn’t like that in either movie. In fact, the final battle in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” didn’t really involve her. More than anything else, her role really complemented all the others by the end of the movie.

Now, I’m certain there are more than a few ardent “Star Wars” fans with X-wings tattooed on their chests who will claim I’m dead wrong. Those arguing that Rey is a Mary Sue have more than a few points to make and I don’t deny that some of those points are valid. I just don’t think they’re sufficient.

Rey is a great character, but one with some obvious flaws. I would call her overpowered and over-skilled, but you could levy that criticism against other iconic characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, and even Batman. Unlike those iconic characters, though, Rey is very new to the cultural landscape and her story still has room to unfold, as director Rian Johnson has pointed out.

I don’t doubt that debate over whether or not Rey is a Mary Sue will continue for quite some time. While I don’t think the next “Star Wars” movie will definitely resolve that, I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t have to be at this point. I think Rey has done enough to subvert this dreaded label.

She’s still a great character with a number of conceptual flaws. I think she has a bright future in our culture. She’ll always have her critics, but all great characters do. It’s just a matter of how they navigate that criticism. Given the cultural weight “Star Wars” carries, I’d say she’s handled it much better than most non-Jar Jar characters could ever hope.

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The Captain Marvel Movie: News, Challenges, And Kinks

It’s official. Successful female superhero movies are a thing. Thanks to the success of “Wonder Woman,” the trauma left by the likes of “Catwoman” and “Elektra” can finally be laid to rest. Hollywood can no longer use those affronts to all things heroic, female, and shaped like boobs as an excuse to relegate lady superheroes to backup roles and eye-candy.

Chances are, with “Wonder Woman” being such a boon with critics and fans, we’re about to get bombarded with a bunch of movies that will try desperately to emulate her success. We saw it with “Die Hard.” Now, it’s time for the ladies to get their time as Hollywood’s go-to gimmick for fresh pools of money.

At the moment, though, there’s only one female superhero with a movie in active development and an official release date. That honor goes to “Captain Marvel,” who will attempt to do for the Marvel Cinematic Universe what “Wonder Woman” did for DC’s Extended Universe.

It’s a noble and entirely understandable goal. To this point, Marvel has upstaged DC in damn near everything involving superhero movies. Then, “Wonder Woman” happens and suddenly they can claim they made a successful female superhero movie before Marvel did. If you think there aren’t some bloated egos at Marvel who don’t like that, then you clearly underestimate the impact of money, press, and cocaine.

That hasn’t stopped some at Marvel from praising Wonder Woman. It is, somewhat, a relief that someone managed to do a good female superhero movie. There’s only so much cocaine can do to make Hollywood throw money at what they feel is a losing concepts. Now, “Wonder Woman” has established female superheroes as a viable part of the superhero genre.

On the surface, “Captain Marvel” looks like the perfect character with which to give the Marvel Cinematic Universe its own Wonder Woman. Talk to most Marvel fans not arguing about Thor’s hammer today and they’ll agree. Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers is the closest thing Marvel has to Wonder Woman.

She definitely checks all the right boxes. She’s a fun, charismatic, badass fighter who regularly goes toe-to-toe with some of the Marvel universe’s biggest foes. She’s one of Marvel’s heaviest hitters. When someone like Thanos, Galactus, or the Red Skull comes to start something, she’s usually on the front lines.

However, there are some aspects to Captain Marvel that make her a challenging character for a movie. Some of them are more daunting than others. First and foremost, Captain Marvel is not Wonder Woman in terms of iconic status. That much is clear and few, even among die-hard Marvel fans, would claim otherwise.

For one, Carol hasn’t had nearly as much time to establish herself as an iconic hero compared to Wonder Woman. While she debuted as a character in 1968 in the pages of “Marvel Super Heroes,” she didn’t get her own series until 1977 and at the time, she went by “Ms. Marvel.” In fact, that’s the title she carried for most of her life.

Even with that title, a long list of potent powers, and undeniable sex appeal, most fans in those days probably wouldn’t have called her Marvel’s version of Wonder Woman. She would still be in the top five on anyone’s list of Marvel’s greatest female heroes. However, most fans would put characters like Storm of the X-men or the Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four above her.

Despite this, Carol established herself as Ms. Marvel and was a powerhouse who could match Wonder Woman in terms of strength and grit. However, she never really established herself as Marvel’s premier female hero until recently, although the reasons for this are way more convoluted than most non-comic fans think.

