Thursday, May 24, 2012

111 Girls Who Kick Ass, Number 10: Bonnie Bennett

"Bonnie Bennett. How do I even begin to describe Bonnie Bennett?"

Well, I guess it makes the most sense to start at the beginning, since the beginning is where all of this started: If I hadn't found out that the main character's best friend was a witch, I never would've ever given The Vampire Diaries --- which is based on a book series that seemed stupid when I was TWELVE --- so much as half a chance.

It's been about a year since I did start watching (although it feels longer), and she is still my favorite character, but she also frustrates me more than anybody else.

But before we get to that, since this is a show where so much of the "plot" is driven by romantic bullshit, let's briefly examine her relationships:
  1. In season one, after every other main character has paired off with someone while she was busy discovering witchcraft, she finally finds the courage to talk to Ben, a bartender at The Mystic Grill. It doesn't go very well because he turns out to be a vampire who wants to kill Elena (of course) . . . but, even before we get there, you can't help but wonder, what the hell is a seventeen-year-old high school junior doing going on a date with a guy who's old enough to be a bartender? I mean, sure, he's hot, and if you're gonna make a bad decision about a guy, the time to do it is when you're seventeen, but the fact that he's into her should've set off her spider-sense. Or, at least, Elena's. She's usually fairly level-headed about these things, but in this case she just came short of physically pushing Bonnie to talk to him.
  2. In season two, she starts dating Jeremy. Who is Elena's little brother. Considering that Elena and Bonnie have been best friends since childhood and think of each other as sisters and either of them would die to protect the other, this is creepy. Shouldn't she think of Jeremy as her own little brother? But anyway, even if you're immune to the creepy, there's really no denying that they have one of the most boring romances in the history of the show.
  3.  In season three, she finally reconnects with her mother, who abandoned her when she was a toddler (long story). She's surprised to find that her mother has adopted a son, Jamie, who is about her age. After her mother is turned into a vampire (again, long story), they lean on each other for comfort and that's great. But then she asks him to be her date to a school dance. Her date. Come on, guys. We know you're not technically related, but you have the same mother. What is wrong with you?
ALRIGHT THEN. Now that we've got that out of the way . . .

Bonnie Bennett is the most powerful character on The Vampire Diaries. Now, to be sure, I have a knack for making statements like this about my favorite characters --- but, in this case, there's really no way you can make so much as a half-coherent argument for anyone else being even in her league (unless they turn out to secretly be a witch or warlock, which would be literally impossible for Klaus, Finn, Rebekah, Elijah, Stefan, Damon, Caroline, Tyler, Alaric, or Elena).

Unfortunately, even when you consider that she's still relatively new to being a witch and doesn't know everything there is to know about magic yet, she's a bit too powerful. There are so many plotlines that don't get resolved because the writers won't let her go near them because she's the only character who could do anything about them . . . but if she did anything about them there'd be no conflict and without conflict there'd be no drama and without drama we'd all be watching some godawful kooky sitcom.

(For example: When Damon and Elena come up with a "secret plan" to finally kill Klaus about halfway through season three using that episode's Ultimate Original-Killing Weapon One of a Kind Only One in the World Act Now TM, it is a very elaborate plan. Which, naturally, blows up in their faces. Because they don't give Bonnie anything to do. Because, from a storytelling perspective, she can kill Klaus by pretty much standing there and saying, "Hey, Klaus --- just DIE already!" Only, you know, in Latin.)

After three seasons, I still find Bonnie's arc to be more interesting than any other character's (although Caroline and Elena are very close seconds). I'm very excited for season four, because it looks like she is FINALLY realizing how powerful she really is and I'm hoping against hope that this new attitude actually sticks.

You know, it's possible that so far I haven't done a very good job of convincing you, the reader, that Bonnie Bennett does indeed kick ass. Fair point. I have just kind of been rambling about other aspects of her character (which, by the way, I REGRET NOTHING; most of this is stuff that's been bugging me for a while).

So here you go.

