All posts by ArtsyOwl

She/Her who enjoys fantasy, writing, DC Comics and more

June in Review: LGBTQ+ Books

With June coming to a close, I thought I would go over books that I have read this month.  If you have read my post at the beginning of the month, which you can find here: https://the-little-library.org/2022/06/06/recommended-reads-for-pride-month/ you’ll know that I recommended some LGBTQ+ centered books.  In it, I mentioned how every so often I will pick a theme for what I will read in a particular month.  This gives me an opportunity to try new books and possibly find new books that I might just enjoy.  This June, I decided to do a Pride Month theme.  I had a few books lined up already that either involved LGBTQ+ characters or themes or was written by someone in the LGBTQ+ community, it lined up perfectly.

I read thirteen books and graphic novels this month that had LGBTQ+ themes and characters.  These are the ones I would recommend. And while I will try to avoid spoilers as much as possible, I will include a little Minor Spoilers warning just in case.

From Bad to Cursed by Lana Harper

I had started this book towards the end of May and at the beginning of June.  I also included this book on my recommendation list since it was part of a series and I had already read the first book.  It only seemed fair to include it there because of that.  But now that I have finished it, I am going to do a separate mini review and recommendation.  As well as discuss a theory I had and whether or not it was true.

To start off, I really enjoyed this story.  I enjoyed Isidora and the story that this novel had.  I also enjoyed the enemies to lovers take that this story took.  It took it’s time and didn’t feel like it rushed into a romance between Rowan and Isidora.  It also approached the rivaling families and learning more about the other through the two leads well. 

If I had to critique anything about it, it would probably be a few uninteresting scenes and I guess I found the miscommunication around Isidora and Rowan when they first kissed and such a tad annoying.

Now in my recommendation, I theorized why From Bad to Cursed could have been included in the LGBT sub-tag/category of the Romance tag.  In it I stated how it was possibly Rowan could have been trans, thinking that that could have been what Isidora learned about Rowan.  He could have also been bi, which was a speculation I had after making the post and as I was reading the first quarter or so of the book.  With out spoiling really much, Rowan isn’t either.  So I will assume that people were tagging it with LGBT because other characters in the story are.

Either way, I did enjoy this book.  Between the two, I might like Payback’s a Witch a bit more, but I did like this book.

Miss Memory Lane by Colton Haynes

I was introduced to Colton Haynes through his portrayal of Roy Harper on CW’s Arrow.  Roy was one of my favorite characters from the show, if only a little underutilized/underdeveloped at times. Roy Harper is also one of my favorite DC characters, and I thought Colton did really well.

This autobiography caught my eye after a coworker and friend of mine did an ARC review for it.  Based on the synopsis on the inside cover, I thought it would be an interesting and deep self reflection.  It was and then some.  I knew some of the topics discussed might not have been easy to talk about, however, this book held no punches.  And that, is something I found fascinating and honest.  It was well written and Colton didn’t hold any punches.

It does touch some sensitive topic, so if you do plan on reading this, which I would recommend,  I do want to give readers that forewarning.  It’s a really good memoir and is worth a read.

Dana Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake

Working at a library has its perks.  Every now and then you may find a book returned or circulating that catches your eye.  That’s kind of the case with this book.  While that cover and title certainly grabbed my curiosity, it was the description on the back cover that sparked my interest.  Similar to From Bad to Cursed this appears to be part of a planned trilogy.  But unlike From Bad to Cursed this is the first book.

Dana Green Doesn’t Care is a fun read if your looking for a not so traditional spin on the wedding planning goes wild trope.  The second book Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail is set to release in November 2022 and book three Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date has an expected publication of some time next year.

I did enjoy this book for the most part. I enjoyed the chemistry between Claire and Delilah as well as how their relationship progressed and it was a fun spin on the wedding rom com. I also like how the reason for them wanting to split Astrid and her fiancé up wasn’t exactly malicious and them not liking him ultimately having some backing as they would later find out. How they went about it could have been different, but it wasn’t like they were out to get Astrid because of Delilah’s rocky relationship with her or feeling like marriage was going to take her away from her friends.

My only critique comes in the form of how it feels a bit Hallmark-like or cliché with the whole Astrid and Delilah making a bet about the latter getting with Claire. Maybe it was just me, but especially during the climax and resolution, it did feel a little formulaic/familiar. Not that I didn’t think Claire and Delilah shouldn’t get together, because they did have great chemistry. It just felt a little odd to me.

A Quick and Easy Guide to Asexuality by Molly Muldoon and Will Hernandez

As the title suggests, this is a quick and easy guide to asexuality. I found myself reading a few nonfiction books this month and this was a fun and quick read. It’s a graphic novel and I found it to be informative in a simple and knowledgeable way. It was the shortest book I read for Pride Month, clocking in at 72 pages, and is a part of a five book series. The other books in this series include A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns, A Quick and Easy Guide to Consent, A Quick and Easy Guide to Sex and Disability, and A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities.

A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities by Mady G and J.R. Zuckerberg

Speaking of other books in the series, I did read two other books in the series. The third, I will get into in a moment, but I thought I would discuss this one first. Much like A Quick and Easy Guide to Asexuality I found this to be a fun and informed read. It does set it up in a way that is simple and easy to understand.

A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson

I’ll most likely read the other two books in the series, however, I wasn’t sure if I would get A Quick and Easy Guide to Sex and Disability in time since I had to have it shipped from another library than the two I work at, and it could take a while, and A Quick and Easy Guide to Consent will depend on whether or not it gets to me in time.

Heartstopper by Alice Oseman

Having seen this series get a lot of traction at the library, I was curious and decided to check it out. This is a Young Adult/Teen graphic novel series that currently has four volumes out with a fifth on the way and a few tie ins including a Detroit Becomes Human styled what if and a mini comic. As well as a coloring book.

I’m caught up, and I have to say that I am really enjoying it. Nick and Charlie feel relatable, with each having struggles that readers can relate to. The art is nice and is a coming of age that isn’t afraid to shy away from serious topics that teens may find themselves relating to.

This series got a Netflix adaptation back in April of this year. I really enjoyed it for it being a sweet and realistic coming of age that deals with everyday drama of high-school while being LGBTQ+.

Batman Urban Legends

Batman Urban Legends is a series that has been on my reading list since I heard about what this issue confirmed. I’ll admit my motivation to read DC has been at a bit of a lull. With DC Rebirth, the overarching DC run that picked up after the New 52, ending and me feeling a bit burnt out from Nightwing’s Joker War tie-in and not knowing what to pick up next, I took a break from DC Comics. This is also around the time I started picking up the X-Men comics.

As I mentioned, Batman Urban Legends has been on my reading list for a while, however, it wasn’t until recently that I got motivated to jump into it. That and Sandman are currently on my list of DC reads, with the latter being recommended to me by a friend and so that I can prepare for the Netflix adaptation coming out in August. I do own Batman Urban Legends and after reading it, I thought it was enjoyable. The issue with Tim coming out as bi being the reason I wanted to check it out.

I currently only have the first volume, which cover stories centering around Red Hood and Grifter separately. So while this volume might not have had the issues I was looking for, I would still recommend it and I will be getting volume two as soon as possible. That is where Tim comes out as bisexual and asks his friend (now boyfriend) Bernard out on a date. Overall, I would say that I am enjoying this series so far and would recommend it.

Conclusion

With some fiction and nonfiction, I hope I was able to help you find a book worth reading. If not, I hope you enjoyed this recommendation.

I’ll leave you with a few questions. Did you do any reading? If so, what? What are LGBTQ+ books you’ve read and would recommend?

Nightcrawler: Where it Started, Why I Like Him, and Comics I Own and Have Read

It might go without saying, but Nightcrawler is my favorite Marvel character.  In my experience, I will find that one character that I really get invested in and want to read up on.  When it comes to DC, that comes in the form of Tim Drake (Red Robin/Robin III), Roy Harper (Speedy/Arsenal), Joey Wilson (Jericho), and Ra’s al Ghul.  Of course, I enjoy other characters from both Marvel and DC (ex. Wolverine, Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, Red Hood (Jason Todd), and Starfire), but there will usually be one or two characters that I will always return to.

I thought I would go over where my interest for Nightcrawler began, why I like him, and X-Men comics that I own, alongside Nightcrawler centered stories.

A Little Bit of Background on My Relationship with Marvel and DC

Before I jump right in, I feel like I should preface this stating how I was mostly a DC viewer growing up.  A number of my favorite shows as a kid included Static Shock, Teen Titans, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and Batman Beyond.  I did watch Marvel shows like Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and snippets of X-Men Evolution, enjoyed the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, as well as liking the first 2000’s Fantastic Four.  I would certainly say I was more of a DC fan as a kids. 

That kind of continued when I finally got into comics during the rise of DC’s Rebirth comic line after spending years as a slightly more avid manga reader.  I started reading up on characters I liked and branched out and found new characters and series to enjoy.  Recently, I feel like I’ve hit a wall with what to read next with DC.  With Rebirth ending and not really knowing what to jump into next, I was at a bit of a stalemate.  During this time is when I got interested in checking out Marvel content.  More specifically Nightcrawler/X-Men.  I cannot pinpoint exactly when or why it started, but it was in the last few months.

Currently, I’ve read through a good chunk of the original X-Men run, read through the 2003 run of Wolverine, a few smaller X-Men runs like X-Men Gold, X-Men Red, and All New X-Men, and am planning to jump into Sandman (DC/Gaiman) and getting into the X-Men run starting with House of X.  

The Beginning: Where it Began

With that little bit of history out of the way, allow me to get into Nightcrawler.  I guess it would have started with X-Men Evolution.  I didn’t watch it much when I was younger, but when I did catch it, I found myself liking Kurt.  It probably had to do with how laid back he was and him being the more comedic of the gang (that probably contributed to why I liked TMNT 2003’s Michelangelo too).  One episode of X-Men Evolution I remember watching was Middleverse, the season one episode where Kurt accidently ends up in another dimension of sorts and meets Forge.  It wasn’t the only X-Men media I had watched over the years, as I also remember seeing Wolverine 2013, First Class, and was overall aware of the X-Men movies.  Though, I will admit that I never got around to all of it back then.  

Jump to the latter half of 2021.  I was trying to find more graphic novels to read, but I was at a bit of a stalemate.   I fell into a bit of a DC slump.  Rebirth was ending and The Joker War event, mainly what they did with the Nightwing portion, I think burnt me out a little.  Nothing seemed to be grasping my interest except for Batman Urban Legends, which is where Tim Drake came out as bisexual.  Side note: I actually purchased a hard copy of Batman Urban Legends not too long ago. 

It would be around this time that I would start getting into Nightcrawler.  And it involved a crossover in a DC community I am apart of.  It’s there that this interest in Kurt returned.  It would respawned an interest in Nightcrawler and be what lead to my getting into X-Men as a whole.

Then came the movies, which I am getting around to binging.  I think the only reason I hadn’t was because of how the timeline diverged after First Class and/or Days of Future Past, and for whatever reason that confused me at first.  That and the poor reception of The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and Dark Phoenix.  In hindsight, the timeline of the movies isn’t all that complicated, and I’m still going to watch all of movies, weaker ones included.  The movies also had some stellar casting choices.  Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy as Charles Xavier/Professor X, Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto, and Hugh Jackman were all iconic.  A good chunk of the cast was also good.  For instance, people really seem to enjoy Evan Peters’ Peter (Pietro) Maximoff, myself included. 

And of course, there’s Kurt Wagner.  Portrayed by Alan Cummings in X2 and Kodi Smit-McPhee in Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix, I would say both did well with the character.  I kind of like Kodi Smit-McPhee’s a little better, but Alan Cummings did good too.  I only wish either appearance confirmed Nightcrawler’s relation with Mystique, his mother.  Heck, they could have confirmed both of Nightcrawler’s parents in Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix since Azazel, his father, appeared in First Class (and later confirmed dead) and Mystique was present since First Class.

That’s were it all began.  An interest in Nightcrawler’s X-Men Evolution would go dormant until a crossover event reignited by interest in the character.  And his portrayals in the movies have caught my interest.  

The Character: Why I Like Him

Why do I like Nightcrawler?  There’s a lot to like about him, I think.  In terms of design, he looks pretty cool.  His abilities are neat and his weaknesses make sense.  For me, it comes down to personality, backstory, and what he represents.

