Anti-Colonialist Sentiments in Thor: Ragnarok

On December 27, 1845, in his newspaper the New York Morning News, Journalist and influential Jacksonian advocate, John L. O’Sullivan wrote in response to the ongoing Oregon border dispute with the British,

“And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.”

Heavy stuff but the phrasing was contagious and the sentiment would go on to dominate American policy in the 19th century. Fast forward to little ol’ me in Social Studies/History class. I loved learning about American history and ‘World History’ (as European history was dubiously referred). I remember learning about Manifest Destiny as a kid and thinking, “That’s awesome!” From my uncomfortable plastic desk at the tail end of the 20th century it made perfect sense. Of course! It was our collective destiny to settle the frontier! It was our destiny to reach California and the Pacific ocean. Ocean to Ocean, what a stupendous idea! The America I knew was vast and sprawling and that was all thanks to the brave explorers who set out to tame the west!

Image result for manifest destiny gif

Unfortunately, the version of history handed down to me was heavily sanitized. Scrubbed of the countless indigenous massacres, treaty betrayals, the effects of the Mexican-American War, and the eventual establishment of ‘White Utopias‘ throughout Oregon and the northwest, it simplified the acquisition of the west to the triumph of civilization over savage populations and an unforgiving terrain.

During Thor: Ragnarok we see this reflected in Asgard’s history as they became the seat of power throughout the Nine Realms. After returning from exile, Hela, the former king’s executioner, is astonished to discover what has become of her former home. In the throne room she scoffs,

“Does no one remember me? Has no one been taught our history? Look at these lies. Goblets and garden parties? Peace treaties? Odin… Proud to have it, ashamed of how he got it. We were unstoppable. I was his weapon in the conquest that built Asgard’s empire. One by one, the realms became ours. But then, simply because my ambition outgrew his, he banished me, caged me, locked me away like an animal.”

Ragnarok is easily the best Thor installment and arguably in the top Marvel films. Taika Waititi brings his distinct and awkwardly charming humor, the action scenes stand up to any Avengers film, and the casting of Kate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, and Jeff Goldbloom was pure gold. Still, the element that grabbed me the most was the dialogue, specifically that of the film’s antagonist Hela. It can’t be understated that time in which this film was released, nor that its director comes from a Maori background. Yes, it’s a Disney film, and yes it’s a popcorn flick, but that doesn’t change the fact that anti-colonialism is baked into this film. Let’s get into it!

Image result for thor ragnarok hela gif

A quick recap for those unfamiliar with the Thor film series. The story begins with the snotty, ascendant prince Thor. Impatient and brutish, he longs for Odia to hand for the throne to cement his cosmic reign. And it is because of these traits that he is cast out and stripped of his powers. Left in Midgard (Earth) to learn some damn compassion, Thor grows his heart. He learns there’s so much more to ruling than simply smashing and conquering. The throne requires valor, humility, and a cool head. We see Thor continue to cultivate these traits in the subsequent sequels and Avengers installments, so by the time his long estranged sister shows up ready for more pillaging, his idea of reigning is far removed.

Asgard, like Europe and the United States, was once dominated by its thirst for conquest. Like our Andrew Jackson, Odin road through the Nine Realms pillaging and murdering various races like the Ice Giants. We are asked to consider how Asgard with its golden towers and galactic prestige came to attain such qualities. Through Hela’s disdain we learn it is precisely because of these atrocities that Asgard became, well Asgard.

Image result for thor ragnarok hela gif

It’s significant that Hela was banished, that she was sent into exile but not killed. Her views are toxically regressive but they persist. It’s no mistake that this is juxtaposed with the most racially diverse Asgard we’ve seen to date. Much like America’s resurgence of open White Supremacy and an uptick of racial violence in the past decade, Hela seeks to resort Asgard with the same bloodthirsty ambition which made Asgard… great.

“We were once the seat of absolute power in the cosmos. Our supremacy was unchallenged. Yet Odin stopped at Nine Realms. Our destiny is to rule over all others. And I am here to restore that power. Kneel before me and rise into the ranks of my great conquest.”
-Hela

“In recent years, and even decades, too many people have forgotten that truth. They’ve forgotten that our ancestors trounced an empire, tamed a continent, and triumphed over the worst evils in history… We have become a lot stronger lately. We are not going to apologize for America. We are going to stand up for America”
-Donald Trump, May 2017

It cannot be argued that American domestic and foreign policy has shifted dramatically since becoming a ‘super power’ and despite firm Neoliberal policies we have collectively sought to be a guiding moral force– though this perception has largely shattered by the Trump administration. There are those of us who fight for a more just future, one that truly lives up the proclamations of our current nation. But to make a significant change, a dynamic shift forward, we as a people must first acknowledge where we came from. We are a nation built on stolen indigenous land taken in blood, and tilled on the backs of African slaves. Our character was cultivated by greedy, white slave owners and sustained through Jim Crow and exclusionary laws, as well as violent raids. America would be nothing without exploitation and theft, just as Asgard wouldn’t be shit without conquest. But it isn’t Hela or Trump who shy away from carnage, it is those who wish to rule these respective nations without actually acknowledging our dark side.

Related image

“It would seem our father’s solution to every problem was to cover it up. You see, you never knew him, not at his best. Odin and I drowned entire civilizations in blood and tears. Where do you think all this gold came from? And then one day he decided to become a benevolent king. To foster peace, to protect life.”
-Hela

This produces a conflict among our heroes as Thor, against overwhelming odds, strives to return to Asgard to unseat Hela, while Loki and Valkyrie resign themselves to a life exile and apathetic brooding. Thor, grown wiser and more compassionate throughout his short reign, comes to grips with his father’s bloody past. He knows he cannot go back and alter time but he can rule with a much softer hand.

“I understand why you’re angry. And you are my sister, and technically have a claim to the throne. And believe me, I would love for someone else to rule. But it can’t be you. You’re just the worst.”
-Thor

Conclusion:
I don’t think it’s any mistake that Ragnarok concludes with the destruction of Asgard and Odin’s parting wisdom, “Asgard is not a place, it’s a people.” This film is ultimately a reckoning with the past and an argument for the complete dismantling of an empire. What is Asgard without magnificent structures, its gold and it’s treasure room, it’s supremacy? A lot, apparently. The who survive its destruction do so because of their selflessness and courage.

Oh and along the way, they pick up Korg and Miek!

Related image

Daredevil Season 3: Rigid Morality and the Lives It Costs

There’s a moment in the middle of Frank Miller’s classic Batman run ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ (1986) that I’m struggling to find a panel to evidence. I’ll do my best to paint a picture. Batman, now in his 50s, returns to Gotham a cranky, grizzled middle-aged man. His return serves to reignite the Joker (comatose for a decade or so) and his will wreak havoc.  Being the criminal genius that he is, Joker quickly and effortlessly secures his own release through the misguided efforts of a prominent psychologist. Wasting no time, he murders hundreds, many of the deaths being televised. In the hunt for the sadistic clown, Batman is forced to wrestle with his CODE of never taking a life. He wonders how many innocent people had died, and would continue to die, because of Joker’s existence, and how much of the blood was on his hands because he could not bring himself to end Joker for good– to kill him.

It was this segment that sat with me throughout season three of Marvel Netflix’s Daredevil as we see the reemergence of Wilson Fisk, now haled as The Kingpin. Pushed to his emotional limit, an already broken Matt Murdock is forced to grapple with not only the inability of the legal system to stop Fisk, but also it’s easy corruptibility. He must debate how many more will die in Fisk’s conquest for power? And how responsible is Daredevil if Fisk persists?

**Before we go any further, I want to warn you there will be MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. If you have not finished Daredevil season three and you don’t want to know the ending, stop reading. Okay, you’ve been warned. Let’s get into it.**

Related image

In the first act of the season, audiences are pushed to consider whether a madman like Fisk can be reformed or at least blunted by romantic love. This is juxtaposed with an unhinged Matt Murdock coping with severe physical and emotional trauma. Matt has distanced himself from his friends both super and not, and he refuses to even wear the Daredevil armor, which I get you want symbolism in your aesthetic but what he subjects his body to is difficult to watch. What remains of Matt is an unceasing determination to prevent Fisk’s rise, even at a cost of own life. For a couple episodes it even looks as though Matt/Daredevil is the actual antagonist, hell bent on ruining the life and reputation of a man who has paid (a portion of) his debt to society through time served.

MM
Marvel’s Daredevil

Once Fisk, or the Kingpin, is revealed in the second act to be the murderous crime-lord we know and love, Matt is forced to decide what stopping him really means. He must choose between his personal moral code drawn from his deep Catholic faith, and the lives of innocents in Hell’s Kitchen.

Image result for daredevil wilson fisk gif

So, let’s talk about violence. I am no expert, I have no academic background. I am history nerd and I enjoy reading political theory, but again, not an expert in any of these fields. These are just my views, opinions. Add some salt, if you will.

I believe there’s a difference between the violence of assault, say attacking an individual physically because they angered you, or got in your way, or because you wanted to lash out, and the violence of striking back against an oppressive force/organization like a government or corporation. And even in that, I’m very selective on the political violence I endorse. I get that the line is very blurry. In my short lifetime, my peers and I have seen America overtaken by acts of political violence.

There was a moment in the 1930s when heroes slayed their foes, even Batman. The ‘No Kill’ trope gained prominence in comic books in the 40s. Morality shifted during the second World War, leading to more empathetic heroes. In this, they drew the biggest distinction yet in a subculture of costumed individuals. It ceded the moral high ground to the heroes and altered the fashion in which they thwarted their prey. You couldn’t simply shoot or explode your villain anymore, and as far as I’m concerned that wasn’t a bad thing. This makes sense in that you can have reoccurring villains and the limits of force pushed writers to be more creative.

