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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.

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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

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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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Emma Frost: The Future Of Female Villains?

Not long ago, I dedicated several posts to the defining traits of villains and why Walter White was such a game-changer, beyond getting Bryan Cranston more Emmys than he’ll ever need. I could’ve done many more posts because quality villains are every bit as integral to any story as a quality hero. Just look at Batman’s rogues gallery, and the number of cos-players that dress as them, for proof of that.

In these discussions, I kept things fairly general and if I did, I singled out a specific character like Walter White or Magneto. Well, recent events and ongoing trends have inspired me to re-address the issue of villains from a different angle. Specifically, I’d like to talk a bit about female villains.

Quickly, take a moment and recall your favorite female villain of all time. Chances are it’ll take you a moment and not just because a great many female villains made us both scared and horny at the same time. It may also be difficult because some female villains don’t exactly carry themselves as villains. Catwoman may be a thief, a deceiver, and the subject of one of the worst comic book movies of all time, but she’s not an outright villain.

Female villains are one of those difficult concepts to flesh out and not just because men can’t resist turning female villains into sexy anti-heroes, some more egregiously than others. It’s just one of those elements that either gets under-used or overlooked.

Well, as is often the case with the ever-changing/insanely-erratic tastes of pop culture, that may be changing. At a time when a new generation of strong female characters, badass female superheroes, and women who just do more than give the male characters something to obsess over, it was only a matter of time before female villains caught up.

Now I generally suck at making predictions. I’m the same guy who was convinced that Cleveland Cavaliers would never win the NBA championship last year. I’m not proud of the things I had to do for the bets I made on that game, but it does show that everybody, including aspiring erotica/romance writers, can be dead wrong. With this, however, it’s not just a prediction. It’s based, in part, on an observation.

As most regular readers of this blog already knew, I love comic books and superheros. Specifically, I have a special affinity for X-men comics. So it should come as no surprise that I follow the events of the X-men comics very closely. Well, this past week, something pretty damn major happened in the X-men comics and it has to do with this woman.

Her name is Emma Frost. Trust me, she’s even sexier than her fan art would imply. She’s a prominent character in the X-men comics and has had numerous roles throughout the series for over 30 years now.

At times, she’s been a devious villainous vixen. At others, she’s been a cunning heroic vixen. In every role she’s in, she generally makes it a point to be sexy as hell. She doesn’t mind getting naked, she doesn’t mind having sex, she doesn’t give half-a-tortoise fart about what anyone things. In short, she’s a perfect blend of Regina George and Wonder Woman.

Now Emma Frost is somewhat unique in that she’s had so many roles, but she’s never defined herself completely as a hero or villain. She hasn’t even been an anti-hero. If you were to do the villain’s journey test I laid out in a previous post, she wouldn’t complete it, but she would come pretty damn close.

The same goes for the hero’s journey. She would check some boxes, but not all. She’d just look a million times sexier than anyone else on that journey.

Why is this important? Well, in a major X-men crossover event that just concluded recently, Emma’s role changed again. After a clash between the X-men and the Inhumans, one Marvel built up over the course of two years, Emma crossed a line that effectively sealed a new fate for her. She’s a villain now. However, she’s a very different kind of villain.

What do I mean by that? Why is that even relevant? Well, to answer that, think back to what I said about listing your favorite female villains. Go back to that list again. Exactly how many of those villains are refined, well-rounded, complex characters? Chances are your list will shrink considerably or outright disappear.

That’s because female villains have a history of being annoyingly flat. Going all the way back to the Wicked Witch of the West, they rarely had many compelling traits. Most of the time, they were just evil witches or devious vixens. Basically, just think of every evil female character in a James Bond movie. That’s the extent of the depth female villains usually get.

This is what makes the development with Emma Frost so intriguing. Emma Frost isn’t like Pussy Galore or the Wicked Witch of the West and not just because she looks better in a thong. As a character, she has a rich history. She even had her own comic series at one point. She has various layers as well. She’s not just out to be a total bitch and look good doing it, although she does make it look pretty damn easy.

Emma Frost has real, genuine motivations. They’re not always pure either. For a time, she was a stripper who didn’t mind using her sexuality to get ahead in the Hellfire Club, who have been major X-men villains for many years. When she was a teacher, she watched many of her students die in an attack that she had no chance to stop.

However, she has never been one to play the part of a victim. She never uses tragedy or excuses to justify her actions. She does what she thinks needs to be done and anyone who disagrees with her can just kiss her perfectly shaped ass. Hell, she could probably charge for that and it would be worth every penny.