In terms of personality, he’s light-hearted and optimistic.  He can display moments of anger, sorrow, and fear, but he is usually seen as pretty positive, all things considered.  And with Logan being his best friend, it’s the perfect balance to his more stern and pessimistic world view.  He’s flirty, but not in a problematic or annoying kind of way.  In some ways, he could be seen as a hopeful outlook for the future, while also not being blind to the problems in the world.  

His backstory.  There is a lot that went wrong in his life, despite what his more positive outlook might suggest.  His mother abandoned him as a baby.  The circus that he was raised in drugged and used him.  Said circus was also going to sell him to be a road side attraction if not for Margali Szardos, his adopted mother, freeing him.  And because of a promise he made, Kurt had to kill his adopted brother when he lost his mind and killed a bunch of people, not that the mob knew.

I think his past is something that helps show how despite how terrible things can be, people can still come out of it on top.  It might not be easy, but it is possible.  Life didn’t give Nightcrawler much peace prior to joining the X-Men.  Margali and her biological children certainly love him like family, but the circus they were apart of wanted to exploit him.  And the reason Charles found him being pursued was because the mob chasing him thought he killed Stefan Szardos and the missing people, when in actuality, Stefan killed the missing people and Kurt only killed Stefan out of self-defense and a promise he made to Stefan, where if Stefan went off the deep end, Kurt would stop him.  Yet, he never became cruel later in life, rather, he was a better person than those who wronged him.

I also kind of like how he got the last name Wagner.  At least originally.  I’m not sure if Marvel ever retconned the whole thing where Mystique was married to Baron Christian Wagner and had an affair with Azazel, which later lead to Kurt’s conception, and that being where Kurt got his last name despite not being the baron’s biological son.  Originally, Kurt took on the last name Wagner because of a priest to housed him after Margali released him and he was being pursued.  Father Wagner gave Kurt a place to stay, despite Kurt’s “demonic” appearance.  This is also where Kurt’s teleporting would come into effect as he would use it when Herr Getmann’s men came for him.  He did end up leaving the church, but Kurt didn’t forget the priest’s kindness, taking on the last name Wagner in his honor.  

As for what Kurt represents, I feel he fits into a few different categories.  I’ve mentioned how he represents good people rising up from bad situations, which is one thing he can represent.  Something else he represents is how people shouldn’t judge things based on how they appear.  The old Never Judge a Book by It’s Cover saying if you will.  He might look evil/demonic, but is one of the most kind hearted and saintly people out there.  That’s something that also makes his friendship with Logan great and so symbolic.  Both of them are considered monsters in some way, externally (Kurt) or internally (Logan).  Yet, both are also human.  Logan has gone onto say how Kurt is one of the most saintly guys he’s met, and Kurt, despite knowing how gruesome his job can be, sees the good in Logan and knows that he’s not an animal or evil.

One other thing I feel Kurt represents, and this could just be me, is irony.  He’s a “demon” yet he’s Catholic.  He’s morally good, while his parents would be considered morally bad (though Mystique could be morally grey given she isn’t purely evil and has helped her children).  Both of which I feel perfectly define what irony is.  

Reading Between the Lines: Comics I’ve Read and Comics I Own

I own a handful of X-Men comics.  Some solo series, some with the team.  Nightcrawler has a few solo series: Age of X-Men: The Amazing Nightcrawler, X-Men Icons: Nightcrawler, a four issue mini series, and two twelve solo series in 2003 and 2014.  Of his solo pieces, I own the 2003 and 2014.  I haven’t started them yet, but I have skimmed through both. 

As far as X-Men comics with Nightcrawler as a central character, I’ve read and own several.  Of course there is the X-Men run in the 70’s, starting with Giant Sized X-Men #1 by Chris Claremont.  That run, which does go on for several years, is recommended by quite a few people who want to start X-Men comics.  It’s a classic and a good place for a start.  I don’t own any of the Claremont run, but I do have a list of issues that I’d like to purchase one day.  A few other series I’ve read through in their entirety include X-Men Gold, Extraordinary X-Men.  I’ve read some of Wolverine’s 2003 run, some of Wolverine’s first solo, Second Coming, the story where Nightcrawler dies, and one volume of Chuck Austen’s Uncanny X-Men.  Specifically the Trial of Juggernaut volume since it had the notoriously bad story, The Draco, which I only read after I learned about Kurt’s father through the First Class movie and his appearance in Amazing X-Men volume one (the one where Nightcrawler is brought back to life).

I like Azazel, and don’t mind him as Kurt’s father.  It’s a bit of an unpopular opinion, but that’s okay.  I was going to read The Draco either way because I wanted to see how bad it was.  But since I liked Azazel in his other appearances, The Draco didn’t tarnish it much, outside of thinking that the story could have been a whole lot better.

A few other comics I own, but have yet to start, include House of M, Inferno, Giant-Sized X-Men volume #1 (2020), Way of X, X-Men (2020) volume one, Amazing X-Men volume 1 The Quest for Nightcrawler, The Hellfire Gala, Wolverine (2020) volumes 1-3, The Death of Wolverine, The Return of Wolverine, Wolverine: Weapon X the Gallery Edition, and Wolverine the Deluxe Edition.  I might be missing one or two, but those are the ones I know I own.  Nightcrawler also appears in a number of them.

I would certainly say that my collection is very Nightcrawler and Wolverine involved.  Yes, the broader X-Men comics do have the rest of the X-Men, but if there was a pattern, that would be it.  Which is by no means a problem.  Everyone reads comics a bit differently.  I will certainly read a series if it interests me, but I also like reading comics with my favorite characters.  It’s a reader by reader basis.

While I would recommend all of these, if you are looking for Nightcrawler reads, I would recommend: Claremont’s run starting with Giant-Sized X-Men #1, Nightcrawler (2003), Wolverine by Greg Rucka #6, for both a great story with Logan and Kurt and a gem of a censor passing cover, Second Coming, Amazing X-Men, Nightcrawler (2014), House of M, X-Men Gold, X-Men (2020), Giant-Sized X-Men (2020), Return of Wolverine, Way of X, and Inferno.  There are more out there, I am still working my way through X-Men comics. 

And as for movies, I’d recommend X2, X-Men Apocalypse, and X-Men Dark Phoenix.  I know the last one is considered more of a miss, just like the Dark Phoenix adaptation before it (The Last Stand), but thought I would include it.

BAMF: The Conclusion

Though not X-Men’s most popular member, Nightcrawler is one that is generally liked.  For me, a combination of his personality, backstory, adaptations, and what he symbolically represents is what I enjoy.  I also really enjoy his friendship with Logan.  I hope you enjoyed this little deep dive into why I like Kurt Wagner.  

Now I leave you with the following.  What are your thoughts on Nightcrawler?  What are your favorite adaptations of Nightcrawler?  Favorite stories?  Who’s your favorite X-Men member?


Recommended Reads for Pride Month

With how big my yearly reading goals on Goodreads, I will occasionally do particular theme or topic for an entire month.  For instance, in March, most of the books I might read may involve Ireland in some way, since St. Patrick’s Day is on the seventeenth.  Or for May, a number of the books I read could involve mental health for Mental Health Awareness Month or I’ll read Star Wars novels because May is essentially Star Wars Month.  Not all books in a month will fit into a theme, nor will I do a theme every month of the year.  It’s just a way for me to find new books that I will enjoy and/or learn from.

This year, for the month of June, I have decided to read books with LGBTQ+ related in honor of Pride Month.  I’ve read a few books over the years with LGBTQ+ characters over the years, whether they be main or side characters, and I have a few I plan for this month, which I may do a recommendation blog at the end of the month.  Today, however, I thought I would discuss some books that I have read in case you are looking for something to read this month.

Apologies now if it seems like my recommendations mostly involve lesbian/bi women.  It was purely unintentional since I picked these up because they either sounded interesting or were part of a series I was reading (and enjoying).  My current reads and what I plan to read this month will be a bit more diversified.  

The Avatar Kyoshi Duology by F.C. Yee

Avatar the Last Airbender is one of my favorite animated series.  I’m not the only one to say that, I am sure, but it is a good series.  The themes, animation, story, and characters are all things that made it such a beloved show.  Characters like Zuko, Iroh, Toph, Azula, Aang, and Katara are just some of the characters that people have grown to love.  It got a sequel in the Legend of Korra and several comic tie ins.  The Rise of Kyoshi and The Shadow of Kyoshi are two books that are also included and focuses on one of the most popular Avatars, Kyoshi. 

Kyoshi became a pretty popular Avatar most likely for her stark contrast to Aang, the titular Avatar.  Aang was traditionally shown as being nonviolent and diplomatic (as much as any twelve year old in his potion can be) with a moral compass that could make certain decisions, like killing Ozai, difficult.  Kyoshi, meanwhile, had a moral compass and some level of diplomacy, but was willing to do what needed to be done.  With Chin the Conqueror, for example, she didn’t care if he died the day she separated Kyoshi island from the mainland.  It wasn’t really her intent, but she wasn’t opposed to it either since it got rid of a corrupt ruler.  

The Kyoshi duology by F.C. Yee goes over Kyoshi’s early years and finding out what it means to be the Avatar.  When her friend gets confused to be the next Avatar after the unexpected and sudden death of Kuruk, the revelation that it was actually Kyoshi is a secret and unexpected one.  During the books she will go through a series of trials and tribulations while trying to escape the people chasing her.  She even joins a gang that her airbending mother used to be affiliated with, who would be the beginning for Ba Sing Se’s, Dai Li.  This is also explains why Kyoshi used the two fans.  

As she makes allies and enemies, one person who stays by her, Rengi, a firebender who’s mother gets caught up in the conflict and eventual love interest for Kyoshi.  Meanwhile, her friend, who had gotten confused for her, becomes more of a threat than Kyoshi would have hoped for.

The Rise of Kyoshi and The Shadow of Kyoshi are books I would recommend if you like fantasy, are a fan of Avatar the Last Airbender, and/or are looking for a good YA book.  They build on an Avatar who viewers knew a bit about through her appearances.  And while a tough protagonist, these books humanize Kyoshi and let her have moments of reflection and emotion.  There is also a forward by Avatar co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino.

F.C. Yee did a great job bringing Kyoshi to life and has a novel on Yangchen, the Airbending Avatar before Aang, coming out in July of 2022.

Poison Ivy: Thorns by Kody Keplinger

I’ve read a few of these YA what if styled graphic novels.  The one I really enjoyed include Lost Carnival, a Dick Grayson story taking place during his circus days, Shadow of the Batgirl, a Cassandra Cain (Batgirl/Shadow Bat/Orphan) story, Oracle Code, a Barbara Gordon story taking place after she was paralyzed by the Joker, and this one. 

There are some good ones out there, like Shadow of the Batgirl, and some bad, like Gotham High.

I would say that Poison Ivy Thorns is one of the better of these YA what if comics, if not average depending on who you ask.  And similar to the other YA graphic novels in this line, this does take place with the cast being teenagers.  Which isn’t a problem per say, merely a common theme with these graphic novels regardless of it’s about an established character like Ivy or a new character like Tai Pham from the Green Lantern: Legacy story.  Regardless, Poison Ivy: Thorns is an interesting retelling of Pamela Isley’s story with a eerie mystery that hits close to home for our protagonist.

Pamela is a social outcast at school, who enjoys working with plants in the school’s greenhouse and is an avid environmentalist.  Her mother has been sick for as long as Pamela can remember, but for those who don’t know, it would seem as though her mother is out of the picture.  When she’s not at school, dealing with the day to day life of a teen, she’s at home with her father who performs a series of tests and experiments on Pamela.  She has a hard time trusting people, men especially, so she usually keeps to herself.

After an incident at the park, she meets Alice Oh, who she starts to open up to.  And as the two grow closer platonically and eventually romantically, the truth about Pamela’s mother starts coming to light.  And while Pamela is hesitant for change, she realizing how problematic her father’s treatment of her and the situation with her mother.  As Pamela’s life seems to be changing around her, there is more to Pamela than she may have even realized. 

 If you like Poison Ivy, you might like this.  I know I did as someone who enjoys Ivy from time to time.  The art is really neat to.  It has a neat almost sketchy line-art and though the color palate may appear simple, it really suits the style they were going for.  The art also kind of reminds me of something Tim Burton-esque with maybe a pinch of anime and/or art from Greek mythos.

