Sex Criminals: Best Graphic Story Hugo

Suzie discovers her time stopping orgasm powers


Matt Fraction is a writer who’s made his reputation doing clever work for hire series for Marvel, most recently Hawkeye, not to mention his own Casanova for Image. Sex Criminals, co-created with Chip Zdarsky on the artwork, is his latest hit series, having been optioned for television already. It has had significant online buzz and of course was nominated for the Best Graphic Story Hugo. Like Rat Queens it’s a series I was thinking of buying myself, so pleased to be able to sample it this way.

Sex ed the US high school way

And I don’t really like it. Not raunchy enough, not weird enough, basically just another clever twist on the superhero story. Not bad, just a bit meh. It’s not as funny as the hype led me to believe (though the sequence the above panels are extracted from are hilarious) nor nearly as edgy. For some reason though Sex Criminals got a reputation as being a feminist comic, arguably because it’s so rare to see female sexuality be treated so positive and non-exploitative as it is here. Which is a sad goddamn state of affairs.

Suzie and jon meet cute

The story is simple. Suzie discovers she freezes time when she orgasms, thinks she’s the only one until she meets Jon at a party, they have sex and both are shocked to discover they’re not alone. They both tell each other their origins, or how they discovered their particular gift, then they team up to save Suzie’s library, in the process discovering they’re not alone and in fact there’s a police force patrolling their orgasmic pocket universe…

Sex police

Like Ms. Marvel this is basically an one issue origin story spread out over five, with a few neat storytelling tricks to liven things up. It’s well done, a neat idea but in the end I still think it’s meh more than awesome.

Loveable like the clatter of iron tracks

Admittedly, it sounds like Girls und Panzer should be awful. A bunch of typically stereotyped anime high school girls are bullied by their overpowerful student committee into taken up tankery, the refined and genteel sport that makes proper women and wives out of young girls, with the main character being reluctant to enter the sport again because of a mysterious accident in her past at her previous school. Done wrong it could be an endless series of fanservice panty shots, crappy slapstick and a trite plot to justify it all.

Luckily it’s better than that. Yes, the idea is silly, but the series takes it seriously, which makes all the differences. The tanks are recognisable like their real world counterpart, each with their own strengths and weaknesses and the tactics used are relatively sensible. Of course, since this is at heart a sports anime, the battles shown are more like those in World of Tanks than real warfare, something fans of the former have taken to heart. Especially because every now and again there are awesome moments of grognard nerdiness like this:

But without a good story, all this tank nerdery would be pointless. And what Girls und Panzer has is the classic sports underdog story, where the plucky newcomer with no pedigree, no experience, underestimated by the competition has to win for reasons. It’s a formula, but a well done formula: you know they’re going to win, but you don’t known how and there’s genuine tension as the odds are stacked against them. They don’t always win; there are losses too and there is a learning curve.

The characterisation, at first broad, is deepened too over the course of the series, which packs a lot in just twelve episodes (and two recap specials as the production got into trouble). Two things make it stand out from many other, similar looking anime series. The first is that all significant characters are women (only three men appear in minor parts) who work together to overcome adversary, with no sniping, no back biting, none of the silly little rivalries you see in other series. The second is that there are no villains, nobody cheating or gratitiously nasty: even the people dismissive or somewhat insulted by the newbies entering their sacred sport are won over. That’s what makes this special. That and showing how you can use a Type 89 to kill a Maus.

Kiki’s Delivery Service

Feeling under the weather enough today that I had to stay home from work and what better way to recuperate than with tomato soup and a Hayao Miyazaki movie? I hadn’t seen Kiki’s Delivery Service yet though it was released in 1989 and I’d had it in my collection for donkey ages. It seemed the perfect movie to curl up on the couch with a cat for.

Kiki flying into town

Kiki is a thirteen year old girl who wants to fly in her mother’s footsteps and become an independent witch; thirteen is the traditional age for a witch to do so. So she packs her bag, takes her cat and sets out on her mother’s old broom to fly to a new team and be a witch in training for a year, during which she’ll have to discover her speciality. She ends up in the port city of Koriko, which is somewhat inspired by Stockholm but apart from that is an undetermined Europeanesque city in an unnamed country in an unspecified but slightly old fashioned looking time period. I love that aspect of Miyazaki’s work, of how here and in Howl’s Moving Castle he creates a world that’s certainly not modern, but can’t quite be pinned down to one period either.

