The Superversive in Film: Ozamu Tezuka’s “Metropolis”

In 2001, the anime adaptation of Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic Metropolis released in Japan. It came to the West some time later, and–having watched both–I find the adaptation to a more powerful story because it relies even more on the bedrock of Western culture (Christianity) than the original.

The difference is the establishment of a reason for the erection of these skyscrapers and the industrial complex that drives that powerbase: the explicit attempt to create a second Tower of Babel. If you are at all familiar with that story, then you already know how this is going to end.

What matters here is the execution. Instead of our protagonist being the villain’s son, he’s an outsider who visits the titular city alongside his uncle (who’s there on a case) that gets wrapped up in a mess of a plot over a child-like gynoid that’s central to the villain’s plans. The brewing revolution, with ready revolutionaries, from the original is carried over and developed further into a vital subplot whose conclusion ignites the climax.

All of which serves to underpin a consistent thread that, as with the original, the industrialization that the city presents (and represents) is dehumanizing to everyone captured by it. Only our protagonist, being an outsider, retains the human humility necessary to see the folly in all of the plotting going on and implores with the one other character immediately able to stop it to do so- and, at the last moment, succeeds.

The story goes to the effort to show how the apparent peace and prosperity of the city and its inhabitants comes at the cost of subverting the population’s dignity, which they return in kind to the elites preying upon them as well as to the robots who often are the means of this dehumanization, which has exactly the effects that are known to happen to a culture over time: a downward spiral of degeneracy into savagery and despair as the real needs of one and all are unmet as they should, symbolized by the story’s setting degenerating into ever-meaner locations and ever-more-desperate maskings thereof before the pressure is too much as everything (literally and otherwise) blows apart. Fortunately, our hero’s essential innocence allows him the means to see through this tragedy and plant the seed of a better tomorrow.

While there’s no confounding of language, the result is the ruin of the attempt and its abandonment by the survivors in favor of reconciliation and reformation into something that this renewed humility in the (surviving) people can accomplish without dehumanizing themselves, their creations, or each other. As both an homage to the original that equals, if not surpasses, Lang’s film as well as on its own merits this is a story that ends in a bittersweet, but, hopeful mood after seeing great amounts of hubris result in self-destruction as pride goes before a fall. Recommended.

If you would like to see for yourself, you can buy a copy of Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis at Amazon. The soundtrack is also worth getting a physical copy of, as this playlist shows.

The Superversive in Film: Krull

If there is a movie I saw in my childhood, not already part of a major franchise, that I love whole-heartedly and would not hesitate to anyone looking for something Superversive in a feature film, that movie is Krull.

This was one of the last Hollywood films to mix fantasy and science fiction before the genre split cemented in film and television out of the West for over a generation, and as such you can see the influence of E.R. Burroughs and other classic writers of the Pulps in every frame, every line, every prop, every character, and every costume. It also featured a soundtrack by the late James Horner, with “Ride of the Firemares” becoming an iconic theme that still calls up the blood to this day.

It was one of those early ’80s classics, along with Excaliber and Conan the Barbarian,
thought it was only a cult classic for many years before being recognized as the great work that it is. Those other films, along with the original Star Wars trilogy and Raiders of the Lost Ark stole its thunder at the time.

I can go on about it, but I think I’ll let the original trailer do the talking.

Like Legend, Krull has its roots in fairy tales and mythology. You have a tale of true love between the prince of one kingdom and the princess of another, whose marriage is interrupted at the final step and incites the adventure. This matters! The desperate men who become the prince’s companions find a way to regenerate their character or succumb to the degeneracy already afflicting them, with the later usually being why they die. The tale-within-the-tale told by the elderly mentor and his female counterpart shows what fate lies for the prince and princess if they don’t hold fast to their love, letting external forces overwhelm them instead. But what makes this story truly Superversive is at the climax.

Remember that marriage ceremony? The ritual is all about the fire of love, and how that fire–when shared between a man and his spouse whose love is true–can incinerate all challenges before it with its white-hot passion. Being a fairy tale at heart, this symbol is made literal and only together, remaining true all this time, is our hero able to destroy the Beast. The magic weapon is the fake-out; the real magic weapon is the firey passion of a lawfully-wed couple bound in marriage, facing down Evil together as one united front. Heart and sword in accord.