The Witches of Thistle Grove Series by Lana Harper

The second book of this trilogy, From Bad to Cursed, came out on the 17th of May of this year.  Meanwhile, the third book, Back in a Spell, is expected to be released in January of 2023.  I’m currently making my way through it now (I own both books) and thought now would be as good of a time as any to recommend the series.  That way, if any of you wanted to give it a try, you could get started before the third book is released.

So far, each book will focus on a different witch from Thistle Grove.  In Payback is a Witch, our lead, Emmy Harlow returns to Thistle Grove after several years of self-exile.  While her magic isn’t as strong as it used to be due to her time away, Emmy finds herself pulled into a competition against her ex, Gareth.  Teaming up with her friend Linden and the dark magic expert Talia, both of who were involved with Gareth around the dame time and want some good old fashion revenge, the trio works together to come out on top.  Along the way, Emmy finds herself drawn to Talia, and not just in a magical sort of way.  The two end up spending time together and developing feelings for each other.

While both Emmy and Talia could be considered bisexual, since they dated Gareth before getting together, I’ve noticed a number of reviewers on Goodreads have this tagged under the Lesbian sub-tag in the LGBT shelf/tag.  Of course, I’m not trying to imply that the characters aren’t lesbians, who maybe dated a guy before realizing they preferred women, just that they could be interpreted as bisexual to some people.  Personally, I interpret them as lesbians, and I am assuming that was Lana Harper’s intent.

Payback is a Witch is a spellcasting romance that is charming and enjoyable.  The only critique I would have is how some of the dialogue comes off.  The deliver of some the more sassy/cursing phrases seemed a little weird.  Not always, because in some instances I enjoyed it, but other times, it felt a little weird.  Either way, it doesn’t hinder the overall enjoyment I had with the book.  Also note, this is an adult romance.  And while not happening every chapter, there are at least three “spicier” scenes in it.

I just started on From Bad to Cursed recently, so my thoughts on it aren’t set in stone yet.  That said, I think I will enjoy this installment.  When it starts off with such a fun opener about how you have to think outside of the box sometimes when summoning demons, I think that says something about what to expect.

From Bad to Cursed will focus on Isidora Avramov, a thrill chasing demon summoner.  She dreams of one day leaving Thistle Grove to pursue an indie fashion designing career.  However, when trouble brews the Beltane festival, resulting in the injuring of one of the Thorn family members, the Avarmov’s rival family.

Fun Fact: The Beltane Festival is a Gaelic/Celtic celebration 

Because the Avramov family and Thorn family are rivals, suspicions fall on Isidora’s family.  To save her family’s name, Isidora works alongside Rowan Thorn to get to the bottom of it.  Along the way, Isidora will realize just how little she knows about Rowan, and a relationship will start to grow more with each day.  

That’s how this book can be summarized.  Or at least my summarization of the synopsis provided.  Since I am only starting the book, I can’t exactly say what their relationship will be like.  And from what I’ve seen on Goodreads, there are a few people who have tagged the book with the LGBT sub-tag.  And given how Emmy and Talia from the first book were apart of the LGBTQ+, I’m assuming that Isidora and Rowan’s relationship will fall under the LGBTQ+ as well.  And since I’m just starting and don’t know what Isidora will learn about him, what Rowan’s sexuality is has yet to be seen.  While I can’t confirm, I am speculating that Rowan might be a trans man.  I can’t confirm yet, but given how this series does have LGBTQ+ mains in the first and third book, I don’t think it’s a stretch to make that speculation.  Whatever is revealed, this is looking to be as fun of a book as Payback is a Witch, and I have a feeling I will enjoy it.

Readers may have to wait until 2023 for the third and final book, Back in a Spell, but I think it’ll be worth it.  What do know about it, outside of it’s title is that the lead will be a woman named Nineve “Nina” Blackmoore, who was left at the alter by her fiancée.  Once back on the dating market, she meets with Morty Gutierrez, a nonbinary individual who owns a business called The Shamrock Cauldron.  They get off to an awkward start that turns rocky when Morty (He/Him according to the synopsis), but finds out Nina’s last name.  Nina’s family, it turns out, is trying to acquire Morty’s company.  Then one day, Morty starts exhibiting magical powers alongside Nina, and it’s up to Nina to figure out what’s going on, how to help herself and Morty as well as navigating their growing romance. 

The Pearl Sister by Lucinda Riley

One series I have found myself enjoying is Lucinda Riley’s Seven Sister series.  It is about six sisters adopted from all over the world.  Each one is named after one star in the Seven Sisters constellation, hence the series’ name.  When Pa Salt dies, he leaves each daughter with a letter, a name, and a set of coordinates to where he found them.  As well as the eventual location of the seventh sister that they never found.  The reason for this was to give each sister a chance to find out where they came from, if they were interested.  The Pearl Sister is the fourth book and focuses on CeCe (Celaeno).

In it, CeCe has left Star (Asterope), who was searching into her own heritage, in order to find out more about her own.  Her investigation brings her to Australia, where she finds out more about Kitty McBride, the person Pa Salt had left for her to learn about.  Part of the story, which is a common style with this  series, does focus on Kitty’s story from Kitty’s perspective.  As CeCe learns more about Kitty and her Aboriginal roots, she finds her creativity returning and meets new people.  This includes Chrissie, an Australian who helps her in her journey.  Though officially confirmed in a later book, CeCe and Chrissie do end up together.  CeCe was curious about her sexuality with Chrissie being who she thinks she might have feelings for.

With that in mind, she would be questioning at first and a lesbian when she does end up with Chrissie.  It’s been a while since I read The Pearl Sister, so I don’t recall CeCe having relationships with anyone other than Chrissie, so I can’t say she is bisexual.

The Pearl Sister might not be one of my favorites in the series (my favorites being The Seven Sisters and Moon Sister), but it is a good read in my opinion. You don’t have to read the entire story to understand this book, since each story focuses on one sister and the only times the others are referenced are sparsely used and you don’t need to read every book to know that Pa Salt died.  However, reading the rest won’t hurt either, and if you are interested, I would say go for it. 

The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage

Let me just start of that the LGBTQ+ context is more so implied.  This book was written in 1967 by a gay man, who I believe was closeted at the time.  Fun Fact: Thomas Savage may have had a relationship with Tomie dePaola, a children’s author who wrote books like Strega Nora and The Art Lesson.  The Power of the Dog is listed as a western, which isn’t my usual genre, but after seeing the Netflix adaptation, I checked it out and really enjoyed it.  

Going into this book, the only disclaimer I feel is necessary is that Phil Burbank is a bit of a sexist and racist towards Native Americans.  As well as terms used that may be considered problematic today.  This book does take place in the 1920’s, so while I won’t say there isn’t problematic elements, it’s a timepiece where that kind of thing was normalized more.  Phili is also the character that is implied as being gay given how he talks about his friend Bronco Henry and how he grows to like Peter Gordon, his sixteen year old step-nephew.  People like to speculate if Peter Gordon was gay and/or ace, and that he might have had autism, but it’s never fully stated.  

 

I would consider this a western where details and their implications/nuances are well written and interesting.  That might be why I enjoy it when compared to other westerns.  The movie has a similar air, but with more ambiance/quiet moments.  It’s also a book on how people are not always what they seem.  This is especially true with Phil and Peter.

The story itself is pretty straight forward.  After the death (suicide) of Rose Gordon’s husband, she remarries George Burbank, one of two brothers who owns a ranch.  She and her son, Peter, are tormented by Phil, George’s brother.  The torment is mostly directed to Rose, but Peter does make snide remarks towards Peter.  Peter Gordon is a quiet, sickly young man who’s dream is to become a doctor one day.

After returning to the ranch for the summer, Peter is living in the guest bedroom.  And after several less then stellar run ins with Phil, something seems to change.  Phil offers to teach Peter how to ride a horse and show him how 

to tie a rope, the one Phil is working on Phil plans to finish before Peter goes back to school.  

Initially this could be seen as Phil trying to isolate Rose, much like she had with Phil when she married George.  However, that seems to be less of the case as readers get closer to the end.  Readers also find out that Peter will do whatever it takes to keep his mother safe, especially with how his father died.  Even if he doesn’t seem physically imposing.

Though the LGBTQ+ context is more subtextual in nature, it is something that can be inferred upon.  Of course, since this was written in the 60’s, Thomas Savage probably couldn’t have been as forward with that message as much as he might have liked.   With that in mind, the author was a gay man.  So even if it doesn’t have a straightforward gay character, it was written by a gay author.

As someone who doesn’t like westerns, I would recommend this book and it’s Netflix movie adaptation.

Conclusion

These are a few books I would recommend if you are looking for LGBTQ+ centered reads.  I should have a few more at the end of the month when I do a blog on LGBTQ+ books I’ve read this June.  Books that I might have forgotten had LGBTQ+ aspects didn’t make it onto the list since… well I couldn’t remember which books those were.  I also didn’t include the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs.  While it does have a one or two gay background/minor characters, I honestly prefer the other series in that universe, Alpha and Omega, from a story perspective.  

Regardless, I hope I was able to help find a book for you to check out.  And if you have any suggestions for me and/or would like to mention an LGBTQ+ book that you enjoyed, feel free to include it in the comments below. 


The Evolving History of Joey “Jericho” Wilson’s Sexuality

From straight to gay to bisexual, the history of DC’s Joey “Jericho” Wilson’s sexuality has gone through quite a few changes since his introduction in 1984.  IT’s not an uncommon thing to happen in comics.  Characters will keep important factors to their backstory and origin and change in other ways.  After all, Dick Grayson was not Robin forever, and not too long ago Tim Drake came out as bisexual.

Today, I thought I would go over the history of Jericho’s sexuality.  From straight with a secret rough draft to a brief conformation that he was gay to Rebirth deciding to change it to bisexuality.  This is an evolution of Joey “Jericho” Wilson. 

In the Beginning: Why Jericho was Straight

Though he was ultimately straight in his debut, the thought of Jericho being gay wasn’t a foreign concept to his creators. According to an interview with head artist and New Teen Titans co-creator George Pérez (rest in peace), the idea of having Jericho be gay was an idea that he and Marv Wolfman considered.  However, what ultimately made Wolfman and Pérez decide against this, was his attributes.  In New Teen Titans, Jericho’s character can be summed up as “artistic, sensitive, and wide eyed” with “feminine features”.  Or so Pérez had stated in the same interview.  Because of that, they ended up deciding against having him gay.  Their main concern was that he would have been a stereotype if they had. 

Though I think it would have been an interesting and pretty revolutionary concept for Jericho to be gay in his debut, I can understand why they didn’t.  I can see how it could have came off as a stereotype, even if they weren’t being malice.  Though I cannot speak for either, I doubt that thy would have been intentionally malicious about it had they gone with it.  I assume, had Wolfman and Pérez gone with the idea, they may have just wanted to make an artistic, sensitive, and empathetic character who just so happens to be gay.  However, I can understand why they didn’t and I agree that stereotypes can be a tricky business.  Because while some may argue that not all stereotypes are bad, the ones that are ‘bad’ have enough of a negative impact to want to avoid them as much as possible.

Jericho had one real relationship, which was with Kole.  While he and Raven certainly had a connection, it never crossed the line between platonic and romantic.  While readers don’t get to see too much in terms of romantic moments, it is clear that these two had a deep fondness for each other.  Some key moments include, Kole being one of the few people invited into his home and he was a source of comfort for her.  All and all, this 

One Off: Confirmed Gay, if Only for an Issue

The best way I can summarize 2015’s Convergence storyline is several tie in stories throughout the multiverse.  It wasn’t a long run, only lasting a few months.  The Teen Titans tie in had two issues set in the New Teen Titans era with the main team, Kole, and Jericho making up a majority of the heroic roster.

In the New Teen Titans based tie in, Kole can’t seem to figure out why Jericho won’t return his advances.  When Donna Troy suggests she talks to Jericho, Kole goes to see him.  I think there was a fight during this interaction as well that Kole and Jericho had to deal with, and once they finish it, Kole continues on her path to find answers.  With this interaction, she is a little more forward, kissing him.  But when he seems not to reciprocate, she asks why. 

