Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Holder's Dominion

DISCLAIMER: This might have been one of the most difficult reviews to write. Not because of the book, but because I met the author before I knew much about the book. My wife and I like and respect Genese Davis. So when came time to read it, I had a moment similar to the last scene of the nerd epic, Fanboys. What if it sucked? Fortunately it did not suck. It's actually really good. Hence the sort of lengthy review to follow.

Kaylie Ames trades Tacoma, Oregon for Austin, Texas. She is running away from her family that is falling apart after the death of her father. But no matter how far she runs, she cannot escape the thoughts of a mother who is trying to erase the pain of loss and a brother who keeps disappearing. Kaylie does not know how to deal with her real world problems. When she happens across someone she knew in middle school, who in obvious distress, she finds the distraction she needs. Who is the Holder? Who is this mysterious person that can manipulate gamers to humiliate themselves in the real world so that they may gain his approval? How did her old friend, Elliot, get himself involved with such a person?

Helping Elliot escape from the Holder not only gives Kaylie a badly needed distraction, but it also introduces her to what will become her new family of gamers. Now you may be wondering how a story about gamers can interest non-gamers. Author, Genese Davis, set out to connect her gamer and non-gamer friends with a story that both groups would like. To do this she gave us a character who is introduced to the gaming world just as any other person could be. Kaylie is introduced to the world of MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game). In the case of this book, the game is Edannair. A world of magic and monsters similar to World of Warcraft. You learn about the game and it's rules as Kaylie learns. Davis wrote a story that does not talk down to those who are not in the know. In other words, you need not know about gaming to follow the story. To put it in nerd terms, she wrote about how a “muggle” becomes a wizard in a way us muggles (non-gamers) can understand. And I am thankful for that. Id like to think I'm pretty familiar with gaming, but I am no way a gamer.

Davis gives us a glimpse as to how seductive these online gaming communities can be. And you ease into this knowledge as the story progresses. I know at the beginning of the story I was wondering why these people are taking this so seriously. It’s just a game. But is this any different from sports fanatics whose lives are the teams they follow? Or people who obsess over fictional characters in their favorite books or TV shows? The only real difference being that in a MMORPG you become the character of a story that you help create. Imagine being able to jump into your favorite story and be an active participant. It is living a real fantasy life in a way. You can see the appeal and why people can become as addicted to a game as anything else.

Now into that world comes a person who can has a mysterious hold on others. Someone who can give you power and the admiration and respect of others not just in the game, but in the real world. The catch is performing tasks, called morphis, in the real world that can be both humiliating to the Holder’s followers, but also prey upon what they fear most. On the surface the Holder seems to be nothing more than a manipulative a-hole who can get people to participate in humiliating challenges for his own amusement. He is obviously very intelligent. But still an a-hole. And as the story progresses, I began to wonder if maybe this mysterious guy might just be some form of mad genius. It seems you can never be too sure what the Holders true motives are. You can be sure that is method is harsh. But his followers, the group called Sarkmarr, are grateful for his challenges. Especially the upper echelons, the Holders officers, who appear to be successful and highly functional members of society from just about every segment of society. It has a kind of Fight Club element to it. Especially since Sarkmarr is an all male group. Until Loxy (Kaylie's game alias/character) is admitted that is.  Sarkmarr was feeling like cult with the Holder as its messiah. The Holder’s Dominion is one of those stories that presents the world one way and then slowly turns it around on you. A lot of stories do this. But that does not make a story good or bad. When written well, that kind of change of perspective just makes a book more interesting. Gense Davis accomplished this with her story about Kaylie Ames investigating the mysterious gamer called the Holder.

I’m glad I bumped up The Holder's Dominion on my already too long book rotation. I’d also highly recommend it for anyone. Especially if you want to get into the heads of gamers a little. But mostly I’d read the Holders dominion if you are looking for an original story that is good.

You can find out more about the book, links for where you can buy the book, and information on Genese Davis at http://genesedavis.com/theholdersdominion

Monday, August 11, 2014

Fangirls to the front

As much as various social circles don’t seem to be similar on the surface, more things are the same than they are different. And a recent development in the world of sports has reminded me of how the same kind of thing happens in the world of what is traditionally nerd/geek stuff. And for the record, you can be a sports nerd.

As some of you may have heard, the NBA World Champion San Antonio Spurs hired a woman to be an assistant coach. Becky Hammon, 16 time WNBA All Star, is the first woman to be hired to such a position. Not only is her hiring historic, she now holds a position that is a huge career stepping stone. It has become common for members of the Spurs coaching staff to go on to head coaching positions and other executive positions on other teams. It is a huge accomplishment for a woman or a man. I don’t follow basketball as much as I used to. I don’t even follow sports all that much. But I am a fan of news. And things that are different catch my attention. That is why I began reading the news stories of this when the news broke. Okay, so the fact that the Spurs are my hometown team helped with my interest some too.

