September 4, 2016

The Silver Demons - A LGBTQ Superhero webcomic is now live.

For several years now, I've been working a LGBTQ superhero novel, The Silver Demons. Recently, I made the decision to convert it into a webcomic and the first chapter is now live at

I plan on releasing on page per day, although I might have to change that a later date. Due to life circumstances, (like having to drive my partner to visit a relative in ill health who lives in a different state and college classes starting last week) I'm technically already behind. In any case, we'll see how things go from here.

Here's the title page:

January 1, 2016

Queer Review: Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens
Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt. Based on characters created by George Lucas.
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong'o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew

Watching the seventh installment of the Star Wars saga feels, in spite of the title, like we're watching the Force hit the snooze button as many times as it can before dragging it's sorry arse into the bathroom to drive away the hangover brought on by a night bar hoping through the more wretched and scummy hives of Mos Eisley.

Take scripts from previous episodes. Put in blender. Puree for three to five minutes. Make sure to use a lid to avoid being splattered with spoilers.

The Queering
Detractors of the Star Wars saga on the whole have cynically claimed that the films were little more than marketing gimmicks to sell toys and licensed merchandise. Unfortunately, while I have been a fan of the series up until this point, The Force Awakens pretty much lives up the more cynical criticism the earlier installments received.

Watching The Force Awakens feels like watching a mid-season episode of a TV series during sweeps week (back when sweeps were a thing before everyone just binge watched on Netflix). Everything's dialed up to eleven, everything getting thrown at the audience, and boy you better pay attention or you're going to get lost.

Which pretty much is the main problem I had, the plot moves too fast. Outside of the opening sequences, there really isn't any time to absorb background detail or to really get to know any of the characters.

This is probably best illustrated with how space travel now appears to work in this universe. The earlier films implied that even using hyperdrive, it still took hours, or even days to travel between planets. Now space travel appears to work like long range transporters on Star Trek. You just get in a ship, push a few buttons and arrive instantly at your destination.

The problem this endears is that there is no significant downtime between the frenetic action scenes. Everyone just keeps jumping and yelling and running and swinging their lightsabers at each other. New characters like Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Maz Kanata (Maz Kanata) are thrown against the wall in the hope that some part of them will stick in viewers mind. A whole village gets wiped out by the bad guys, a planet destroyed, and a major character killed off. But the constant rush to get to the next thing prevents any of these elements from having a significant impact beyond sheer exhaustion.

Remember the scenes on the Millenium Falcon in A New Hope where Obi Wan tries to teach Luke how to use a lightsaber? Remember the line, "it felt like a thousand voices cried out and were suddenly silenced"? Well there's nothing like that here. Turns out sometimes taking a breather is a good thing.

The strength of the Star Wars saga was always it's world building. In earlier episodes, the filmmakers were pretty adept at showing the audience a skeleton and allowing us to flesh out the details of this vast galaxy far away. That doesn't happen here and the lack of any kind of breathing room once the plot kicks into high gear, doesn't help. Why did Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) turn to the dark side besides super vague daddy issues? What is the resistance? And if they're working for the legitimate government of the Republic, why are they called the resistance and not just the military?

Then there are the borderline plot holes: Why is Luke Skywalker in hiding if he wants to be found? Why does no one in La Resistance have a complete map of the galaxy? What's the strategic advantage of having a device that can destroy all of the planets in an entire system for the First Order (besides the fact that the writers hadn't quite ripped off enough elements from the original trilogy at this point)?

Admittedly, it's not all bad. There are a few elements I liked. BB-8 works very well as comic relief and as a substitute for R2-D2. Rey (Daisy Riddle) and Finn (John Boyega) make nice additions to the cast and help to up the diversity quotient. Some of the earlier scenes with Rey exploring (or rather scavenging) through a desert planet littered the remnants of a great battle, with crashed space ships and broken transports littering the landscape, work on their own and promise a more interesting story that never actually gets told. The cast generally acquits itself well during the brief moments when they're actually allowed to act. There's even a fairly obvious queer subtext between Finn and X-wing pilot Poe Dameron. Watch the trailer if you don't believe me. Here's hoping that it becomes text in Episode VIII and that we actually get a fully fleshed out story next time around.