It’s here that Kole learns why he never really returned her advances.  With just a few signs, Jericho tells her that he’s gay.  She isn’t upset by this revelation, accepting it along with him.

This is the only time it’s really discussed in the New 52.  With the Convergence mini-series coming out so close to New 52’s end and Rebirth’s beginning, it never really gets addressed.  Quite frankly, I don’t recall them ever really discussing it with Jericho in the main universe.

This scene from tie in feels like an homage/nod to what George Pérez and Marv Wolfman considered.  In fact, Marv Wolfman was even a writer on both issues.  I do wish they had the chance to explore it more, but they didn’t ultimately.  

I’m not sure what the overall consensus is on how they approached this, so if there was an issue on how they went about it, I couldn’t tell you.  I don’t think readers would have complained about Jericho being gay, so much as how the story handled it.  If there were any critiques in that regard, I could understand why.

It wouldn’t last long, but for a brief moment, we got a glimpse into a DC world where Jericho was gay.

Bye, Bye, Bye: Rebirth and Bisexuality

Is that an N’SYNC reference?  Yes, yes it is. 

When Rebirth came around in mid 2016, there were a lot of series that got revived and revamped.  Deathstroke’s Rebirth run was one of them, and is where Jericho consistently appears in.  In it, he starts of engaged to a woman named Étienne.  But after a series of events, she ends up dead.  Initially believing this to be by his father’s hand, especially considering the two had a relationship before she was set to marry Jericho, Jericho holds it against him until he learns that it was Rose, who was not in control of her actions at the time, who killed Étienne.

Jericho would have two other romantic interactions.  Prior to Étienne, he had a relationship with David “Dave” Isherwood.  Isherwood would be the man who helped Jericho figure out that Jericho would be his alias.  They would have a close bond, which Étienne would learn about not too long before her death (telling him that her sleeping with Slade made them even essentially).  Isherwood would also be the one to help get Jericho back to normal in the Year of the Villain storyline, which took place towards the end of Deathstroke’s Rebirth run.

The biggest issue with this relationship was, not only the age gap, but David Isherwood’s relationship to Slade.  Isherwood would be the one who worked on the Ikon suits, one of which Jericho would use after he thinks he kills Isherwood.  Because of how close he was to the Wilson family, that makes their brief romance morally questionable.  More so Isherwood since he should have known better as the elder in the relationship.  Because while Slade doesn’t care who Jericho dates (man, woman, etc.), there was a line crossed when Isherwood had that romance with Jericho.

The only other relationship Jericho had in Rebirth was with a gentleman named Terrance.  He was deaf, and was only in an issue or two from what I recall.  He cared for Jericho, but was getting annoyed that their lives weren’t settling down.  He wanted Jericho to stop worrying about his family (namely Slade and Rose) with what they put him through and focus more on them.   But with everything going on, Jericho couldn’t.  He did plan to propose to his partner, but ended up getting pulled into the climax of his part of the Year of the Villain storyline.  

Not wanting to lose him, Jericho essentially trapped his boyfriend in their apartment as he went to take care of what he needed to.  Rose would eventually find him, but he doesn’t know if their relationship was worth preserving.  This is the last time we see Jericho’s boyfriend and readers don’t get to see if they patched things up or broke things off.  

 

Rebirth Deathstroke was a hit or miss series.  And while I would consider it one of my favorites from the Rebirth line, at least as a guilty pleasure, I can agree that it was a flawed series.  I enjoyed the art, but only a handful of stories were enjoyable.  I would recommend giving it a read if anyone is interested, but I don’t think it’s a series everyone will enjoy.

As far as Jericho’s bisexuality, I thought it was interesting and a good way to approach the character.  I do think that it would have been interesting if they had expanded on him being gay a bit more, even if Convergence’s Jericho was from another universe.  However, when all is said and done, DC was the one who ultimately made the call.  That said, I think that there could/would have been more issue with making him straight again after revealing he was gay than there might have been by making him bisexual.  So while maybe not ideal for everyone, Jericho being bisexual is a step in the right direction.

The only thing I might change about how they approached it in Rebirth is with Isherwood.  Had Isherwood been a few years younger and had he not been as close as he was to the Wilson family, it wouldn’t wouldn’t come off as uncomfortable when readers really think about it.  How much Isherwood cared was what convinced him to help Jericho in the Year of the Villain storyline, in which he ultimately sacrificed himself to save Jericho.  However, as touching as it would have been in any other circumstance, factors surrounding their relationship ruin it.

It would have been nice if they had developed Jericho’s relationship with Terrance.  I think that would have been the relationship to develop out of all three he had.  Étienne played her role as a fiancée as well as an agent for Amanda Waller.  And while Isherwood cared for Jericho, it gets really messy when all of the factors in their relationship is looked at.  With his boyfriend, there could have been a chance for Jericho to have happiness.  I also think that it would have been a great way to represent individual characters and romantic partners who have physical handicaps like mutism, blindness, and deafness.  Jericho using sign language had been on the decline for a while, and with him being able to use telepathy, it becomes even more ignored.  So I think that, had this relationship had time to grow and develop, readers could have gotten a great way to reintroduce sign language to Jericho while also giving readers who share similar disabilities to have characters to relate to.

Where to Go From Here?  Closing Thoughts

To my knowledge, Jericho hasn’t made a return to DC Comics.  Having stopped reading towards the end of Rebirth and not jumping into Future State or Infinity Frontier, I cannot say when they plan to bring back the Wilson family if they haven’t already, or if plan to at all.  Assuming DC does bring back Deathstroke and his family, which given how popular the character has become, I would like to see a few things when it comes to Jericho.  To keep his personality short and to the point (I could do a whole blog discussing how they could improve that) I would say try something closer to his New Teen Titans personality with a good level of caution and maybe even a bit of distrust towards his father.  

When it comes to his sexuality, I would say either continue with his bisexuality from Rebirth or build on Convergence’s decision to make (a version of) him gay.  Whichever DC were to choose, I would also want it to be properly developed and healthy.  Maybe give him a partner who won’t be intimidated by his family and/or is willing to help him recover from what his parents, mainly Slade, though Adeline isn’t completely innocent in it either, caused him.  Love for each other, having development, and being healthy is what I think would make a relationship with Jericho good. 

 

Jericho is a character that DC doesn’t seem to know what to do with in certain situations.  His sexuality being one such situation.  Given how much has changed since his conception when it comes to sexuality and comics, I think that going with that draft of Jericho Marv Wolfman and George Pérez would be interesting to see developed.  Or, at the very least continuing with Rebirth’s bisexuality decision for the sake of consistency and/or a sort of “middle ground” if DC decided not to go with Jericho being gay.

Sources

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace: A Review

In honor of Kenobi’s release and May being dubbed Star Wars Month, I wanted to do a review of the movies. Starting off with the first chronologically, but fourth released, The Phantom Menace. While not the most popular of the Prequel Trilogy, heck, not even the most popular in the franchise, The Phantom Menace is one movie that can be looked back on with either fondness and/or a keen eye for constructive criticism.

Funnily enough, this is my second favorite of the Prequel Trilogy. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure these days, as I can see how it is a flawed movie, but there was enough for me to enjoy it a bit more than the next installment (more on that movie later). But considering I was only six when The Phantom Menace came out, I am a bit nostalgic for the Prequel Trilogy.

The Phantom Flaws

Starting off with the flaws feels like a perfect start. Because out of the three prequel movies, this one probably has the most. In my experience I was able to narrow it down to a few factors: the effects, some of the designs, dialogue, and the political aspects of it.

Starting off with the more visually glaring aspect, are the designs for some of the characters. Now, some viewers will mention how certain characters and races, mainly the Neimoidians, Watto, and Jar Jar and the Gungans.

Six year old me didn’t know that these characters were racial caricatures. Even less so with Watto or the Neimoidians. It wasn’t until years later, and the rise of the internet, that I found out that they were. Whether not it was intentional, I could not tell you. I’m not defending it either way, I just haven’t found anything outright confirming if Lucasfilm and George Lucas made an intentional choice with it at this time. If there was one positive to come from the backlash it’s that Watto only had a brief appearance in Attack of the Clones while the Toydarian species, the Niemoidians, and the Gungans weren’t as prevalent, save for a few episodes of The Clone Wars and having very little screen time in the following Prequel movies. Though in the case of the Gungans, Jar Jar’s lack of screen time could have also been due to him missing the mark as the comic relief in The Phantom Menace.

Politics have been a part of Star Wars in some fashion. Whether it be in the form of the Rebellion vs the Empire or the governing system of certain planets. That said, the political aspect of Star Wars, at least in the original trilogy, wasn’t a huge focal point. It existed, but the focus was more on the fight between good and evil, battles in space, and the mysticism of the Force.

One of the bigger criticisms of The Phantom Menace, and by extent the prequel trilogy, is the attentiveness to the political side. It does feel a bit boring at times admittedly. Because while the political side could help build and diversify the planets (ex. Tatooine having a more Hutt dominated practically lawless state, not Republic abiding system, Ewoks having a more tribe based system with a chief, and Lothal having an Empire supporting leaders) in theory, the execution comes off as dull and prolonged. While a story doesn’t need constant action to keep intrigue, and political aspects not being inherently bad, there is a fine line between engaging and boring. The Phantom Menace falls into the latter as a lot of the communication and debate comes off as dull. Much like the previously mentioned characters, the political aspect is a bit more sparse, allowing it to have moments where it’s important and the not as engaging side being discussed in a conversation or two.

Speaking of dialogue, it is hit or miss. I’m not blaming the actors, some of the delivery does fall flat. A few examples can include how Anakin calls Padme an angel or how he says he’s a person and his name is Anakin. I don’t mean to jab at Jake Lloyd, as he was only ten years old, but those are examples of awkward dialogue.

And it’s not just a few lines from Anakin that seem to feel awkward. Jar Jar, who was supposed to be the comic relief of the movie, doesn’t have a lot of dialogue or actions that made me laugh. Granted, he does have less humor based dialogue, but I don’t recall his humored lines sticking. Not even when I was younger. For example, the ‘yousa point well seen’ quote when Obi Wan mentions what’ll happen to them if Jar Jar doesn’t take them to the Gungan city. While it is meant to be funny, I don’t think I so much as chuckled at it.

This is probably the least bothersome flaw, mostly because of the year it was released. With CGI being in its infancy when The Phantom Menace came out, it was going to age in some way. Whether something aged good or bad depends.

In the case of The Phantom Menace, while the practical effects work really well with some of the special effects, it has shown its age. On the one hand, while the more alien characters look passible enough, considering how far CGI has come, they aren’t as refined as some (though given what some of the special editions did, quite a bit of the CGI there doesn’t blend well). Things like the Trade Federation ships might be another point of how the CGI were a bit lack luster. All in all, the CGI hasn’t aged all that well.

In conclusion, it’s easy to see why this is considered one of the worst Star Wars films. And despite it being a guilty pleasure of mine, I do see its flaws. How certain characters look is questionable to say the least and the CGI has shown its age. The politics, while having the potential to have an air of intrigue, felt prolonged and dull. And certain dialogue didn’t stick the landing. With my flaws and critiques laid out, allow me to get into what I think this movie did well.

The Positive Menace

If there are a few things I can give The Phantom Menace credit for, it’s for casting, music, Darth Maul, and action. All of these are areas that, for the most part were well done. And these are reasons I enjoy it. One a little more than the rest.

When it comes to casting, there was a lot of good choices in this movie. Liam Neeson as Qui Gon, Natalie Portman as Padmé, Kiera Knightly as Padme’s decoy Sabé, and Samuel L Jackson, though maybe not his best, would become a staple in the series. We also have the return of Frank Oz as R2D2 and Yoda, Anthony Daniels as C3PO, and Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine/Sidious.

And while characters like young Anakin, the Gungans, and Jar Jar may be considered weak, I can appreciate that the actors did the best they could with the dialogue they were given. Basically, separating the dialogue and writing of the weaker characters, I would say that the actors themselves were fine.

That said, Ewan McGregor was (and is) one of the best casting choices out of the returning actors. The Prequel Trilogy is as much Anakin’s story as it is Obi Wan’s, and as such, we get to see how both of these characters grow. Ewan is one of the overarching positives that the Prequel Trilogy has. SO much so that Ewan will be returning to reprise the role in the Disney+ Obi Wan Kenobi mini series.