 The next thing I did, and I’m not sure why I did since I knew I wouldn’t be surprised, was read the comments. More specifically, when I scrolled down to read I was thinking, “Wait for it…” And when I saw some of the comments I thought, “There it is.” “She is too hot to be a coach.” That was the first thing I saw. Various others followed. A few were along the lines of how “you know” one player or another was “gonna hit that.” There was even someone who went so far as to call it a “token” hiring, much in the way one would hire “a black person” to give the impression of diversity in the workplace. I wanted to comment, but what would be the purpose? Besides, knowing the Spurs, and knowing Head Coach Greg Popavich, you don’t get hired to a position like that unless there is great faith and respect for a person’s abilities. Becky Hammon’s hiring speaks for itself. She isn't a token anything.

So what does a glass ceiling moment in professional sports and its corresponding typical misogynistic commentary have to do with the worlds of comics, gaming, sci-fi, and fantasy? I think it would be obvious. Even though the “nerd” world is known to be inclusive and accepting, there are still individuals and elements out there that… Well, they just don’t seem to get it. Or more to the point, I don't get the hostility. I’m not a woman, so I can’t know how exactly what it feels like. But being a nerd/geek I do know what it is like to feel awkward, alone, and not accepted. Though to be fair, some of that was my own insecurities messing with my head instead of what was really going on in the world around me. But back to my point. I don’t understand the negative reaction to woman being interested and participating in “guy” stuff. I really don't get why some guys get offended when any woman, nerd or not, denied their advances. Get over it. Please. I was a lonely comic reader. I had crushes. I've gotten denied. I've gotten dumped. It sucks, but it happens. But I never held a grudge. But back to my point again... I know, I ramble sometimes. Why so territorial about nerd life?

It happens in music too. Recently I watch a documentary on singer Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, The Julie Ruin) called The Punk Singer. Great film by the way. As great as her and her band were, there was still pushback from some men. She started a policy of “girls to the front” at her performances so her female fans could enjoy themselves and not be harassed and pushed out of mosh pits by guys. But again, why? And especially why in the nerd world. And especially when the stereotype of the lonely guy in his parent’s basement who is a virgin still exists. When I was younger I would have loved to have seen more girls at the comic book store. I wouldn’t know what to do or where to begin with any nerd girls, but I wouldn’t have rejected any of them. I would have thought it was awesome. And I think it is fantastic today that more fangirs are in the world. I am even lucky enough to be married to a fangirl who enjoys cons as much as I do. How great is that? There are plenty of female fans who who can rival the knowledge and skills of the male fans. And they can be just as intense. And I'll back away as slowly and carefully from them in the same way I will from you guys out there who can get a little intense. You know who you are.

But why are some guys so hostile at the mere thought of a woman being into, and god forbid better at, the same things they are into? I’m not going to get into any specific theories. Most I think come from some insecurity or another I think. But I’d rather focus on the positive. Every fandom, whether it be traditional nerd type stuff, pro sports, and everywhere in between is enriched by having as diverse a group of fans as possible. The funny thing is, diversity has been a common theme in nerd/geek things. Why would you be so opposed to a woman being a fangirl? At least the hostility comes from a seemingly shrinking minority. Maybe it will always be there. But what can you do? Life is to short to focus on negative people. Especially when there are so many good comics, games, books, tv shows, and movies to geek out about with good people that are men, women, and everywhere in between. Why not let women take the lead and waive the banner? It gives us fanboys the possibility of 50% more friends and allies. And who knows, maybe if you treat one of these new friends/allies with respect, she just might like you in a more than a friend way. And if not, you still got a new awesome friend. I don’t see a downside. As for Becky Hammon, she has a good chance of being the first woman to get a championship ring from a male pro sport while these critics are still sitting at home trying to figure out some sort of “witty” insult to post somewhere.

I don't typically "get all serious" and walk into territory that can get overly political and dramatic. In fact, I was hoping to write something more in keeping with the light nature of this blog for my 100th post. But this has been on my mind lately and it's an important topic. I hope I was clear and fair about this. Comments and questions are welcome. But please be civil.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Random speculation featuring Deadpool

While Fox is busy trying to take down that test footage that just won't die, fans keep getting a taste of what could have been. And if the stars line up right, maybe something that could still happen. You should be able to find said test footage easy enough in a search. It's really good. Fan reaction has pretty much been...

Seriously though, why hasn't FOX made this movie? (studio politics/not willing to gamble with their money on an R rated comic book flick) So on the off chance this lights a fire under Fox to give a Deadpool film the green light, who will play Wade? I've covered this a little before HERE. But why not again? So lets start with the original, so to speak.

Ryan Reynolds

Reynolds star has dimmed a bit after Green Lantern. For the record though, I didn't think it was that bad. Not as good as it should have been, but not as bad as people like to claim. But he is still the front runner in my book. What little we saw of a pre-Deadpool Wade in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ryan Reynolds can match the physical and verbal requirements to fill Deadpool's shoes. He did nail the voice over in the leaked test footage.

Guy Pearce

Guy is still a solid choice for me. Going back to my original article, watch Lockout. Guy Pearce has the action star abilities and ability to play a wisecracking smart-ass who is dangerous. Add in a little more crazy and he could be Wade.

Speaking of knowing how to be funny and crazy...