I would recommend The Force Awakens about as strongly as I would allowing ones kids to play Jedi and Sith near a Sarlacc pitt.

The Rating
Two Stars out of Four.


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

Deadpool or Who Was On First, First?

A new Deadpool movie is coming out, and the filmmakers are promoting this as the "first" queer superhero movie.

Now personally I've never read the Deadpool comic books. In fact the only comic book or rather, graphic novel, that I've ever read is Watchmen. But the word is that Deadpool is bi/pan/omnisexual (depending on who's talking) because he... flirts with both men and women.

Admittedly, this is a case where the movie hasn't come out and thus this is all speculation, but the trailers show the character Deadpool exchanging one liners with other characters, while talking about how he has to save the girl (who at least declares she doesn't do damsel in distress).

The thing is, if flirting is all it takes to make a superhero queer, then the first queer superhero arrived in cinema decades ago with the black and white silent film The Mark of Zorro (1920). It also bears remarking that all around flirting tends to a major feature of well, just about every super hero ever. So if all Deadpool does is flirt, then he's not going to be the first omniqueer superhero by a long webshot.

On the other hand, I do like the flippant gallows humor on display in the trailers. It should at least make for a nice change of pace from the ultra-vanilla Marvel Avengers flicks we've been getting a steady supply of for the past few years.

September 9, 2015

Queer Review: Dear White People (2014)

Dear White People
Director: Justin Simien
Writer: Justin Simien
Cast: Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Kyle Gallner, Teyonah Parris, Brandon P Bell, Brittany Curran, Justin Dobies, Dennis Haysbert, Peter Syvertsen

A comedy about a group of black students at the prestigious (and fictional) Winchester College, Dear White People manages to make plenty of provocative observations about the state of race relations in the United States, in addition to being both entertaining and funny.

When the prestigious (and presumably Ivy League) Winchester College decides to engage in randomized housing assignments, it threatens to break up the Armstrong/Parker House -- the house which represents the heart of black student life at Winchester College. When the current the head of Armstrong/Parker, Troy (Brandon Bell) fails to protest the new policy, Samantha White (Tessa Thompson) runs against him and to her surprise ends up winning. Sam, who is famous on campus for her in-your-face radio show called Dear White People, sets out to overturn the new housing policy, while dealing with a serious of personal issues. These include the failing health of her white father and the complexities of navigating an inter-racial relationship when one is the face of black resistance on a mostly white campus. While all of this is going on, nerdy student journalist, Lionel (Tyler James Williams), tries to get the scoop on the situation while facing down both homophobia and racism. Further complications arise when Coco (Teyonah Parris) in an attempt to generate conflict so she can be featured in a reality TV series, agrees to DJ for a racist blackface party that will be thrown on campus.

The Queering
Recently, I had a conversation with a few other people that went approximately as follows:

Person 1: So, why did you move to Minnesota?
Me: Because my partner got a job teaching at [local college].
Person 2: Oh nice! What does she teach?
Me: Um well *he* teaches penology.
Person 1: She teaches penology? What's that?
Me: Er, it's the study of prisons. That's what *he* teaches.
Person 2: The study of prisons, eh? That sounds interesting. I might take a class with her.

My partner, as it were, has a similar story of living next door to someone for years, and talking about his (then) boyfriend using male pronouns all the time and the other person, in all of those years, never realizing that my partner was dating another man.

Moments like this, at the end of the day, are easy to brush off as trivial. A minor pin prick, nothing more. But shrugging off each trivial incident can take a little bit more energy each time, eventually becoming simply exhausting to deal with. Some off us develop means of deflecting minor incidents, such as the above. Our skin becomes calloused and tough. Others are not so lucky. If one finds oneself saying, "but it was only a pin prick, it shouldn't have hurt them!" remember this: the place you stabbed was quite likely an open, gaping wound.

Dear White People deals quite frankly with a topic that few films, even amongst those that explicitly care to address the issue of racism, direct their attention toward - that of micro-aggressions. There are no lynchings, no people of color falsely accused of a terrible crime, and no mention of the KKK. When the police show up, it's to break up a party and the only person arrested is a white male who's in the process of beating up Lionel.