The recent events in the X-men comics pushed her to extreme actions and for good reason. As part of the story that set up the clash between the X-men and the Inhumans, she lost someone near and dear to her. Cyclops, a character she had been romantically involved with, died in her arms. It affected her profoundly, which is saying a lot for someone who killed her own sister.

That effect leads her to do more than just lead a conflict. They put her in a position to become a hardened, but complex villain, both to the X-men and anyone else who generally pisses her off.

Her timing really couldn’t be better. Just as everyone from Disney Princesses to Taylor Swift prove that there’s a market for strong female personalities, she’s entering a domain that’s ripe for new energy. Emma Frost could very well be the first of a new push for better female villains to go along with the female heroes that every comic company and movie studio is pushing these days.

I feel like this is a trend that needs to happen. Women can kick ass as heroes. That much they’ve proven. Why not show they can do the same as villains? Emma Frost is unique in that she has the kind of complexity that allows her to be a hero when she needs to be and a villain when she wants to be. I believe there will be a market for that kind of complexity.

Sure, some parents would still prefer that their daughters dress up as Disney princesses rather than Emma Frost, if only to avoid any Honey Boo Boo comparisons, but having strong female villains still does something important. It adds balance to the greater narrative between heroes and villains as a whole.

Now I’m somewhat guilty myself of not fleshing out female villains. In my book, “The Escort and the Gigolo,” the main villain was a woman named Madam Felicity. While I did make an effort to give her some complexity, I admit she’s not more ground-breaking than a James Bond villain with boobs.

I’d like to change that in future novels. I just hope that by then, Emma Frost will have set the bar and set it high. As any X-men fan will tell you, Emma never does anything haphazardly. If she’s going to usher in a new wave of strong female villains, then she’s going to make damn sure she’s the best and looks damn sexy while doing that. For that, she’ll always have a special place in the hearts and pants of X-men fans everywhere.

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Jack Fisher’s Top 5 Most Underrated Female Characters

When it comes to great female characters in pop culture, there are plenty of obvious choices. Contrary to what radical feminists believe about massive patriarchal conspiracies, our culture has created some pretty amazing women, real and fictional alike. So if there is a patriarchal conspiracy, they’re doing a piss poor job.

The best of the best, when it comes to female characters, are difficult to dispute. In the world of fiction, there’s Wonder Woman, Storm of the X-men, Captain Marvel from the Avengers, Supergirl, Sarah Conner from Terminator, Ripley from the Alien movies, Leslie Knope from “Parks and Recreation,” and Furiosa from “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

In the real world, we have just as many amazing women that raise the bar for both genders. We have Senator Elizabeth Warren, Madonna, Oprah Winfrey, Emma Stone, Maralyn Munroe, Lady Gaga, Janet Jackson, Malala Yousafzai, Michelle Obama, Taylor Swift, and whoever manages Taylor Swift’s public image. In either case, men and women alike have a great many choices in admirable female icons.

As great as these female characters are, however, there are still some characters that get overlooked and under-utilized. They’re still great characters in their own right. They just tend to get lost in the vast, chaotic, and constantly-shifting landscape of popular culture.

The same thing happens to male characters, but for better reasons. While they’re are plenty of great men in pop culture, there are a few too many that are blatant rip-offs of Superman, John McClane, and Batman.

So with that in mind, I’d like to acknowledge some of the overlooked, under-appreciated female characters that help make our culture great in their own unique way. For the sake of keeping this post brief and concise, I’ll focus on fictional characters. I find it’s a lot harder to ignore a real person these days when the media landscape is so vast, broad, and prone to strange memes and piss poor fact checking.

Since fictional characters can’t raise their voice, create a hashtag, or get thrown in jail for violating their probation, I figure they need this acknowledgement more than most. So without further adieu, here are Jack Fisher’s top 5 most underrated female characters.


5. Elaine Benes (Seinfeld)

This one may be a bit controversial because Seinfeld is a sitcom from a very different era. It’s also a show that gets constantly criticized by the politically correct crowd, but these humorless assholes only serve to undermine a female character who is balanced, compelling, and every bit as broken as the men.

In a show that has so many memorable characters, including Soup Nazis, Elaine still stands out as a great female character that brought out the best in actress, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Elaine was an ex-girlfriend of Jerry Seinfeld, but that was never the primary emphasis for her character.

Elaine is smart. She has a distinct personality beyond just being the only woman in the main cast. She’s also every bit as quirky. In a show that has someone like Cosmo Kramer, that’s an accomplishment. On top of that, she can dance like no one else.