I think we've all gotten quite tired of Klaus by now --- but, when he was introduced in season two, "the oldest vampire in the history of time" was quite a big deal. They can't kill him because he doesn't have a body, he's determined to kill Elena, and he'll gladly kill anyone who gets in his way. What do they do, then?

Well, here's the very best plan that the heroes (who, at this time, included three vampires, one vampire hunter, and a werewolf) could come up with:

* Distract him.
* Stay out of his way.
* Let Bonnie do some witchcraft in his general direction.
* Hope for the best.

Anyway. There's a lot more I could say about Bonnie and how much it bugs me that she's so hesitant about her own powers (even if you ignore every other thing she can do with magic, there's no getting around the fact that she could easily toss everyone else around like rag dolls with her thoughts) and how badly I want her to track down an older wiser witch to teach her more and how much I wish Lucy would come back and how annoyed I am that "the vampire-hating Bennett witch" has never killed a single vampire

. . . but, oy vey, I think that's enough for now.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

111 Girls Who Kick Ass, Number 9: Rachel

Well, duh.

You know, honestly, trying to explain why Rachel kicks ass is a bit like trying to explain . . . um . . . well, the point is, she's so badass that I can't even think of a decent metaphor here.

Wait, I've got one! Trying to explain why Rachel the Animorph kicks ass is sort of like trying to explain why Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the character, not the show) kicks ass. Frankly, I think the fact that she was born in the wrong universe is the only reason Rachel wasn't the Vampire Slayer instead of Buffy. (That may not make all the sense in the world . . . but, if you're a fan of both series, just think about it for a second and tell me you don't see my point.)

The Animorphs are unusual, as the heroes of a kids' series, because they're not particularly qualified to save the world. Marco and Jake both have personal reasons for fighting; Tobias gets trapped as a red-tailed hawk on their very first mission; Ax is trapped on Earth, which is lightyears away from his home planet; and Cassie can't stand the thought of what'll happen to the planet and everyone on it if they don't fight the Yeerks.

But Rachel jumps into the war like it's her calling.

This may sound lame, but I can't talk about Rachel too much because her character development is probably my favorite part of the entire series and, on the off-chance that anyone reading this is just starting to read the books, I'd rather not spoil anything. I'll just say one thing more: The very first time she morphs, she turns into an elephant and, three seconds later, smashes a Hork-Bajir.

Also: "Earth is a tough neighborhood."*

*I kept thinking of this quote the entire time I was watching The Avengers.

111 Girls Who Kick Ass, Number 8: Cassie

Yes, Cassie.

If you're familiar with the series, you might have expected me to write about Rachel (and don't you worry; she's getting her own entry). If you're not familiar with the series, Animorphs is about six kids who get tossed into a war to save everyone on Earth from being enslaved by a bunch of mind-controlling parasitic aliens from outer space. They could be anyone: your pastor, your teacher, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, your big brother, your president . . .

And our only hope is six kids who can turn into any animal they touch. For two hours at a time.

Yeah, we're pretty much screwed.

Anyway! Cassie!

Despite the fact that the last book was published in May of 2001, you can find corners of the Internet where the fandom is still fairly active --- and, more often than not, whenever the discussion turns to the question of who's your favorite Animorph, Cassie is almost always always always picked dead last. Most fans don't outright hate her, but hardly anyone loves her.

Personally, I can only understand this on an intellectual level. These books were such an enormous part of my childhood that I love all six main characters pretty much equally. They all have fleshed-out personalities with their own believable strengths and weaknesses; picking one favorite would be like . . . well, frankly, it would be even more difficult than picking one favorite from the Mane Six of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

I think a big part of Cassie's status as the not-so-favorite comes from the moment in book nineteen where she briefly quits the group. And I get that, but if she hadn't quit none of the kids ever would've found out that there were some Yeerks who actually felt bad about enslaving other species. (Then again, it could be because she got saddled with The Hidden and The Unexpected, two of the dumbest books in the whole series.)