I have not seen a more pro-marriage movie in my lifetime than this, and that’s just the most obvious of the eucivic virtues prominently displayed in this film. This film ends with beauty, truth, and love trimuphant- though at great cost. Recommended. (You can get yourself a copy here.)

And I recommend adding the soundtrack to your collection. Have a listen for yourself to see why.

17 Again Pt 5: Liang and the Domestic Female’s Journey

I’ve noticed there has been a lot of talk on the blog about female characters, especially about the SFC. It’s just timely that this came up while I was writing these articles, because I was wanting to speak on this in regards to Liang.

See, some people push the unrealistic SFC, girl power stories, and ladies that “don’t need no man”; but I rarely find that way of doing them very appealing. In those stories, the girl either has no interest in domestic things or men, or worse, they totally stomp down on them. Because after all, womyn are SO much better than those pig-like men! But what about something I can relate to? Like being strong AND having a man?

17 Again was that story. The character is like most other girls, she wants a good life, a good home…. And a family. But she is held back, by herself as much as by Mao. Wanting to be a house wife is not a bad thing. Indeed, it is a very good and noble thing to strive for. Running a household and raising children is certainly not without its challenges. But I can agree with feminists and the like on one point, you shouldn’t be a mindless house wife with absolutely no life outside of your husband. Even the quiet house wife should have hobbies, something she enjoys or is passionate about. However, this is the rut we find Liang stuck in at the beginning of her journey.

The strong domestic woman is a very important force. I have more I’d like to say on her, but I shall save that for another post. For now, it is enough to say that a good society wouldn’t be able to hold together without them. To me, Liang’s Journey is in her going from a passive, clingy girl, to an intelligent and passionate woman. You’ve heard of the hero’s journey? Well, this is the domestic woman’s journey!

So what makes Liang change from a lame not-house wife, to an awesome woman and possibly real house wife? I think the biggest answer is she rediscovered her passion, and then worked for it. In some ways, she took on the actions of, “I don’t need no man” kinda girl. She kicked Mao away (although, admittedly, that was Little Liang’s doing) She went off and had her own fun and adventures, and she created a career for herself. She had dreams and passions, she perused them, and made them a reality. However, unlike the “don’t need no man” girls, Liang still wanted her man. But before she could have him, she had to learn to live without him. She had to learn to be strong in herself. Only then, could she have the relationship she always wanted.

See, good men don’t want a child for their wife. Some people make marriage out to be a man making all the decisions and dominating, while the woman stays quiet and goes along with whatever he says. That is askewed idea of marriage. Only bad men with control issues take advantage of their wives like that, and it is women without confidence in themselves, who have too many insecurities, that let them. But think about it. How much of a tiresome burden would it be to have a spouse that you have to do everything for? Who can’t make their own decision and opinions? Who has no ambition? Who sits around cleaning and making food while you do everything else?

That’s a maid, not a wife.

Men, good men, want someone to be on the same level as them. They want a partner, not a dependent. Because life is hard, a man wants a woman who can support him as much as he supports her. Now keep in mind, men and women are different, so the way they support and help each other will be different. But the point is, honest men don’t want a pretty-faced, mindless maid for a wife. They want a strong woman who inspires them, whose beauty shines from the inside out. One who will make a house into a home to come back to, and who will be there to catch them when  life is heavy. Someone who they can dream with, and make a life with.

Liang is not that woman when we first meet her. She got one part of it right; she’s there to take care of Mao and make a nice home. But she missed that part about having that deeper level of confidence and support. And because of that, her actions fall short, and somewhat superficial. The nice breakfast cannot be everything, there is something deeper that she is missing. And because of that, Mao has never bothered to marry her.

It’s not until Liang finds confidence in herself that Mao really starts to see her again. Gone is the drifting, shallow Liang. Now she is strong and confident in herself, she glows with the joy of her younger years. She has made herself a woman worthy of great attention and love. And because of this, Mao sees his short comings. He realizes that if he wants to keep this new Liang, he must change and become worthy of her. Because Liang has made herself great, she inspires Mao to make himself great as well.

