Jaime Lannister is a Hero

I wanted to expand on a couple of things I either just mentioned briefly or 100% ignored in my episode four recap.

I’ve said my piece on why Bronn doesn’t work as a character but I hadn’t actually realized that they did a kind of clunky super-obvious metaphor with him, so let me give the show a bit of credit. Bronn gets a bag of gold right at the beginning and then ends up having to abandon it in the midst of battle. At the end where he leaps into a possible fiery death, it’s therefore been sort of earned. He’d already made the decision, just as Jaime had, to stick around and do the right thing against pretty terrible odds.

So… Bronn got some character development, he isn’t just acting in a plot-convenient and fan service-convenient way. But I have serious doubts that he’ll continue on this path to good-guyhood. Not because I don’t believe witnessing dragon devestation could possibly change him, but rather because I think the writers are hacks.

I stopped bothering about being nice and not calling them hacks after all the rape and after learning that they’re doing a show about slavery still being legal in the 21st century after GoT is done.

On the other hand, Bronn’s clunky super-obvious metaphor didn’t include dead animals used as props (do you remember when Tywin Lannister laid a dead wolf’s pelt next to the two swords he forged out of Ice because I do and I need brain bleach because that was SO BAD omg) so let’s toast the writers at Game of Thrones for resisting the temptation on that one.

celebrate good times

Congrats, you did something right, guys.

I wanted to quickly discuss Jaime and the fact that he’s a hero.

Jaime started as an idealistic kid who struggles as a King’s Guard. He goes against his father’s wishes to take that vow because he wants to be a hero and then he finds himself distraught in the hallway listening to Mad King Aerys raping his sister-wife because he believes it is their duty to protect the queen as well, and one of his fellow guards says, “Yeah but not from him.”

He stands in the throne room, which was silent apart from the screams and the laughing, watching Mad King Aerys burn Grandpa Stark while Uncle Stark hangs himself trying to save his father, because what can he do? He’s a King’s Guard.

He breaks his vow in spectacular fashion one fine day when Mad King Aerys is like, “Be a dear and kill your dad for me won’t you and while you’re doing that me and my pyromancer are going to burn down the entire city with wildfire kthnxbai” and Jaime’s like, “Double homicide time I guess.”

And then he sits on the throne?

That part makes me laugh. That’s what I would have done. As much as I love Ned, I side with Jaime on this one and think he totally overreacted to finding kid Kingslayer lounging on the throne. I think it was earned. He saved everybody’s life, he can sit on the throne for a second.

Anyway, Jaime is one of my favourite characters. He gets a spectacular hero moment in “Spoils of War” and I’d like to point out a couple of things to mouthy Tyrion in the peanut gallery.

Tyrion calls him a “fucking idiot” while he watches him charge down Daenerys, and I assume that’s mostly out of grief and horror. I mean. He thinks he’s about to watch his brother get fried. But I have this thing about calling heroic people doing heroic deeds “idiots” and “stupid” and “brawn over brains.” Jaime isn’t some stupid jock here. He’s charging down huge odds trying to do the right thing because Jaime is the guy who kills the Targaryen despots who try to burn everyone alive.

Jaime weighs the odds right before he charges. He sees that Dany is busy trying to yank a spear out of Drogon and he sees that Drogon is busy yelling, “OW! MOM THAT HURTS WTF HAVEN’T WE TALKED ABOUT YANKING THINGS OUT OF ME?” He sees that he has a chance. It’s a tiny chance. And if he succeeds, all he’s going to accomplish is Dany-murder. Drogon will kill him right after, and he’s cool with that. It’s not a huge victory because the dragons will still be alive but they won’t be the tools of a conquering queen anymore, and that’s worth it to him.

Before this we get all these great shots of Jaime looking at people burning and turning to ash and blowing away. This is his actual nightmare. And I remember being so angry about how, after Cersei killed a bunch of people with wildfire he just stood there giving her major side-eye but then, nope, the season starts and he’s still in love with her. So IDK, maybe he has to see the people burning for himself before he decides it’s a bad thing? He told Olenna that people won’t care how Cersei achieved peace once she achieves it, which could technically be true of Dany as well. The difference in his perception of these two comes down to family and love and memories of Targaryens past, I suppose.

Anyway. Jaime, in the books, is the best of the Lannisters. In the show he and Tyrion are both pretty equally great. As much as A Song of Ice and Fire is lauded for being “realistic” in portraying cynical people getting ahead by exploiting everyone else, you’d be missing the point in just focusing on that and not noticing that there are actual good people in this story and they aren’t there just to get mocked and killed. Jaime is one of those actually good people. He is flawed. Very, very flawed. He does terrible things. I remember when I was still in the middle of reading the books and I stumbled upon some post about how awesome Jaime is and I was like, “Um?????? But the Bran window thing??????????? I will never forgive him for that, how would that even be possible??????????????????????” And yet here we are.

I’m pretty sure he’s going to die before the end but I hope he gets to die being his heroic self.

I still have hope for Dany, even though I think Jaime was right to try to kill her. I think she’s a better person than Cersei even if it’s only that she’s more capable of growing up than Cersei is. What would be pretty great, I think, is if Jaime and Dany ever have a conversation in which he yells at her for burning all of his men that day. But I kind of doubt it’ll happen.

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30 Days of Avatar: Masculinity

Week 10: Lessons of Avatar Land

Day 28: Masculinity
Day 29: Animal Rights
Day 30: Feminism

Day 28 was supposed to be for portrayals of healthy masculinity but is mostly for erm having a crush on Sokka.

All screenshots from Avatar Spirit.

I’d like to talk about Aang for basically ever because he’s a rounded character with lots of power and combat abilities but he’s not a total jerk.

His defining feature as a fighter is that he’s opposed to violence, so he refuses to kill even his most evil enemy. Even when his enemy is waaaaay more powerful than he is, even when his enemy is trying really hard to kill him, and even when he gets a split-second chance to end it all.

He hesitates and then redirects the lightening, then collapses. He’d rather put himself at even more risk than kill Ozai.

We’ve discussed this already but through the lens of masculinity, this is kind of cool. I mean, Batman does this crap too, but that’s about where the similarities between Batman and Aang end.

He’s a gentle soul.

The three separate screencaps of that are essential.

guru feeding birdsguru and appa

In fact, being kind to animals is a recurring feature linked to wisdom and spirituality for male characters. When I think animated characters being surrounded by animals or helping animals trust them, I mostly think of Disney women like Snow White, Cinderella, Esmarelda, or Rapunzel. In Avatar Land it’s Aang and Pathik. Katara and Toph get along with the Gaang’s pets, but Aang is the real animal lover of the group. Also, he’s the vegetarian.

Another aspect of Aang’s version of masculinity is his being comfortable respecting, learning from, and being impressed by his female companions.

impressed aang

Of course what he likes most about Toph’s Ba Sing Se sand sculpture is Basco with the King. Oh Aang, you lovely predictable thing, you.

OK but can I complain for a second though.

Where I find Aang a bit tiring is when it comes to his relationship with Katara. He spends the majority of the series chewing on the fact that he isn’t sure if Katara likes him like that. He’s told by a group of surprisingly sensitive prisoners that “she’ll come around.” And even Roku tells him that “it gets better” as you get older, and “being the Avatar helps” when Aang exclaims that the girl “who didn’t even know [Roku] existed” ended up marrying him.

I want to be clear: this is all fine. It is. It really is. Of course Aang likes Katara and of course he wants her to like him back. Of course he gets wounded about it occasionally, of course he pours out his heart to random dudes he meets.

But.

He never really tells her how he feels. Instead they have random cutesy moments that mean very little in terms of relationship progression, and then he just kisses her before flying off to fight Ozai (he thinks).

I mean. He just grabs her and kisses her. And she’s not a fan.

Later when he’s grumpy because the actor portraying him in the play based on his adventures is a woman, he says, “So, we kissed at the Yule Ball, and, well, I thought we were gonna be together forever. But we’re not.” And Katara’s like, “Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”

OK fine, that was Starkid’s version* (and it’s better). I wish Katara had really said, “Yeah, that’s pretty much it,” to Aang. He was being unreasonable. Instead she’s at pains to explain that she likes him but right now is not a good time because they’re in the middle of a war.

Also they’re 12 and 14 but that apparently doesn’t matter.

I have a hard time with Aang in “Ember Island Players.” I get that he’d be mad at the actor being a woman because being as sensitive as he is, and being that he’s in the middle of deciding what to do about his enemy when he doesn’t want to kill him and having basically everyone tell him that’s weak, of course he wouldn’t like having his gender be attacked. But it does seem a little fragile.