Alright, then. Here's why she's such a badass:

  1. You know how, in the Harry Potter movies, it takes Professor McGonagall about three seconds to turn into a cat? And, in those three seconds, all of her is turning at exactly the same speed? And it's pretty cool to watch? Morphing in this series is absolutely nothing like that. It's DISGUSTING. It always takes at least a minute or so, and there's no controlling how it'll happen. Say you're turning into a fly. Chances are the first change will be your insect eyes just popping out of your human face --- they won't be the right size until the rest of you starts to shrink. But Cassie is special. She has enough control to, for example, look like an angel for a few seconds when she's demorphing from an osprey. When Ax joins the group, he explains that there are people on his planet who are so good at morphing that it's considered an art, and Cassie could be one of them.
  2. As if that wasn't awesome enough, in Megamorphs 4 we find out that she was born with another power she didn't even know about. When the Drode (who is basically a harbinger for Krayak, the series' Big Bad) discovers this power, he gets downright livid with the Ellimist (Big Good). It's bad enough that the Animorphs include Elfangor's son, Elfangor's little brother, and the son of Visser One's host body --- but, by making sure that Cassie was also one of them, he basically cheated and gave good an unfair advantage.
  3. From chapter one of book one, it is firmly established that Cassie is more sensitive than anyone else in the group. She always knows just what to say to diffuse an argument. Which is badass in its own way, of course . . . but not until book twenty does anyone realize that she is also really good at manipulating people. She masterminds every single detail of the plan to stop David without outright killing him (and you could make an argument that killing would have been more merciful).
  4. As you can see in the picture, Cassie is black. This is only an issue one time in the entire series, when the kids are stuck in an alternate-history Princeton in the late 1930s (long story) and some racist asshole can't believe that a "colored" girl is, gasp, looking him in the eye and speaking to him like they're equals. So she very kindly tells him that she can of course turn white if that'll make him more comfortable. And then she morphs a polar bear.
  5. Whenever she kisses Jake, it is always less of an "I like you because you're a boy and you make me feel all breathless" thing and more of an "I can't believe we're alive!" thing.
  6. It may not seem like a particularly effective way to stop an alien invasion (and it's not), but just think about all the things you could do if you could turn into animals. You could fly, you could become a lot stronger than any human on the planet, you could gain superspeed . . . all of which Cassie points out in the very first book.
  7. Can't believe I almost forgot this one! If you ever want proof that Cassie kicks just as much ass as anyone else on the team, read book twenty-nine. She singlehandedly completes a mission that could have left them all exposed to Visser Three, AND THEN she comes home and performs brain surgery on an alien.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

111 Girls Who Kick Ass, Number 7: Natasha Romanov

Before we get started, two quick things:

1. Yes, as a matter of fact, I do realize that a zillion and four other comic book geeks are probably tearing up the Interweb with their analyses and dissections of The Avengers this week. But you know what? BITE ME.

2. There are, believe it or not, an awful lot of girls on this list who are not comic book characters. I'll, um . . . start getting to them some other day.

Okay, full disclosure: Despite being one of the most unabashedly unashamed comic book geeks I know, I have never been a very huge fan of the Avengers. I mean, I admire them and respect them in the same way I admire and respect any other superhero team that's been around for almost fifty years, but I don't care about the characters the way I care about the X-Men or the Runaways. I just never have, you know?

Having made that clear, it may not be a surprise that I've never seen any of the movies that led up to this one. I'm not opposed to seeing them, and probably will someday, but right now I can't say I feel like I'm missing anything. Frankly, I wasn't even particularly excited about this movie until I found out about one element.

Obviously, that element was Joss Whedon.

If there's one person in the history of ever who can really make me care about Captain America or Iron Man or Thor or the Hulk or Hawkeye, it's him.

And I knew, just knew, he'd make Black Widow awesome. Sure, she might be the only woman on the team, but she would absolutely not be "the girl."

I was not disappointed.

For one thing, in her first scene she faces off against three arms dealers. They have tied her to a chair. Not only does she knock them all out, not only does she escape from the chair, she USES THE CHAIR AS A WEAPON (before escaping from it).