At the beginning,  both of them are stuck in a rut, and have all but lost their love for each other. Love is  tricky, it’s something you must work to maintain. But by the end, once they both have grown, they are able to come back, stronger, and fight for each other and their love. Very pro-marriage. And I know, they weren’t technically married, but they seemed very much like a divorcing couple. But instead of giving up, they grow and learn, and eventually come back together. This is sooooo refreshing to see. I wish more movies and stories would give that same message of hope. That you shouldn’t give up on marriage just because it became boring or hard. That love is worth fighting for.

Because of that, 17 Again has a very superversive feel. But that is not the only reason. Liang is the focus of the story, the change in her relationship is provoked by her personal journey. And so it was her journey that left me with the greatest feeling of hope and inspiration at the end of the movie.

As someone who is still young and full of passion and dreams, but who also has a desperate desire to never let go of my inner child, I really connected with this movie. I wish to keep that joy and wonder at the world that a child has. I want to have passion to create and chase my dreams. I’m getting a taste of adulating and what real world life is like. With jobs, responsibilities, money, and bills, I’m discovering different kinds of stress and troubles that sometimes weigh heavy on me, and I don’t like it very much. But as long as I have my imagination to run wild, and my stories to get lost in, I can keep my younger self alive, and I’ll be alright. But….. If I ever lost that, if I ever stopped writing and imagining…. Well, the thought is truly terrifying.

And so the story of Liang finding her younger self, reconnecting with her passion, making herself better, and working for her dream, is very moving. She has adventures, learns from her mistakes, makes her dreams a reality, and gets her man back – even better than he was before! She became a stronger woman, but not a womyn. It’s hilarious, it’s refreshing, it’s inspiring, and it is superversive. Plus, there was chocolate! And in case you couldn’t tell from the FIVE articles and 5000 words I’ll spent on this thing, I really really loved it!

Hope you enjoyed my absurdly in-depth look into this movie! Time to go eat some chocolate.

17 Again Pt 4: The One About Love

 I REALLY like the romance in this. And I say “romancE” not “romanceS” because I don’t consider the fling between Yan and Little Liang to be any more than that, a fling. However, I know it was very real to Little Yan, so I’ll take a moment to say my piece about it.

It was a teenager in love. Fast, intense, exciting, but ultimately shallow. They had nothing really that much in common, only their infatuation and thrill of adventure. They shared some tender moments, but nothing truly deep. However, it’s hard for young hearts to know the difference between twitterpated love and deeper love, and heartbreak is no less painful because of it. Their story is of first love, and first heartbreak. Very suiting for Little Liang and her wild ways.

Now….. Let us talk about the important one. Mao.

Even though Liang and Mao are not actually married, from the very beginning I couldn’t help but think of them as if they were. The way they lived together and interacted around each other, the fact that they’d been together for so long, and how they had grown stale in their routine; everything about them was like a married couple, except for the ring and the kids. But they were not only like a married couple, more importantly, they were like a married couple that no longer wanted to be together.

See, in my view marriage is a very important and sacred union. Something that should be valued and respected. Too many people today treat the status of husband and wife with the same weight of girlfriend and boyfriend. It’s so frustrating to see people take that vow, and then toss it away when they loss interest, or they get bored, or loving that person becomes hard. True love isn’t supposed to be easy. A good marriage takes work from both sides. And that’s what people have forgotten.

That’s why I love the romance between Liang and Mao so much. She didn’t immediately give up on someone she deeply loved and go running off with someone new. Instead, Liang and Mao both have to work, grow, and ultimately come back to each other. To me this is very touching, for it shows perseverance and true love.

I’d like to get further into the character arc of Mao, but first there’s one other character I need to put some light one. Mao’s cute work assistant. She is always fluttering at his arm, and it’s obvious she likes him. Although Mao never expresses direct interest from what we can see, there are times when it’s hinted they might be seeing each other a lot more than work requires. To me, she is just one other thing dragging Mao away from Liang. It’s a subtle threat, but one I’m sure Liang feels. Often one relationship can be broken up by the forming of another. I don’t know for sure if that is what was happening here, but it’s a possibility.

Another thing we eventually see, is the shift in Mao. As I’ve mentioned before, Mao has no confidence in Liang. But then he sees her at the opening of the gallery. He sees her younger self, the one full of spunk and sparkle. This must be the first time he has really ‘seen’ Liang in a long time. He sees the girl he fell in love with.