This, in essence, is where Captain Marvel faces both some challenges and a few kinks. Yes, by the way, some of those kinks are of the sexual kind that will probably get skipped in any movie about her.

It’s the same challenge Wonder Woman faced, albeit in a different context. As I’ve discussed many times before, and will probably discuss again because it’s just too damn sexy, there were some very kinky BDSM undertones built into Wonder Woman’s character. For reasons that I assume involve exceedingly knotted panties, that kinky history has been purged from her history, although sometimes it pops up.

Carol Danvers’ history isn’t quite that kinky, but there is one element to it that’s kind of a headache for those who see her as Marvel’s version of Wonder Woman. It involves one of her earliest stories and includes elements such as abduction, brainwashing, rape, incest, and impregnation. Trust me, it’s even less kinkier than it sounds.

In that less-than-iconic story, Carol is abducted by a walking feminist nightmare named Marcus Immortus, the son of Kang the Conqueror, one of the Avengers’ greatest foes. He then proceeds to brainwash her into falling in love with him. They then do what people in love do. They get naked and they get frisky. That results in Carol getting pregnant.

Here’s where it gets even weirder and creepier. That kid she gives birth to isn’t exactly the apple of her and her brainwashing lover’s eye. That kid is just another version of Marcus. That means when he got her pregnant, he basically got her pregnant with himself. Trust me, it’s as confusing to the brain as it is to the genitals.

The reasons for this are too convoluted to explain, even to other comic book fans. Simply put, Marcus was aging rapidly and needed to be reborn so he just did what any deranged son of a villain would do. He found a beautiful woman, seduced her, and knocked her up with an infant version of himself. Who among us wouldn’t resort to something similar?

I’ll turn off the sarcasm for now because as the years have gone by, this part of Carol Davners’ story has become even more infamous than Wonder Woman’s BDSM past. At least with Wonder Woman, the BDSM was playful and kinky. The story involving Carol and Marcus is neither. Many, in fact, claim it counts as rape.

In some parts of the world, that claim would have some legal validity. In countries like the United States and Great Britain, there is something called “rape by deception.” It basically means that if someone lies, cheats, or gains sexual consent from someone under false pretense, then that counts as a form of rape.

Now this isn’t a universally held opinion, which is why not every country recognizes it. Some, especially those in the douche-bag pick-up artist community, would argue that consent under a false or half-false pretense is still consent. With a competent lawyer, that argument might actually hold up in court.

For Carol Danvers, though, it’s still a distressingly uncomfortable story. It also doesn’t help that it was one of her first major stories. She’d barely begun to establish herself at Marvel and this certainly didn’t set a very upbeat tone. Granted, comics had used brainwashing before, including the infamous Superman/Big Barda sex tape. However, it had never been taken this far before.

In defense of the writers at the time, this was 1980. It was long before the politically correct era where people get into fist fights over proper pronoun usage. While it wasn’t quite as bad as the world of “Mad Men,” you could still get away with making jokes about a woman’s skirt length. I also assume some were still recovering from disco, cocaine, and Quaalude binges.

Much like Wonder Woman’s BDSM origins, though, this part of Carol’s story has been subject to many “retcons,” as comic fans call it. It didn’t take years either. The process began in 1981 where Chris Claremont, the legendary X-men writer behind the famous Phoenix Saga, had Carol’s brainwashing undone, courtesy of the X-men.

From that point forward, Carol Danvers’ story underwent various forms of growth and development. She took on various titles along the way and worked with many teams, including the X-men, the Avengers, and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Like Wonder Woman, she made her presence felt on multiple fronts throughout the Marvel universe.

However, it wasn’t until a brilliant female writer named Kelly Sue DeConnick came along that Carol Danvers truly became Marvel’s Wonder Woman. If anyone wants a clear understanding of why Carol is getting her own movie starting Brie Larson, I urge them to read this series. It will make clear why she deserves to be on the same level as Wonder Woman.

It’s in this series where Carol Danvers becomes Captain Marvel. That title had been previously held by another character, an alien named Mar-Vell, no less. Unfortunately, Mar-Vell had died, as superheroes tend to do with frustrating regularity. While reluctant at first, Carol takes on that title and she’s wielded it brilliantly every since.