4. Berta (Two And A Half Men)

I’m not going to deny it. “Two and a Half Men” is as dirty a show as they come. It’s crude. It’s vulgar. It contains some of the least likable characters this side of South Park. I can totally understand why the same politically correct assholes that whined about “Seinfeld” would whine about this show.

Despite all the crude vulgarity, this show still had Berta. Played by Conchata Ferrell, she was one of the best parts of this show. Even though she played the role of a housekeeper, she was one of the few who really stood up to Charlie and Alan Harper throughout the series. Those two can disrespect and denigrate all the women they want. However, they never dared to disrespect Berta.

Given the nature of the show and the very public meltdown that accompanied it, Berta definitely deserves credit for standing out. In a world with personalities like Charlie Sheen, that’s also an accomplishment.


3. Maria Hill (Marvel Comics)

In the world of Marvel Comics, there are dozens upon dozens of powerful female characters. From heavy hitters like She-Hulk to lovable underdogs like Jubilee, there are so many iconic characters who have a strong place in comic book lore.

Then, there’s Maria Hill. She’s not a super spy martial artist like Black Widow. She’s not a sexy assassin like Elektra. She’s not even a side-kick like Batgirl. She’s the director of SHIELD and often the right hand of its one-eyed visionary, Nick Fury. The fact she doesn’t have superpowers and is in such a high position of authority in the same comic book universe that has She-Hulk says a lot about her.

She’s not just a hardass authority figure, although she can be at time. She’s not just someone who’s every bit as determined and capable as Nick Fury either. She commands respect in her own way. She has a personality that’s distinct and tough. She could easily be a CEO or a drill sergeant. Whatever she is, she’s someone others eagerly follow. For any character, male or female, that’s pretty awesome.


2. Samus Aran (Metroid)

Video games tend to be a hot-button issue when it comes to women, thanks largely to some whiny, asshole critics who go out of their way to piss people off. I won’t get into all the inane bullshit surrounding that issue, but I will concede that in the early days, women were basically the same as Disney princesses. If they weren’t being rescued, they were often in the process of being kidnapped by some giant lizard monster.

Then, Samus Aran came along. In the early 8-bit days of gaming, she set herself apart by being a badass female bounty hunter at a time when other characters were either elves, plumbers, or GI Joe knock-offs. Her ability to kick ass in games was so surprising that some gamers didn’t realize that she was a woman until the very end.

Samus was, and still is, a breakthrough character who tends to get overlooked in an era where more emphasis is on outrage over female characters rather than whether the character is actually awesome. She fought, kicked ass, and looked damn sexy while doing it. What more could you want out of a female character that doesn’t involve a bottle of lube?


1. Daria Morgendorffer

Some concepts are just too ahead of their time to have the kind of impact they deserve. The same goes for certain characters. Sometimes, a character comes along in a certain era that embodies something that doesn’t become truly meaningful until years later.

For Daria Morgendorffer of the classic 90s MTV show aptly titled, “Daria,” she’s one of those characters who would’ve been a much bigger deal if her show was on today. Daria is not your typical female protagonist. She’s not overly sexual. She’s not overly charismatic either. However, what she lacks in overt femininity, she more than makes up for with a distinct, memorable persona.

She’s dry and sarcastic. She’s coarse and brutally honest. She’s also caring and understanding when she needs to be. She’ll say what others are afraid to say and not give a damn who gets upset in the process. She never comes off as an overplayed trope or cliche. She’s very much her own person.

She’s also got an emotional side. Her feminine side isn’t completely subverted. Throughout the show, she has multiple love interests, including one that becomes a steady boyfriend. As a character, she feels both unique and real. She’s someone that men and women alike want as a friend and a companion. Few characters, female or otherwise, can make that same claim in modern TV show.

For me, personally, Daria has a special place in my heart. She was, and still is, one of my favorite TV characters in the 90s. I feel like TV has been missing something since her show ended. While she may have been ahead of her time, her words of wisdom ring true in any era. With that in mind, I’ll leave everyone with this:

Um, thank you. I’m not much for public speaking. Or much for speaking. Or, come to think of it, much for the public. And I’m not very good at lying. So let me just say that, in my experience, high school sucks. If I had to do it all over again, I’d have started advanced placement classes in preschool so I could go from eighth grade straight to college. However, given the unalterable fact that high school sucks, I’d like to add that if you’re lucky enough to have a good friend and a family that cares it doesn’t have to suck quite as much. Otherwise my advice is; Stand firm for what you believe in, until and unless experience proves you wrong. Remember, when the emperor looks naked, the emperor is naked. The truth and a lie are not sort of the same thing. And there is no aspect, no facet, no moment of life that can’t be improved with pizza. Thank you.

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