Especially because it seems like what makes him angriest about it is that it makes his relationship with Katara sexless.

friend zone aang

That’s the face he makes when stage-Katara says she loves him like a brother.

I don’t know. The Aang and Katara relationship never sat right with me because it always seemed like it would make a better friendship, and also, they were too young to worry about it as much as Aang did at least, and also, they were kind of busy. I really do think portraying Aang’s attraction to Katara this way, in a possessive, jealous, angry way near the end dents the otherwise wonderful portrayal of a nice, sweet kid. In some ways the ugliness in his insistence that there’s more between them than friendship is connected to the war getting worse, but when they do kiss for real at the end it doesn’t do much to heal how angry and wounded he has already been about the situation until now.

I don’t know. I’m probably in the minority here but I’m not a fan of it.

You know where I’m not in the minority, though? Crushing on Sokka.

Ty Lee likes him:

Yue likes him:

yue crush

A room full of haiku masters like him:

haiku girls

Even TOPH is crushing on Sokka.

(She thought Sokka saved her, but it was Suki.)

(Ouch.)

I have a gigantic unapologetic thing for characters like this so I’m right there with these ladies. I love a guy who struggles a bit with his gender performance but who ultimately overcomes his insecurities and realizes he can just be himself. Usually it’s imperative that they do because they always seem to fall for the awesomest of ladies, so they need to get it together as best they can. It’s why I love Wash in Firefly and why I love Ron Stoppable in Kim Possible and why Ron Weasley will always be my favourite. Hopefully somewhere in this thing I talk about how Sokka is a good portrayal of healthy masculinity and I don’t just gush but I’m making no promises.

Sokka is… flawed.

First of all, he’s a fan of meat. Despite his vow to the universe and to Foofoo Cuddlypoops that if he were to be rescued from the random hole he’s randomly stuck in he’d give up meat and sarcasm, the first thing he asks for when Aang shows up is meat. Which is probably a sarcastic request because Aang is a vegetarian.

Sokka has also been known to fail. His invasion plan during the Day of Black Sun doesn’t go the way anyone wants it to at all. During the battle he allows himself to be emotionally manipulated by Azula and he wastes all of their time. He takes this loss about as hard as Aang does, which is pretty freaking hard.

In the final battle, he fights well but if not for Suki’s rescue in the end, he and Toph would have died. Like. In flames. This isn’t his fault, of course, but the thing about Sokka is that he’s not a super powerful bender like most of the other main characters. He’s not a bender at all.

Occasionally this gets to him. Early on especially, his insecurities do show up and bite him. One time of note is when he meets and is defeated by Suki, and is horrified because she’s a girl. And then he gets defeated by her a bunch of other times, humiliatingly, until he humbly asks her to teach him, he wears a dress and makeup, becomes a better fighter with her help, and learns to respect women, I guess.

Another notable time is in “Jet,” which is a beautiful episode for deconstructing masculinity.

jet - sokka

Don’t you just want to punch him?

OK, probably not, if you’ve seen “Lake Laogi.” But still.

In “Jet,” Sokka is making a whole big thing about how he’s in charge because he’s the oldest, and Katara mocks his presumption of this because his voice still cracks and he hasn’t kissed a girl.

I’d take a moment to complain at Katara because, even though Sokka needs to be taken down a peg in that moment, that’s not a good way to do it (the “Sokka’s instincts” joke she and Aang do moments later is a better way), but, well, the episode does it for me.

Soon they run into Jet, an unquestioned leader of freedom fighters. Katara falls in love.

lol katara

Aang respects Jet immediately. Sokka hates him, of course. At first, it seems like jealousy, and Katara dismisses Sokka’s dislike as stupid macho posturing. But as time goes on we see that Sokka’s mistrust is valid.

Jet is not a nice dude. We do learn later that he did genuinely like Katara, but he’s not a genuine force for good in Avatar Land like he claims. He’s trying to drown an entire town because they’re Fire Nation and therefore acceptable targets. He tricks Aang and Katara into helping him do it.

The only reason it doesn’t work is because Sokka warned the people in time. For Katara’s part, it’s not until Jet himself tells her what his plan is that she believes that he’s that awful, and it’s not fun for her.

She also actually says the words, “I’m sorry I ever doubted you,” about her brother while she’s hoping that he was able to somehow save the town.

The next time she sees Jet she tries to kill him, also. If you were wondering whether this experience had a lasting effect on her or anything.

tell it to some other girl jet

“Tell it to some other girl, Jet.”

He seems like the perfect guy. Fighting the Fire Nation, looking after a scrappy band of kids, confident, assured, a leader. But he manipulates her attraction and her feelings for him and is almost successful using her to kill an entire town’s worth of people.

Sokka, who makes mistakes and is not as smooth as Jet and who hasn’t kissed anyone yet and whose voice still cracks and who flies Appa the wrong way when he’s driving and who is sometimes bossy and insecure is still more reliable and a much better person overall.

As we discussed previously as well.

kasokka fight 11

Also he turns out to be a decent leader throughout their adventures.

I like a couple of things in particular about Sokka.

Number one: he has a couple of kiss-mishaps like Aang but he handles them way better.

yue almost kiss

That was when he thought he should kiss Yue but then she stopped and then it was super awkward.

sokka suki 10sokka suki 11

This was him stopping with Suki because despite liking her a lot, he’s going through some complex emotional issues related to the moon seen in that second shot.

He handles both of these better because they talk about them. He’s not a master of “I’m totally fine with whatever, but just so I know could you tell me what went wrong…” or anything. He’s definitely uncomfortable both with apparent rejection and also being the rejector. But he has the conversations anyway.

Also. Look at the faces he makes whenever he sees Suki.

This is a series I call “:/ D: Oh it’s you!! C: :D”

sokka suki 1sokka suki 2

The best part is that Zuko is there.

My favourite thing about Sokka though is while occasionally he gets down about how he has less abilities than most of his friends since he’s the main non-bender of the group, he still is a major fanboy.

Of course he fanboys for Suki’s awesomeness:

sokka suki 3sokka suki 4

But he’s a huge fan of Toph.

sokkafanboying1sokkafanboying2sokkafanboying3

That’s just one instance. But I really love that. I love that he’s secure enough to be smitten by her abilities when he has nothing that compares.

Sokka is a goofball with serious leadership capabilities and he’s a big fan of his dangerous lady friends. He makes it clear that it’s OK to feel your feelings, it’s OK to not be the coolest guy in the room, it’s OK to fail sometimes, even if you’re the oldest and therefore the leader. Of course I love him.

This is a compilation of him being ridiculous and I love it too.

*UM. Did you know that half the dialogue in A Very Potter Musical/Sequel is basically straight out of Avatar? Because I didn’t until just now.

30 Days of Avatar: Boy Hero VS Girl Hero

Week 8: Aang VS Korra

Day 22: Boy Hero VS Girl Hero
Day 23: Consequences
Day 24: Limitations

Day 22 is for reluctance, confidence, gender identities, and hero moments.

All screenshots from Avatar Spirit.

Airbender

“Why didn’t you tell us you’re the Avatar?”

“Because… I never wanted to be.”

aang never wanted to be avatar

Korra

“What makes you so sure your daughter is the one?”

“I’m the Avatar, you gotta deal with it!”

Presented without comment.

OK, not really.

When it comes right down to it, Aang and Korra’s genders have nothing to do with their respective approaches to being the Avatar, and, even before that, dealing with finding out and accepting that they are the Avatar. HOWEVER, we thought it would be interesting to look at how Aang and Korra deal with being the Avatar in their different ways through the lens of their genders to make just a little teeny tiny point about representation.

In Book 1, Aang has two entire episodes that explore, either briefly or at length, that learning that he is the Avatar at such a young age really messed him up. Here are some various images of him moping:

aang mopingaang ashamedaang ashamed 2

This is not to say that he should just get over himself, because, of course not. He wasn’t just told too early for no reason. The monks decided to tell him four years before he turned 16 because Fire Lord Sozin was becoming an increasing threat, and they wanted to speed up the process of turning him into a fully realized Avatar so that they could take care of it.

So, you’re 12 years old, you’re told that the balance of the world is in serious peril, and you need to grow up fast and stop doing the things you enjoy and being around the people you love because it’s on you to deal with it. Of course he mopes.

Also, he runs away, and almost dies, and freezes himself for 100 years. While he’s frozen, his entire nation gets destroyed. So. Mope away, baby Aang. 😦

But there’s also the fact that Aang is reluctant to learn fire bending. Well. Not at first.

kataraburn1kataraburn3kataraburn4

After he accidentally burns Katara because he’s not being a respectful, patient student, he vows never to fire bend again. Guru Pathik helps him overcome this, as does Zuko, who understands that fire is dangerous and then some, but this whole thing is a pretty big deal.