Related image

Both Daredevil and Batman live-action adaptations are perfect vehicles for this style of creativity to flourish. Neither can summon lightning, or fly, or lift a car with their bare hands. They rely on constant martial arts training, non-lethal weaponry, and an intimacy with the streets they are sworn to protect. This leads to some amazing brawls in alleys, basements, hallways, and sewers. Despite the prevalence of the extraordinary Avengers and X-Men, audiences still clamor for tales of every-men pushed their physical limits in the street-level pursuit of justice.

But what happens when the hero finally collides with a force so powerful it can’t be contained in a jail, so influential it can’t be punished, and so determined it will murder again and again? What do you do when that villain is The Kingpin and he has a major chunk of the FBI in his pocket, as well as most of the prison staff and several government officials? What do you do when no one you know is safe from Fisk’s wrath? These are the questions Matt, as well as, Karen and Foggy must grapple with in season 3.

 

I’ll start with Karen who we get to know much better this time around. Half an episode is dedicated to a traumatic event from her past in which she kills her brother while driving under the influence. Karen must also own up to killing James Wesley during the events of season 1. She really takes a hard look at herself and what kind of person she has been and because of this she floats morally. We see Karen lay down false threats mid-interrogation, lies which could jeopardize her career. She also goes on a solo mission to enrage the Kingpin to the point where he’ll strike her on camera. Inevitably she cools off and her faith in ‘the system’ returns which puts her at odds with Matt who sees killing as the only way to stop Kingpin. In dealing with her own past, Karen is less insistent on pushing Matt one way or another, rather she just misses his friendship and resents him for his distance.

Related image

Oh Foggy, you vanilla scoop in a sugar cone. Lacking any trauma in his past while also being a middle class, straight white guy, Foggy has 100% total confidence in ‘the system.’ Even after it’s reveal that Kingpin has a detail of FBI agents (and a few higher-ups) under his thumb, a feat he accomplished through blackmail over the span of two or three weeks, Foggy insists on caging Fisk through legal means. Even when a grand jury is convened with overwhelming testimony against Fisk, and he bends the jury to his will through threats and intimidation, Foggy STILL insists in his faith in the system. This is the same city that recently served up the death of Eric Garner for selling cigarettes on the street, the same city that instituted racist police reforms in the 90s that led to thousands of unlawful arrests of black and brown individuals. Good grief! It doesn’t make sense and yet, we are encouraged to agree with Foggy’s morality since killing Fisk would “break Matt.”

Image result for daredevil foggy gif

Would killing the Kingpin “break Matt” as Foggy (and Matt ultimately) believes? I’m not so convinced. Near his defeat, Fisk gets up in Matt’s ear like, “You know there’s no prison that can hold me!” He’s right. He knows it, Matt knows it, and we should all know it by now. Sitting in the audience, I count on Kingpin breaking out– more shenanigans for us. For Foggy and Matt, this has real consequences. They know with certainty that as long as Fisk lives he will continue to take lives, and freed from prison he tends to be exceptional at that. They have seen him twist his finger around the judicial system more than once. And finally, they know that as long as Kingpin lives it will endanger their loved ones– no one is safe and  no one is off limits. What is one man’s code when weighed against the lives of several innocents? Is it not stubbornness to not eliminate Fisk? I can’t argue that it would not break or taint Matt in some way, but what is that pain when paired against the mourning of innocents slain in war that had no part in? How many people have to die before lethal force is not only logical, it is necessary?

We know in the end, Matt/Daredevil opts not to kill Fisk and instead hand him over to the NYPD… and organization known for its fairness and incorruptibility. Yikes. Matt decides that being Matt (and not a full-time Daredevil) ain’t so bad and in the end we see the reformation of Nelson, Murdock & Page.

Conclusion:

I really enjoyed this season. Daredevil never ceases to impress me with meticulous and creative choreography, great acting, and well flesh out characters. I’m so tired of the ‘no kill’ trope though. I’m tired of being told that if a hero kills a mass murderer like Wilson Fisk, they are morally broken. This is repressive bourgeois morality and it’s impressed upon audiences. It serves to prevent any serious harm from coming to the powerful. There are those like Kingpin whose existence is predicated on continued death of innocents. The idea that the system can cage or even reform them is ludicrous.

The Weird Worlds of Shinichirō Watanabe

I got hooked on anime through shows like Pokemon, Dragon Ball, Gundam Wing, Sailor Moon, and Tenchi. These are all vastly different stories but they have one common thread, the protagonist(s) are all teenagers. These stories revolve around a time of awkward transitions, often acting as metaphors for the struggle to form an identity, to question authority, and the formation of values. With the exception of Gundam, these anime are brightly colored with optimistic overtones. Shinichiro Watanabe doesn’t really do that. His character rang in age from young adult to middle aged. They are often penniless to the point of starvation and lacking in any fame and esteem held by other anime protagonists. Their lives have no intended destination. His characters live on the fringes of society in anonymity with stories punctuated by trauma. Eighteen years after I bought my first Bebop DVD, I’m still draw to his story telling.

Shinichiro Watanabe’s career now spans three decades starting with his directorial debut with Marcross Plus (1995). His next project ‘Carol & Tuesday’ is slated for 2019. After the early 2000s American debut of Cowboy Bebop, Watanabe’s fame exploded in the west. Since then he’s produced shorts for the creators of the Matrix and Blade Runner franchises. While I’ve yet to see a project of his that I haven’t liked, I want to focus on the big three: Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and Space Dandy.

Also, it’s important to mention that one of Watanabe’s talents is surrounding himself with talented artists. Without the writing of Keiko Nobumoto, the character designs of Toshihiro Kawamoto and Kazuto Nakazawa, the music direction of Yoko Kanno and Nujabes, Watanabe’s projects may never have gained reverence. Cheers to them!

Cowboy Bebop

CW 1
Jet Black, Spike Spiegel, Faye Valentine, Edward, Ein (dog)

It all started in a Suncoast video store in the year 2000.

Toonami’s afternoon block exposed me to so much quality anime, and I wanted more, something edgy and adult, and I found that in the colorful covers of the Cowboy Bebop DVDs. The fourteen year old in me vividly remembers first seeing Faye Valentine in visible thong, wielding a pistol in front of a star craft. The trailer had everything from martial arts, to spaceships, and to gun fights, and naturally being a fourteen year old, I was all in. So, one Sunday when I had a little money in my pocket from babysitting, I bought Session 1.

Image result for cowboy bebop jazz gif

Cowboy Bebop is the story of bounty hunters in the year 2071. Aboard the star-ship, the Bebop, their adventures take them from Venus to Jupiter in search of quick cash. Bureaucratic loopholes and run-ins with criminal syndicates often rob them of their just rewards, but that’s just part of the gig.

CB
“Jazz agers, flower children, lost generation, beatniks, rockers, punks, nerds, hackers, lovers, Generation X – whatever the designation, there have always been outlaws in our society who live in pursuit of autonomy.
The year 2071 AD. That future is now. Driven out of their terrestrial Eden, humanity chose the stars as the final frontier. With the section-by-section collapse of the
former nations, a mixed jumble of races and peoples came. They spread to the stars, taking with them the now confused concepts of freedom, violence, illegality
and love, where new rules and new generation of outlaws came into being. People referred to them as…” 

Back then, I had no idea that Cowboy Bebop would be the nexus between so much of the pop-culture I would come love and be inspired by. This was intentional. Watanabe is enamored with American and Chinese cinema, Harlem jazz, and classic rock n’ roll. Episodes are rich with references to everything from Charlie Parker to Goethe to Alien (1979).

To this day, I’m still drawing connections. Like the credit animation which involves a reference to the bullet riddled protagonists of in the John Woo classic, ‘The Killer’ (1988), a film which is itself a take on Jean-Pierre Melville’s french cult classic ‘Le Samourai’ (1966). Note: Melville’s classic has also been cited a major influence behind Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai’ (1999) and Nicholas Winding Refn’s ‘Drive’ (2011) I found all of these projects individually and at different points in my life, yet each felt distinctly familiar, and that’s because I watched Bebop, first.

 

 

Years later when I was drawn to Bruce Lee and Taoism, I thought about how Spike Spiegel practices Lee’s own marital art Jeet Kune Do. When I got into jazz, I thought about Jet’s love of Miles Davis. When I got into the 60’s rock n’ roll, episode titles like ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ and ‘Honkey Tonk Woman’ made sense to me. When I read ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’ I thought of Udai Taxim.

 

 

Laid over the reference buffet are themes of loneliness and existential ennui. Bebop asks whether we can outrun our past and what happens when we finally face it. While at first the characters seem lackadaisical, motivated only by the promise of quick rewards, we grow to know them intimately as scarred by trauma. It would be simple to say they are on the run, but it wouldn’t be off. Spike fakes his death to escape the criminal underworld, Jet resigns from the police force after losing an arm and realizing the organization is irredeemably corrupt, Faye is constantly on the run from debt collectors, and Ed, a notorious hacker, understandably lives off the grid. As a teenager, all of this was incredibly romantic. I fantasized about disappearing in the stars, tied to nothing with no responsibilities. The fact that they occasionally ate cup noodles to survive and that their line of work was lethal didn’t bother me. It seemed like a small price to pay to avoid restlessness monotony of the suburbs. This is probably a factor in me leaving America for half of my twenties.