If there is one character that The Phantom Menace is praised for, it’s Darth Maul. For an antagonist who had very few scenes and only three lines of dialogue, he became one of the prequel trilogy’s popular characters. He looked cool, sounded cool, and had a double bladed lightsaber. As well as his fight with Qui Gon and Obi Wan being one of the best scenes in the movie.

People wanted more of him, his short screen time being a possible critique. As a result, he did get several books and comics as well as being brought back from the dead in the 2008 Clone Wars animated series. And when Disney acquired Star Wars, he got a few more comics and appearances in Rebels and Solo in their canon (with the books and comics released prior to the acquisition being labeled as Legends). For a character who only had minutes of screen time, he would become one of the most refined and developed characters from the Prequel Era.

The action in the movie is one of, if not it’s best, feature. It doesn’t have a lot, but that’s okay. It didn’t feel overly congested with action.

But that’s not to say that a little more action wouldn’t have made it better. Had it toned down the political aspect and added a little more action, there could have been a bit more of a balance. What we got though, was well choreographed and paced well.

And of course where there’s Star Wars, there is John Williams. As always, his score is something wonderfully crafted.

Each setting and scene had just the right tone and it all fit into the story. Going back to the Maul fight and the climax, Duel of the Fates was this movies Imperial March. While Imperial March is the most iconic piece from Star Wars, barring maybe the title theme and Binary Sunset, Duel of the Fates is no less iconic. So much so that it makes a subtle return in one particular seen in Rebels’ season 2 finale and in some ways could be seen as Maul’s theme. Just like Imperial March is with Darth Vader.

So despite the faults of The Phantom Menace, there are some good aspects in the movie. Aspects that could have needed more time or worked out well with the spectacles provided. One other positive this movie has, that I feel I should mention, is the pod racing scene. It was a spectacle in its own right and spawned an N64 racing game.

Conclusion

I would probably give this movie a five out of ten. It may be my guilty pleasure and what created my favorite Sith (Maul), but it does have a lot of flaws thanks to age and certain decisions made. Nostalgia can only go so far after all. However, I do think it’s enjoyable in its own right. If not as a good movie, than as a guilty pleasure or an it’s so bad it’s good kind of way.

What are your thoughts on The Phantom Menace? Did you enjoy it or would you consider it a bottom tier Star Wars film? Guilty pleasure and/or meme creator, perhaps? What are things you think this movie did right? And what do you think it could have done better?

When Genres Compel Me: Five Books I Enjoyed From Genres I Don’t Normally Read

Has you ever read a book in a genre you don’t normally read that you found yourself enjoying? With so many genres out there, no one is going to like all of them. And sometimes, the genres we do enjoy may shift over the years.

Personally, I tend to enjoy fantasy, historical fiction, and general fiction with the occasional science fiction and nonfiction read. Fantasy has been a staple for me, having read and watched it since childhood. Historical fiction is a genre that I read when I find an interesting synopsis, though I typically will avoid World War 2 since I was never really a fan of the older WWII movies as a kid. Fiction, in my opinion, is a simple one that can’t go too wrong.

Genres I typically don’t read because they never really catch my eye include, westerns, romance, mystery/thriller, the aforementioned World War 2 historical fiction, and horror. All of these are good genres I’m sure, just not my cup of tea. And if you enjoy them, that’s great. Just because I don’t enjoy it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

With that said, I’d be remiss if I said I haven’t found at least one book in a genre I don’t particularly fancy. In fact, I have found a few books from genres I don’t normally read that I actually enjoyed.

The Power of the Dog

By Thomas Savage

Western

This is probably one of the most recent examples of a book that I found interest in from a genre I don’t normally read. Westerns have never really been my thing. I think I can pinpoint that to me not really liking John Wayne movies as a kid. I can understand why people like westerns (and John Wayne movies), but I do believe that my disinterest in John Wayne movies, at least in part, resulted in a disinterest in westerns as a whole.

However, a few months ago, while browsing social media, a person I follow was kind of discussing the Netflix adaptation of Thomas Savage’s The Power of the Dog. In it, she was inquiring about a particular scene, specifically a scene towards the end of the movie, and how much one of the characters might have known about the situation. It got me curious and I am thankful that she didn’t spoil it for me in the comments.

So I checked it out. The movie first and then the book. And let me just say, I really enjoyed it. It’s not a typical western, a.k.a. what you might picture when you hear western. Rather, a western that explored things like appearances not always being as they seem, the cruelty of one man, and the implications of being a closeted gay man in the 1920’s.

It’s a book that I can enjoy as I really appreciated how the author broke down the characters and how you shouldn’t judge people based on what you see. I would recommend giving it a read and/or a watch, though I know it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

The Star and the Shamrock Series

By Jean Grainger

World War 2

Here’s my World War 2 series. Much like westerns, I think I was never really a big fan of them because of John Wayne movies, and war movies in general not being my favorite in general. The history of wars is important, no doubt about it. However, when it comes to historical fiction, books centering around war don’t typically catch my interest.

The reason I picked this one up was because it sounded interesting and I have a bit of a soft spot for books involving Ireland, Irish culture, Irish history, and so on. When Liesl and Erich Bannon, the children of a Jewish German woman, are sent to live with family via one of the last Kindertransport, they must learn to get used to their new lives. Elizabeth, their aunt, does whatever she can to keep them safe. Though it’s not as peaceful as they would have hoped. Meanwhile, their mother stays behind trying to do what she can to survive.

As the series progresses, we get to see how the family grows. How they may one be reunited with their mother. As well as what Liesl and Eric’s lives are like years after the war ends.

The series is a bit of a quick read with there only being four books and roughly two hundred to two hundred and sixty or so pages per book. While it might not be as action packed as some World War 2 centered books, this is a series that is a nice read.

Sherlock Holmes

By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Mystery

Mysteries, fiction, and romance seem to be the big three when it comes to sections. Especially at libraries, which I can confirm given I work at two. While fantasy and science fiction may be lumped together (not always, but I’ve seen it). If I had to rank fiction, mystery and romance in which I would be most likely to read, it would probably be fiction than mystery than romance. I can say that I’ve tried more mysteries than I have romances, but even so, it’s not a genre that I actively enjoy. Finding the right mystery is part of the problem. The overabundance of James Patterson releases is another.

Sherlock Holmes seems to be the one I am drawn to the most. After checking out the third season of BBC’s Sherlock (yes, I watched it out of order, but it couldn’t be helped), I got hooked. So I ended up checking out the all in one book as well as some of the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes DVDs (which I would recommend) and enjoyed every bit of it. I also plan to add the complete collection to my leather bound classics collection because I’d rather have the whole series together instead of the individual volumes (Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, His Last Bow, and The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes).

I may not read a lot of mysteries but this is one I would go back and read. Sherlock Holmes is a classic and I would recommend it.

Atlas of the Heart

Brené Brown

Self-Help

Nonfiction is a genre that I’ll occasionally read. Typically about animals, biographies/autobiographies, psychology and mental health, entertainment, and writing. Self-Help books aren’t normally on my radar for no other reason than none appealing to me. Along came Brené Brown’s book “Atlas of the Heart” and after reading the synopsis, I was curious.

It’s a book that I personally enjoyed. It’s set up in a way that didn’t seem condescending or overly positive and provides insight from the author. I enjoyed how it breaks down several emotions and seeing the author’s perspective on them. I ended up purchasing the book after finding it in a shop while at the airport since it was a book that I wanted to ad to my collection.

It’s a book that I personally enjoyed. It’s set up in a way that didn’t seem condescending or overly positive and provides insight from the author. I enjoyed how it breaks down several emotions and seeing the author’s perspective on them. I ended up purchasing the book after finding it in a shop while at the airport since it was a book that I wanted to ad to my collection.

Dracula

By Bram Stoker

Horror

This might be cheating a little since I haven’t started Dracula yet, but it is on my To Read list and I own the leather bound edition. However, I wouldn’t say horror is a genre I really read. Not because I don’t enjoy horror, but because I’d rather watch horror instead of reading horror.

I will admit I was that kid who hated horror as a kid because I never liked “scary” movies. Chucky freaked me out and I don’t recall liking Jurassic Park or Jaws for how gruesome they were. Though looking back, they aren’t that gruesome on a technical level, but kid me perceived it as such.

Since then, I’ve grown to enjoy horror and will watch the occasional horror flick as they play on tv or through streaming services. Especially around Halloween. So the enjoyment of horror isn’t lost on me.

But watching it is different than reading it. And I feel the essence of horror is different between reading it and watching it. Watching it gives viewers a spectacle. The ambiance and tone gives off a chilling and unexpected experience. Reading it, I feel, lends itself to chilling and more detailed descriptions and scares. However, that difference could be how I am perceiving it at the moment.

As for why Dracula, I guess it just sounds appealing. It’s a classic and one that I feel like I would really enjoy reading. And since I enjoy the occasional gothic classic (Hunchback of Notre Dame and Phantom of the Opera), Dracula feels similar in style.

Conclusion

While these five genres are not genres I usually read, they are genres I have found at least one book that I enjoy. Are there any books that interest you from genres that you don’t usually read? Are there any you would recommend?

Could Maul Have PTSD: A Star Wars Speculation

Of all the things to come out of The Phantom Menace, Darth Maul and Duel of the Fates are two icons that came out of the first prequel movie. Qui Gon and Mace Windu were other interesting characters and Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan would go down in history as an example of the perfect casting choices. Yes, there is Jar Jar and yes, it may not have aged the best, but The Phantom Menace is actually one of my favorite Star Wars movies, and honestly, it wasn’t all bad.

Yet, despite having the aforementioned positives, and being one of my favorites, it is a flawed movie. Special effects were still a work in process, the political side of it would feel odd, and midichlorians added what some might consider an unnecessary explanation of the Force, just to name a few critiques.

However, I am not here to dissect The Phantom Menace. No, today, I would like to dissect the character that only had a few minutes of screen time and ending up becoming one of the most developed characters to come out of the Prequel Movies.

Darth Maul

Darth Maul. The red Dathomirian Zabrak with the black tattoos and double bladed red lightsaber. He was Darth Sidious’ first apprentice given to Sidious as a baby (Legends) or as a child (Canon) and raised to be a Sith. He would fight Qui Gon Jinn and Obi Wan, killing the former and being “slain” by the latter. However, through pure hatred it was revealed that he survived, returning in the fourth season of Clone Wars, which just so happened to come out several months before Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney. Maul would stay alive through the rest of Clone Wars and into Rebels where he died. Scattered throughout, several Canon comics were released, where as his previous novels were considered Legend when Disney bought Star Wars.

Maul is certainly a well liked character. While maybe not as popular as Darth Vader or even Sidious, he left enough of an impression to make a return. And with his revival in Clone Wars, Dave Filoni was able to expand on the character. Not only by giving him a new lease on life with his motivation to kill Obi Wan and Sidious, but a family as well. Along with Asajj Ventress, viewers would get to learn more about the Dathomirian Zabrak. Asajj was revealed to be a Nightsister, the female Dathomirians, while Mother Talzin and Savage Opress was Maul’s mother and brother respectively.

With the development he got, how he was raised, and how Clone Wars ended, I feel like there is a discussion to be had about Maul’s psychology. Namely, that he could have some form of PTSD. And while that is by no means an excuse for the actions that he’s taken, it could help explain certain reactions and how his upbringing damaged him mentally.

What is PTSD?

PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be defined as “a mental condition where someone experienced something traumatic”. Reactions can be triggered when remembering what happened, which can result in things like nightmares, depression, and feeling numb to name a few symptoms. It was at one point called shell shock, combat fatigue, and battle fatigue. When it comes to people with PTSD, the most recognized group are military personnel. With everything that happens during war, it isn’t surprising that they could/would come home with trauma. With that in mind, PTSD isn’t exclusive to war. Surviving a car accident could be another reason someone has it, or violence of any kind on a person could trigger it. These are just a few examples.

Common Symptoms/Reactions

There are a few common reactions and traits when someone has PTSD. Whether it be another mental condition, a physical reaction, sleep patterns, or something else, there are a few traits that someone with PTSD might experience. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Heightened Anxiety/Panic
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Isolation
  • Easily Angered/Increased Angered Outbursts
  • Easily Startled

I will touch on what symptoms Maul exhibits that could line up with him having PTSD. But first, I’d like to take a moment to go over why he might. What kind of trauma he might have experienced that would trigger PTSD in the character. And again, while this isn’t meant to condone his actions, it could help explain it with an additional angle.