Instead, the topics that do get addressed are the lack of representation of interesting and complex people of color in the media, white people constantly touching black people's hair (Lionel refers to his hairdo as a black hole for white people's fingers), and having to deal with a white people simply dating a black partner, for no greater reason than to piss off their parents.

One of the most visceral sequences (not to mention a fairly brilliant one from a writing and technical perspective) has Sam explaining three different patterns black people can fall into when interacting with white people. There's the offta, who dials their blackness up or down depending on the audience, the nosejob, who exchanges their blackness for whiteness, and the 100, or someone who is 100% okay with being black. What makes this sequence so compelling is the way Simien intercuts between different black characters who are all exhibiting the exact behaviors Sam is describing.

Sam, we are told, is a big fan of Bergman, and with two characters (the dean and the president of the college) being described in a perpetual chess match, it would appear that Simien is trying to draw a parallel between the infamous chess match played with death in The Seventh Seal and the constant strategizing black people go through when interacting with white folks.

With the films constant focus on issues of race, Simien naturally has been compared by just about everybody to Spike Lee. However, with Simien coming at the film's premier as gay, a more natural antecedent would be Cheryl Dunye who directed The Watermelon Woman. There is more than a bit of Cheryl (the character Dunye played in The Watermelon Woman) in Samantha White, mixed with Honey, the radio DJ from Born in Flames, (a film Dunye was not involved with).

Dear White People does admittedly make a few missteps along the way. The ending feels a little anti-climactic, some of the melodrama doesn't always work, and a couple of major plot points are a bit confusing. However, these elements don't detract from the overall impact of the film. Based on what he achieved here, I look forward to whatever project Justin Simien chooses to work on next.

Highly recommended. Dear White People would be worth going through all the admission processes at all of the most difficult Ivy League Colleges to get into in order to see.

The Rating
3 and 1/2 stars out of 4


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

September 7, 2015

Queer Issue: On the Upcoming Stonewall Film and the Absence of Historical Transgender or Transsexual Characters on Film

By now, the fact that the soon to be released Stonewall movie directed by Roland Emmerich minimizes the contributions of transgender women of color and that key figures such as Sylvia Rivera and Miss Major are entirely absent, is fairly well known.

However let's recap things briefly. While the film is yet to be released, and thus could look very different from the previews and promotional material, the signs are not currently all that promising. The main cast is mainly white and the trailer focuses on a white gay male character who appears to be responsible for (in the movie) actually starting the riots. Although, I never heard the version where a brick thrown threw a window was what started the riots, but um, okay.

Admittedly, the trailer could be misleading, and the cast, as billed, is not reflective of who actually gets to play major parts in the film. Also, there is a character listed as Marsha P. Johnson on the film's IMDB, which will mean that Marsha P. Johnson will be the second transgender woman of color to have a character based on her appear in a major motion picture. The first (that I am aware of) being Lady Chablis in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

I have often bemoaned the straightening out of historical LGB characters when they are presented on the silver screen. A process in which bisexual or pansexual characters will either be presented as engaging in only heterosexual copulings, or the same sex partners will be minimized or ignored. If they character was gay or lesbian, then they will either wind up bisexual on screen or straight, depending.

However, I have increasingly come to notice the actual absence of characters on film based on historical or real life transgender or transsexual people.

Thus I tried putting together a list of all mainstream feature films that actually featured such characters. Documentaries are excluded. Stories based on a real life story where the transgender character was fictional were also excluded (ie: Dallas Buyers Club).

Here is the list:

-Queen Christina (1933)
-The Christine Jorgensen Story (1970)
-Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
-Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1977)
-Boys Don't Cry (1999)

Upcoming Movies:
-Stonewall (2015)
-The Danish Girl (2015)

I may be missing a few. I can't claim to be an expert on foreign films for example. And many early silent movies have been lost altogether. But even if there are a few examples that I'm missing, that's still a pretty pathetic list. If there are any, let me know, and I'll add them in.