For another thing, if any other director had helmed this movie, you might expect there to be at least one moment where one of her teammates is genuinely surprised to learn that she kicks as much ass as the boys. That does not happen.

(Personally, I find it very interesting that she's the best fighter on the team. I'll say that again: She is the best fighter on the team. I mean, think about it. Iron Man has basically zero skill in hand-to-hand combat, since he really doesn't, you know, need it, what with having superstrength. Ditto for Thor and Hulk. Captain America does have military training, but she has much more experience than he does. And as for Hawkeye . . . well.)

For another other thing, when you get to the big fight at the end, you might expect her to be assigned to crowd control while the heavy hitters deal with the aliens. This does not happen, either. She plays a key part in defeating the aliens and, you know, saving the entire world from utter destruction.

For yet another thing, her scene with Loki blew my mind a little bit.

Finally . . .

Look, I don't know. Love him or hate him, Joss Whedon has always been very vocal about how and why he's a feminist. Everything he's ever done has featured at least one scene where a girl kicks ass (even if she's not a Slayer or a witch or a soldier or Kitty Pryde). I'm not saying my idea to write this list is entirely his fault, but he certainly had a lot to do with it.

Once upon a time, a reporter asked him, "So why do you write these strong female characters?"

And he replied, "Because you're still asking me that question."

Someday, if we keep putting women in superhero movies --- as superheroes themselves, not as love interests --- and letting them kick ass, maybe people will stop asking.

Because it'll just be the norm.

P.S. To the Morons Sitting Behind Me in the Theater Who Thought You Knew a Little Bit About Comics Because You've Seen Every Marvel Movie Ever Made:

That guy in the post-credits scene was definitely not Galactus.

No Love,

Friday, May 4, 2012

111 Girls Who Kick Ass, 1 through 6: Runaways

Ah, Runaways.

I haven't paid much attention to this series in quite a long while --- Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, the creators and "real parents," left it to do other things in 2007 --- but it is one of my favorite comic books in the history of comic books, a title it holds in no small part because of its several brilliant examples of girls who kick ass.

Before we talk about the girls themselves, I want to mention a few things about the series:

* If you love superheroes, Runaways is something you should read. If you love comic books but hate superheroes, Runaways is something you should read. If you're not really into comic books but are willing to give them a chance, Runaways is something you should read. Basically, Runaways is something everyone should read. The only way I can imagine anyone NOT loving it is if you're one of those people who just can't stand sci-fi or fantasy stories, as there is an abundance of both.

* Runaways is very special among superhero comics because, with a few exceptions, the team always has six members --- and only two of them are boys. Brian K. Vaughan's original pitch is very adamant on this point (his exact words are something like, "To hell with tradition!"); even after the line-up is shaken for whatever reason, it eventually settles down to four girls and two boys. So you sort of can't help looking at more popular mainstream books and asking, "Is this really that hard?"

* Honestly, as much as I love the series, it's difficult for me to talk about very much because a) it's one of those things where you'd really rather not spoil anything for a new reader and b) it only takes about three sentences for me to just lose myself and start gushing. It's that good. Basically, the only thing I say when someone asks me why they should read it --- other than the girls who kick ass and the involvement of a dinosaur from the future --- is, "It's about a bunch of kids who find out their parents are supervillains."

Alright, then. Let's get to it!

1. Nico Minoru

Apart from her wickedly good fashion sense (just look at that get-up), I primarily adore Nico for two reasons:
  • She's a witch! Which she didn't even suspect until everybody found out their parents were evil. Any story about magic that's worth reading will eventually reveal that, while it may be ridiculously powerful, magic always has its limits, and Nico is a great example of that. She wields the mysterious Staff of One (which, by the way, lives in her SOUL until she uses BLOOD to draw it out --- intense) (also, there's at least one scene where she draws it out without cutting herself . . . because she's on her period; that kind of thing just does not happen in most superhero books), and can use it to do pretty much anything she can think of . . . once. HOWEVER. Throughout the entire series, it is subtly (sometimes not so subtly) implied that she'd be a lot more powerful if she knew a little more about magic.
  •  She's Japanese, but she does not, for example, cast spells by drawing kanji in the air. That's refreshing.                    
Also, she eventually becomes team leader --- long story --- and, when a new member asks her if they have a rallying cry, like "Avengers Assemble!" or "It's Clobberin' Time!" . . . she thinks about it for a sec and just says, "Try not to die."