Image result for cowboy bebop gif

There are plenty of laughs throughout Bebop but the overall tone is one of melancholy. It opens and closes with death, and there’s pain all throughout. I can still see the crushed looks on friends faces at the show’s conclusion. The common cure was just to start the show all over again to coax the loss. Over the past eighteen years, I’ve watched all 26 episodes and film ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ (2001) more times than I can remember. I’ve either shown or recommended it to every person in my life with interest in animation and/or anime. If I had to pick my favorite short anime it would be Cowboy Bebop.

Samurai Champloo

crew.jpg

I spent a lot of time in high school geeked over Bebop, watching the DVDs endlessly, loaning them to all of my friends, drawing the characters in my sketch pad, listening to all the albums to try and understand what the hell Acid Jazz was and why I liked it so much. I was also devouring all the anime/manga I could. By graduation, my music tastes began to develop beyond Nu-Metal, to old school hip-hop (A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Gang Starr, Nas). So when the news broke that Watanabe had a 26 episode show in the works that would blend hip-hop into feudal Japan, I was like, God-damn! This is going to be the best thing ever.

Image result for samurai champloo record gif

The hype for Samurai Champloo was steep but it took no time at all for me to start humming the opening bars by Shing02. Right away, I wanted to cosplay Mugen (eventually did!) shoes and all. My friends and I would argue over who was a better ronin, Jin or Mugen.

Samurai Champloo is the story of two wondering ronin, one stoic (Jin), the other chaotic (Mugen), and their teenage companion, Fuu. The wander (a mostly historical) feudal Japan in search of the renowned ‘Sunflower Samurai.’

Note: The word champloo comes from the Okinawan word chanpurū (as in gōyā chanpurū, the Okinawan stir-fry dish containing bitter melon). Chanpurū, alone, simply means “to mix” or “to hash”.

Related image

Champloo isn’t the emotional juggernaut that is Bebop, but there is plenty of drama. Again, we see characters haunted by a past they’ve yet to process or escape. Jin, Fuu, and even Mugen (when he’s not stirring shit) have placid surfaces, yet internally furnaces rage. Jin, framed for the murder of his former master, carries the weight bringing down his former school, Mugen is a former pirate on the run, and Fuu who’s orphaned by a father she refuses to stop searching for.

Related image

I’d be lying if I said I don’t tear up at times while watching. Champloo only exacerbated my love of historical Japan and samurai culture. The wide, vivid depictions of the countryside are gorgeous. The incorporation of break dancing into sword play was dope as fuck. And the Nujabes/Fat Jon/Force of Nature soundtracks are listenable even if you’ve never heard of Champloo.

Image result for samurai champloo landscape gif

One last thing, Samurai Champloo is an easy anime to convince your non-anime friends that the medium is worth their time. With hip-hop as a major influence, it translates easily with western audiences. The animation is crisp, the show’s funny without being chaotic, and the drama is complex enough to stand up to the criticisms of irreverence as anime often receives.

Space Dandy

space-dandy-banner

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what the fuck to expect when I first saw the trailer for Space Dandy. My assumption was that Watanabe might structure the show along the same line as Bebop and Champloo with the fusion of a music genre with popular culture imagery. It’s not really that. In fact, it’s actually more of a subversion of a many anime traits than anything else.

Image result for space dandy gif

Space Dandy is the outrageous adventures of Dandy (Space Dandy), his robot/partner QT, and Meow, a catlike alien biped that can talk. They search the galaxy for rare and unclassified alien life to claim for reward.

Like Bebop and Champloo, the crew in Space Dandy is constantly broke in search of quick cash. The episodes are nonsensical to the point of disregarding continuity. The show often confounds logic but I believe it makes sense on an emotional level. All the colors pop and many of the episodes dive head first into psychedelia. Someone described the vibe as Hitchhiker Guide To The Galaxy with Bruce Campbell and I can’t think of anything more apt. There’s a giant ‘breastrant’ shaped like two floating boobs, appropriately named Boobies. Basically, if you enjoy marijuana, you’re gonna love Space Dandy.

Image result for space dandy gif

Conclusion:

There’s really no work out there like Shinichiro Watanabe’s catalog. There are barely any derivatives I can think of. Maybe it’s because creatively Watanabe always places himself firmly between Japanese and western culture. This could explain why Cowboy Bebop was wholly more of a success abroad than at home– could also be that Japanese audiences had twenty years of Lupin III material to enjoy. To watch his shows is to fall in love with the characters, and their antics, stubbornness, and humility. It is to forget about destinations and kick back for the journey.

The Purge Franchise

On July 14, 1969, Richard Nixon delivered a passionate address to the American people on the threat of illegal drugs. He began with,

“Within the last decade, the abuse of drugs has grown from essentially a local police problem into a serious national threat to the personal health and safety of millions of Americans. A national awareness of the gravity of the situation is needed; a new urgency and concerted national policy are needed at the Federal level to begin to cope with this growing menace to the general welfare of the United States.”

The War on Drugs was officially inaugurated in June 1971. For the next four decades the war was accelerated by each American president (see: Michelle Alexander). What followed can only described as devastation. Black and brown communities were torn apart by mandatory minimum sentencing, stop-and-frisk laws, three strike sentencing, racial profiling, and broken window policing. Local police departments have come to resemble an armored insurgency equipped with vehicles of war. Incarceration rates, which plateaued through the first half of the 20th century, skyrocketed from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands for non-violent offences such as marijuana possession. Those who managed to avoid jail time or simply served their sentence are barred from voting.

In a 1994 interview with Harper’s Weekly, former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman confessed that the War on Drugs was essentially a sham.  He said,

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

All of this and more comes to mind when watching America’s latest horror franchise, The Purge. The brainchild of James DeMonaco, the series centers on an alternate reality of America where for 12 hours, once a year, citizens are permitted to do whatever they want with zero legal repercussions. The four films focus on the most visceral aspects such as violence and murder, and asks the question: Are we as a species in need of an extreme outlet? At least that’s how it’s packaged and sold to the public. In reality, the annual purge functions as a way for the upper echelons of (white) society to rid the economy of the poor and low income, especially the black and brown population who are most targeted.

I want to take a look at the bookends of the franchise and talk about why the most recent prequel, The First Purge, is the most significant to date. Let go!

**There will be spoilers (but mostly for The First Purge)**

The Purge (2013)

pg

Set in an affluent Los Angeles suburb in the year 2022, the first installment follows the Sardin family over the course of the annual purge event. James Sardin (Ehtan Hawke), head of a firm who manufactures home security systems specifically for the annual purge, has done very well for himself. Enough to build an addition to their already massive home, stoking resentment in several of their neighbors. His wife, Mary, is played by the awesome Lena Headey. Their humanity is put to the test when their little boy allows an injured stranger into their barricaded home. The stranger is being pursued by a young, sexy group of purge fanatics so intent on killing the stranger, they vow to kill the entire Sardin family to get to him.

This film was a lot of fun. It’s a tight 89 minutes and there is no fat. The story opens with a card telling us the audience that in the eight years since the first purge, violent crime has plummeted to single digits, unemployment is 1%… and all it took was a little purging. We should be skeptical of these figures, but I’ll get into that in a minute.

There was almost nothing I didn’t like about this film. It was less violent than I expected, choosing to focus more on the psychological toll and the stripping of humanity the event takes on those who participate. The villains were genuinely unsettling and there is an unspoken yet overt message that those taking the most delight in the killing are young, affluent, and white. The night has become on a American high holiday. Throughout the evening the Sardin’s are subjected to horrifying cruelties the purge. Exhausted and blood spattered, the film fades out on the shook family as a new report declares it to be the most successful purge to date, stating the stock market is booming and weapon sales are through the roof.

The one glaring flaw of the film is the use of The Stranger (Edwin Hodge). So, the film isn’t afraid to craft a situation wherein the litmus test of an affluent, white suburban family’s humanity is whether or not they will sacrifice the life of an unknown homeless black stranger to save themselves. It is however, afraid to give said black character more than two lines of dialogue which aren’t simply the word “Help!” For a brief moment in the first act, the film plays with the idea that the semi-intruder is a violent, bloodthirsty purger intent on murdering a scared family. That the Stranger is a large black man is meant to amplify our suspicion that he is prone to violence. Outside of that, the Stranger is one dimensional, possessing no history and an uncertain future. He is a literal walking catalyst.

But this isn’t the last we will see of Edwin Hodge as The Stranger…

The Purge: Anarchy (2014) and The Purge: Election Year (2016)

There’s a lot going on in the follow-up sequels. Anarchy gives us a street level take on what the annual event is like for working class folks in a predominately Latinx portion of Los Angeles. We learn what the night of terror is like for most folks, those of us without a mansion and a vault. We see how the purge event has spurred tiny market for human trafficking, and how you can sell your body (to be purged) to a rich family. So, that’s a plus! Oh, and we also get to see what Netflix’s The Punisher would have been like had Frank Grillo been cast as Frank Castle. And most importantly, we meet a group of Anti-Purge resistance fighters led by Carmelo Johns (Michael K. Williams). Hell-yes!

‘Election Year’ takes place in the year 2040, though nothing visually indicates that we have technologically advanced or regressed. In fact, everything looks the same as today. The story follows presidential candidate, Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) who is running an Anti-Purge campaign. We finally get a glimpse of New Founding Fathers– surprise, surprise, they’re all white as milk and old as dirt.