If you watch him during these scenes, you’ll find he is slow in moving closer to Liang. Walking around the gallery, you see him closely examining her paintings. At the beginning of Liang’s speech, Mao is standing right next to his assistant, who was no doubt his date there, and yet he has all his focus upon Liang. There is a moment when his doubt comes back, when Liang runs away from the stage. But then she comes back, with the confidence of her younger self and the grace of her older self, and Mao is again transfixed. He doesn’t take his eyes off her while she paints, and we even see a little smile from him. The pretty little assistant casts glances at him, but in that moment Mao only has eyes for Liang. This is perhaps one of my favorite scenes of the whole movie. Because in a way, we see both Mao and Liang rediscovering themselves, and each other.

Following this scene, is a car ride and a conversation between Mao and Liang. In which Mao, having begun to realize how special Liang is and how much he’s taken her for granted, apologizes to her. Liang smiles sweetly and says, “You don’t have to apologize. Actually, it’s not all your fault. I just don’t want to stand behind and wait for you to turn around anymore.” This leaves Mao somewhat forgiven, but also further away from Liang than ever.

One other point, that might seem a little out of place at first, is the confrontation between, Mao and Yan. When Liang had went off to ask Ning to inform Little Liang not to waste any more time on Yan – after she had talked to him at the biker party – Mao gets his own revenge. Mao must have found out about Yan, because he comes to confront him….. With a punch. The very small fight scene may seem random, but really it’s not. What it is showing is that Mao still cares about Liang, he is jealous, and he wants her back.

And now we come to the end of the movie.

First we see Yan, sitting on his motorcycle, alone, looking up at a billboard with Liang’s face on it. He stares at it a moment, puts his helmet back on, and drives away.

And then there is Mao.

Liang is enjoying time with Ning and her little family, including the cute twin babies. This makes it obvious thatquite a bit of time has passed, and from the billboards and the smile on her face, Liang is doing quite well for herself. Then Ning notices something on the new. A man is running through the streets naked, trying to win back his love, holding up a sign with her name on it. At that moment, Liang hears her name being called from outside. She runs to the window to see Mao, holding the sign, in nothing but his running shoes, fulfilling the promise he made to her over a decade ago. The movie ends with Ning asking, “Well, are you sure you don’t want to reconsider him?” Then Liang laughs, and smiles down at Mao.

It’s a little open ended, but I think it’s satisfying enough. Liang is able to make something of herself, plus I really like that Liang and Mao come back together in the end. To me, this seems very pro marriage. In that, instead of throwing away the 10 years with Mao to go off with some other guy, Mao and Liang rediscover each other and why they fell in love.

This is very touching. Too often marriage is treated with no more gravity than just regular dating – and that when the going gets tough or boring, it’s easier to break up and move on, regardless of vows. At least, that’s the way I see it in movies a lot of times. It was so refreshing and inspiring to see the bad boyfriend get redeemed! It’s not often you see that, but I loved it! It shows that love takes work, and to never give up.

17 Again Pt 3: The Meeting of Two Minds

Everything is going well, but it’s not long before a Liang hits a bump. Old Liang overhears Mao saying that he will probably never get back together with her. Deeply hurt, Liang turns to crying and eating junk food. All the while, she is watching the video of herself and Mao on that fateful day when he asked her to be his girlfriend. In her sad frenzy, she accidentally eats one of the chocolates.

Little Liang wakes up, very confused, in a pile of junk food. But then she sees the video that is playing, and she finds out about the younger Mao. She learns about how he said he loved her and that he gave his word that if he ever broke his promise of loving her, he’d run through the streets naked. Little Liang also realizes the inner turmoil her older self has been suffering because of him. For the first time, Little Liang is sober and serious. She realizes that even though she’s seen Mao as a jerk and boring, her older self still deeply misses him and loves him.

Little Liang does something to stand up for her older self, by leaving Mao the CD of that video and a note scolding him about the promise he broke. This makes Mao begin to question, and to remember why he and Liang got together in the first place. He is also reminded of his younger self. Because before this point, Mao has only been interested in business deals. He had little faith in Liang and stayed very skeptical of her abilities. He had only been going along with everything because that’s how Mr. Geo wanted it. But now… What should he think now? My guess about Mao is that it has been far too long since he’s seen Liang as anything more than a docile, house not-wife. He doesn’t even bother remembering what she used to be like. But now that’s starting to change, and so is he.