Sam Rockwell

If you ask me, Sam Rockwell is still very underrated. The guy can act. Find the movie, Moon. Trust me. Then look at his other credits such as Galaxy Quest, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,  and Seven Psychopaths (pictured above). Rockwell has not done much in the action hero arena, but he has played crazy a few times with great results. Besides, many actors get into shape for action flicks.

Alan Tudyk

Actually, Alan Tudyk might just be the best second option to Ryan Reynolds. We know him plenty well from Firefly and the Serenity film, but he has racked up an excellent resume. Think of all the animated voice overs he has done, King Kandy in Wreck-It Ralph for one. And then he has already played a psycho killer with voices in his head in the excelent and not watched enough Dollhouse series by Joss Whedon. Tudyk's character, Alpha, is a chimichanga or two away from being Wade. And for a role like this I'd imagine it would not be hard for Alan to get into superhero movie shape.

So these are my four best options. Comment with some of your own. Wade just won't die so neither does our hope for a Deadpool movie.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ms. Marvel across the formats

Ms. Marvel has become a star for Marvel Comics. So much so that a tweet by actress Eden Sher, who is on the sitcom The Middle, about being in New York and visiting Marvel sparked speculation that she was being cast as Kamala Khan in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Of course she was just visiting Marvel in NY which is different from Marvel Studios, which is responsible for Marvel’s films and television shows. Celebrities visit Marvel Comics in New York all the time and pick up free comics. Side note, if I ever become famous I'm visiting Marvel as much as possible. But rampant net speculation is a sign of how big Ms. Marvel is becoming. Marvel has a special opportunity on its hands. And while I may not be a fan of how Marvel’s parent company, Disney, occasionally over markets it popular properties, Marvel is in a good position to take a page from Disney and further expand its fan base. Let's look at the options.

Marvels version of Super Best Friends Forever
At one time, Cartoon Network ran a few animated shorts called Super Best Friends Forever in it's DC Nation bloc of cartoons.

It consisted of Supergirl, Batgirl, and Wonder Girl. It was very lighthearted and very funny. But unfortunately it did not last long. Marvel could steal DC’s one time thunder and make their own version of the series. I’m thinking:

Spider-Girl – May Parker
Ms. Marvel – Kamala Khan
Jubilee – Jubilation Lee

The series needs to be light and I think these three characters would make it fun.

Marvel Cinematic Universe
It wouldn’t happen anytime soon. If at all, look for a Kamala Easter Egg in Phase 3 with the eventual Captain Marvel film. My guess would be in that Kamala will appear somewhere in the background. Well, what will probably happen is that two people in the background will look like Kamala and Bruno. Or maybe a reference to the Circle Q convenience store Bruno works at.

Standalone Animated series
DC and Marvel have done fairly well with animated series. And there was a time you could find a few Marvel heor cartoons on different channels. With the massive resources of Disney, a Ms. Marvel animated series on the Disney Channel or could do well.

Animated movie
This is probably the most likely place we will see Kamal Khan outside of the comics. Direct to DVD/BluRay animated features are common these days for superheroes. It would be the best place for Marvel to test the waters for other media options.

Kamala, Disney Princess?
Okay, hear me out. This is an extreme longshot at best. But either with traditional animation or with Pixar’s help, a Ms. Marvel animated feature could be something spectacular.
Disney Infinity
The popular game that features playable characters from across the Disney universe recently added Marvel characters. So in a game where you could play the Incredibles, the Avengers, Captain Jack Sparrow, and even classic Disney characters, could Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel be too far off? It is another way Disney and Marvel can test the waters for other media ventures.

Marvel and Disney have an amazing opportunity with Ms. Marvel. It's a safe bet that she will not be living in just the pages of a comic book for very long.

Ms. Marvel #5

Ms. Marvel #5 completes the first story arc and origin of Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel. Although, technically with five months in the job, I won’t be addressing her as “the new” anymore. She declared her name and has her costume set. In the last issue there was a standoff between Kamala and the teen thugs keeping Bruno’s brother Vic captive. Well, there was a lot of small robots with lasers too. And… it didn’t go well. Again.

Kamala realized she can’t be the charge in guns blazing hero. At least not yet. She is forced to retreat and rethink her strategy. Bruno helps her put the finishing touches on her costume and Kamala plays it smart this time. But in victory, she has also caught the attention of her first archenemy, the Inventor, who is reveled at the end. And in fitting with the tone of this series, the Inventor is also… the Birdman?

But this is Ms. Marvel and she is the guardian of Jersey City. "Don’t mess."

A new urban legend has taken stage in the Marvel Universe. The series in contrast to most titles, is crafted to also appeal to teen girls instead of just the male teen demographic most comics apply to. But don’t take that to mean this is a girls comic. In making Ms. Marvel more accessible to girls and women, Marvel has successful made a comic more accessible to a wider audience, including young males and grown up fanboys like myself. It’s just a fun read. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s the first new series I’ve collected in a while. And it looks like I’ll keep collecting

Read my wife's review at Owl Allow It: My thoughts after reading Ms. Marvel #5