And when Aang isn’t doing so well with earth bending, he just gets kind of sad and tries to avoid Toph.

Come to think of it, even when he’s trying to master water bending he’s more interested in snowman bending and playing with Momo.

And then there’s Korra.

Korra is a bending prodigy and never runs from a challenge. She struggles big time with air bending, but rather than mope about it like Aang would, she burns a bunch of stuff and yells in Tenzin’s face that she is bad at air bending because, 1. He’s a bad teacher, and 2. She doesn’t even need it anyway.

That goes away, of course, but she’s always determined to perfect her bending. She seeks out a metal bending tutor in Su Beifong, and is eager to learn how to use bending to purify angry spirits from Unalaq.

Later on she does reject the Avatar label, but that’s a conversation for another day.

How Korra is as a student and how Aang is seems pretty significantly different. She’s eager and determined, and easily, easily frustrated. Aang is fairly eager, but he’s more patient and at least slightly less determined than Korra is. A lot of that may be the age difference… but let’s look at how they both found out they’re the Avatar to begin with.

Aang is 12 when the monks tell him, Korra looks like a toddler and can already bend three elements. Korra was probably the first person in the world to realize that she is the Avatar and is clearly delighted by the prospect. Again, Aang has lots of reasons to not be so happy about it, and Korra definitely doesn’t at that young age. If Korra was growing up already on fantastic stories of Aang’s saving of the world, then why wouldn’t she be thrilled to discover that it’s her turn now?

Women getting to take on hero roles that were once mostly taken on by male characters is a thing now. It’s pretty contentious still for reasons that boggle the mind. There is some cynicism about it as well, like, the radical feminists are cautious about embracing female characters as role models and something to celebrate if they are just as violent and occasionally as fascist as your typical toxic masculine male action hero, also marxist critique would like to remind everyone that commercial art is commercial and rarely challenges the status quo in any meaningful way that will tear down capitalism or something, yadda yadda. Also, of course, it’s been mostly white women who get to do these hero things, and that needs to stop. Women of colour shouldn’t have to “wait their turn” or whatever it is that people are saying to try to justify why, if it isn’t a man, then it has to be a white woman. And we need plenty of characters representing men of colour as well. And that doesn’t even begin to discuss how there are genderqueer people who could use decent rep and trans women are still largely being played by cis men on screen which is absolutely ridiculous, and, really, men full stop could use more varied representation if we’re being honest. There’s a lot of good stuff that at least tries to detoxify masculinity if you look for it (we here humbly opine that Disney does it best) but we could always use some more.

But representation is seriously important. Last year, erm convinced Three to go and see girl Ghostbusters, and then this happened:

(the whole thing is good but it’s the Holtzman part especially, of course)

(just)

It’s hard to explain. A woman character doesn’t get to be cool like that unless she’s wearing something sexy and everything that’s happening has been choreographed specifically to enhance the sexiness. This was completely different.

Also this.

This is the scene making all the women cry in theatres. So.

We can talk about “commercial art” and “violence is bad,” but still, representation matters.

Korra’s declaration of Avatarness is really like a celebration of that. In the first series, we had a typical boy chosen one hero, with the weight of the world on his shoulders, and only he could bring back the balance. We’re not knocking it, it was great. But in the second series, rather than have another beleaguered chosen one, we instead get this prodigy, thrilled to be the Avatar. Also, she’s a brown girl, so there’s that.

This is her, trying out her Avatarness for the first time against a street gang and clearly enjoying herself:

Korra has a lot to learn, and her eagerness is mainly a thing that helps her character growth end up being really rewarding and interesting. And this is what pushes Korra as a female hero beyond just “the Avatar but a girl now,” because she does actually have to learn how to Avatar responsibly and not just stomp around declaring that she’s the Avatar. But still, it’s fun to watch her have fun.

Also, notice how Aang isn’t overly involved with Korra’s Avatar training the way Roku was with him? Partly it’s because she’s not great at spirituality, but once she opens up that block, we think it’s because he took a quick peek at how things were going with her, made this face:

intimidated aang

and then said, “Eh. She’s got it covered.”

30 Days of Avatar: Tenzin Party

Week 7: Cool AF Old People Parties

Day 19: Iroh Party
Day 20: Su and Lin Party
Day 21: Tenzin Party

Day 21 is for Tenzin being flawed, but AWESOME.

All screenshots from Avatar Spirit.

Tenzin is the closest to Uncle Iroh that we get in Korra, just because he’s the mentor figure to Korra and is super wise.

But he’s also pretty flawed. This is one of those instances in which Legend of Korra basically outpaces The Last Airbender, because though we love Iroh dearly, depicting a mentor-mentee relationship in which the mentor is just as flawed as the mentee and in which the mentor ends up learning just as much as the mentee learns (just in different ways) is a really interesting thing to do. Iroh is crucial as a mentor for a Zuko-type, but how Tenzin is depicted as a mentor ends up saying a lot more about teaching, patience, and forgiveness than the Iroh-Zuko relationship does.

It’s important in children’s entertainment to show that the adults don’t always have it together. Sometimes children’s entertainment does this in a kind of shallow but entertaining way (consider the Dursleys in Harry Potter), and sometimes in a hella complicated way that aids the “coming of age” narrative that goes on (consider Albus Dumbledore in Deathly Hallows) because it finally requires the child to take that final step in becoming an adult: recognizing that even the wisest, most brilliantest, most powerfulest, most supportive-est most educationalest, most adultest of the adults are still flawed people and forgiving them for it.

Also, it’s really important to portray the mentor as flawed when the mentor is a dude and the mentee is a dudette.

Korra is a spirited kid. She’s powerful AF, idealistic to a fault, naive, stubborn, doesn’t take any crap, and is easily frustrated. We might even have been inclined to forgive the makers of Korra if they had gone the Iroh/Zuko way, portraying Korra as a silly, angsty teenage girl (not without her charms and relatability, of course, but still), with Tenzin as the calm wise one, always patient, always perfectly supportive and ultimately right about everything.

That isn’t how it goes at all.

Tenzin often loses his patience. He often overreacts. But just like Korra, we know what’s going on with him and we forgive him his little outbursts. In a lot of ways, they make him more likeable than if he’d just been some zen, wise master.

Also, and we have to mention it because this is Avatar Land: Tenzin is a master air bender, and an adult one of those too. He has some moves, in other words.

Our favourite thing about him is that he is flawed, and that he just kind of goes with it. In this following scene, he is very close to giving up and losing himself in the spirit prison, all because he believes that he has failed his father because he doesn’t connect with the spirit world as naturally as he believes that he should, being freaking Aang’s son.

Aang helps him out (thanks buddy), but ultimately, just like in a similar type scene in The Lion King, ghost dad just kind of shows up to remind living son that he is perfectly capable of doing the thing if he can just remember who he is.

 

Tenzin.

30 Days of Avatar: Iroh Party

Week 7: Cool AF Old People Parties

Day 19: Iroh Party
Day 20: Su and Lin Party
Day 21: Tenzin Party

Day 19 is for Iroh. ‘Nuff said.

All screenshots from Avatar Spirit.

Upon first glance at Book 1, it seems as though Iroh is basically Zuko’s comedy bumbling uncle, there to give us some relief while we watch Zuko fume, and, sometimes, literally steam, about nonissues. But it doesn’t take long to recognize that Uncle Iroh is a pillar of wisdom and grace. It’s also made pretty clear fairly early on that he’s a very skilled fire bender himself, and although he is considered to be a great military failure, he is underestimated at the underestimater’s peril.

And did he ever tell you how he got the nickname, “The Dragon of the West?”

Still. There are lots of funny times, early on.

Iroh is just trying to guide Zuko towards some wisdom of his own. He does so patiently, not coming right out and questioning Zuko’s silly outlook on the world until nearing the end of Book 2. But when he does it, man, does he do it.

“What do you plan to do now that you’ve found the Avatar’s bison? Keep it locked in our new apartment? Should I go put on a pot of tea for him?”

“First I have to get it out of here.”

“And THEN WHAT? You never think these things through. This is exactly what happened when you captured the Avatar at the North Pole. You had him, and then you had nowhere to go!”

“I would have figured something out.”

“NO! If his friends hadn’t found you, you would have frozen to death!”

*Zuko noise of rage and angst* “I know my own destiny, Uncle.”