Kiki looking apprehensive

What’s also great are all the subtle character touches: the way her cat behaves and his body language, the way Kiki herself is apprehensive going to the outside toilet in the place she’s staying in for her first night in the big town. She’d been taken in by the proprietor of a bakery at the outskirts of town, who is very friendly, but her husband is the strong and silent type and when Kiki nearly runs in to him when she’s going to the toilet and he’s starting work, it’s clear she’s uncomfortable and wants to avoid him, in a way you would be staying with a strange family for the first time.

Kiki and Ursula on their way through town

But what struck me the most watching this was how many strong and strong in different way women there were in it. It’s not just Kiki: there’s Osono the baker, who gives Kiki room and board and inspires her to start her flying delivery service. There’s Ursula, the painter, seen above, who Kiki meets on her first, not very succesful assignment and who is crucial to help her overcome her crisis of confidence in the last third of the movie. There are others, like the witch she first meets on her way to town and who gives her advice on how to spent her year in training, or the elderly customer and her servant whom Kiki helps and who help her in turn. This is a movie that passes the Bechdel test with flying colours and is full of women who help each other, rather than being rivals for a male protagonist’s affection. Not to mention men who are supportive of them, not wanting to put them down, like Osono’s husband and Kiki’s friend Tombo, who she has to safe (and does) in a genuinely tense climax.

Osono and husband with new baby

It’s something that shouldn’t be special, should not be so noticable but it does seem sometimes like we backslid quite a lot from the eighties, in that we may be lucky to have two women in a given movie, let alone half a dozen not defined by their relationship to a man.

Giving Fredric Jameson the side eye

Quick, which famous cyberpunk novel is recapped here:

On one of those, this is a heist or caper story, in which a group of characters has been assembled to steal a valuable property (in the event a computer hard drive) from the advanced computer of a powerful transgalactic corporation, whose headquarters is based on a satellite in space. In fact, this ostensible corporate theft turns out to be an elaborate screen for something quite different, namely the junction of the two gigantic computers of these rival corporations, and their unification into the most powerful force in the universe (a story not without its family likeness to Ray Kurzwell’s influential fantasy of the post-human “spike,” and in fact already filmed in the 1970 Colossus: The Forbin Project).”

Fredric Jameson thinks it’s Neuromancer. His essay was linked to on Mefi last night and the extract annoyed and intrigued me in equal measure:

“I merely want to remind us that cyberspace is a literary invention and does not really exist, however much time we spend on the computer every day. There is no such space radically different from the empirical, material room we are sitting in, nor do we leave our bodies behind when we enter it, something one rather tends to associate with drugs or the rapture. But it is a literary construction we tend to believe in; and, like the concept of immaterial labor, there are certainly historical reasons for its appearance at the dawn of postmodernity which greatly transcend the technological fact of computer development or the invention of the Internet.”

It’s a conclusion that you could argue is (trivially) true but misses the point of cyberspace and it would be interesting to follow Jameson’s reasoning, but if he’s wrong about something as fundamental to the argument as the plot of the novel he’s basing his critique on and something so trivially checkable, how can I trust the rest of his argument, that he’s honest or careful with the rest of his sources?

Hitsugi no Chaika

Chaika opening credits

Hitsugi no ChaikaCoffin Princess Chaika is a 2014 anime series based on a light novel series, light novels being short, usually illustrated novels aimed at a youngish public in Japan. Many of those are on the formulaic side, shall we say, but they make good fodder for anime series and a lot of contemporary television anime in Japan is now driven by light novel adaptions. Light novels do have something of a reputation as making lousy animes, not helped by the glut of harem fantasy adaptations, where some bland bloke is trust into some sort of magical situation as the saviour of the world, involving lots and lots of young girls throwing themselves at him for unclear reasons. The unsatiable desire for new series leads to a lot of twelve episode animes with little to distinguish themselves.