This is the Captain Marvel that the movie will portray. It’s also the one that has helped push Carol Danvers to the front of the lines in Marvel’s effort to appeal to a more diverse audience. While some of those efforts have been subject to a few setbacks, Captain Marvel’s status at Marvel has never been greater. The time is perfect for build on the foundation that Wonder Woman created.

Doing so, however, will be challenging in ways that even Wonder Woman never had to endure. Like Wonder Woman’s BDSM origins, it’s easier to just ignore some of those unpleasant elements of Carol’s early years. However, that won’t stop some from bringing it up.

Given the nature of the story, I can see it becoming one of those issues that certain people belabor for all the wrong reasons. If you think that’s being paranoid, remember that people actually made a big deal about Wonder Woman’s armpit hair in the movie. They’ll find a way to do something similar to Captain Marvel.

Whether or not the Marcus Immortus story becomes an issue remains to be seen. Unlike Wonder Woman’s BDSM history, it was not a major part of Carol’s development or growth as a character. If anything, it was an early obstacle that she had to overcome on her path towards becoming who she is now.

In the end, she overcame those early growing pains. She managed to carve her place in the world of comics as a great female hero in her own right. It took a while for Marvel go develop a clear plan for her, but that plan worked out in the end and I hope it works out in the movie as well. A world with a beautiful, blond, high-flying, kick-ass female superhero is objectively better for everyone.


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Tropes, Strong Female Characters, And Challenges

Whenever I talk about an issue on this blog, I never claim to be an expert or an authoritative voice. Given the topics I discuss, from sex among shape-shifters to pro-nudity superheroes, I hope a disclaimer isn’t necessary. My capacity to research and understand an issue extends only to my own personal experiences and simple Google search.

It’s for that very reason that I’m not too surprised whenever I find something or someone that explains an issue down better than I ever could. I fully concede that I’m not as smart as I wish I were on any number of topics. I’m an aspiring erotica/romance writer with no PhD’s, Nobel Prizes, or daytime talk show. I’m not stupid, but I’m not a genius either.

Even in fields where I feel I’m smarter than most, such as writing sexy stories and talking about sexy topics, I know I’m hardly the best. I’m fully aware that there are others who are much smarter than I am in that field and understand topics better than I ever could.

Sometimes, though, you don’t expect to find that something or someone after having recently explored a particular issue. Recently, I talked about something called the Galbrush Paradox, which is a blanket term used to describe the challenges of writing female characters in a story. I like to think I broke it down in a fairly comprehensive way. It turns out, though, someone already did and they were much more thorough.

Someone on a comic book message board, which I frequent, posted a video that was made in late 2016 on this very topic. It’s from a channel called Overly Sarcastic Productions. It’s almost exactly what it sounds like.

This channel, though some colorful animation and rapid rhetoric, breaks down a number of topics and issues in a concise, informative, and entertaining way. They touch on things like history, philosophy, and various forms of art.

Image result for Overly Sarcastic Productions

One of their regular shows involves something called Trope Talk, which effectively breaks down certain tropes in popular culture. Unlike other discussions about such issues, they try to remain objective and make no over-arching judgments. That’s pretty rare these days because when people usually talk about tropes, they often make them part of some sort of sinister agenda. Alex Jones fans know what I’m talking about.

One such video covered the issues surrounding strong female characters, which is at the heart of the Galbrush Paradox. It’s also an issue that I tend to bring up often on this blog, from the misconceptions about such characters to those who deserve their own movie. I tried my best to break it down with my post on the Galbrush Paradox. However, I know when I’m beat.

Overly Sarcastic Productions definitely did it better. Their video on the issue is far more comprehensive and far more detailed than I ever managed. Just watch the video and I think most would agree.

There’s a lot to unpack in this brief, but dense video. More than anything else, it covered a few important details that I avoided. When I talk about strong female characters, I often put them in the context of the challenges they face within a contemporary context. I look at recent trends, like sex-negative feminism and evolving trends in sexual attitudes, and try to apply them to recent challenges.

This video stakes another step back and tries to see the forest from the trees. It breaks down the how and why these challenges exist, how to deal with them, and how to approach them in a reasonable sort of way. Again, I know when I’m beat.

It’s good advice for anyone who has ever attempted to write a story or publish a novel. Just as there are many double standards when it comes to gender issues, there are many ways to approach writing certain characters. I’m learning that more and more with every novel I write.