“Is it your own destiny, or is it a destiny someone else has tried to force on you?”

“Stop it, Uncle. I have to do this.”

“I’m BEGGING you, Prince Zuko. It’s time for you to look inward and begin asking yourself the big questions. Who are you, and what do you want?”

*louder Zuko noise of rage and angst*

Yeah, for 1.9 seasons, this show had been building up to this moment, and we all pretty much had the same reaction. It did not disappoint.

Well. Zuko did. But we could see clearly that he was making his own choices, and from here on out he would have to succeed or fail without Uncle Iroh to catch him when he fell.

But then obviously Zuko came through, which led to this:

Ahhh, catharsis.

Also, there’s this, of course.

The takeaway from this one is always sad, but can we just mention the line, “With that stance?” Absolute perfection.

30 Days of Avatar: Sibling Relationships

Week 4: Relationships in Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra

Day 10: Friendship in Avatar Land
Day 11: Teen Romance in Avatar Land
Day 12: Siblings in Avatar Land

Day 12 is for those moments when you just really want to kill your sister.

All screenshots from Avatar Spirit.

Sokka and Katara

Well, this Southern Water Tribe brother/sister duo are the OG sibling relationship of the entire Avatar universe, so it’s no surprise that they set the bar pretty high for all others.

Book 1 is a *tad* juvenile, especially compared to the rest of the series, but it’s Sokka and Katara who lend the show its emotional backbone right from the beginning, giving Aang a new family and a new support network so he can get to saving the world.

They have a couple of key moments in the show’s second episode: “The Avatar Returns.”

First, Katara is determined to go after Aang (who’s been taken prisoner for the first of many times), and is prematurely angry with Sokka, who doesn’t like Aang, assuming he’ll try to talk her out of it. Unbeknownst to her, Sokka has a plan already.

Katara: We have to go after that ship, Sokka. Aang saved our tribe, now we have to save him.

Sokka: Katara, I –

Katara: Why can’t you realize that he’s on our side? If we don’t help him, no one will. I know you don’t like Aang, but we owe him and –

Sokka: Katara! Are you gonna talk all day, or are you comin’ with me?

Shortly thereafter, they’re trying to make Appa fly after the ship. Sokka’s pretty cynical about it. He’s a giant bison, after all. He doesn’t have wings.

Sokka: Go. Fly. Soar.

Katara: Please, Appa. We need your help. Aang needs your help.

Sokka: Up. Ascend. Elevate.

Katara: Sokka doesn’t believe you can fly, but I do, Appa. Come on, don’t you want to save Aang?

Sokka: What was it that kid said? Yee-haw? Hup-hup? Wah-hoo? Uh … Yip-yip?

Appa: *flies*

Katara: You did it, Sokka!

Sokka: He’s flying!!! He’s flying!!! Katara, he’s – (Katara smirks at him) I mean, no big deal. He’s flying.

Then there’s the time that Katara blows up an evil factory.

Sokka: What did you do?

Katara: I kind of destroyed their factory.

Sokka: You what?

Katara: It was your idea!

Sokka: I was joking! I also said to use spirit magic and made funny noises! Did you even think this through? The army is gonna blame the villagers! They’re headed there right now to get revenge!

Katara: Well, what was I supposed to do?

Sokka: Leave! Do nothing!

Katara: No! I will never, ever turn my back on people who need me. I’m going down to that village, and I am gonna do whatever I can.

Sokka: Wait! I’m coming too.

Katara: I thought you didn’t want to help.

Sokka: You need me, and I will never turn my back on you.

Katara: Sokka, you really do have a heart.

They’re great.

Zuko and Azula

Easily the most dysfunctional sibling relationship in the history of Avatar Land, these two. Her conniving mind games up against his never ending oversensitive melodramatic melodrama drama angst oversensitivity parade is the gift that keeps on giving. The last we see of the two of them (on the show, anyway), Azula is tricking Zuko into getting lightninged by TOTALLY CHEATING IN THEIR AGNI KAI. Oh and then because he doesn’t die, she has a full on, fire-coming-out-of-ears breakdown while he stares solemnly at her. Good times.

Mako and Bolin

mako and bolin

(they’ve had better moments)

Like the one in “The Last Stand,” in which Mako decides to risk his life trying to shut down Kuvira’s spirit nuke, and Bolin tries to talk him out of it.

Bolin: This isn’t the time to prove how awesome you are. I already know how awesome you are… you’re awesome.

Mako: I don’t have time to argue! I’m doing this, so get out of here!

Bolin: Okay, but for the record, I do not approve. Just, get out as soon as you can. Promise?

Mako: Promise.

Bolin: I love you.

Mako: I love you too. Now go!

That scene would have worked a lot better if Mako had actually died, trying to shut down the spirit weapon. Imagine Mako locks Bolin out, says goodbye, and actually dies shutting it down. Now, look, that would have done a few things. First, Mako would be dead. Second, Bolin would be devastated, third, Korra’s breakthrough with Kuvira would be completely overshadowed by Mako being awesome, fourth, Korra and Asami running off together would be overshadowed by Mako’s death. So, obviously it couldn’t work that way. But still. It would have been totally dramatic and amazing and extremely sad and why are we imagining this, exactly?

Tenzin, Kya, and Bumi

Listen carefully: whatever you do, you need to inhale, exhale, and then, WATCH THIS VIDEO.

These three are great. Highlights of theirs are in parts one and two of “Civil Wars” and in “Darkness Falls.”

Despite their… varied… memories of what their childhood was like, they were, and still are, a happy, supportive family. Flaws and all.

aang familyTenzin, what, Bumi

Lin and Suyin

This one hurts.

Bolin’s sage words to Korra: “You don’t have any siblings. Fighting is all a part of the healing process.”

Well, he’s definitely not wrong. These two titanic ladies worked things out. Their best team moment is when they take down P’li. Lin, being Lin, puts herself in the line of fire so that Su can make P’li ‘splode. First, Lin tells Su that she loves her.

lin and su

Awww. Just like the moment with Bolin and Mako.

Jinora, Ikki, and Meelo

airbender kidsikki places jinora

The two older ladies could stand to put Meelo in his place a bit a lot more often (he’s a snot, fight us), but other than that, they’re a team like no other and Aang would be proud.

30 Days of Avatar: Complicated Villains

Week 3: Avatar Villains

Day 7: Azula
Day 8: The Complicated Villains
Day 9: Ozai and the Voldemort Problem

Day 8 is for villains with some depth to them. So, not Ozai, and not Unalaq or Vaatu. And not Azula, who we’ve covered, and who isn’t that complicated.

Content warning: Suicide.

Super spoilery spoilers in this one.

All screenshots from Avatar Spirit.

Amon

amon

Managing to be at least three times as scary as Ozai ever was, Amon also had an ideology that sort of made sense and a tragic backstory that explained everything.

Amon heads a movement of people determined to create perfect equality for all in Avatar land, and the only way to achieve this is to take people’s bending away. Amon has this ability and no one can figure out how he does it, until it’s explained later.

Amon’s ending is also perhaps the most tragic of all the villains. It’s nothing short of horrifying.

Tarrlok put an end to his own sad story. It’s doubly awful because you can trace these horrifying events back to a choice Aang makes – not that this is his fault, because everyone else involved certainly has their own agency. But still. Tiny baby Aang would feel so responsible for this.

The Red Lotus

Apart from being the most interesting villains when it comes to their bending abilities, the Red Lotus actually have an ideology that isn’t just about them having all the power when everything eventually goes according to their plan. They’re like Amon in that way, but their ideology is much stupider than Amon’s “equality for all.”

That’s why Zaheer is much more interesting when he’s fighting than when he’s speaking, and also why it’s OK for Bolin to just “put a sock in it” at the end. “We’d be better off without world leaders.” Whatever you say, bud. But there are no libertarians in an ice storm, as someone funny on Twitter once said.

Of course all you’d need in an ice storm in Avatar land is a couple of decent water benders, but the point still more or less stands.

How about, “There are no libertarians in a city invaded by spirit vines?” That one works, yes?

Zaheer’s merry band of talented anarchists all die and he ends up imprisoned for life, but in Book 4 Korra journeys to talk to him, believing that if she can see him face to face and know for sure that he’s not a threat anymore, she will no longer be haunted by him. Instead, Zaheer himself acts as Korra’s spiritual guide and helps her get over her fear of their past encounter, because, as he says, their interests are currently temporarily aligned – Zaheer totes wouldn’t be big on mega mecha-suit driving dictators, after all.

Speaking of which…

Kuvira

A lady dictator!!!!!!!!!!!!