Akari, Chaika and Toru

Hitsugi no Chaika could at first glance be mistaken for one of those. You got the nominal protagonist Chaika as the innocent abroad just this side of being sickly sweet, the male focus character Toru and his “sister”, Akari, prone to violent outbursts and accusations of lechery against him. All three are fairly stereotypical characters, found in every other anime series, caught up in what seems like an equally stereotypical love triangle.

Chaika acts shocked

What saves it is the humour, which is a cut above the usual “hilarious” slapstick or offensive sexist japery, but is actually based in the characters and themselves. It helps that they’re all likeable people as well, including the antagonists. Chaika is a bit too cute at times, naive, innocent, but also stubborn and determined to fulfil her mission. Akari is hotheaded but not obnoxiously so and is toned down somewhat after her introduction; both she and Toru are competent, professional warriors in a world where war has ended five years ago with the defeat of emperor Arthur Gaz.

Chaikas pursuers

Chaika is Gaz’s daughter, lugging a coffin around the former emperor to get his remains back from the eight heroes that defeated him, to give him a proper burial. She runs into and hires Toru and Akari after the former saves her from an unicorn, set upon her by a group of agents from the current regime, wanting to stop her, fearing what she might do with the remains. These are not your usual villains, but decent people with some doubt on whether they’re in the right from time to time, especially as the cracks in the new world order start to show. I like the design of the various characters as well, especially this chap, who looks like a Jack Kirby design.

background characters

Speaking of character design, what I also found interesting was while all the main characters look pretty much in the style of modern fantasy anime, the background characters look more like they’d wandered in from a lesser studio Ghibli movie. Much less colourful, much more realistic body types. Nowhere near the quality of a Ghibli production of course, but the feel is the same.

Akari attacking

All in all Hitsugi no Chaika is an entertaining anime series much better than it needed to be. Watch it.

Friday Funnies: Lighten Up

panel from Ronald Wimberlys Lighten Up

“Lighten Up” is a comic Ronald Wimberly created about his feelings when an editor asked him to lighten the skin tone of a character in a Wolverine comic. As told, it’s one of those incidents you could call micro aggressions, one of those moments where the (unconsciously) racist assumptions underpinning (American) society come to the fore. If you’re not subject to them they can be easily overlooked or dismissed, but as seen here, they do resonate.

What got me thinking is when Wimberly aks whether a black editor would’ve asked him to change that skin colour only to note that he’s never had a black editor in twelve years working in comics. Because Marvel has had black editors in the past; Christopher Priest and Dwayne McDuffie frex. But they’re still rare to non-existent enough at the big comics companies for somebody to be able to work for over a decade without ever encountering one. And that’s a worry, because without people of colour, black people in positions of power within comics, the concerns of their readers and creators of colour will always come second.

Apart from its message, I just like the comic itself. It can be hard not to make a non-fiction comic into a succession of talking heads and static shots with most information carried through the text but Wimberly succeeded admirably. If you just had the text to read you’d miss so much; the continuous juxtaposition with html colour codes frex, or his use of Manet’s Olympia, or that “pin the tail on the racist” panel, a great example of text and drawing contradicting each other.

Resident Evil redux

Alice versus patient zero

Unlike myself, Mr Moth has played and is a fan of the original Resident Evil games the movies are based on. Therefore he’s considerably more hacked off at them than I was, though I can certainly agree with much of his criticism:

3) Paul WS Anderson really believes the Umbrella Corporation is staggeringly incompetent.

Umbrella manage to wipe out nearly every human in existence but to what end? They’re a business and the undead are not a target market. By the fifth film it’s clear that the Red Queen is intent on destroying humanity. The problem is that humanity is well on its way to total extinction by the time of, well, Extinction. Las Vegas is a ruin, buried by the Nevada desert in just five years. There’s no coming back from that, but still Umbrella hold board meetings and employ receptionists (exactly how were they recruiting their staff? “Are you a zombie?” “No.” “Welcome to Umbrella.”). Their long-term plan made no sense, and it’s worth noting that in the games, humanity is in much better nick.