The Stranger, finally named Dwayne Bishop, resurfaces first as part of the Anti-Purge resistance and later, succeeding Johns as the leader of the resistance. This brings me to the most frustrating part of the story, the moral policing of the anti-purge resistance. As Senator Roan flees through the streets of LA from hit squads (of KKK and Neo Nazi bikers) literally ordered to kill her by her presidential opponent, she insists on running a bloodless campaign… even if it means a lot of black and brown folks have to die around her. The resistance has a meticulous plan to bomb the New Founding Fathers on purge night (legal) but Senator Roan won’t have a victory if it means someone has to die… even if her life is continually saved by the resistance.

I can’t think of a better analogy for the 2016 election (an event the film used to stoke media interest) than Senator Roan, a white woman, insisting on ‘playing the rules’ and tone policing blacks while her opponent is literally attempting to destroy her by any means necessary.

The First Purge (2018)

PGG

“Citizens, this will be a tradition we celebrate every year. Join in the first Purge.”
-The President

Someone said there would be no ‘The First Purge’ without ‘Get Out,’ and I can see that. The latter proved that black helmed horror projects are viable, which… c’mon y’all, do better. But as to the cause and effect, I disagree. The First Purge, directed by Gerard McMurray and written by creator James DeMonaco, has been in the works ever since 2013 when the Alt-Right yuppies pulled up to Ethan Hawke’s house demanding the Stranger. This is the story of the first purge and those who opposed it.

The film opens with candidates interviewing to take part in a new experiment soon to be dubbed the purge. We learn the experiment will be confined to Staten Island and participants will receive $5000 simply for staying home– the financial rewards increase with active participation in the purge. We see that many of the city’s residents are low income and struggling to get by and thus very susceptible to money incentives.

What follows is a montage of news clips (and Van Jones!) that could have been pulled from a day’s worth of CNN and Fox News. War, Recession, unemployment, crime, and poverty– there has to be a solution to these ills! Can’t someone take drastic action?!

“Van Jones: We are here with Dr. May Updale. She came up with this experiment. Is The Purge a political device?
Dr. May Updale: It is a psychological one. If we want to save our country, we must release all our anger in one night.”

Normally, I don’t get too hyped for prequels. There’s an inherent defeatism to a story like this. We know that somehow the experiment will succeed and we know that the purge will be an annual event for the next 18 years. So, why be concerned with the struggles of Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), a noble drug kingpin and Nya (Lex Scott Davis) a fearless activist? We should care about them because these are people most vulnerable during the purge. Each represents a faction of lower class society which has already been abandoned by society. Remember the news broadcasts, remember that all except for the experiment, their world mirrors ours? The Staten Island projects in the First Purge have been decimated from 40 years of over-policing and daily police brutality. They survived the crack boom and the Giuliani administration. The purge is just another attempt to society of black and brown folks, especially low income citizens. What follows is some of the best black revenge imagery I’ve ever seen. I’m talking Y’lan Noel strangling a white assassin in black face. Also, can we please put him in another action movie like right quick?

“Our neighborhood is under siege from a government who doesn’t give a shit about any of us.”
-Dmitri

This installment presents a definitive backstory. We learn that the NFFA (New Founding Fathers of America), a stand in for the Tea Party, formed around 2013-14 and were voted into power. This was surprising as the series continually refers to a revolution which resulted in a power shift. What we is a more conservative, somehow more corporate Republican party with the NRA as a major donor… So, basically a half step off our reality.

“Arlo Sabian: Parties? You predicted a much higher level of participation.
Dr. May Updale: Human nature does not obey the laws of politics.”

In order to cement their authority, the NFFA needs the first purge to be a success. After a few hours and only one death it becomes clear that people aren’t as violent as predicted. Many choose to party instead of killing and looting. At that point, those pulling the levers call in insurance in the form of a KKK/Neo-Nazi biker and Russian mercenaries to roll through the island and murder as many as possible. Chaos ensues.

Conclusion:

To tie this all together, I want to talk about the confrontation between the architect of the purge experiment Dr. Updale (Marissa Tomei) and representative of the NFFA, Arlo Sabian, when the former discovers the true purpose of the purge is to literally purge the American economy of the lower and vulnerable classes. That simple. Sabian states that all other solutions have been exhausted. After multiple recessions and ever rising unemployment the government is left with no choice but to take drastic measures. This is right after Dr. Updale catches him in a lie and questions whether the crime and poverty statistics themselves are as fabricated as the experiment.

It’s no coincidence that the War on Drugs was birthed at the end of the 1960’s, an era famous for social unrest. From the Civil Rights Movement, to Women’s liberation, to the massive anti-war protest, to many the times felt like spiraling into chaos. For others the injustices were so severe that a social obligation called them to resist. All of this was exploited by the Nixon administration who played on white southern and suburban fears and anxieties. Each of the progressive movements threatened to upset the hierarchy of power in America (See: white supremacist capitalist patriarchy).

The first purge is inaugurated after back-to-back recessions, rising movements like Black Lives Matter and Occupy, rapid wealth distribution to the 1%, and the country’s first black president. This is no mistake. Like the Indian massacres, Jim Crow laws, lynching, interment camps, Tuskegee experiments, J. Marion Sims and gynecology, redlining, and gentrification, the purge is as American as apple pie.

A Little Black is Still Black

There are plenty of black characters throughout manga and anime, and I’m certainly not the first person to write about that. Probably many of you know the more popular, embraced characters like Killer Bee (Naruto), Canary (Hunter x Hunter), Afro (Afro Samurai), Casca (Berserk), Atsuko Jackson (Michiko & Hatchin). I mention them specifically because I don’t think there’s any disputing their race, and more importantly, they are all excellent examples of representation. Each of them are complex individuals with fleshed out motivations and desires, and the crux of their character does not rest on antiquated stereotypes.

You may also know some of the not-so-great representations in anime like Mr. Popo (Dragon Ball), Chocolove McDonell (Shaman King), or Jynx (Pokemon). Their character design harkens back to the Sambo imagery of America’s Jim Crow Era.

Yikes. I want to talk about something different, though. I want to explore a few ambiguous characters and their African features. I know I’m not alone in attaching race to anthropomorphic characters like Max from ‘A Goofy Movie’ or humanoids like Piccolo (Dragon Ball). Vice did a great write up on this (See: All Your Favorite Cartoon Characters Are Black). But what about the human characters who are seemingly Japanese in all but for their features? Do they merely look black-ish for aesthetic reasons? Is the creator trying to convey some commentary or is it merely a case of appropriation? Let’s look at a few of my favorites.

Aokiji Kuzan (One Piece)

Former Marine Admiral Kuzan is presented as an occasional thorn in the side of our heroes, the Straw Hat Pirates. He’s about 8.5 feet tall with a deep voice, tan skin, thick curls, and the ability to turn himself and everything around him into ice. His appearance is based off the late Japanese actor Yusaku Matsuda. There are very few dark-skinned characters in One Piece and the Fishermen race already serves as an analogy for race and an oppressed class. Kuzan, an admiral, sits on one of the highest seats of authority in their world. Initially, I assumed him and Ussop were supposed to be Puerto Rican or Cuban– perhaps they are. At this point, I claim both as black because I claim myself as black. I match both characters in shade and more importantly, I’ve learned the African diaspora is vast and varied. Black people come in all shades and sizes. Also, I want to compliment Eiichiro Oda for drawing an afro that isn’t intended for comedic effect.

Ken Matsushiro (Yakitate!! Japan)

Matsushiro_Ken

Ken is the Manager of Pantasia’s Southern Tokyo Branch in ‘Yakitate!! Japan’ (2004). It’s anime about baking and it’s so damn good. Seriously, pull up any clip on YouTube and tell me you’re not interested. Ken is tall with tan skin, he always wears his shades, and has an afro which distinguishes him from every other character in the manga/anime. Ken is also considered the best French-bread artisan in Japan.

Ken is difficult. While he is kind and sweet, and has a fleshed out past that adds dimensions to his character, the writers also lean on his hair for comedic relief. Ken has a Japanese name and in flashbacks we see him and his little sister with straight, dark hair. His afro and tan skin allude to the possibility of him being black but we’re not given anything more. And at one point, Ken gives another character an afro wig to wear to help them bake… It’s difficult to tell if his hair has any purpose besides as comedic relief. Black hair has a long history of ridicule in pop culture (See: Natural Hair Vs. The Media: The Battle For Black Women) The show does features a disco inspired track for it’s second outro with Ken looking like Saturday Night Fever on the dance floor. It’s possible that his character is supposed to be an amalgamation of disco tropes, too.

Joker (Akira)

Joker001

Joker was first featured in the Akira manga in 1982. He starts off as a baddie and leader of the Clown Gang, a violent group of street youth involved in production and sale of drugs. Him and his gang square off with Tetsuo, Kaneda, and company a few times before Neo-Tokyo is leveled by Akira. In the aftermath, he’s displaced as leader of the Clowns and eventually comes to the aid of Testuo. Sadly, the classic 1985 movie features very little of Joker. His portrayal is pretty one dimensional– he fills a sort of scary, dark goon role and exits as quickly as he enters.

Joker is heavy set and muscular. He has dark skin and has an upside down clown face painted across his scalp. He is one of the many youth in the story abandoned by the system. He along with the others who slipped through the cracks, eek out what tiny existence they can in the massive, capitalist rebirth of Tokyo. I love that he isn’t just a throw away character in the manga. He is present throughout, forming bonds with several of the characters. Without this, it seems so easy for movie audiences to write off his character as another physically imposing thug, thus reinforcing stereotypes about the physical threat black men pose. And again, I don’t know if Joker is supposed to be black. Outside of his skin, there isn’t much else to place him as black, yet I still have a difficult time looking at his dark skin and shaved head, and thinking of him as anything but black.