This shouldn’t be so exciting but THANK YOU UNIVERSE, ALL OF THE DEITIES, CEILING CAT ET AL for this show and its multitudinous depictions of all of the women doing all of the things.

What’s even better about Kuvira is that she’s motivated by both personal politics and a deep sense of disappointment in her hero, Su, for not stepping up when she was offered the job that Kuvira then took and ran with, forever and ever. A lot of what Kuvira does in Book 4 is dedicated specifically to revenging herself on Su for not doing what Kuvira wanted her to do: taking the opportunity to unite the Earth Kingdom with her utopian ideals and advanced technology, and getting rid of a regressive monarchy. Suyin Beifong is Kuvira’s mother figure as well as her teacher, mentor, and leader, and Kuvira feels that Su’s refusal to take on the role of interrim Earth Kingdom leader is akin to the abandonment of an unwanted child.

We know all of this because Korra is determined, this time, to talk to her villain, to empathize with her, feel compassion for her, and make her see reason. Everyone tells her this is foolish.

But! Kuvira is the one and only villain who apologizes! Korra gets through to her eventually! Even though she will have to face justice – and she even says that she’ll face whatever justice the republic chooses! This is just great. Bless this show.

Zuko

And finally there’s Zuko, who spends Book 1 being an angry jerk, Book 2 being a confused and angry jerk, and Book 3 redeeming himself. He’s not really a villain. Anyone could see just a few episodes into Book 1 that he’d eventually be redeemed, but man, his redemption journey is beautiful and painful and heart-wrenching and IROH and omg.

Poor Zu-Zu.

30 Days of Avatar: The Legacy of Avatar Wan

Week 2: Legacies of the Avatar

Day 4: The New Era: The Legacy of Avatar Wan
Day 5: The Legacies of Kyoshi and Roku
Day 6: The “Cop Out:” The Legacy of Avatar Aang

Day 4 is for the first ever Avatar, and for consequences and mistakes.

All screenshots from Avatar Spirit.

wan

wan2

❤ ❤

wan and mula

❤ ❤ ❤

wan3

❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

All right, get it together, us.

Korra learns Wan’s story in Book 2, and it is covered in its entirety in parts 1 and 2 of “Beginnings.” Wan is the first Avatar and he pretty much single-handedly creates a new era in which humans and spirits are kept separate, and he, as the Avatar, serves as the bridge between the two worlds. He does this because he messed up. But, more importantly, he worked to fix his mistake.

Let’s be a little bit selfish and spend some time claiming that Wan can totally be read as an aro-ace. Surely it makes enough sense, as Wan is never depicted as having a romantic relationship. Instead, his friendships with humans and spirits are shown.

this guy tho

(^^ this guy though)

He influences the humans he knows and teaches his spirit friends that humans aren’t completely worthless. There’s also Mula, his animal friend. But the most important relationship in his life is his relationship with Raava, the all-powerful (and female-coded) spirit of light.

Raava rather dislikes Wan at first (with good reason) but eventually as they have no choice but to team up to defeat Vaatu, she learns, as other spirits have before her, that humans can actually be quite, well, human.

Their relationship is intimate, as we see Wan lie dying on a battlefield, apologizing to Raava for failing to bring peace to the world. And she replies, “It’s cool, bro, we’re going to be reincarnated.”

When Korra meets Raava finally, she and Raava have a similar warmth between them, which only makes sense as she’s the latest in ten thousand years of Wan reincarnations. This is how you show meaningful and yet no-romo, platonic relationships without erasing the aro-ace aspect. If that had actually been what they were going for, then we would hesitantly say they succeeded.

As it is, that’s probably not what they were doing but whatever. Wan is aro-ace forever in our hearts. Of course it doesn’t really matter what orientation Wan is or isn’t, but his and Raava’s bonding is quite beautiful to watch and important in a world that apparently struggles to see any value in relationships that aren’t sexual or romantic. So.

And then there’s Wan’s legacy, which was supposed to be the point of today’s entry but things got a little sidetracked.

Like every Avatar discussed in detail, Wan makes huge decisions that effect his life going forward and that effect the lives of his later reincarnations. It is Wan who splits Vaatu from Raava, and it isn’t until ten thousand years later that Korra ‘splodes him and ends that.

korra and raava

Wan also closes the spirit portals, believing that in order to maintain peace, spirits and humans can’t coexist physically. Korra reverses this decision as well, beginning a new new era. But his decisions are shown humanely. We understand why he makes the mistake of freeing Vaatu – he felt empathy for the poor, restricted all-powerful spirit of chaos. And his decision to separate spirits and humans makes perfect sense in his own context. Showing Avatars make decisions that have difficult consequences later on, and here specifically, showing the first Avatar lie dying while regretting what he hasn’t accomplished, is just another example of how complex and brave this show is.

wan dying

Superheroes, Lately

Let’s talk about three superhero movies that came out this year and the important things they did that superhero movies haven’t previously done in my opinion which is a good opinion and is a very informed opinion as always. (Hint – no, it’s not the latter and probably not the former either. But I think I’m on to a couple of things, at least.)

I’d watch Wonder WomanGuardians of the Galaxy 2, and Lego Batman before reading. Also I’d just watch all of those movies in general. So.

In brief:

Wonder Woman

Well, it’s about a female superhero. That alone isn’t new, but it’s also actually critically and financially successful, which is new for a woman-led superhero movie. It gives the love interest really important things to do, which makes it unique among the superhero movies I’ve seen. It’s also clearly actually about something, morality-wise. I’d argue that most of them aren’t, apart from maybe the responsibilities of power – and only if it’s one of the good Spider-Man movies. Most of them present some sort of simplistic good vs evil conflict that we’re supposed to just take at face value, because if we start questioning it it all starts to fall apart (why is Bruce Wayne so rich and can he please just stop, for example). They’re also more interested in being character-driven and all about the spectacle, which would be more than fine usually (superheroes are supposed to be fun, otherwise what’s the point). But with Marvel producing a billion a minute and with DC producing a bunch that are pretty impressively not entertaining or fun in the slightest, it’s getting super boring up in here without even basic introspection or bigger attempts to shake things up. But yeah, this one is about stuff. Pretty basic stuff but stuff nonetheless, and I’m interested to see if future Wonder Woman movies are also actually about stuff in more ways than this first one is.

Guardians of the Galaxy

This one paired up all of the characters (except Groot) and they all discussed their flaws and past mistakes and vulnerability with each other, to varying degrees. For me, the most intriguing pairs were Gamora/Nebula and Rocket/Yondu. Quill/Dickface was more important to the plot than it was important for character development (if I’m remembering correctly) and Drax/Mantis was comic-reliefy. But either way, I found it really engaging, and it meant that I liked this one waaaaay better than the first one, which I think is a minority opinion but I’m thrilled to have it even if I have to be alone.

Lego Batman

Finally, Batman is deservedly, deservedlydeservedly being mocked. Catharsis, at long last.

Also Voldemort was in it a lot. I told everyone who asked me how it was after I saw it that he was prominently featured and the reaction to that was, universally, “… what?”

Now, in length:

Superheroes are weird, and also Pixar movies make me feel all sorts of things

“Superhero movies aren’t about anything,” I just said, cruelly. I do understand why it has to be that way. There are lots of reasons but I think the main and obvious and boring one is that if you make a story be entirely about morality, it’s not going to be a good story. It doesn’t need to be said because it is pretty obvious, but I’ll go ahead and say it anyway: you need to strike a balance. Characters and the small, specific plot that they have to work their way through need to be at the forefront – but some sort of morality should be behind it and will be there whether you try to put it there or not – especially if it’s a story about powerful people trying to protect vulnerable people from other powerful people, which is supposedly what all superhero stories are.

My problem then is not that there isn’t morality in these movies, it’s more that I think these movies specifically would lend themselves to important morality discussions, but they tend to waste that opportunity. So now let’s talk about Pixar movies for a while.

I have what I suspect are silly problems with Wall-E that resemble my probably silly problems with superhero movies in general. But at the risk of sounding like a humorless moralist, I’ll go into it anyway. I think Wall-E has a moral that doesn’t go along with its plot. The moral is that you shouldn’t just do boring, repetitive things or you’ll miss out on life. And that’s fine, but there’s also the pesky thing where they have a plant, which, as far as anyone knows throughout the entire movie, is the only plant on earth. But the plant is treated as incidental. It’s why Eve shows up on earth and it’s what the captain, who is the best character, is invested in, but is otherwise unimportant. Wall-E and Eve’s love story is what’s centered, and the return to earth is just the subplot, as it should be. But the moment that Auto crushes Wall-E is the moment the moral plot gets swallowed by the love story, because now they aren’t going home to start taking responsibility for destroying it, but rather because the stupid robot needs to be repaired. Because the plant has previously been Eve’s sole directive but now Wall-E is and blaaaaaaah I don’t care, I’m too worried about the plant starting to wilt to care about the robot.