But that’s ok, because they were never going to benefit from it, anyway. Every single one of their developments got away from them in one way or another. The Red Queen goes rogue and kills everyone. The Nemesis turns goodie. The super-secret exit to their bioweapons lab is besieged by thousands of zombies, kept at bay by the thinnest of chainlink fences. The airtight lab they store their highly infectious weaponised virus in has aircon vents that link directly to the offices. If their underwater base loses power, all their soldiers go to sleep during the power cut. They leave hundreds of clones lying around of their most powerful enemy.

The Resident Evil movies really only make sense as spectacles, especially after the first one, which I still think was a rather good suspense horror movie even if there were plot holes there you could drive a zombie horde through. The overall story arc doesn’t make much sense and Umbrella has to be the most incompetent, pointlessly evil corporation in the world.

And yet, having watched all five movies over the last two months, these are still entertaining movies that have the redeeming feature of starring strong, female characters who aren’t undermined by their male costars, hold their own without becoming the usual bad girl cliche. It can be so much worse, as a look at the Underworld series, that other naughties action horror with female lead franchise, shows.

“a covert kind of feminist SF”

In ada, “a journal of gender, new media & technology”, Lucy Baker looks at how Lois McMaster Bujold treats the birthing process in her Vorkosigan series and how it echoes real world feminist concerns:

Lois McMaster Bujold’s science fiction (SF) relies on the symbiotic relationship between the technological and the social. This is often illustrated by the tension between the scientific and medicalized process of reproduction (via uterine replicators, cloning, and genetic modification) and the primal, ‘natural’ process. Varied levels of technological advancement and associated societal changes across the myriad planets within her SF universe allow Bujold to structure this tension as an emotional and social process as much as a medical or obstetrical one, while maintaining a respect for the choices, risks, and vulnerabilities involved in becoming pregnant.


Bujold’s SF work highlights and integrates women’s experiences into the narrative. It is this examination and ultimately hopeful yet practical approach that makes Bujold’s work feminist – it is “Invention…stories and role models and possibilities, that prepare us to leap barriers and scale heights no one has reached before, that prepare us to change the world.” (Gomoll 6).

I only found this because it showed up in my referers one day, linking to my post arguing that Bujold writes hard science fiction. It’s further proof that despite her and the Vorkosigan series massive popularity, she’s still underestimated as a serious and important science fiction author. Partially it must be because the series is published by Baen Books, often somewhat unfairly dismissed as a publisher of cookie cutter mil-sf and other pulp and at first glance it’s easy to confuse the Vorkosigan books as something like the Honor Harrington series: lightweight entertainment.

That her gender also plays a part I’ll take as a given, though I note that hasn’t stopped her from winning an impressive number of Hugo and Nebula awards.

But what may also play a role is perhaps that Bujold is actually not obvious enough with her writing; as Baker argues, she writes “a covert kind of feminist SF”, nowhere near as overtly political as a Joanna Russ or even a Nicola Griffith. That the setting is the familiar sort of semi-feudal, aristocratic stellar empire helps hide this too, as the revolution the uterine replicator brings to Barrayar on the surface looks just like modernisation, not anything really revolutionary. In the same way the uterine replicator itself doesn’t look like hard science fiction because Bujold focuses too little attention to the technological side of things, but rather more on the social impact of it as filtrered through the point of view of her aristocratic protagonists.

(You could even make an argument that the overall story of the Vorkosigan series is showing the start of a bourgeois revolution, as progressive members of the old aristocracy make common cause with the up and coming rich merchants to remake the feudal system in their favour…)

And of course perhaps the most important reason why Bujold is underestimated is that she’s so very readable; you rarely have to struggle with reading her novels and we still tend to think difficulty equals genius.

Resident Evil: Retribution

Fake Alice closing the door on some zombies

Resident Evil: Retribution is the latest and so far last movie in the Resident Evil franchise. It starts with about ten minutes of recap of the previous movies, after which “Alice” wakes up as a housewife with a husband and a daughter. Cue a few minutes of syrup before the zombies attack. All of which turns out to be a danger room scenario, which the series is inordinately fond off.

Alice unchained

Real Alice meanwhile has been captured and is interrogated by evil Jill Valentine, which eats up a couple more minutes, before a power shutdown, which interestingly also shutdowns Valentine, allows her to escape. Despite the deadline she takes the time to pose here. To be honest, it is a nice shot of Alice in her badass uniform, against that white, sterile Umbrella corps background. Note the change in hair colour and length here.