Conclusion:

Black people exist in every corner of the globe. We claim space on every continent, in every major religion, and yes, even in anime and manga, too! We consume this media in large numbers, we devote hours to building costumes, and we show up– if you’ve ever been to an anime convention you’ll know black folks turn up! And that’s one of the reasons representation matters. Whether you indulge in tales of magical feudalism or intergalactic struggles, if you’re not seeing yourself it’s easy to assume we have no place in that world. I’m looking at you Game of Thrones!

It should go without saying that black folks can humanize non-black characters. Unlike white audiences, we do it all the time. Having someone black present in the story is not a prerequisite for our enjoyment but it certainly enhances the experience. Ultimately, manga and anime indulges in fantasy. It is an escape and it can be a very cathartic one. Speaking personally, I can say being black in America means an almost constant reminder that your existence isn’t valued. In American media, the black experience is often portrayed as bleak, and is defined by oppression and pain. Psychologically, this takes a heavy toll over time. This is just one more justification for representation. We need more black witches, black mech pilots, black martial artists, black knights, and even black mad scientists. We need to see ourselves in media with the same infinite possibilities as everyone else.

Venom! Finally!

venom-spider-man-villain
We are ready!

Went to see Venom with my girl, my cousin, and a few others. We ate a couple edible gummies beforehand to enhance the experience. (Spoiler alert: They did.) With the 29% Rotten Tomatoes score hanging over my head, I went in with an open mind and a low bar. It ended up being pretty fun. Let’s get into it.

**Spoilers Ahead. All of them. ALL of the spoilers.**

First, a bit about my interest/fandom in Venom. I’ve loved the character since I was in Elementary School. In 5th and 6th grade, I was obsessed with the Symbiotes (the Klyntar Race) and I kept a sketch pad of Symbiote drawings– I even created some of my own. I had the action figures and playing cards, and then one day I sort of fell out of it. Even in my recent comics collecting I haven’t bought any Venom, so I’ve been out of it for all the recent developments. Nevertheless, I was super excited when I read that Sony (finally) was doing a Venom movie.

Strengths:

  • Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock. Did we have any doubt that he wasn’t capable of stepping into the anti-hero’s suit? He’s hilarious and manic when he needs to be, but sympathetic and engaging when the story calls for it. This is definitely a much more likable version of Brock than the one I’ve known in Spider-Man. While we do see Brock’s life fall apart just before he makes contact with Venom, it’s because he’s a cocky asshole with a heart of gold, not a vindictive prick like in the comics. Tom Hardy definitely has the range to dive into the bitterness, but the script made him more of a sympathetic every-man coping with the (surprisingly) hilarious consequences of infection by an alien parasite.
  • Comic Book Aesthetic. This movie wants you to know it’s a comic book. The framing of several shots was so perfectly verbatim to the comics. I’m looking forward to all the still shots that will inevitably flood the internet. There’s a lot to be said about the messy tone of this film and we’ll get into that, but regardless of mood this film knows stage its characters so that we feel like we’re looking at the page.
  • The Fight Scenes. Barring a totally unnecessary exploding drone chase scene through the streets, the action was great. The choreography was able to compensate for the lack of web-slinging. The Symbiote moves and defends Eddie exactly as we’ve come love. The Symbiote slinks, slithers, and rages just like in the comics and video games (especially Marvel vs. Capcom).
  • The Eddie Brock/Venom Dynamic. This is the heart of the story. Yes, the two personalities sharing a body is nothing new, it’s not even new for this year (see ‘Upgrade‘), but it is hella endearing. Venom is funny– he makes Brock eat raw lobster, tatter tots, and human heads. When he tells Brock, “I was kind of a loser on my planet,” I really felt for the guy. Ha! The pair bonds as though they are natural born partners and it only gets better as the films goes on. The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was Venom egging on Brock to continue to pressure his ex-girlfriend (played by Michelle Williams) into getting back together with him. How about consent, Venom, ya space creep! Same goes for Stan Lee, who even at 95 could stand to learn a thing or two about consent.
  • Actual Representation. Yeah, it’s still starring a white guy but this film is packed with faces of color. A racially diverse San Francisco, image that! The scene between Riz Ahmed and the young black girl was EVERYTHING! Side note: That is how you write a charming villain! Why is it that the Sony/Marvel films have been able to get this and not Disney, who took 10 years to give us Black Panther?

Weak Points:

  • An underused Jenny Slate. The trailers had me thinking her character (Dr. Dora Skirth) would be a major player. Given her coming to Brock for help, and her first name was suspiciously close to Donna (Diego) or Scream, another popular Symbiote which is even briefly shown. I would’ve loved to have seen an awkward trio play out between Brock, Venom and Skirth as they sneak around plotting the downfall of Carlton Drake (later Riot).
  • A confusedly motivated villain. Riz Ahmed comes out the gate strong in Venom. He’s a handsome, (presumable) billionaire with a God-complex. Nothing new, no. Ahmed wears it well, though. I immediately got the sense that Carlton Drake believes in what he’s doing, even if it’s cold and lacking in any human compassion. Then there’s Riot, the Symbiote who escapes during upon re-entry. Riot, inexplicably knows that it wants Drake and Drake, alone. It knows this while it’s still in Malaysia and Drake is in San Francisco. How? I know that the Symbiote had to make it to him eventually, but this felt like lazy writing.
  • A super massive corporation that attacks all of San Francisco to APPREHEND one man. On the loose, Brock and Venom get their hands on a motorcycle and burn rubber through the streets of San Francisco, weaving in and out of traffic. Drake, the CEO, sends not only his goon squad but also a dozen or so death drones. You’d think the Marvel equivalent of a successful Tesla would be a bit more concerned about optics. Sending their branded drones careening into populated cars and buildings is a terrible look– one that could sink your company overnight and land you in jail. But, the films moves on with no mention of the wreckage. I mean, the camera doesn’t hang around long enough to see, but it’s a safe bet that there were some innocent casualties from the exploding drones.
  • Michelle Williams. Not her necessarily. She was fine. It was her character which seemed to exist solely to make Brock more… basic. Like I was fully ready for Brock to lead a mess of a bachelor’s life. I’m talkin’ matress on the floor, dirty dishes all over, pictures of those who wronged him, pinned to the wall. It feels like Michelle Williams was brought in to fill the trope of ‘woman who leaves fuck-up.’ In the first act, she splits with Brock after he costs her, her job (after she pleads with him not to cause a scene, and he does anyways), moving quickly to a more mature, stable man. At one point she wears Venom and the suit is noticeably tighter on her. Ha! Wonder why? Studios seem to think that EVERY story requires a love component and this film is no different…

Overall, it was a lot of fun. I laughed a lot more than I thought I would and there were only a couple of cringe-worthy moments. It’s not polished to perfection like virtually every MCU film, but it’s leaps ahead of a most Fox/Marvel collaborations. Make sure you stay til the very END of the credits for a special treat. Don’t leave early like a n00b.

Grade: C+/B- 

Venom_TA

Multiracial Aliens and Vampires: Mixed-Race Metaphors in Science-Fiction

I can’t remember when I first saw Blade (1998). I can’t remember if I saw it in theaters or rented it, first. I can’t even remember who I watched it. I know that I saw it around the time of its release and that I loved it. I still do, perhaps even more. And the second iteration, Blade 2 (2002) is arguably better. I knew Blade, the character, from the 1990’s Spider-Man: The Animated Series. He appeared in a couple of episodes during the Michael Morbius saga assisting Spider-Man in his foray into the vampire world. As a young black nerd, I LOVED that a hero like Blade exists. As a young multiracial nerd, I LOVED that Blade occupies a tortured space between the Vampire and Human races. All of this brings me to what I DO remember, the term Day-Walker. This is how vampires, full vampires, denote Blade’s half-caste status among them. It was also an occasional nickname my friends had for me in high school. It never felt derogatory, it actually made sense: my dad is black, mom is white. And the few multiracial dudes I knew, used the term the most. Blade was the first time I was able to connect this part of myself to the world of comics.

The concept of inter-species children isn’t unique to Blade. There are dark derivatives like the Underworld franchise, but also more futuristic takes like Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy, who discovers that he half-human, half-celestial. Since Blade’s release, I’ve been hyper aware of the hybrid trope in movies and I’d like to discuss three examples which I keep coming back to over the years. The first being, Blade, then Vampire Hunter D, and finally Spock of the Star Trek franchise. All three of the characters are not only defined by their half-status, they are constantly driven in the search of answers as to what that status means. They straddle a gulf between two worlds that they, and seemingly only they, can see, while being pushed and pulled for allegiance to both side. This is the perfect metaphor for my experience being multiracial. So, let’s dive into it.

Blade

BL

“I have spent my whole life lookin’ for that thing that killed my mother, and made me what I am. And every time I take one of those monsters out, I get a little piece of that life back. So don’t you tell me about forgetting.” -Blade (1998)

By the time Wesley Snipes got his hands on the character in the mid-90s, much of Blade’s Blaxploitation aesthetic was stripped away in favor of something darker, more tactical, almost cyber-punk. The first Blade film arguably set the stage for future action flicks like The Matrix, Underworld, and Resident Evil. What I’m trying to say is, Blade was cool as fuck.