2. Gert Yorkes

  • First of all, it is just so great to see a female comic book character who is not a stick. Furthermore, it is too great for words to see a female comic book character who is not a stick who is not just "the fat one." Gert is not merely comic relief. Well, I mean, she does provide a fair amount of comic relief, but that's because she has an acerbic wit, NOT because she's always stuffing her face with candy during fight scenes.
  • Most of the first arc revolves around the kids discovering their powers and gadgets and whatnot. Even though her teammates include a witch and an alien, Gert may have one of the coolest "powers" in the history of comics: She has a very special pet . . .

3. Old Lace
  •  Old Lace is from the 87th century (Gert's parents are time travelers). She has a nose ring. She's very intelligent. She's empathically bonded to Gert. Even if you ignore all of these facts, though, you can't get around the fact that she kicks ass just because she's a DINOSAUR.
  • She reminds me of Quincy from FoxTrot, as both are cartoon animals who cannot talk. Also, they're reptiles who are not universally reviled.
  • You may be wondering about that name. Originally, the kids gave themselves codenames because they didn't want to use the names their parents had given them. Gert chose "Arsenic" for herself. When Chase doesn't get it, she tells him to watch a movie made before 1985. Heh.

4. Karolina Dean
  •  Karolina is devastated to learn that she is an alien --- she's already been feeling different from other girls for a while, if you get what I'm saying --- until she discovers that she can fly. She's so excited by this that she literally starts crying tears of joy. It's one of my favorite scenes in the whole series.
  • I don't know, I just love her. It's difficult to say why, exactly. Part of it is that she's a lesbian. I hate to spoil that for you right away, but . . .

5. Xavin
Honestly, Xavin is a fairly difficult character who you might love in one scene and want to slap in the next. But she makes the list for a rather simple reason: Xavin is a Skrull who shows up and reveals that he and Karolina have been betrothed for years. Their marriage will (theoretically) bring an end to the war their people have been waging on each other since before either of them were born. Karolina wants to help bring peace, but turns down his proposal because she likes girls.

Which, it turns out, is not much of a problem, since Skrulls are shapeshifters, and changing gender is about as big a deal for them as changing hair color.

6. Molly Hayes
While the rest of the kids are old enough to drive, Molly is only eleven --- so it's something of a happy accident that her mutant powers of superstrength and invulnerability manifest when they do.

That's right, she's an eleven-year-old mutant with superstrength.

So, when I originally envisioned writing this list, I was sort of determined to limit my choices to one girl from any given story/series/franchise/property --- for example, if I wrote about Buffy, I would have to leave out Willow. (Note: They will both be getting their own entries. Obviously.) The fact that I decided to relax that guideline is pretty much Molly's fault. She had to make the list, but I couldn't include her and not include Nico, and I couldn't include Nico and not include Gert . . . so, yeah, here they all are.

(You may have noticed that I haven't actually said too much about Molly. That was very much intentional. She may be my favorite part of the entire series, so I'd rather just let you read it and fall for her all on your own.)

Well, there you have it.

Actually, I'm not done yet! Another wonderful thing about Runaways is that, unlike so many girl-centric series, the boys are just as important. They may not be quite as powerful, but Alex and Chase and Victor are definitely not just "the guys."

So I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you haven't already read this series, GO READ IT RIGHT NOW. You'll be glad you did.

If you have already read this series, don't you think it's time you revisited it?

ALSO: If you're familiar with any other comics that feature female characters who are anything like as awesome as these six, I'd love to hear about them!

More later.