Why Would Maul Have PTSD? What Could Have Caused it?

If Maul were to have PTSD, I’ve narrowed it down to three different catalysts. Because beneath all of the Sith training and high levels of anger and vengeance, which is common for a Sith, I wouldn’t say his life was easy. Who he was raised by and connections he lost couldn’t have been easy.

Darth Sidious: Raised, Trained, as Well as Tortured by

Where it be from infancy or as a child, Maul was raised by Sidious all the way up to his twenty second year. While Jedi have certain regulations, I don’t think he would have been as harmed by someone like Dooku or Qui Gon. And while all Sith aren’t harsh or abusive, Sidious isn’t known for being a warm master.

The man was cunning, intelligent, and strong in the Force. He desired power and control, following the Rule of Two as a guideline in which the apprentice wouldn’t surpass him. He wanted his apprentice strong, sure, but not enough to defeat him. Basically a puppet.

Now, depending on if it’s Canon or Legends, what Maul went through may vary. The only content to remain Canon for Maul after Disney’s acquisition of Star Wars was The Phantom Menace and Clone Wars. He got a few comics after the acquisition, like Son of Dathomir, Darth Maul (2017) and an issue of Age of the Republic as well as reappearing in Rebels. While storied lie Wrath of Darth Maul, Darth Maul (2000), Shadow Hunter, Saboteur, the Clone Wars tie in graphic novels, Maul Lockdown, and Darth Plagueis are all considered Legends.

Either way, it can be, at the very least implied that Darth Sidious was not a great guy to Maul. In Legends he was very stern with Maul due to his pride, which on it’s own wouldn’t seem problematic, but what really would make it problematic would be things like leaving him alone in Wrath of Darth Maul for extended periods as a means to hide him from Plagueis. In Canon, we don’t get to see too much of his childhood with Plagueis, but one could imagine he wasn’t much better.

Torture

Then you get into what viewers do know happened to him in Clone Wars and Son of Dathomir. Maul would be subjected to torture not around the dame time as two loses, which I will get into in a moment. He was electrocuted, imprisoned, and treated harshly.

And while Maul may hate Sidious, if seasons five and seven of Clone Wars were anything to go off of, he was terrified of Sidious. Begging for mercy even. But he never got it.

All an all, I would say that Sidious is Maul’s biggest source of trauma, outside of maybe the deaths of those close to him. Also how he survived The Phantom Menace.

Mental Instability After The Phantom Menace

Whether him surviving after being sliced in half was pure luck, a show of true will/hate, or plot armor, he did survive. He spent years on a trash planet where his sanity flew away. Going temporarily insane doesn’t really result in PTSD, and when I say ‘insane’ I mean he fell into madness while alone on Lotho Minor. I also believe it didn’t help. If being cut and half and surviving didn’t scar his psyche, the eventual break from being alone sure did.

This isn’t a super big cause, but I believe it could have been partially responsible. Being alone without a lower half on a trash planet for years doesn’t sound like an ideal situation. And the solitude less than ideal, even if he was more of a solitary character. Think solitary confinement, but a planet sized solitary confinement. Socially and mentally that doesn’t sound reasonable.

The Deaths of Savage Opress and Mother Talzin

This would be another big cause. Having witnessed both, it would have been traumatizing. Despite treating Savage like an apprentice like Sidious did with him, and not being able to show affection in a conventional way, Maul did care for him. In Rebels, when he tells Ezra how they could defeat the Empire as brothers, it is clear to see that he is still hurt by it.

The death of Mother Talzin wouldn’t be much better. She was the only family he had left and after escaping torture from Sidious, she would be killed by Grievous. He witnessed it, and while he has seen and caused his fair share of death, Talzin and Savage were the only people he had left.

It would also become a piece of his revenge puzzle. While coaxing Ezra into helping him, he relates to him by stating how the Sith (and by by extent the Empire) took everything from him.

In conclusion, Sidious, the loss of his family, and the time spent on Lotho Minor are all reasons that I believe Maul could have PTSD.

What Symptoms Would Maul Exhibit?

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/ has a page on PTSD. On this page, it has a section discussing symptoms. There they have them categorized into four categories, re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance symptoms, arousal and reactive symptoms, and cognition and mood symptoms. For each category, someone would have to experience one ore more of the symptoms in each for at least a month. One or more for re-experience and avoidance, and two or more from arousal and reactive, and cognition and mood. Using the examples provided, I think I’ve narrowed it down a little.

Re-experience Symptoms

I would say that flashbacks, recurring memories or dreams of the event, and/or distressing thoughts. I feel flashbacks would be a given, but since it’s never really confirmed whether or not he has had flashbacks to his trauma, I do have a few alternatives. Recurring memories feels like the more accurate symptom in this category since at multiple times, he seems to dwell and recall Savage’s death and what Sidious is capable of. The former is more of a sad one since whenever he mentioned Savage (and Talzin) in Rebels it seems to be with a slightly more sorrowful tone, or an angered one when he remembers how the Sith did it to him.

Distressing thoughts could allude to how in season seven, when he is captured by Ahsoka, there is a moment of what could be perceived as disturbed or terrified. He would rather die than be captured and he’s vocal about it and how Ahsoka didn’t know what she had done. He sounded distressed. Not only because he was captured, but because he knew what was coming (Order 66) and that alarmed him.

Another disturbing thoughts, that might not have to do with his Sith upbringing, would be with how he felt abandoned by the Sith, namely Sidious. After surviving Phantom Menace and learning that his former master took on Dooku, he wanted revenge. However, there also seems to be an underlining feeling of abandonment. He was supposed to be there to help set up the Clone Wars, he was raised to be apart of that. So when he returned, he felt like he was abandoned. That everyone left him behind.

These are all potential ways that Maul could fit into the re-experience symptoms category. He could have had flashbacks that viewers never got to see. Feelings of abandonment or fear of the impending future could be signs of distressed thinking. Though the most likely is reoccurring memories, since it is shown that he does dwell on the losses of Savage and knowing what Sidious is capable off based on what the Sith Lord put him through.

Avoidance Symptoms

Of the two symptoms mentioned in this category, I would think that staying away from places/events/objects would be the more accurate symptom. He doesn’t try to hide his feelings and does dwell on certain thoughts pertaining to his life and potential trauma.

Of the two symptoms mentioned in this category, I would think that staying away from places/events/objects would be the more accurate symptom. He doesn’t try to hide his feelings and does dwell on certain thoughts pertaining to his life and potential trauma. Along with avoiding places, I would also add avoiding people.

While it was also a smart move on his part, going into hiding until the events of Rebels season 2 could have been his way of avoiding things. On Malachor, he didn’t have to worry about running into Sidious or any planet that could turn him over to him. He might have had to deal with an Inquisitor or two, but fore the most part, he was on his own to reflect and plan his eventual return. Which he would later get to some degree by the time Rebels came along.

Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms

The first of the two categories that need two or more symptoms, I think I know the perfect two. Irritability with angry or aggressive outbursts and engaging in reckless, risky, or destructive behaviors. Both fall may fall into what makes a Sith a Sith, but I think they would be amplified.

Angry or aggressive outbursts could be explained by how explosive his anger was when he found out about. He was angry that he was abandoned and even more so when his brother was killed. Another example of an aggressive outburst was when he killed the Seventh Sister. When Ezra refused to kill the Inquisitor, Maul took it the matter into his own hands. And while this could be seen as a logical choice from one aspect, to Ezra, who at that point was taught not to be as lethal, it would have been a pretty aggressive move.

Engaging in reckless, risky, or destructive behaviors could appear in the form of getting revenge against Sidous and Obi Wan and trying to manipulate Ezra into becoming his apprentice. Revenge can be a risky business, but in Maul’s mind, it’s justified. People did him wrong and he wanted to make them pay. It never really ended the way he wanted, but it wouldn’t stop him from trying. Manipulation can be destructive. Not only to the person doing it, but to the person being manipulated.

Those are the arousal and reactivity symptoms that Maul fits into. These symptoms would have been amplified because he was a Sith, but all the same, they are symptoms that fit. Aggressive/Angered outbursts and partaking in risky/reckless/destructive behavior are the symptoms that I feel Maul fits best into.

Cognitive and Mood Symptoms

For the final category, the two symptoms that Maul would have include negative thoughts about oneself or the world, in this case the world and distorted thoughts about the event resulting in feelings of blame. I also feel like ongoing negative emotions would also be another symptom of his, if merely amplified thanks to his Sith teachings.

In regards to negative emotions to the world, Maul sees the world as doing him wrong. He lost the life he had after Phantom Menace, he lost family during the Clone Wars, and bitterly notes how he was abandoned in Rebels. These events lead to negative thoughts, but not on himself. Rather, towards the world. Life and people had been cruel to him and it wasn’t something he personally internalized.

Which leads into the distorted thoughts and blame. One could argue that some of what life dealt him was self inflicted. His pride being his biggest weakness in a lot of fights. However, he never put the blame on himself, whether he was partially or whole heartedly to blame, if at all. Instead, he blames others, most notably Sidious and Obi Wan. Both did him wrong on the most significant level. Obi Wan beat him and Maul wishes to get back at him for it. Sidious, he caused Maul to be where he was at throughout the series. The fact that Maul was so easily “replaced” and abandoned left two scars.

One being in the form of the only person he had a connection to in some way leaving Maul behind and cutting those ties. Part of that does have to do with Maul being presumed dead until Clone Wars, which was a good decade or so after Phantom Menace. Yet, when Sidious knew, he didn’t take Maul back, which could have dug that feeling of abandonment deeper. The second being how Sidious, in Maul’s mind, would be the source of all his problems. He trained him, tortured him, and killed his family. Had Maul not been taken in by Sidious, his life could have been better. Not by much considering Dathomir’s hierarchy looked down on the male Zabrak and treated them as lower class/slaves, but somewhat better.

In those ways, Maul has hit at least two cognative and mood symptoms. They do overlap, but are distinct in their own way. Two are layered yet separate symptoms.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Maul could very well have PTSD, implied or diagnosed. It isn’t outright confirmed or canon, what he went through, coupled with his Sith upbringing would play a role in his mental state. The loss of family and torture at the hands of Sidious, alongside how Sidious treated him on a personal level is grounds for unresolved trauma. When inspecting the character and his story, he can fit into each category of symptoms, re-experience, avoidance, arousal and reactivity, and cognitive and mood, in his own way.

Source

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd#part_6127

Peter Gordon, Trauma, and Psychology: The Power of the Dog Introspective

Trauma. It can have an array of effects on people including nightmares, fear, and depression, among other responses. In media, it can be used to explore a type of trauma and/or to help the character grow. It’s not uncommon, yet not an everyday occurrence.

In The Power of the Dog, both the book and movie, it’s something Peter Gordon, one of the main characters is familiar with. The death of his father. Having seen his father’s lifeless body after he killed himself, which the book goes into more detail on, to say that Peter was effected by it might be an understatement.

Then comes the Burbank brothers. While George is a wonderful gentleman, it’s his brother Phil who makes the home a bit more hostile.

They way his father’s death not only effected him personally, but how he perceives his duty. Because he never really had a father figure in between his father’s death and Rose’s marriage to George, he in some ways had to grow up and take care of his family. And though not as expressive or emotional, readers and viewers never really get to see how he grieved. If he did.

Through various quotes and moments, I wanted to take a deep dive into Peter Gordon as a character. Mainly how things like his father’s death, alcoholism in the family, and Phil may have contributed to some form of trauma.

“When my father passed, I wanted nothing more than my mother’s happiness. For what kind of man would I be if I did not help my mother? If I did not save her?”

-Peter Gordon (The Power of the Dog)

The movie starts off with this quote. Because of the death of his father, Peter essentially was the “man of the house” and was in charge of making sure his mother was safe. This also foreshadows how he approaches Phil later on in the story, specifically more towards the end, giving what he did more motive.

He has to worry about his mother, since he is all she had until she marries George Burbank. And when she does get married, he still worries about her.

While Peter did become independent, his relationship with Rose could be seen as a form of parentification. He genuinely loves his mother and wants to protect her, because of his father’s death. However, in some ways, Peter had essentially become a caretaker for Rose.