The vampire hunter originally jumped onto the pages in Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula #10 in 1973. Created by writer Marv Wolfman and penciller Gene Colan, two white guys, he quickly found himself on the pages of the Amazing Spider-Man, and eventually the Marvel world as a whole, interacting with favorites like Ghost Rider, The Punisher, and recently Iron Heart (Riri Williams).

BL RR.png

For this post, I’d like to focus on the most well known version of Blade, his appearance on the big screen. So, what do we know about Blade from the films:

  • He was conceived of two human parents but near the moment of his birth, his mother was bitten by a vampire, and in the process Blade’s biological make-up was forever changed.
  • He is on a lifelong mission to avenge his mother’s killer, which has spilled out into a vehement hatred for ALL vampires.
  • He is a biological anomaly. As far as we know, there is no one else like Blade. He can survive exposure to direct sunlight, garlic and silver have no effect on him, and he possesses superhuman strength and agility. He does, however, maintain a thirst for human blood, which he is constantly searching for synthetic alternatives to.

While Blade does have a human father, he is never mentioned and never seen. We are constantly pushed to view Blade, not as someone infected, but rather the perfect union of vampire and human, thus the child of both. He is feared, despised, and envied by the vampires for his hybrid status. Humans, those for whom Blade tirelessly defends, know nothing of his existence. He seeks neither recognition, nor praise from humans, choosing rather to conduct business in the shadows.

“The goal, of course, is to be like you – the Daywalker! You got the best of both worlds, don’t you? All our strengths… none of our weaknesses.”
-Deacon Frost, Blade (1998)

Blade is a massive threat to vampire elite, not to mention, literally any vampire in New York City. There is usually a plot in the works to take him down while also extracting the secrets of his DNA, so it can be replicated.

Now is where it gets messy. Because this story plays fast and loose with ‘race’ and ‘race-mixing,’ at times it feels strictly superficial, while at others chooses to directly inject race politics from our world.

“Oh, so it’s back to pretending we’re human again? C’mon… spare me the Uncle Tom routine, okay? You can’t keep denying what you are, man. You think the humans will ever accept a half-breed like you? They can’t. They’re afraid of you. And they should be. You’re an animal, you’re a fuckin’ maniac! Look at ’em. They’re cattle; pieces of meat. What difference does it make how their world ends? Plague… war… famine. Morality doesn’t even enter into it. We’re just a function of natural selection, man. The new race.”
-Deacon Frost, Blade (1998)

Wow! Okay, so no beating around the bush. Does this mean we are to view humans as Caucasian and vampires as black? Not entirely, I believe. Frost’s comment strikes me more as a jab meant to throw Blade off his game. But yeah, it can’t be denied the familiarity of Blade’s alienation. He fits in nowhere. He is half-caste, he is alone, and though he doesn’t like to talk about it, he is tormented by this state of being.

In her August 2013 article ‘So, What Are You Anyway?‘ in the American Psychological Association, Mahogany L. Swanson states, “This process of identification and de-identification is often dictated by the constraints or opportunities in the social milieu. Although viewed by some as opportunistic, an often-hostile environment may compel the need for racial fluidity in many self-identified biracial and multiracial individuals; however, the consequences of race switching can be deleterious for these individuals.”

Large facets of Blade’s experience resonate with my multiracial experience, though I can say mine hasn’t been quite as dark. I have frequently felt as though I don’t belong in any space. I’ve wondered over and over am I “Acting too white? Not black enough?” As someone of light-skin, I have received praise for my tan complexion. While I still experience racism on regular, it could be strongly argued that my light complexion shields me from the harsher consequences faced by my dark skin brothers and sisters (see Colorism). Both my parents are alive, though I’ve never known or lived with my father, either. Growing up, I was raised by a white mother and white step-father in all white neighborhoods, and attended overwhelmingly white schools. Basically, I was raised in a white world with little to no knowledge of a black one, and because of this I always felt like something was missing. Even into my thirties, I continue to grapple with feels of inadequacy and alienation.

“Blade: I’m not human.
Dr. Karen Jenson:
You look human to me.
Blade:
Humans don’t drink blood.
Dr. Karen Jenson:
That was a long time ago. Maybe you should let that go?
Blade:
I have spent my whole life lookin’ for that thing that killed my mother, and made me what I am. And every time I take one of those monsters out, I get a little piece of that life back. So don’t you tell me about forgetting.”
-Blade (1998)

blade-ii

I find it interesting that it is solely the romantic figures in his life, who push Blade toward some form of self-acceptance. In the first film it’s Dr. Karan Jenson, a human woman, while in the second, it’s Nyssa Damaskinos, an unapologetic, natural-born vampire. Both women attempt to get Blade to relinquish the fear that keeps him from tapping into his more vampiric nature. Though both women receive push back, both inevitably, if only for a short moment, strip Blade of the barriers he so cautiously holds onto. It is also, worth mentioning that Blade is at his strongest when he succumbs to his nature. In both Blade and Blade 2, he overcomes the various antagonists only after he has drank blood directly from a human body.

Vampire Hunter D

VHD.png

Now, for an even more tortured soul. D, Vampire Hunter D! That’s his letter, his alias. We know that the D is a reference to his legendary father, Dracula. Beginning as a manga series in 1983, written by Hideyuki Kikuchi and illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano. His adventures span 26 manga volumes and two major length films, Vampire Hunter D (1985) and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000).

“The distant future… vampires rule the night, but their numbers are dwindling. With huge bounties on their heads, a class of hunters has emerged: Bounty Hunters. One hunter is unlike the rest. He is a dunpeal: a half-human half-vampire. At war with himself, feared by all, tortured and alone, he is… Vampire Hunter D.”
-Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (title card)

Like Blade, D is the ‘perfect’ union of vampire and human DNA. And like Blade, D has made it his life’s mission to eradicate ALL vampires from the face of the Earth. Unlike the Blade, D’s qualities were conceived through sex and not a bite. We know that Dracula shared a romance with a human woman. And just as Blade is referred to as a ‘Day Walker’ for his half-caste status, D is referred to as a Dunpeal (or dhampyr, depending on translation). TVTropes.org states,

“A “dhampyr” is a child born of a vampire and a human. Half as strong but only uncomfortable in sunlight. A stake to the heart is still lethal. Dhampyrs are often vampire hunters and hunters of their own kind.
It is more common for the father to be the vampire in this mating, since according to folklore, vampire men had far higher sex drives than their female counterparts and were often rapists who targeted human women because they were easy prey. In fiction writing, that is sometimes the case, and other times female vampires are infertile, depending on their degree of deadness. Sometimes avoided altogether by just having a vampire (male or female) bite and turn a pregnant woman.”

We follow D into the year 12,090 AD on his hunt. This is a world that sprung from our own. Nuclear war ravaged the planet centuries before and out of the ashes grew vampire empires grew. Society returned to a feudal state with vampires lords and rulers. The nuclear fallout produced legions of mutants and violent creatures. In the subsequent millennia, human kind struggles just to keep its light from being extinguished.

hunter*Charlotte, human, and Meier Link, vampire.

D seems content to stalk the Earth, brooding for millennia. He regards his vampiric side as useful only in how easily it allows him to cut down his vampire brethren. There is no conflict, he is merely cursed by way of birth. Unlike Blade, no one wants D’s DNA. Humans are terrified of him and vampires loath his very existence.

In her 2017 article ‘Confronting Complex Multiracial Realities’, Dr. Saera Khan addresses the pressures family and loved ones present to multiracial children, “Another source of stigma may come from extended family members; parents of mixed race children may have married under disapproval from their families.  Dissatisfaction or ambivalence over the marriage sometimes extends towards the offspring of these unions. As a result, children may develop a sense of double consciousness or an internal conflict as they see themselves through the eyes of prejudiced close others. These conflicted feelings can produce shame over their identity and further disconnection from their racial and ethnic heritages.”

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust demonstrates this friction perfectly when D is paid to hunt Count Meier Link and return the woman he ‘kidnapped.’ In reality, Link, a vampire, and Charlotte, a human, are in love and simply want to run away with each other. Despite he stoic, ice cold demeanor, D is bothered by this union and why wouldn’t he be? D can even come to terms with what he is, much less the potential of another like him. This plays out vivid during a back and forth between D and the parasite face on his hand (yes, you read that right. It’s a whole thing and we don’t have time in this already lengthy post).

Hand: But you don’t care about that, do you? But I bet I know what really gets to you, dunpeal. What REALLY gets to you – the thought of those two lovebirds having another dunpeal, huh? That’s it. You see, I know you. I know how you think, I know how you feel, I know every move you make. You can’t…”

D reminds me of a point in my life when I hated being mixed. It wasn’t something that I could consciously admit to myself, the feels expressed themselves in a quiet shame. I idolized white men and their accomplishments and secretly wanted to be a white man myself. I loathed the feelings of inadequacy. Eventually, I swung the opposite direction. When I was twenty, I grew out my afro, I started wearing the Pan African colors, I read about the Huey Newton. I would entertain fantasies of moving to Chicago or Atlanta, somewhere overwhelmingly black, because I figured that would be the only space that would truly accept me. And eventually, after years, I’ve found myself a comfortable space I can call my own… but in this white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, the battle still rages.

Spock

original

“Spock: I am as conflicted as I once was as a child.
Sarek: You will always be a child of two worlds. I am grateful for this, and for you.”
-Star Trek (2009)

I saved Spock for the end because of all the examples, he is represented as having the highest level of self-acceptance when it comes to race. Spock, though he continues to struggle and search for meaning, wears his half-caste status with pride. It doesn’t hold him back, rather it opens doors.