At this point I become a reluctant viewer. Because the entire moral of Wall-E is to forget about your job. Just, toss it aside in complete abandon so that you can do what’s important to you personally instead. For Mo, it’s cleaning Wall-E. For all of the broken robots, it’s being completely useless and somewhat dangerous, let’s be real. For Wall-E and Eve it’s holding hands.

BUT OMG EVE THE PLANT!!!!! THE WHOLE WORLD IS DEAD AND NOW YOU ALL HAVE A CHANCE TO CLEAN IT UP I DON’T CARE THAT YOU WANT TO HOLD HANDS YOU’RE JUST ROBOTS AND SOMETIMES YOUR JOBS ARE ACTUALLY VITAL AND YOU NEED TO DO THEM PROPERLY I MEAN GET THAT MASSAGE THERAPY ROBOT REPAIRED BEFORE THEY KILL SOMEBODY WHY DO I HAVE TO EXPLAIN THIS

Maybe I have a heart of stone but Wall-E could have actually died and I wouldn’t have cared at all. I was way more invested in the return to earth for sake of, just, earth. That’s probably because seeing endless piles of garbage everywhere made me actually upset and I stopped being a passive audience-member and started being an environmentalist. But the sort of sentimentality they were going for with Wall-E and Eve works like a charm on me if the story meshes character and moral flawlessly, which Pixar does with Inside Out. The moral is that sadness is a good thing and that being relentlessly happy in every context can be thoroughly damaging, which is pretty revolutionary. I think Bing Bong’s death is… let’s just say it’s sad. Very sad. I care about that one. And that’s coming from me, the person who thought, as soon as Bing Bong showed up on screen, “OMG that character has to die before the end or this movie will have no integrity.” And I stand by that opinion.

Sorry. As well as being more likely to get attached to a plant in a shoe than a personified romance robot, I have a major problem with Pixar relentlessly valuing the infantilizing of female characters. I hate – HATE – the Jessie/Emily scene in TS2. I hate it so much. I shouldn’t hate it as much as I do but by golly I hate that scene. To be fair, they do this with male characters too and I hate it then also, but I find it particularly insidious when it’s girls. I liked my childhood; I look back on it fondly. But I’m also super glad that I got to grow up and I get really mad when people treat me like a child despite the fact that I achieved adulthood and it’s a thing that happens to women all the time. So Pixar needs to stop. And they did when Bing Bong died and Riley gets to experience new, complicated, reaching-age-of-maturity emotions without clinging to things that were only relevant to her as a toddler, and it’s amazing that he recognizes this and that he can still be helpful to her by sacrificing himself to get Joy back to where she belongs, but his death is still really, really sad.

To summarize: meshing character/plot/morality is crucial and easy to get wrong and it’s going to make different people respond differently to different movies because your mileage may vary, of course. But I think that this sort of thing should, in theory, be easy in superhero stories, maybe even easier in superhero movies than Pixar films. Superheroes are effortlessly cool, and they also kind of have to be about the good/evil binary, so, really they should just write themselves.

And yet, it doesn’t seem to work out that way. I’m only going by recent movies, though. I’m sure the old Superman movies did a reasonably good job with this. I’ve heard of the one that tries to take on the nuke issue and does a kind of naive job of it, but at least, as far as I’m concerned, it took on that issue. Because lately I haven’t seen actual morality discussed in superhero movies and I think they could use those discussions. And what I mean by that starts at Superhero Ethics 101: Should You Even Be Doing This At All I Mean Really You Can So Easily Kill So Many People Just By Doing This Stuff Please Think About it Carefully at Least Once in the Run Time. And then there’s Superhero Ethics 102: What to do When “Some Lunatic Comes Along with a Sadistic Choice.” We’ll get to that one in a minute.

Uncle Ben’s “With great power comes great responsibility,” is the closest thing recent superhero movies come to examining what responsibilities superheroes have. Peter learns the lesson on a very personal level, since his spite is indirectly responsible for Uncle Ben’s death, and then I guess he vows to fight crime, because he can, being a wall-climber. I’d like to see a little more focus on the commitment to do-goodery. It’s often taken as a given, and goes unquestioned. It stops at that one quote. “With great power comes great responsibility.” But I have no idea what that means to any of these dudes personally, beyond, “Let’s fight petty crime in this city and wait around for a supervillain to show up and then fight that guy too.” What are their values, these superdudes? Why petty crime, specifically? And why is it so passive, the hanging out fighting petty crime until some other costumed dude shows up? Why are superheroes not more proactive about any of this stuff? How exactly are they committed to making the world a better place, other than stopping crimes that are conveniently in progress right when they show up?

Focusing on Spider-Man, I could ask: are spider powers really the best way to protect New Yorkers from crime? I get that spider powers are the coolest visual way to fight crime in New York, but is it really just car chases and muggings and bank robberies and fires and back alley rapists that Peter should be focusing on, to live up to Uncle Ben’s expectations about taking responsibility? There’s other stuff going on, too, like police brutality. Or homelessness. Has – has a superhero ever done something for a homeless person, in a movie? Maybe some self-reflection would be nice, occasionally. Part of the reason that doesn’t happen is the supervillains, who apart from being super villainous, are also super convenient. The heroes are just out and about, doing small-time hero work, stopping cliché crime people, and I assume they go home and contemplate their strategies and maybe look into ways to get rid of the causes of petty crime rather than just whipping around putting bank robbers in huge spiderwebs, because Peter needs to pay the rent and also eventually he’s going to get older and he won’t be able to do this anymore so maybe trying to make the crime rate go down in ways that don’t require his physical presence and prowess would be prudent, and then maybe poverty-stricken Peter Parker starts thinking about different ways he could try to use his powers to shelter homeless people or to combat crimes that don’t generally get treated like crimes because society is annoying – like what are the superhero ethics of going against the police to stop them hurting people they’re arresting, whether they’re arresting them rightly or wrongly, and not just going against the police because it looks cool (TBF it probably shouldn’t be a white character who does that but Miles Morales – I’m just saying)? I really want to see all of that stuff explored, but inevitably right at that point in all of these movies is when the supervillain shows up and all of the interesting stuff that could have happened just doesn’t happen.

Also I know Watchmen exists but it doesn’t count. It’s too cynical to be included in this discussion. I strongly believe that superhero stories don’t have to be cynical in order to take on interesting, thought-provoking, real-world relevant morality issues. Not to disparage Watchmen because it is very good, but it isn’t useful here.

Speaking of cynicism, the first Guardians movie briefly does a thing in which the characters debate whether they should risk their lives to literally save the galaxy – the big scene about this is probably the best scene in there. This happens on and off throughout the movie but when it comes right down to it, they barely even contemplate the possibility of trying to run, because despite how cynical most of them are, they believe in friendship and stuff – shockingly, it has to be said. And it is the power of friendship that both saves their lives, and then the galaxy, in the span of maybe five or ten minutes.

But there isn’t really any commentary there about making a tough choice because it’s the right one. There probably shouldn’t be, because the movie is supposed to be mostly comedic but then sincere at the end, so it has to remain comedic enough throughout to allow for the sincerity of the climax to actually work without coming across as being as stupid and insincere as everything else these characters do. But that still means they aren’t really saying much about this stuff.

wonder woman

Wonder Woman doesn’t say all of the sophisticated and complex things it could have said about WWI or war in general. When Steve says, “I’m one of the good guys… those are the bad guys,” he’s not wrong, because those guys are specifically trying to return stolen plans for a devastating gas attack, an attack that would kill people on both sides, but the futility of the Allies/Central Powers conflict, and how a lot of posturing and egomania led to millions of deaths and plenty of devastation (not to mention that twenty years later an even worse one broke out that was directly a consequence of how badly the first one’s end was managed) is one heck of a discussion that could have happened and does not happen. It’s hard to have that discussion and still root for… anyone, to be fair. But because Wonder Woman does a broader thing at the end where she declares that she’s going to try, and keep trying, whether humanity deserves her labour or not, it still is sort of making a point about war. Despite how banal and commonplace and empowered real evil is during wars and leading up to them, she’s committed to trying to influence the world towards eventual peace. That makes her one of a kind, recently, and previously I do suspect it’s only Superman and the Naive Cold War Stuff that has tried to take on a cause worthy of a freaking superhero. I mean really.