Parentification is defined as a child taking on the role of parent for other children and/or parents. There are two main subsections in parentification: instrumental and emotional parentification. Instrumental is where the child performs duties that might normally fall on parents, like making dinner for the household, taking care of sick family members, and taking other children to and from school. Emotional parentification is when the child takes on the role of emotional confidant/counselor/caretaker to their parents.

I would say that Peter could suffer from a combination of both. Because while he does care for his mother and had cause to confront Phil on her behalf, he shouldn’t have been required to. And while Peter was mature for his age, he was still a sixteen year old who was dealing with the lose of his father with his mother. He shouldn’t have had to with him being sixteen, but he did. Things were also much different in the 1920’s too.

While I am not a psychologist, I can’t say that he does exhibit that behavior. However, I could see how Peter could have developed a sense of parentification after his father’s death. The trauma of losing his father and how Phil treated her could have culminated into something along those lines.

“…Yeah, your father. I guess he hit the bottle pretty hard. The booze.

Until right at the very end, then he hung himself. I found him, cut him down. … He used to worry I wasn’t kind enough. Then I was too strong.

You, too strong? Huh! He got that wrong. Poor kid. Things will work out for you yet.”

-Phil Burbank and Peter Gordon (Power of the Dog)

At this point of the movie, Peter is back home for the summer and finds himself essentially under Phil Burbank’s guidance. The man, who for the most part, was belligerent to his mother and picked on Peter, wants to start over by helping Peter and get to know him. During a moment of peace, the two end up discussing Rose, Peter’s mother, and her alcoholism. This discussion takes a turn when Phil asks about his father, resulting in the excerpt above.

The alcoholism is discussed, but rather it being a tale of abusive alcoholics, it’s more a tale of how depression and distress can lead to it. While his parents’ alcoholism might not have effected Peter in the way of physical or emotional abuse, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t effect him in the long run. Whether that be in the form of inheriting their alcoholic tendencies or being completely turned off by drinking entirely.

Essentially, while not being abused due to a drunken rage, it could have caused Peter to be turned off from it. Seeing what happened to his father and how his mother fell into a drunken state because of Phil, he could have hated how it effected the people close to him. And seeing the spiral it caused, it could have made him hate it and maybe fear losing people because of it.

Antisocial Personality Disorder as a Result of Trauma

Antisocial Personality Disorder, also commonly referred to as sociopathy, can be defined as someone who has a hard time in social settings, may have a hard time caring for right and wrong, and can be seen as manipulative. Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) is a term that was used to describe sociopathy, however ASPD is a bit more complex than that.

While I am not a psychology major, I do like to look into psychology from time to time. Especially if I want to better understand a condition. When it comes to ASPD, I’ve found that there doesn’t seem to be one set definition or ruling on the condition. DSM or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental defines it as

Do I Think Peter is a Sociopath?

Yes and No

I feel this really comes down to how the character is interpreted. Some might say that he was a sociopath given the nature of his plan and/or sympathizing a bit with Phil given where his character ended up. Some might say no, because of Peter’s motivation and Phil’s antagonistic behavior towards Rose.

One thing that could add to a viewer’s interpretation of Peter is Peter’s father. While the movie addresses that he dies, viewers are never really shown what lead up to it. As such, it could be easier to infer that Peter had no qualms with killing Phil and how he could have been behind his father’s death.

I have also seen the case made that Peter could have autism, and how the director, Jane Campion, may have brought that to the foreground of his character. ASPD, Autism, and Psychopathy, while all different conditions, do have some overlap in symptoms. Similar to how ADHD and autism may have similar or overlapping traits. Yet, despite the similarities, an individual can have one or both.

In the case of Peter Gordon, I think he has ASPD, but isn’t a sociopath. Because while his actions may have been manipulative, may not be as empathetic, and crosses a line of morality, his motives weren’t out of indifference. Rather out of love.

Because while he nay have a hard time expressing emotion, it was out of love and a sense of duty to keep his mother safe. Based on my interpretation of the character, and with the general research I did, I would say that Peter has a comorbid (two or more conditions diagnosed in an individual) diagnosis of autism and anti-social personality disorder.

Autism would help explain things like areas of his interest in becoming a doctor and the repeated behavior with running his thumb through the teeth of the comb in a repetitive and relaxing way (stimming). The manipulative tactic he used and disregard for whether it was right or wrong could be explained by anti-social personality disorder. While both could explain why he seems emotionless, not particularly social, and seen as awkward in social interact.

It might not be a perfect diagnosis, but it is a reasonable explanation. With Campion putting it to the foreground according to some sources and some of his behaviors being associated with it, it’s not hard to see why he would have autism. And with the movie taking place in the 1920’s, it wouldn’t have been diagnosed and could have been a factor in people making fun of him. Not because he should have been made fun of for it, but because understanding of autism wasn’t as understood back then as it is today.

As for anti-social personality disorder, I believe the death of his father is what triggered it. While the movie doesn’t show what happened to his father, it’s understandable if people would see Peter as more of a sociopath and possibly killed his father. However, if someone has read the book, it does state that his father took his own life. Whether he had autism or not, seeing that at a young age would have effected him negatively. I suspect that seeing this was what pushed him into the quiet, introverted state readers and viewers got to see. I also think it could have been what caused him to feel it was his duty to go as far as he did to protect his mother. conclusion

Conclusion

With everything Peter has been through, I believe he has had his fair share if trauma and struggles. From the death of his father to the way Phil treated Rose, he probably had some baggage. He felt like it was his duty to keep his mother safe, he probably had animosity towards alcohol, and due to seeing how his father died probably contributed to an ASPD diagnosis on top of a possible autism diagnosis.

Sources

Alpha and Omega: A Guilty Pleasure Read and Why I Prefer This Series to Mercy Thompson

A while back I had created a post discussing one of my favorite guilty pleasure reads, the urban fantasy series Alpha and Omega by Patricia Briggs. While I may no longer have that blog around, I thought I would revisit this series, why I enjoy it, and why I like it over the author’s longer running and more popular Mercy Thompson series set in the same universe.

Urban Fantasy: a Subsection of Fantasy

I’ll admit, I am not much of a reader of the Urban Fantasy subgenre. Not many really caught my eye with the exception of Patricia Briggs’ two series on-going series. For those of you who may not be familiar with this subgenre, Urban Fantasy can be defined as a type of fantasy taking place in a more modern day and, well, urban setting.

What kind of Clichés Might Urban Fantasy be Guilty of?

Like any kind of genre or subgenre, Urban Fantasy does fall victim to tropes/clichés.

  • Heavy reliance on romance
  • How the romance is developed
  • Love triangles
  • Usually focusing more on vampires and werewolves
  • Age gaps
  • Leads who readers can’t help but wonder how they stay together

Why I consider it my guilty pleasure genre

I consider this a guilty pleasure because, while I enjoy fantasy, this is a subgenre that I mostly avoid. And while I’m sure there are plenty of good Urban Fantasy series, I feel like it is a niche subgenre. Meaning, it’s a subgenre that, feels like it has a set target audience. At least that’s how I see it, as I don’t see Urban Fantasy being a genre everyone will whip out.

Alpha and Omega: Why I Like it. Flaws?

The Alpha and Omega series is a series that branched off of the Mecy Thompson series. Both take place in the same universe (the Mercyverse as it has been dubbed), but rather than focusing on Mercy, her romance, and the creatures around her, Alpha and Omega focuses on Anna and Charles (the son of the North American Alpha and adopted father of Mercy). Anna was saved from her abusive pack by Charles and it is soon discovered that she is a rare breed of werewolf: An Omega, who are known for their calming presence and being able to soothe the pack.

Along the way, she alongside Charles, who is her partner/husband, go on various adventures usually with Charles tasked to keep an eye on or handle issues his father needs enforcing. Like Mercy Thompson, this series explores various fantasy staples with Anna learning more about herself, love, and overcoming her traumas from her previous pack. As of right now, this series currently has five books and a prequel novella that can be found in collections like Shifting Shadows as well as the hardcover copy of the first book, Cry Wolf.

What are the Flaws?

I would say that it’s biggest flaw may come in the form of it fitting into a savior complex trope and some scenes either feeling odd or unneeded. While maybe not an overemphasized trope, one could see Charles as being this savior to Anna. Saving her from her previous pack was important for the story and her character, however, readers could find some aspects of their relationship fitting into this trope. I don’t interpret it that way, but I do feel like it could be interpreted that way.

When it comes to odd scenes, I can think of one from the fifth book, Burn Bright. This scene is actually one that seems to be generally critiqued when it comes to what reviewers didn’t like about the book. Basically, the scene in question has to do with a comment made between Anna and Charles about Bran and his relationship with Mercy. Specifically how Bran might have developed something more than just a parental feeling towards her. I agree with this critique as it does feel weird and out of place.

Those are my main critiques. While some people might find the clichés annoying, they don’t bug me enough to turn me away. It doesn’t feel like it goes too overboard, for me anyways, and I would know when it does. That scene in Burn Bright, however, I can see why it would turn readers away. It hasn’t turned me away, though it does hinder my enjoyment of the fifth book.

Why Do I Like Alpha and Omega More Than Mercy Thompson?

While Mercy Thompson has the longer run and appears to be the more popular of the two, you may be wondering why I enjoy the Alpha and Omega series more. It took me a minute, but I’ve narrowed it down to three main reasons.

Reading Alpha and Omega First

The Alpha and Omega series was the first of the two I picked up. I believe I decided to give it a try after I saw Burn Bright when it was first released back in 2018. And since it was the fifth book, I ended up reading the entire series. Then again when I was reading the Mercy Thompson series, since the two intertwine without really interacting with the other series. Cry Wolf, the first book in the series excluding the prequel novella, is my favorite. It’s also the book I’ve read the most. Because while it might not be perfect, I think it was a great first book to the series. It set everything up in a neat way.

Had I read the Mercy Thompson series first, I may have liked that one more. However, when I was introduced to both series isn’t the only reason I like the Alpha and Omega series.

Length of the Series

So long as the series is good, how long it runs might not matter. Shows like PBS’ Arthur and Doctor Who are examples of longer shows having typically positive responses. One Piece and Boxcar Children would be examples for longer running book series that are enjoyed.

That said, longevity can either make or break a series. If there is enough material to last without feeling repetitive or stale as well as having a foreseeable end goal, that’s great. But not all series have that grace. For example, Once Upon a Time, the ABC original series. While seven series might not sound like too terrible of a run, there were times where it could have ended. While some people might say it started going downhill earlier, I personally think that it could have ended on season six. Yes, the stories were formulaic and maybe a but predictable, but the sixth season felt like a great place for the series to end in my opinion.

Looping back around to Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega, the former has a bigger, and still ongoing run as of this post. Alpha and Omega has six books, a prequel novella, and a handful of vignettes. It’s not a long series, and outside of maybe the prequel novella, Alphas and Omega, readers can stick to the main story. Mercy Thompson, on the other hand, twelve books, five vignettes, and a thirteenth book expected to be released in August of this year.

And while there are books in the Mercy Thompson series that I enjoy, I do feel like it has kind of dragged on. After a while, for me once the series got to book ten, it didn’t feel as engaging as it used to. It started to feel repetitive, running in a cycle of, Mercy getting into trouble, Mercy feeling like she has to take on whatever it is her own way, feeling distant from Adam and noting her relationship with Bran’s pack, everything coming out fine. Rinse and repeat. Could Alpha and Omega have a similar issue? Maybe, but it isn’t one I’ve noticed as glaringly so as I have with the Mercy Thompson. Of course, I’ll still read the thirteenth book when it comes out since I’ve been keeping up, but I feel like I would be lying if I said I was wholeheartedly excited.

With Alpha and Omega being the shorter series with books being released every one to three years, it at least feels like it isn’t cycling through similar stories. The creatures and people may feel the same, but not the atmosphere.

The Characters

Both series have enjoyable characters, be it the main and/or secondary characters. Mercy Thompson had some neat side characters and for a time I enjoyed Mercy. However, I like the overall cast in the Alpha and Omega series more.