Created by Gene Roddenberry for the 1996 premier of Star Trek: The Original Series. Originally portrayed by Leonard Nimoy, and later Zachary Quinto, along with handful of others along the way. Spock is the child of a Vulcan mother and a human mother. As Vulcan are very humanoid, Spock’s features are human-like with the exception of pointed ears. His personality is the collision of two distinct cultures. Being raised in the extremely logical society of the Vulcans, his entry into Star Fleet, and more importantly his contact with human, known for their fiery emotions, is marked with several trials. Spock is frequently at odds with his Star Fleet commander James T. Kirk.

Since as far back as the ’60s, Spock has been a multiracial icon. Nothing illustrates this better than a 1968 issue of the teen magazine FaVE! which features a letter from a biracial girl to Mr. Spock. The young girl named F.C. expresses grief at not feeling accepted. “I know that you are half Vulcan and half human and you have suffered because of this,” the girl named F.C. wrote. “My mother is Negro and my father is white and I am told this makes me a half-breed. … I guess I’ll never have any friends.”

Leonard Nimoy was so moved, he personally responded. Take a look below.

spock

I must admit, I’m not as familiar with the Star Trek television as I am with the recent movies. I really enjoyed the 2009 JJ Abrams reboot and found several moments to be very touching.

Vulcan Council President: You have surpassed the expectations of your instructors. Your final record is flawless, with one exception: I see that you have applied to Starfleet as well.
Spock: It was logical to cultivate multiple options.
Vulcan Council President: Logical, but unnecessary. You are hereby accepted to the Vulcan Science Academy. It is truly remarkable, Spock, that you have achieved so much despite your disadvantage. All rise.
Spock: If you would clarify, Minister: to what disadvantage are you referring?
Vulcan Council President: Your human mother.
Spock: Council… Ministers, I must decline.
Vulcan Council President: No Vulcan has ever declined admission to this academy!
Spock: Then, as I am half-human, your record remains untarnished.
Sarek: Spock, you have made a commitment to honor the Vulcan way.
Vulcan Council President: Why did you come before this council today? Was it to satisfy your emotional need to rebel?
Spock: The only emotion I wish to convey is gratitude. Thank you, Ministers, for your consideration. Live long and prosper.”

In conclusion, as the multiracial demographics continue to rise, it’s imperative that our media continue to produce stories that explore what it means to come from two or more distinct cultures or races. It’s important that we acknowledge the unique difficulties that come along with being multiracial, and how to navigate them. Blade left such an impact on me that I’m writing about it 20 years later (and I’m thinking about watching it yet again). I have no doubt there are multiracial analogies in current pop-culture that have reached out and grabbed young girls and boys. Let’s keep talking about what it means to be multiracial. If not, us mixed folk will end up like D, alone, brooding, and with no place to call our own.

best-spock-leonard-nimoy-star-trek-episodes-750x480.jpg

The Radical Subtext of One Piece

Image result for one piece world govt flag burning manga

Back in 2007, near the end of a sprawling 73 episode arc of One Piece when the main protagonist Monkey D. Luffy commands an underling to take aim at the World Government flag and “set it ablaze” or “burn it down,” depending on your translation, I nearly leaped out my seat. Suddenly this vibrant anime about pirates and adventure became heart-wrenching and political. It dove into a world that made sense to me on an emotional and intellectual level. I was 21 at the time and had my nose deep into the ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X,’ ‘Soul On Ice,’ ‘Angela Davis: An Autobiography,’ ‘Steal This Book,’ and lots more Black Panthers literature. I was enthralled by the music of the Last Poets and the life of Che Guevara. As Luffy and Co. go head-to-head with a government willing utilize a secret police and the lethal suppression of historical record to maintain the status quo, I shook with excitement. At this point, One Piece took on a radical subtext that it would maintain for the next 11 years.

Before I go any further, a quick summary of One Piece. The manga started in 1997, the anime in 1999. On the surface, it’s a show about pirates set on an Earth-like planet that’s mostly water. All sorts of mythical things exist like giants, dragons, giant prehistoric sea creatures, and dwarfs alongside humans. My favorite thing about this world are the Devil Fruit, a type of magical fruit that grows all over the planet in different sizes and colors. Each grants the eater a special ability– think of the X-Men as an anime and you’ll have a basic idea. As of this entry, the anime is on Episode 852 and the manga on Chapter 919.

One Piece is the story of a 19 year old boy named Monkey D. Luffy who dreams of becoming the future Pirate King, which doesn’t mean exactly what you would think. Yes, he’s after treasure, gold, and fame, but ultimately he just wants to be free. His crew are called the Straw Hat Pirates, which includes a reindeer doctor, a merman helmsman, a dapper cook, a cyborg shipwright, a beautiful archaeologist, a skeleton musician, a shrewd navigator, a brave sniper, and a swordsman wielding three katana. They sail the sea in search of an island called Raftel, where the former Pirate King kept all his treasure (the one piece). It is widely understood within their world that whoever finds the one piece will be the next Pirate King.

LUF

*Reads Right-to-Left.

Along the way they collide with several pirate crews and often with the strong-arm of the World Government, the Navy. The navy in this world largely resembles the fighting forces of Europe in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. The average recruit is equipped with a musket or a saber. But things like cyborgs exist as well. Bizarre, I know. Things get messy with so many super powered individuals running around on both sides of the law. The navy isn’t worth talking about at length in this entry though, as they are mostly the muscle and the enforcers of the political will of the government who oversees all their activity. Same goes for the other pirate crews, many of which play significant roles within this world, but serve more as obstacles to Luffy’s individual quest.

THE WORLD GOVERNMENT

WG

Here’s some of what we know about the World Government thus far. We know that it is the union of over 170 countries, and that the entire organization is overseen by a group of five men called ‘the Elder Stars,’ who are very Illuminati in nature. We know that it was formed 800 years ago at the end of a period later dubbed, ‘the Void Century,’ and that there is no public record of what happened during that time. If the World Government is made aware of someone or a group of someones researching the events of the void century, the punishment is death. We know that many, if not most, of the nations incorporated are monarchies– many with dubious status.

nobles

We can’t talk about the World Government without talking about the Celestial Dragons. You see, we still don’t know much of what happened during the Void Century but looking at the Celestial Dragons we get a good sense that some real fuck shit took place. The world nobles are above everyone. There is no law which they are obliged to obey, and they live off a vast wealth culled from the ‘tribute’ each nation must pay in order to come under the banner of the World Government. The handful of nobles we have seen, have been incredibly depraved individuals. They murder on a whim, they incorporate literal slave labor in whatever fashion suits them, and they are entitled to take nearly any individual they want as a personal slave. Protest is prohibited and will most likely result in death. Being a Celestial Dragon is something you are born into, no one can ascend to the status, not even the kings and queens of the various nations. No, to be a Celestial Dragon you must have a bloodline which traces back to the 20 founding kings of the World Government. Not much is known about these kings, but it is implied that their business was more than shady. And finally, their fashion is very early science-fiction. They wear bubbles over their heads to avoid breathing the air of commoners. Starting to get the picture?

maxresdefault

“World Nobles… Slaves… Human shops… Against the ‘purity’ of these ‘upper classes,’ the villains of the world look positively humane in comparison. It’s because the world’s in the hands of scum like them that it’s all screwed to hell… I mean, we’re not the nicest of guys, but at least we’re honest about it.”

-Eustass Kid, Captain of the Kid Pirates

So, knowing that the World Government professes ‘absolute justice’ yet condones public slave auctioning blocks, knowing that they suppress historical record with extreme violence, and knowing the regularly manipulate the media to serve their own purposes, you might ask who will stand to oppose them. Will it be the pirates? The short answer is no. They operate more like outlaws in the wild west. There is, however, a Revolutionary Army, who we have seen very little of to date. We know that throughout the events of the story, and for years prior to Luffy’s quest, their organization has been out there ‘liberating’ nations from the grip of the World Government. And we are promised an eventual war between the two forces.

BACK IN REALITY

A little bit about me for clarity. I’m not an anarchist. I’m anti-capitalist and I fall somewhere on the spectrum between a Marxist and a Social-Democrat. For the record, I find Illuminati theories boring when compared to documented history. Most importantly, I’m Black. The ongoing struggle against the World Government in One Piece, resonates strongly with the fight in our world against the ‘white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’ (see bell hooks). Let’s take a look at a couple quick examples.

  • The intentional mixing of African tribes during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to avoid their communication and to prevent any potential mutiny. Later on, African captives were stripped of their traditional names in favor of European first names and the surname of whichever slave owner. Stripped as well of their native tongue.
  • The continued erasure of African, Asian, and Latin American history from American textbooks. As well as, the erasure of European Colonialism from American history.
  • The long history of the United States’ involvement in the governments of African, Asian, and Latin American countries. Our manipulation of elections, our extortionist taxation, and the use of our military might to extract precious resources.
  • The formation of an economy and stock market built directly off the captive bodies of slaves and the extractions of highly desired spices from distant non-European nations.
  • A wealth gap in America that continues to shoot most earning straight to the top 1%.

It’s not difficult to view see distinct elements of the tyranny faced by the Straw Hats in our world (or vice versa). Yes, it is often conveyed in heavy handed metaphors like a small group of aristocrats in a back room making decisions that will directly effect the lives of millions, but it’s all symbolic. After we learn about Nico Robin’s past, and how the scholars of Ohara were executed by the for merely trying to learn about the history of the world, it’s understandable why you might cheer as the Straw Hats burn the flag of the World Government.