But as it stands, of these examples, one is the story of a trans-man who ends up dead (Boys Don't Cry). Two are famous for primarily being transgender or transsexual (The Christine Jorgensen Story and Queen Christina. The remaining two characters are incidental to the main story (Dog Day Afternoon and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil).

Not that there is anything wrong with presenting the stories of tragedy within the LGBTQ or cases where the character is famous for being LGBTQ, but there needs to be a point where we move past that.

Consider as a point of comparison, the number of movies based on the lie of Ed Gein (who was not in any way transgender in real life), in which characters who were based on him (or his murder spree) are shown cross dressing or attempting to obtain sex change operations. There are 5 of them that I am aware of. (Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Silence of the Lambs, and The X-Files: I Want to Believe.) Add in sequels and the Gus Van Sant Psycho remake, and these films easily outnumber the films featuring historical transgender characters.

It's worth pointing out that there isn't exactly an absence of historical transgender or transsexual people to tell stories about. The fact that Sylvia Rivera has never shown up in a mainstream film in spite of (almost now) two films about the Stonewall Riots, is itself disheartening.
A few examples:
-Alan L. Hart: Saved thousand of lives by innovating the use of x-rays in the diagnosis of tuberculosis.
-King Ashurbanipal: Developed one of the largest collection of cuneiform documents ever and had a card catalog to find material. In plain talk: He invented the library.
-Karen Ulane: Was fired by Eastern Airlines for undergoing gender affirmation surgery and sued the airline in court before dying an airplane crash.
-We'Wha: A famous Zuni Native American who met President Groover Cleveland.
-Lynn Conway: Computer scientist whose innovations are still used in modern computers and transgender activist.
-Chevalier d'Eon: French spy and member of the Secret du Roi.
-Elagabalus: Roman Emperor who developed such a scandalous reputation that he had damnatio memoriae (the erasure of a Roman's official public record and very rarely done) applied to him.

At the end of the day, it's important to note that the stories of people across the LGBTQ spectrum are told (this should go without saying right?). We are starting to see inroads being made with prominent films featuring cisgender LGB characters based on historical figures getting made and widespread distribution. The Imitation Game being the most recent example. However, the lack of portrayals of historical transgender or transsexual individuals on film (and arguably elsewhere) is an issue that needs to be rectified.

May 28, 2015

Queer Review: The Matrix (1999)

The Matrix
Directors: The Wachowskis (Credited at the time as The Wachowski Brothers)
Writers: The Wachowskis (Credited at the time as The Wachowski Brothers)
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Gloria Foster, Joe Pantoliano, Marcus Chong, Julian Arahanga, Matt Doran, Belinda McClory, Anthony Ray Parker

What is The Matrix but the greatest science fiction film of all time? Few films can match what The Wachowskis accomplish here, in this tale that takes some of the densest metaphysical questions that have ever been asked and uses them as the basis for a high octane, adrenaline fueled action flick, which also happens to serve as a modern re-telling of Plato's Allegory of the Cave.

Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a computer programer in search of the elusive Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), who Neo (Thomas's hacker alias) believes holds the answer to the question: "What is the Matrix?" On his journey to see Morpheus, Neo manages to make contact with Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss), a female hacker whom everyone thinks is a guy. When Neo finally manages to meet with Morpheus, he finds that the answer is more complicated then he imagined and that the reality he has believed in his whole life has been a lie.

The Queering
A the time The Matrix was first released, Lana Wachowski was still going by the name "Larry" Wachowski and the film was credited to "The Wachowski Brothers" rather than the moniker "The Wachowskis". Looking at the first Matrix movie now, it's possible to see a great many transgender subtexts that were not as obvious when it first came out. For starters, there is Trinity, a female hacker whom everyone thinks is a man (as commented on by Neo when the two first meet). The fact that people think Trinity is a man in the Matrix, is also brought up in The Animatrix short A Detective Story, where the titular detective assigned to track down Trinity, constantly refers to Trinity as a man. This essentially makes Trinity a women who is in the process of either escaping from or attempting to destroy an artificial reality where everyone thinks she is a guy.