I feel more drawn to Anna and Charles than I do with Mercy and Adam. In my opinion, Charles and Anna feel like they have a more natural. I don’t know if I would say they feel more developed since technically Mercy and Adam had more time to develop, but there does feel like there is some form of development there that Mercy and Adam may be lacking for me. There’s also the fact that there isn’t any conflict with a third party like there is with Adam and Mercy. While the ex-wife plotline can be enjoyable when done right, I wasn’t sold on it in the Mercy Thompson series. I didn’t particularly care for Christy, Adam’s ex-wife, and she ended up being at the center of one of the book’s main conflict. Overall, Charles and Anna’s relationship feels a bit more natural, simpler maybe, and it’s the one that feels more likeable.

Looking at the leading ladies, both Mercy and Anna have some similarities like having their own trauma and being with their packs’ alpha, but their personalities. Mercy has a more independent and headstrong personality while Anna is more calm and introverted. And while I wouldn’t say the “strong, independent woman” angle is bad, something about Mercy specifically doesn’t feel well done. Maybe it’s the fact that the Mercy Thompson series has been going on for as long as it has, but Mercy whole demeanor feels stale after a while. Some of her inner monologues feel very repetitive too. First person is a perspective that can be enjoyed, but I think after a while, Mercy stating how she always finds herself in trouble, her relationships with Bran and Samuel, and how she feels different because she is a coyote skin walker feels repetitive after a while. I won’t say that Anna is without flaws, as her submissive demeanor and maybe letting others doing more of the fighting (which partially has to do with how omegas are more so support/comfort than fighters), but it doesn’t feel as blatantly repetitive as it does with Mercy. Which may fall on perspective as much as portrayal.

When it comes to Charles and Adam, both are enjoyable. Adam is a good father and husband as well as a solid pack leader. Readers can tell that he cares about family and is reliable. And he knows when to let Mercy do what he needs to. Charles is also very supportive and caring of Anna. While Anna might not be a brawler, Charles understands why Anna needs to be involved with situations. They have good communication and with how the series treats Charles and his werewolf side (it’s set up as his human side and wolf side share a body but have their own thoughts) connects with Anna well. He also understands the abuse that Anna went through in her previous pack, and doesn’t go overboard with protecting her and knows what she’s been through. Of course, Charles does feel a need to keep her safe, but it’s not an overly possessive kind of desire. Between the two, however, I like Charles more. This could be a constraint of first person, but Charles feels a bit more developed. Adam does have development, but since the Mercy Thompson series is told from Mercy’s perspective, it’s a little harder to see from a perception perspective. With third person, like in Alpha and Omega’s case, it’s able to build both Charles and Anna up in a way that feels easier to pick up on. It also gives readers the chance to understand Charles’ history and character from a way that doesn’t feel one-sided.

As for background and secondary characters, both series have enjoyable characters. Stefan, Mercy’s vampire ally, Zee, a fae and Mercy’s former boss, and Warren, a werewolf and close friend to Mercy, are interesting characters. Jesse, Adam and Christy’s daughter is also a neat character, who works well with Mercy. There’s also Samuel and Bran, who appear in both series, who bring their own stories with them, with the former at one point having romantic feelings towards Mercy. As for the Alpha and Omega series, it has its fair share of enjoyable side characters too. Asil, who’s deceased wife was an omega, has knowledge about omegas and has given Charles advice. He is also shown going through grief of losing his wife, feeling a similar presence in Anna in the first book. Leah Cornick, Bran’s current wife, though usually cold, goes through some development and learns to warm up to Anna. There are plenty of side characters in both that readers might connect with.

Conclusion

Even if the Alpha and Omega series isn’t a masterpiece, there is a lot that I enjoy about it. When I started it and the length helped as well as an enjoyable story and characters. It may have its flaws, like scenes that feel odd, clichés, and/or some repetitive things, it has qualities that I found likeable. It’s a guilty pleasure series of mine and it is a fun read more than anything.

The Power of the Dog (2021 Movie): A Review

Believe it or not, I am not one for Westerns as a genre. A big reason probably has to do with me not being a fan of a lot of John Wayne movies, and most of his were either Westerns or War movies, the latter being another genre that I never really had an interest in. And while my exceptions for war films include Imitation Game, I never really had that one exception for western, aside from Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, which I feel is just as much of a horse movie as it is a western.

Then along came a video that popped up on one of my socials talking about a scene, specifically one of the last scenes, in the Netflix adaptation of The Power of the Dog with the least amount of spoilers possible. It got me a bit curious, and when I asked about it, thankfully, they kept it spoiler free and recommended I check the movie out. So, after about two weeks of getting motivated to, and getting the book it was based on, I finally sat down and watched it. I recently finished reading the book, which I may review in the future, but today, I thought I would discuss my thoughts on the movie.

With that in mind…

Spoilers Ahead!

I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but it goes without saying that spoilers are bound to occur.

Story

The story itself is certainly a curious one. It takes place in 1920’s Montana, two brothers work on a ranch, Phil, a crass and somewhat feared cowboy who deep down has a more complex and surprising nature, and George, the kinder and more soft spoken of the two. George marries Rose Gordon, a widow, who’s husband died by his own hand. Rose is tormented by Phil throughout the story, who doesn’t seem too fond of her or her son. Peter, Rose’s son, is a young man studying to become a surgeon. He is protective of his mother, feeling it is his duty to keep her safe after the death of his father. To others, he appears gentle, fragile, and feminine (by 1920’s standards), however, like Peter, he is not all that he appears to be, having an inner strength, confidence, and intellect that no one would expect.

The story focuses on these four characters, the ranch, a hill that, depending on ones point of view, looks like just hills or a barking dog, and what one sees vs what is really there.

The story might not be for everyone, though it does have good qualities. While some people may find it as slow, simple, and/or straightforward, others might see it as intriguing, I’d argue the characters, and how they are characterized are something worthwhile. It doesn’t need a lot of action to get it’s point across. The slow burn type movie that really utilizes this technique really well.

As someone who doesn’t normally watch westerns, this was one that caught my attention because of the story it was telling. Yes, at times it feels straightforward and slow, but given the small details throughout the film as well as the characters, there is a story about appearances not always being met. Secrets that wouldn’t be expected based on perceptions at the time and how seemingly unimposing people can hide inner strength and manipulation.

Nuance

Nuance is something that has significance in this movie. Details that have more meaning than one might think. For instance, what Peter does with the rabbits he finds in the movie. Body language, like how Peter caries himself when walking passed Phil and his men to check on some birds. He ignores the less than friendly reactions, holding himself with a sense of unfazed confidence.

Quiet moments, like the scene in the barn during the climax, says something despite very little being said. Dialogue has importance as well. Like when Phil and Peter are talking about Peter’s father. How he died, how Peter feels it is his duty to protect his mother, and how Peter’s father told him to be kinder. That he was “too strong”. And while Phil would scoff at the notion, it does foreshadow what’s to come.

Things like this is what I enjoyed in the movie. While I may not always need a movie that makes the viewer think, when done well and in a

Casting/Characterization

What really makes this movie stands out is the casting. Even if viewers don’t like how the story is presented, the characters are something worth enjoying. The main four characters are casted and acted perfectly. Kirsten Dunst plays the role of Rose Gordon, a widower who was living with her own demons (Phil, grief, and growing alcoholism) really well. Jesse Plemons really played off of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Phil as George Burbank. And I think the background characters were pretty well too.

However, if there were two performances I was really drawn to, it was Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Peter Gordon. Not only because of some of the underlining subtext between the characters, but because of how the actors portrayed them. Both characters can be seen as different sides to the same coin, and viewers can get that feel from the actors.

While the story focuses on the main four characters, these two have a lot of focus, and the dynamic is really intricate and interesting. Phil appears masculine and intimidating, deep down, there’s actually an intelligent and a softer side to him. Peter, meanwhile, appears introverted and feminine (by 1920’s standards), yet, he has an inner strength and is more cunning than he seems.

Benedict Cumberbatch pulls off the abrasiveness of Phil’s character really well. Watching a bit of the behind the scenes, it’s noted how Jane Campion really wanted him to embrace the character, which he did well.

While one could argue that he feels out of place, I’d argue that he plays a range of character types. So things like westerns and portraying a character who is more crass or confrontational weren’t impossible. Because while Benedict Cumberbatch is known for intellectual roles like Sherlock Holmes and Alan Turing, as well as Dr. Strange, he’s also done other types of roles.

For instance, he’s portrayed menacing and sly persona as Smaug and Khan. He’s played more comical characters like Rory in Fortysomething. Roles in animated features like the Penguins of Madagascar and The Grinch. As well as several stage performances. So Benedict Cumberbatch was bound to break onto the western scene eventually.

Then there’s Kodi Smit-McPhee. What I really enjoyed with his performance is how he portrays Peter. Peter throughout the movie, is seen as someone who isn’t all that imposing or strong, which he is belittled for. Especially by Phil.

It isn’t until later in the film that viewers get to see that Peter has an inner strength and the mind of someone who can do things that most wouldn’t expect. That this seemingly weak character has a deeper strength and cleverness to him alongside his intellect and kind heartedness.

Considering the character being described as particularly introverted, slim, sickly around the time of his birth as the book mentions, and not appearing particularly masculine/macho, I feel like Kodi Smit-McPhee also brings a physical accuracy to the role. Considering how the character is described in the book, I feel that Kodi was able to pull off the physical ingenuous impression that was required for the role. And as far as the characterization of someone who’s introverted, appearing emotionally detected, and unthreatening, yet intellectually crafty and caring, I don’t think I could picture someone else in the role. It goes without saying that, much like Benedict Cumberbatch, Kodi is not a type cast actor while still pulling off a role like this really well.

Overall, the movie has a great cast of characters and actors. Each bring their own personal touch to their roles and have great performances. Whether viewers like Phil Burbank, Peter Gordon, or any of the others will depend on their preference, but each character has their own story.

1920’s and The Company of Men: Phil, Peter, and Bronco Henry

This is the one thing that can draw in a number of discussions. Especially in regards to Phil and Peter. I may do a post breaking down my thoughts on it as well as a post discussing Peter Gordon specifically. That said, I did want to touch on this considering it does have a significant point.

It starts with Phil and his stated admiration for Bronco Henry, a man who taught Phil everything he needed to know to get where he’s at (riding, rope tying, etc.). With how much he talks about Bronco, it’s easy to see how much Phil respected the man. Yet, it isn’t until later that viewers would get to see the true depth of said admiration.

As the movie goes on, viewers come to realize that Phil, with all his admiration towards and fond memories of Bronco Henry, that he was a closeted gay man. Given the time period this takes place in, Phil’s relationship with Bronco Henry would be scrutinized more than it would be today. So keeping up the façade of not being gay most likely contributed to why he comes off as hostilely as he does (or toxic masculinity as it has also been described). Or at least partially. And in keeping up with this façade, that could help explain why he was so demeaning towards Peter at first. While that might not excuse all of his actions, forcing that part of himself to stay secret, probably didn’t help.

As for Peter, while his motives would become more apparent and dealt with the vitriol alongside his mother, he left an impression on Phil. It isn’t until Peter finds Phil in the woods that things seem to take a shift. Phil seems to want to start over with Peter, claiming they “got off on the wrong foot.” While this could also be seen as a way to bother Rose, things tend to shift a bit the longer the two are together.

Phil does mention Bronco Henry, at one point even stating that Peter was a late rider much like Bronco Henry was. And when Phil finds out about his father, he seems sympathetic, only really disbelieving his father’s statement on him being ‘too strong’. While the book may go more in depth about the death of Peter’s father, the sympathy was apparent in both.

However, I think if there’s one scene that really shows off how both characters shifted, it was in the climax when Phil finds out that Rose sold the hides he was going to burn. Both the book and the movie have details that make this scene impactful. From body language to dialogue to the details described in the book, the moment Peter offers to give Phil the raw hide he found, how Phil reacted was one of gratitude and a form of sentiment.

Whether it be one-sided or not, this interaction has symbolism. This moment and the conclusion told viewers what it needed to.

The Ending

Whether viewers see the ending as justified and what Peter’s motive was could be debated, I do think that the ending was a great way to conclude it. Whether viewers think Phil was the true villain and deserved his fate or if Peter was the true villain or was justified, it was a suitable conclusion. This was a story that didn’t need a happy ending to be good.

Conclusion

All and all, I would certainly recommend this movie. I know it might not be for everyone, but the subtle details, cast, and story was interesting. I would give it an 8 out of 10.