While they have yet to see the Straw Hat Pirates willingly challenge the Navy (and by extension the World Government) in open combat, we have seen them repeatedly thwart their plans.

  • Luffy breaks into and eventually out of Impel Down, the world’s largest prison, and in the process frees over two hundred prisoners, a few of which like Jimbe are political prisoners.
  • The Straw Hats break into Enies Lobby, a government fortress, to rescue Nico Robin. In the process, the crew defeats CP9, a division of secret police dispatched by the World Government.
  • The Straw Hats have freed the kingdoms of Alabasta and Dressrosa from the grip of government sponsored pirates like Crocodile and Doflamingo. Both of whom were running illegal operations which greatly oppressed the respective citizens of each nation. The government turned a blind eye until it was forced to acknowledge events who the Straw Hats turn things upside down.
  • The Straw Hats have pledged their support and protection to nations like Fisherman Island. It should be mentioned that Fish and Merfolk, occupy a second class status. Despite their culture and society stretching back centuries, they are regarded by the World Government as violent and subhuman, and propaganda is regularly distributed to reinforce this perception.
  • The Straw Hats are actively collecting historical records of the Void Century. It is strongly implied that by the end of the story, the crew will have accumulated all known records of the missing century.

I could go on talking endlessly on this subject, but it really requires the reader to have an in depth knowledge of loads of supplemental information. The point of this entry was merely to tie to subject matter of the animated world to the struggles of our own. Also, I so often see this show written off as childlike and silly fun, but lacking in the depth of something like Naruto or even Cowboy Bebop. I hope this was enjoyable to read. I know I throw a ton of stuff at y’all, so thanks for following along.

SH

The Champions is the Best Title Under Marvel Comics. Why aren’t you reading?

kamala-khan

In the aftermath of the massive culmination arc Civil War II, Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel) a Muslim teenager and the rising star of the Marvel world, feels disillusioned with her super elders. After being thrust into a conflict between Tony Stark (Iron-Man) and Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) over the very future itself, Kamala moves into a higher tier heroics. When the dust settles, she accepts an invitation to join the All-New Avengers comprised of Jane Foster (Thor), Sam Wilson (Captain America), Vision, Hercules, and Miles Morales (Spider-Man).

If you wondering why the line up for everyone’s favorite super hero team seems so… inclusive, well, I attribute that to many things but mostly it was two men. The first being Brian Michael Bendis, one of Marvel’s chief editors/writers from 2001-2017, who reated Jessica Jones, Miles Morales, and Riri Williams (Iron-Heart) in an effort to present heroes that actually reflected Marvel’s diverse audience. The second was America’s first black president, Barack Obama. His mere presence in the White House altered our conception of what power looks like in this country, and its effects reverberated deeply within Marvel comics, but that’s another post that I’ll write later on. When you consider that every Avengers film to date crossed the billion dollar mark with ease and that the Avengers are arguably more well-known among mainstream audiences than the Justice League and X-Men, you can see how important it is for greater representation in the roster, since what happens in the comics inevitably finds its way to the big screen. I mention this because with Bendis’ departure from Marvel comics and the recent promotion of C.B. Cebulski, a white man with a history of using a Japanese pseudonym to conceal his race in order to sell his work, to Editor-in-Chief, things have changed. Jane Foster is dead and Sam Wilson was demoted back to Falcon in favor of his white mentor and former captain, Steve Rogers. In the greater Marvel world, Amadeus Cho and Riri Williams were both stripped of their respective titles– The Incredible Hulk and The Invincible Iron-Man, only to be replaced by their white predecessors. What?

Kamala

Amidst the shake-up, a new title began to blossom. Well, not entirely new. In its original run from 1975-78, The Champions was a hodgepodge team comprised of Ice-Man (of the X-Men), Hercules, Ghost Rider, Black Widow, Angel (of the X-Men), and Darkstar. Its short run of 17 issues saw twelve different writers and several artists. The run had vague intentions of being an ‘every-man’ sort of team, though that never really materialized. Fast forward to 2016, a year marked by mass outrage over police killings of unarmed and innocent black men and women, an ever increasingly economic inequality, and the election of Donald Trump. The times called for a new class of heroes. Out on a mission with the Avengers, Kamala Khan, grows discontent with the smash and apprehend model of her team. In a courageously brave move, she resigns and forms her own team, The Champions.

Summing up their mission she states:

“We see it all around us more and more every day — people with power punching down. Taking lives when they don’t have to. Meeting unarmed perps, even unarmed kids, with lethal firepower. That’s the world we’re inheriting, where violence does all the talking. But we can be better than that. We have to start enforcing justice without unjust force. What happened here today was sickening. And stuff as bad — worse — happens every day in this world. The strong abuse the weak — who have to worry more all the time about who they can trust and who they can’t. You want that to change? Us, too. We’re in a war for a better tomorrow. Join us. Help us to not take the easy road, and I promise we’ll fight every fight they can throw at us. Help us win the hard way — the right way — not with hate, not with retribution, but with wisdom and hope. Help us become champions.” 

Wasting no time, the newly formed team consisting of Amadeus Cho (Brawn), young Scott Summers (Cyclops), Sam Alexander (Nova), Viv Vision, Miles Morales (Spider-Man) ventures to Maryland to thwart a human trafficking ring and free the young girls held captive. Shortly after, they head to Lasibad, Africa to assist the women fighting a group of militant fundamentalists seeking to enforce a gender apartheid.

While these missions usually result in a show of physical strength, the struggle is largely one of internal growth. They pass through many of the teenage rights, with parental disputes and the search for identity. One of my favorite moments happens when Scott, a mutant, tells Kamala, an Inhuman, that despite the prejudice between their two races, he feels no hate toward her and she smiles, saying she feels the same. It’s a small moment with immense weight. We feel their internal conflict, and with no elders around they must decide for themselves who they are and what they believe. I also love the development of Viv as both an android and a teenager. There are several heavy handed metaphors like when she tries avoid processing trauma from previous missions by disabling part of her emotional core, only to have it overflow and send her into a state of mental paralysis in the middle of a fight. These stories don’t shy away from the heavy. More than anything else though, The Champions aren’t seeking to enforce their will, no, they are working to build a better world and that often means collaboration.

As time goes on, the team is assisted on missions by Gwen-Pool, Lunella Lafayette (Moon Girl), Devil Dinosaur, Rayshaun Lukas (Patriot), Joaquin Torres (Falcon II), Red Locust, and Nadia van Dyne (Wasp), and grants permanent appointments to Riri Williams (Ironheart) and Amka Aliyak (Snowguard). I could go into great detail about how the team is led by a woman of color or how they fight nationalism and xenophobia. I could talk about how some members are indigenous and others are undocumented. I could talk about how the team is predominately people of color and female, or how its story-lines are actually relevant to our current age and not another recycling of the line-up that made Marvel famous forty years ago. But! I don’t want to spoil too much.

Now on Issue #23 with a new writing/inking team at the helm, the story lines are as strong as ever. Recently, we saw the debut of Riri’s new armor and Amadeus’ new form, Brawn, and the team has accepted a call for assistance from a small village in Tanzania. As it stands, with the cancellation of Roxanne Gay’s World of Wakanda and Gabby Rivera’s America, both of which centered on Queer heroines, The Champions is Marvel’s last bastion of progressive titles. So, it needs your support!

What are you waiting for?

Rose City Comic Con

Another Portland comic con has come and passed. This year marked my third year  attending and first time cosplaying. My partner Shay and I made a list (well, it was mostly her planning) of ‘Con-musts’ including the panels, presentations, the Animebashi party, the Dragon Ball North American Tour exhibit, and a meet-up. Tragically, we missed the Michael Rocker, David Tennant, and Karl Urban talks, didn’t get an autograph from Val Kilmer, and forgot about the anime bash til it was too late.

I couldn’t help it though!

The culmination of several days of planning and crafting coming together to form the dope cosplay I’d envisioned, and the sublime joy of a walking into a mass of hundreds of costumed nerds was such a trip. Have you ever had the pleasure of bringing a character you love to life? Halloween can’t even compare.

Dazed and over-stimulated, our grip on the schedule quickly slipped. We spent the first hour meandering through the exhibition hall and artist alley. It took crazy amounts of self-control to keep myself from buying the hand carved Spike Spiegel clock, the One Piece throw blanket, or an external battery charger shaped like a Pokeball.

The one panel we made it to focused on POC (Person of Color) representation in film and media. I love seeing these discussions pop up more and more. The white folks in the audience took the panels jabs laughing with hearty nods. Everyone was a good sport. Do I really need to start watching Riverdale, though? It seems that way.

I cosplayed as Trafalgar Law, Captain of the Heart Pirates in the One Piece manga and anime. I can’t believe it’s been eleven years ago I cosplayed as Luffy. During Blerdcon over the summer, I saw a few Luffy cosplays and a Law that blew me away. Folks are so creative with how they put their costumes together. It got me thinking about whether or not I’d cosplay One Piece again, and here we are two months later and I’ve got a Law cosplay under my belt– I intend to make his sword for Emerald City Comic Con in March– and I’m planning on doing Zoro post-time skip.

Shay put together a Beerus cosplay that took the con by storm! They weren’t ready. The ears were hand made, she bought the pants and sash from a Chinese retailer, she got a purple wig, and used the gold bracelets she already owns. Everybody wanted a picture. Little did I know throughout our watching of Dragon Ball Super that she was such a fan of the God of Destruction, himself.

IMG_2893