Given the dynamic nature of cultural attitudes and popular culture, there will some sort of disparity between the genders. That’s why it’s so important to learn about those dynamics. Having great female characters can only help a story. Given how one of them is now a monumental box office success, the stakes are even higher now. As an aspiring writer, I hope I can contribute to that one day as well.

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The Galbrush Paradox And The Challenge Of Female Characters


Anyone who’s written anything longer than a haiku will tell you that one of the biggest challenges is coming up with great characters. Stan Lee may make it look easy, but it’s most definitely not. Without great characters, your story might as well be a sandwich without bread. It just can’t function.

I can certainly attest to the challenge of creating great characters. In the eight novels I’ve written, I’ve tried to put as much energy and nuance as possible. Whether it’s Ben Prescott in “Skin Deep” or Mary Ann Scott in “Passion Relapse,” I make a concerted effort to help them stand out for all the right reasons.

In doing so, I have noticed something that’s both distinct and frustrating. It’s something I think every writer, including the Stan Lees and J.K. Rowlings of the world, have noticed at some point. When it comes to creating great characters, there’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to male characters. With female characters, though, there are too many unwritten rules to keep track of.

It’s only gotten more frustrating in recent years because the demand for strong female characters has never been greater. The success of movies like “Wonder Woman” and “Mad Max: Fury Road,” as well as novels like “Harry Potter” and “Twilight,” have raised the bar. Make no mistake. There are a lot of incentives to create these characters.

I’ve talked about why characters like Wonder Woman matter now more than ever. However, there’s one caveat that I didn’t mention and for good reason. I think it’s an issue that the William Marstons and Stephanie Meyers of the world understood, albeit indirectly. When it comes to creating female characters, the margin for error is painfully small.

By that, I mean there are a lot of things you can do with a male character that you just can’t do with a female character. Even male minority characters have a lot more flexibility, in terms of what you can put them through. Every character that Samuel L. Jackson has ever played is proof of that.

With female characters, it’s a lot trickier. If you don’t believe me, think back to that disturbing thought experiment I pitched a while back that reversed the genders of certain famous scenes, thereby creating a much more disturbing result. With that in mind, try to craft a story about a flawed, vulnerable character that has the potential to be interesting.

Maybe the character is a former cop who suffered a terrible injury at the hands of a deranged criminal.

Maybe the character is someone who made a huge mistake with a former lover and is haunted by it.

Maybe the character is someone who found themselves in a vulnerable state, had a few too many drinks, and had a messy one-night stand with a total stranger.

These are all fairly standard setups for typical characters. Think about those characters for a second. Chances are the character that comes to mind is a man. That’s not too surprising. That doesn’t make you a terrible sexist who deserves to lick the mud off the shoes of every radical feminist form now until the end of time. By and large, most of the iconic characters in popular culture are male.

Now, try to imagine that same character as a female. Chances are your reaction will be different. Even if it isn’t, there’s a good chance you’ll be more reluctant to develop this character because you know the kind of responses you’ll get from certain people.

Remember that cop who suffered a terrible injury? Well, if that cop is a female, then you’re a horrible misogynistic monster because you subjected that woman to violence and we can’t tolerate that.

Remember that character who made a huge mistake with a former lover? Well, if that character is a female, you’re also a horrible, misogynistic monster because you utterly failed the Bechdal Test by defining her through a relationship with a man.

Remember that character who was vulnerable and had a one-night stand? Well, guess what? You’re also a horrible, misogynistic monster because you overtly sexualized the female character in a way that propagates the idea that women are sexual objects to be used by men.

Are you seeing the pattern here? Are you getting that twinge of pain in your palms while you grind your teeth? Don’t worry. You’re not having a stroke. That’s normal. It also gives you a taste of just how hard/frustrating it is to create good female characters without making it an agenda.

That agenda didn’t used to be that big a deal. Then, in recent years, with the rise of third-wave feminism and social media scandals that have made people hyper-sensitive to sexism, the challenge got that much harder.

That’s not to say there isn’t some merit behind the sentiment. There are only so many Disney Princesses and horny vixens in “James Bond” movies before the narrative gets old, predictable, and outright insulting. Even I think Super Mario has had to rescue Princess Peach way too many times.