Alice versus the Japanese zombies

The first real Alice set piece sees her re-enacting the zombie infection of Tokyo, which we know from the last movie but which is news to her. The last zombie facing off against Alice is in fact patient zero. This shot shows off everything I like about her: calm, cool, in control.

Big Wesker is watching you

Enter Wesker, the scumbag villain from the previous movie, the one who made everything worse and is now reassuring Alice that really, honestly, he’s on the side of angels and it’s the Red Queen AI who’s been behind the Umbrella Corp’s actions. Turns out she wants to wipe out the human race, which considering their track record in the previous movies, means she must be carrying out Umbrella’s true wishes.

Leon to the rescue

Wesker has sent a team of professionals to the rescue, including floppy haired Leon, who’s a much more important character in the video games. Here he’s just another bloke with a gun.

Soviet zombies shooting up capitalist Moscow

As the series has progressed, the bullshit has increased, from zombies to super zombies and here we have zombies intelligent enough to use weaponry and jeeps, something not seen in previous movies, so why now? Because it looks cool, probably, and normal zombies aren’t much of a threat anymore.

Good and evil square off

Meanwhile, despite dying in the first movie, that bloke in the middle is Alice’s boyfriend brought back to life by the Red Queen, as are the other non-mooks there. Alice meanwhile has gotten fake Alice’s daughter. The woman in the impractical dress is Ada Wong, yet another mysterious bad ass from the games brought into what’s essentially a drawn out cameo here.

Good and evil square off again

The climax comes with an extended battle on the ice, as brainwashed Jill Valentine goes mano a mano (wait, that’s not quite right) with Alice, while Rain on the right (also killed in movie 1) goes after the rest of the team, now reduced to Ada, Leon and that rapper dude from the previous one. The one true strength of the Resident Evil movies remains that it has so many kick ass women in it: Alice, Valentine, Ada, Claire Renfield, Rain.

Alice meets Wesker again

The movie ends with Alice meeting up with Wesker again, who now is the most powerful man in the world, holed up in the White House, defended by Umbrella and US army troops, the last surviving humans in the world, the logical end result of all of Umbrella’s scheming through the previous movies. Getting stuck in the White House, not the most defensible position in the world, being a prime example.

Asking SF readers to try something new is asking for trouble

K. Tempest Bradford has a modest proposal for (science fiction) readers ot broaden our reading horizons:

The “Reading Only X Writers For A Year” a challenge is one every person who loves to read (and who loves to write) should take. You could, like Lilit Marcus, read only books by women or, like Sunili Govinnage, read only books by people of color. Or you could choose a different axis to focus on: books by trans men and women, books by people from outside the U.S. or in translation, books by people with disabilities.

Science fiction readers responded to this with the openmindedness and willingness to explore new things for which they’re kno-oh gods who am I kidding:

Recently I wrote a thing which brought all the trolls to the yard. I’m used to it, but I wondered what it would look like if I just started saving the hateful tweets people send me in one place. Hateful being attacks on me personally, name calling, threats, etc.

The repeated chorus of how racist or sexist it is to not read white male authors is followed by racist, sexist slurs is …precious. Horrifying but unsurprising to see the slurs, but do these people actualy understand “racist” and “sexist” have an actual meaning?

Sady Puppy wrangler Larry Correia contributed his own very special brand of stupid (from File 770):

But the ironic thing about that picture? Tempest is wearing a Dr. Who shirt. A TV show about a white man and his white female sidekick, created by some white men, with episodes written by… Neil Gaiman.

Never mind that the good Doctor has also had a black British sidekick, or regularly has had adventures with a lesbian lizard woman from the dawn of time and her companion, the idea that reading only writers of colour or only women for a year meaning that you swear off all white men is just so incredibly dumb that you hope Larry doesn’t believe it himself, but you fear he does.

Professional kulturkampfers like Correira of course have to oppose anything that smacks of enlightment, but is it really too much to ask from grownups to stop being so incredibly defensive and be open to new reading experiences?