Other examples are more subtle but definitely are there. Take Neo, a hero who -- outside of scenes where he is required to fire off endless rounds of ammo from a variety of firearms -- is not generally presented in overly macho terms, at least if one were to compare him to the mold created by 80's action heros like Stallone or Schwarzenegger. As it is, Neo has to deliberately reject his old, gendered name of Mr. Thomas Anderson and has to correct Mr. Smith (Hugo Weaving), who constantly insists on using the old name. Then there is Switch, who in earlier drafts of the script, was supposed to change gender upon leaving or entering the Matrix. In the version that made it to screen, the character is instead presented as androgynous in both worlds.

These trans subtexts I would argue, tie directly in with the films' main themes regarding the nature of reality. As the Oracle points out to Neo, all knowledge begins with knowledge of ones self. In order for Neo to be able to do anything as "The One", he must first know what he is and what he is capable of. As the story progresses, a key plot point revolves around Neo being unable to access his abilities until he has knowledge that he is the one. In other words, Neo becomes "The One" through self actualization and increasing his self awareness of who he is.

Of course by now, it has been pointed out by others that The Matrix is basically a modern day retelling of Plato's Allegory of the Cave. The story of Plato's cave is one where an entire group of people is kept prisoner for their entire lives, forced to stare at flickering shadows on a cave wall. Because these shadows are all these prisoners experience, they assume that the shadows are all that there is to reality. One day, a prisoner finds himself able to escape his chains, and makes his way up out of the cave. As he travels out of the cave, he becomes scared and disorientated by the new experiences he undergoes. Once outside, he is blinded by the bright light of the outside world. Eventually his eyes adjust and he sets out to explore the new world. Afterwards he returns to the cave and attempts to free the other prisoners, only for most of them to not understand his story about the outside world.

Many of the elements of that story are present here. Neo is the prisoner who manages to escape and like the Prisoner, he is blinded by the bright lights of the outside world. "Why does the light hurt my eyes," Neo asks Morpheus. "Because you've never used them before," Morpheus answers. Presumably, the reason the Washowskis use white transition shots so frequently is to reference this element of the story. Furthermore, as Morpheus mentions to Neo in the scene with the Women in the Red Dress, many people who are kept prisoner in the Matrix, will fight to stay a part of that system, rather than accept the truth.

While what The Matrix ultimately offers up is primarily a cerebral experience, it is also worth mentioning that the action scenes are pure visual spectacles, (the film is still famous for introducing the world to the Bullet Time technique). While the sequels were disappointing, the first film in The Matrix Franchise still holds up today.

It would be worth doing advanced math problems involving matrices, if the reward was being able to see The Matrix

The Rating
4 stars out of 4.


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

May 18, 2015

Fury Road: Mad Max Reboot or Remake of Communist Manifesto?

(Mild spoilers ahead)

So, my partner and I saw Mad Max Fury Road last night in the theater. It was pretty spectacular, even compared to other spectacular works of epic epicness. Right now there are more than a few people out there pointing out that there are a few feminist themes running around amidst all the testosterone. Some men have even go so far to condemn the film for tricking people into seeing a feminist film. (And this is a bad thing because...?)

What I haven't seen is a lot of people pointing out are the rather subtly overt communist themes that are also scattered throughout.


-The Bourgeois Big Bad (BBB) owns the means of producing water and the main plot ends up being resolved by a coup to redistribute water production to the masses.

-The BBB uses religion as an opiate to keep the masses under his control. There are a couple of ways that the religion is a drug connection is made. For one, the Mad Boys are conditioned to kill themselves in the service of the main baddie and are shown using chrome spray paint as an inhalant before committing kamikaze suicide bombing runs. At the same time, these suicide attacks of the Mad Boys is given all sorts of religious overtones. Then there is a scene where the BBB lampshades what he's doing by telling people not to get too addicted to the water that he's rationing out to them. The BBB does this in a scene where he plays Moses producing water from rocks.

-People are frequently reduced to commodities to be exploited by the big bad. Examples of this include humans being used as sex slaves, milk mothers, and blood bags, with each group being ultimately separated from that which they produce.