Importantly – I don’t want to see superheroes taking on the Holocaust, or anything like that, because that would be in pretty bad taste and would be way more naive than Superman vs the Nukes. I just think that the movies set in modern times could stand to say something bold and useful about what people in various places of privilege should maybe sort of try to do with their privilege, since we have it.

But. Diana is proactive. She believes, fiercely, in her responsibility to the entire freaking world. She believes in protecting mankind even though she isn’t one of them. And the final decision she makes is to continue to pursue her goal of peace for everyone despite the fact that people are flawed. Her determination and belief are presented as naive and occasionally reckless, but ultimately she succeeds. Because, sure, Ares wasn’t disguised as that German guy, but he does exist and he does show up and she does have to kill him. And then there’s that no-man’s land scene where her idealism turns out to be perfectly fine, because she can back it up with superpowers. I’ve also seen a bit of griping about how Diana is constantly set up to learn things from Steve, but I actually think that they learn from each other fairly evenly. Sure, her boldness messes things up a couple of times, but he follows her into situations he declares are too risky like a billion times (OK fine, it’s maybe once or twice, but shut up) and it turns out to be fine, and she was right after all. Also this has nothing to do with superhero ethics but early on there’s this perfect moment where he tries to set himself up as a potential educator for her, since she’s a woman from an island filled only with women, and therefore obviously she wouldn’t know anything about this, on the subject of sexual pleasure. I think that’s what he’s trying to do, anyway. He says he’s virile because he’s a spy (lol?). And she’s like, “Dude, please.”

Later when they do have sex, it’s preceded by her explicitly asking him to tell her what typical long-term committed heteronormative romantic relationships are like and he says he has no idea, which I think is a good summary of who’s teaching who what. They’re both in extraordinary circumstances and are constantly having their ideas about what they and the people around them should or shouldn’t or can or can’t do challenged which is EXACTLY what superhero movies need more of. I think the reason this movie seems to achieve this so effortlessly is that it necessarily has to confront gender roles throughout the run time, so all of the not-specifically-gender-role-related things just naturally get the same treatment because they’re already conscious of and trying to challenge norms.

At the end as Diana battles her supervillain, the literal god of war, it’s not really him that’s the danger to her, or, crucially, to the people around her who she is supposed to be protecting, and influencing. She’s just battling herself. She has believed for most of the movie that guiding humanity toward peace is her job, so now that she has discovered that it’s going to be a lot harder for her to accomplish than she thought, and it might be impossible, does she want to do difficult work for people who may not be inherently good without an external evil influence after all? And then she decides that, yes, she does, and then that’s that.

She’s not only committed to physically ending war but to being an influential figure for the good, always. The influential figure part of her identity is also an aspect of superheroes that doesn’t get highlighted enough. There are some kids in Raimi’s Spider-Man movies and those parts are always really good, and I know Gotham-Joffrey is in Batman Begins and wannabe-Batmans are in The Dark Knight and there are orphans (or at least, a discussion about orphans) in The Dark Knight Rises, so it does happen, but it’s a thing that should happen more. Superheroes should more often actually reflect on the fact that their actions will inspire lots of people. If they make a mistake, they may unintentionally endorse a lot of terrible stuff and that’s a story line I already know I’d like better than “oh no Doc Oc has robot arms and stuff.” It’s also much, much better than another type of story that tends to emerge: “oh no, all of the ordinary people hate and fear these massively overpowered metahumans among them and they’re trying to stop them waaaah.” Sometimes that can be OK, like in any given X-men story, but personally I don’t think “superpowers as stand-ins for marginalization” works very well for good discussions about what marginalization is and how it works and why it needs to stop. It’s better for making marginalized people feel empowered, which is no small thing. But if your identity is marginalized because you can move all the metal around you at will, well, maybe you’re actually the privileged one, now. And they attempt to explore that with Magneto but it’s never a clear exploration of these ideas because they never fully own that the X-men literally are extremely dangerous to everyone else, if they choose to be, and that even the hatemongering rises out of an actually legitimate concern. They can’t. It would ruin the whole thing. So.

Also sometimes it isn’t OK. That part of the story in The Incredibles is important for setting up the plot and raising the stakes, but it’s also kind of uncomfortable, if you think about it long enough. And everyone who ever expressed a concern over Batman’s vigilantism was right and I hope they’re eventually vindicated. What Bruce needs is a good therapist.

I haven’t seen the most recent Captain America movie but I heard that it was about Iron Man deciding that maybe the Avengers need to be more careful about the things they do and the unintentional damage they cause, but the movie seems to think that’s silly and takes Cap’s side, which is, weirdly, “Nah.” So if I’d watched it I could go into more detail but that seems like it’s close to what I’m looking for – introspection-wise, at least. But it also sounds like it’s a clear rejection of the premise that maybe superheroes need to take several steps back in every situation, because they are way too powerful for comfort.

Someone on twitter talked briefly about how weird it is that superheroes are actually pretty fascist, if you think about it, and that no one talks about this. Well, hey, I think the movies themselves should talk about it. I think that might make an interesting superhero movie. Take just one conflict that often arises in these movies: the, “oh no, the supervillain is going to make the hero choose between x and the screaming female love interest because he can only save one in time!” And the hero always is actually able to save both. Here’s a thought: have the hero choose the love interest. Have the hero really own that selfish choice, and have to live with how they made a selfish choice that benefits only them and the person they love at the expense of others and they made the choice because they can. And if the hero chooses whatever x is? Well that isn’t much better. Why did the hero knowingly place a vulnerable person in a dangerous situation? Why didn’t they just make like Don Quixote and choose “to love, pure and chaste, from afar?” (I know that isn’t fair for Peter in the first movie because MJ being in danger is all Harry’s fault but still, even having lived through this experience, in the later movies he decides that it’s worth the risk to be with her, so…) Why do these movies always make it really easy on these characters – why do they get to have it both ways? Why are they never responsible for the actual damage they cause? Why are they not responsible for the conflicts they choose not to try to get involved with?

Beeeeecause superhero movies are, to a one, uniformly morally dull. It’s enough to make a marxist critic out of me, honestly. Why are we celebrating all of these silly-costumed ubermensches anyway, if they can’t even be bothered to do something about homelessness?

The stuff in Wonder Woman is definitely not as complex as I would have liked – and it doesn’t address the fascism thing, I mean, she’s literally a god – but I did write this paragraph once when I was talking about how Starkid keeps scooping mainstream popular culture:

My thing is a Harley Quinn movie where she dumps the Joker for good and that’s all. Throw some Batman cameos in there, maybe have Poison Ivy be the love interest, Catwoman cameos too because Catwoman is my queen. My thing is live-action Kim PossibleTeen Titans and literally no one is white. Superheroes fight grassroots battles too, like Beast Boy fights against the meat industry or Cyborg joins BLM. Superheroes literally stop wars. Those are the things I want.”

It seems to me that Wonder Woman is the closest thing to that last thing that I’ll be getting. And right now, I’m OK with that. It ever-so-slightly began a conversation about superhero responsibility and it took on a real, actual, gigantic issue that isn’t the stupid Joker again. And while sure, there’s never a discussion about “Hey Diana, use your powers judiciously maybe, people are delicate,” the entire final conflict is her clearly stating her intention to fight for people rather than ignore them because they aren’t perfect. I think this clear statement is kinder than the sorts of things that happen in movies like The Incredibles or The Dark Knight or whatever went on in Batman V Superman. It does highlight Diana’s decision to not drop a tank on Dr. Poison, even though she is awful. That’s promising, as far as I’m concerned.

And of course it centers a woman doing superhero things, and just like when I saw The Force Awakens, I hadn’t realized until I actually saw it happening how big of a deal it is, letting female characters be centered in the sorts of stories where previously only male characters have been centered.

So also, we need to start doing that with people of colour. It’s happening a little bit, but it needs to happen more. Stat. In Wonder Woman there are black Amazons which is great, but unfortunately because there’s only so much time we can spend on Amazon island it’s only Diana’s mother and aunt who get to say and do plot and thematically important things, and that’s too bad. Sameer is also a bit of a stereotype, which seems extremely unnecessary. This movie could have done a better job with this stuff, too, but what’s really important is those movies that will center superheroes who are POC. Black Panther looks good, eh? But that doesn’t excuse Marvel for not just having Miles Morales be their Spider-Man because we have enough Peter Parker movies, and some of them are really good. Come on.