The problem is that when people try to create characters that aren’t princesses or Joss Whedon characters, they run into a wall, of sorts. They quickly find that creating those characters is a minefield, one where a single misstep can get you labeled a racist, misogynist, homophobe at a time when a single misworded tweet can ruin your life.

It’s such a frustrating challenge that someone gave it a name. It’s called the Galbrush Paradox and it emerged during the infamous GamerGate scandal in 2014. I won’t get into the particulars of that shit storm, if only because every discussion about that topic tends to lower people’s IQ by at least a dozen points. I’ll just focus on what the Galbrush Paradox is, as defined by its creators.

Do you know why there’s so many white male characters in video games? Especially leads? Because no one cares about them. A white male can be a lecherous drunk. A woman can’t or it’s sexist. Sexualizing women and what all. A white male can be a mentally disturbed soldier who’s mind is unraveling as he walks through the hell of the modern battlefield. A woman can’t or you’re victimizing women and saying they’re all crazy.

Consider Guybrush Threepwood, start of the Monkey Island series. He’s weak, socially awkward, cowardly, kind of a nerd and generally the last person you’d think of to even cabin boy on a pirate ship, let alone captain one. He is abused, verbally and physically, mistreated, shunned, hated and generally made to feel unwanted.

Now let’s say Guybrush was a girl. We’ll call her Galbrush. Galbrush is weak, socially awkward, cowardly, kind of a nerd and generally the last person you’d think of to even cabin boy on a pirate ship, let alone captain one. She is abused, verbally and physically, mistreated, shunned, hated and generally made to feel unwanted.

Now, you might notice that I’ve given the exact same description to both of these characters. But here’s where things deviate. While no one cares if Guybrush takes a pounding for being, for lack of a better term, less than ideal pirate, Galbrush will be presumed to be discriminated against because of her gender. In fact, every hardship she will endure, though exactly the same as the hardships Guybrush endured, will be considered misogyny, rather than someone being ill suited to their desired calling.

And that ending. She goes through ALL that trouble to help, let’s call him Eli Marley, escape the evil clutches of the ghost piratess Le Chuck, it turns out he didn’t even need her help and she even screwed up his plan to thwart Le Chuck. Why, it’d be a slap in the face to every woman who’s ever picked up a controller. Not only is the protagonist inept, but apparently women make lousy villains too!

And that’s why Guybrush exists and Galbrush doesn’t. Men can be comically inept halfwits. Women can’t. Men can be flawed, tragic human beings. Women can’t. And why? Because every single female character reflects all women everywhere.

It’s a fairly new concept, but a relevant one. We’ve already seen it play out in a number of ways in recent years. The best example is probably Rey from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

If you’ve done any digging whatsoever into “Star Wars” beyond seeing the movie and listening to arguments about whether Han shot first, then you’ve probably seen some of the criticisms about her. She’s what some call a “Mary Sue.”

A Mary Sue is a byproduct of the Galbrush Paradox in that she’s a character who’s too perfect. While this character can be a man, it most often takes the shape of a female character who’s so skilled, so beautiful, so perfect that it’s hard to make her interesting.

Rey faced this issue, and for good reason. Throughout “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” she was perfect at everything she did. She flew the Millennium Falcon, wielded a light sabre, and used the Force as though she’d been doing it all her life. Everything that happened to her just happened so easily. She was never allowed to struggle, suffer, or slip up too much like Finn or Poe Dameron.

I can even understand why. If she had been tortured like Poe or lied like Finn, there would be mass protests and hashtags. A very vocal contingent of fans and professional whiners with nothing better to do would’ve condemned Rey as an affront to women everywhere. Her flaws would’ve been taken as huge insults against an entire gender. If she were a man, though, nobody would’ve batted an eye.

It’s tragic, in a sense, because it shackles characters and stories. It creates self-imposed limits that don’t need to be there. It’s true that there is real sexism in the world. There’s even plenty in movies, especially slasher movies. However, nitpicking every little detail of a female character to ensure sufficient purity, so to speak, is counterproductive. All it does is discourage people from even trying to create these characters in the first place.

That’s not good for either gender because it is possible to create great female characters. From Furiosa in “Mad Max: Fury Road” to Sarah Conner in “Terminator” to Ripley in “Alien,” there are plenty of great female characters that go onto become iconic in their own right. That’s why it’s so important to avoid the pitfalls of the Galbrush Paradox, otherwise we’ll be doomed to a future of Mary Sues.


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