One little side note before I move on: Big Hero 6 and Megamind both have better, more clearly stated, and more thematically relevant examinations of what it means to be a superhero and the responsibilities inherent in it than most (… all?) live action superhero movies do (I hesitate to say that maybe Wonder Woman does this pretty flawlessly too, because I think it does, but I’ve only seen it once and it’s still too fresh). And sure, a lot of that is that the better family films always more clearly state their moral while still embedding it nicely in the surrounding plot, and the morals are usually a lot simpler, but still.

Lego Zatana, is what I’m thinking. I don’t know much about Zatana but I’m willing to learn, people who make the Lego movies. And Disney animated women of colour Marvel superheroines that I don’t know the names of because I’m unfamiliar with comics generally and we don’t have any of those in the movie Marvelverse despite having an Ant Man, a Doctor Strange, and three Thor movies. I’m not nearly the first to point that out and yet it’s still 100% true.

One other little side note: a story where an ubermensch uses their mystical, magical powers ALWAYS with the greater good and responsibilities of power in mind and front and center is Avatar, both The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. Which is part of why this blog is going to be clogged with posts about it for most of the summer. But yeah, Avatars are the true heroes that Gotham needs, and deserves. To be perfectly honest I have no fucking clue what that “hero that Gotham needs right now vs hero that Gotham deserves” thing even means, and I don’t even know how the sentence actually goes, and I don’t think I ever will.

All right I won’t write as much about Guardians 2

When I saw the first Guardians movie I was really annoyed about how it used Nebula. I thought she had an interesting backstory because it was exactly the same as Gamora’s, except with a bit of an inferiority complex thrown in, and I wanted to see some sympathy thrown her way but she just propped up the boring villain, got shot at by Drax, and then she took off. So then I saw the second Guardians movie.

Boy howdy.

I don’t even think that the Nebula/Gamora thing was that prominent, but it was actually satisfyingly addressed. I honestly didn’t think it would be until it actually started happening, but it was! Look at me, getting what I want out of a Marvel movie for once.

What the Gamora/Nebula pairing up also accomplishes is that it takes Gamora away from Quill for a bit. Their relationship is all right, but it’s also kind of really not. She’s humorless, he’s not, she doesn’t dance, he does, but also she’s much more of an idealist than he is, or at least, it seems that way because of his performative carefree carelessness, whoo, haven’t seen that one before. She’s both a melting ice queen and the inspiration he needs to give a damn. It’s fine, it’s just also really predictable and hard to care about. Gamora in the first movie does interact with the other Guardians besides Quill, but not in any meaningful way. Her character development happens solely around him, whereas he gets to have deeper discussions with Yondu and he’s the one who sees Rocket’s back all mutilated and nonverbally reacts with at least some sympathy. Not to mention his whole backstory with his mom, which we see happen onscreen at the beginning of the movie, whereas Gamora’s childhood/adolescence is just stated in a heated conversation. Rocket and Drax also don’t have their backstories depicted onscreen, but they do get into a huge, violent fight about it and later sort of make up. Gamora is just there, supposedly feeling a lot of things but not sharing them with anyone, except, reluctantly, with Quill sometimes.

But now that her sister shows up, Gamora has someone else to open up to and feel sympathy for. They provide each other with the opportunity for character development that isn’t tied up in a heteronormative romance subplot. Bechdel for the win, guys.

Can we have superhero movies about a team-up of sisters? Or mother-daughter team-ups? Or girlfriends, or girl friend-friends?

Then there’s the Yondu and Rocket pairing. Both of these dudes are in some serious pain in this movie. Rocket cries again. It’s important to me that Rocket cries in both movies. Yondu actually says things that are supposed to be supportive to Quill. I might argue that Yondu and Rocket are the most hypermasculine characters here (let’s set Drax aside, he’s just here for the ride in this movie). Yondu gets all stoicly quiet-defeated-sad (… I would too, what happens to him is pretty horrific), and Rocket just relentlessly lashes out at everyone around him, but then they help each other deal and then they express their feelings in ways that are still a little muted, but at least they’re expressing their feelings.

Yeah I liked this movie.

And finally, making fun of Batman because he is the worst

I think Batman is officially the world’s most popular superhero. I get it. He used to be my favourite, too. Mostly that was because he was closely associated with Catwoman but I did like him on his own as well.

My love for Batman started to ebb away because I thought the politics of The Dark Knight Rises were stupid, and not even the magnificent fact that Catwoman appears in that movie could fix that. There are also a lot of internet personalities who I followed who were beginning to lament how cold and macho and unfun Batman had become in the Nolan movies, and I sort of agreed.

Then Holy Musical B@man! happened. Here are some lyrics:

I was seeing a girl for a while.
A couple days, anyway, and I told her I loved her.
She said, “You’re such a good friend, that rash is bad.
You should probably go see a doctor.”

Then she just disappeared, sent me some text
About bad timing and my love being selfish. [Pout]
Then my doctor called up, and the blood came back,
and as it turned out, I’m allergic to peanuts and shellfish.
(I loved peanuts and shellfish, once.)

I’m falling apart, I’m lacking punch.
I can barely eat. This morning I BARELY TOUCHED MY BRUNCH.
Two spoons of oatmeal, a couple of nuts, and half a banana.
And like my soul, the banana was bruised and black.

Those are from a song where Batman is talking about how he wants a friend, for a lot of reasons but chief among them is that he needs a co-captain for the Friendship Ship (or maybe just the Friend Ship). Later Robin shows up. Honestly, this story is almost exactly like Lego Batman in everything including random, not-officially Batman-related characters showing up.

I can’t exactly remember but I think Lego Batman makes at least sort of a point about Batman’s violence being a little over the top and in need of some introspection. I do know that the musical does this explicitly. There’s a cutesy song about Batman and Robin’s budding friendship that keeps taking pauses so that they can scream a lot and beat criminals into submission. So.

But where Lego Batman goes beyond even Holy Musical B@man! is that part near the beginning where Barbara Gordon declares that they should try a new approach to dealing with crime, because the typical “let Batman handle it by beating people up” approach has become kind of unnecessary. That is so cool. I’m pretty sure that even the comics haven’t done a “what would happen if Bruce just tried *not* doing it the ultraviolence-in-the-backalleys-of-Gotham way” story, and I’m pretty sure the comics have done a lot of different, incredibly wacky things, to the point where maybe they’ve exhausted all of the wacky premises for Batman stories and maybe they should try to re-imagine how a superhero story might work and be revolutionary, for a change.

I don’t know how to conclude so here are some pictures of Nigel dressed as Wonder Woman

nige and gender

The only push back I got on that was, “But does he like wearing any clothes?” Which is fair enough. He doesn’t. But he likes to go outside and clothes mean he gets to go outside so he’s fine.

30 Days of Avatar: Sokka is to Bolin as Mako is to Sokka

Moving along with 30 Days of Avatar…

Week 1: Friends of the Avatar.

Day 1: Katara
Day 2: Sokka, Bolin, and Mako
Day 3: Toph

Day 2 is for Sokka, Bolin, and Mako being variations on the same person.

All screenshots from Avatar Spirit.

Pretend for a moment that Sokka has two split personalities.

Goofy, fun-loving Sokka,

and straightforward, cynical, man-with-the-plan older brother Sokka.

sokkasinstincts

(there are no videos of this because this version of Sokka is less entertaining, but he does exist.)

And now you see our point: Sokka is basically a mash-up of Bolin and Mako. Or maybe more accurately, Mako and Bolin’s personalities are just Sokka deconstructed.

makobolin

Why we decided to comment on this phenomenon is that we like how, if you allow that Bolin and Mako can be seen as two separate sides of Sokka’s personality, you’ll note that they didn’t make Sokka’s goofier side less competent. You could argue that Mako is the more driven, ambitious one, but Bolin achieves quite a bit of success by following his heart rather than his logic, and both of these dudes are very useful in a fight.

Not to mention that they’re both capable of extra-element bending.

Characters like Sokka, who challenge the culturally-sanctioned definition of proper masculinity, are always welcome. We really appreciate that when Korra took to creating a cool-headed, logical older brother version of Sokka, they didn’t misuse it as an opportunity to deride the emotional, funny, goofy side to Sokka’s personality by making Bolin a perpetual (but lovable) screw-up. Instead he’s just as capable as his big brother, just, you know, way more fun to be around.

Not that they always got this right, of course. We were probably supposed to be laughing at Bolin, at least a little bit, when he walked in on Korra kissing Mako after what he believed was a successful date. And his entire relationship with Eska, also played for laughs, was somewhat horrifying.

But there are plenty of times we’re asked to laugh at Mako (usually he definitely deserves it), and overall, Bolin is much more than a laughingstock, and Mako is much more than a cool, logical powerhouse.