Liang has been struggling with Mao’s lack of faith in her, but that’s not her only trouble. Over the news, they find out the factory that makes the magic chocolate was hit by a meteor and destroyed. Now, I will admit that it is a bit odd, and a bit overly dramatic, with the whole explosion-by-space-rock. I’ve heard people ask, “Why the heck is that there?” For me, I thought it was hilarious. And the purpose is to give a limited time that Little Liang can be around. That adds just a little bit more conflict, and it pushes Older Liang to take action and get Little Liang to teach her how to paint again. But aside from that, things are going great. Her art has taken off, and she is enjoying herself. Life is going well.

And then she lives the dream of attending the opening of her new art gallery.

In the car with Ning on the way to the event, she decides to eat a chocolate and let Little Liang enjoy this moment. Because, as Old Liang tells her best friend, “She made me who I am.”

Little Liang is perfect for the clapping crowds and photographers. She bounces and glides and waves to everyone. Filled with life, youth, and energy, she gives a charming little speech. However, while on stage, she turns back into her 28 year old self and can do nothing but give the audience a blank stare. Ning saves her by clapping like that was the end of the speech, and everyone joins in.

At that moment, Mr. Geo announces he has a surprise. Liang will do a live painting for them! Everyone cheers as a blank canvas is brought out for her, but you can see Old Liang is seriously nervous. Apparently, no one told her about this. Liang excuses herself for a moment and runs off the stage.

In the bathroom, she is holding up the piece of chocolate. It would be the easiest thing to do, simply hide behind Little Liang’s skill and confidence. However, she hesitates, then slowly sets down the chocolate, deciding she will do this one on her own. Old Liang returns with her head held high. She pauses to hand the chocolate back to her friend, who watches in shock as she goes up to paint as her older self.

This is a very important moment. Up until now, Old Liang has been relying on Little Liang to paint for people, but now she is taking it into her own hands. When Little Liang stands up to Mao it is like she is becoming a little more like her older self: for she is thinking of others and trying to look out for them. Painting in front of everyone is Old Liang’s way of becoming a little more like her younger self: finding her passion and confidence once again.

With only ten chocolates left, but her art doing well and some of her confidence restored, Older Liang gives little Liang the rest of her time to do whatever she likes. At last! Little Liang can go see Yan! She’s been so caught up working, that she’s barely been able to see him, and now she’s no doubt envisioning a great reunion between them! But if only she had the vision to see that Yan had grown weary of waiting for her and moved on. She would have saved herself the heartbreak of see her beloved Yan with some other girl – cozying up with him on his motorcycle.

This time, it’s Older Liang who wakes up to find herself surrounded by junk food. Getting up, she discovers a painting Little Liang had done in her misery. The girl in the painting is crying and gray. Perhaps she even looks a lot like the Liang from the beginning of the moving, which would be an interesting parallel. Now it’s time for Older Liang to stand up for her younger self.

She goes and disrupts the biker’s party to talk to Yan. She asks him why, after she spent all her time drawing for others just so that she could see him, why he would go find someone else? He replied, “If you can’t give me what I want, why can’t I find someone else?” Liang splashes his drink in his face and storms off.

Finding her best friend, Older Liang gives Ning her phone, and tells her to show Little Liang the video of Yan rejecting her. “Tell her not to waste any more time on him,” Older Liang says, then she eats a chocolate.

Little Liang doesn’t listen (big surprise there) and runs after Yan. Banging on his door, she storms into his place. She says that he’s wrong, she can give him what he wants, and begins to try to kiss him and take her clothes off. She assumes when he said, “You can’t give me what I want” he meant physically. But we find out he meant that in a totally different sense. He pushes her away, and his new girlfriend comes up and slaps Liang, saying, “I can follow him wherever he goes, can you?” But the thing is, if Liang was to say yes, she’d be making the same mistake she made with Mao; giving up all her plans and dreams to follow his. So in the end, it’s good she doesn’t end up with Yan.

But Little Liang does not see it this way. She goes crazy, lashing out in an immature way by fighting with Ning to find the rest of the chocolates. Then when she does, she eats them all at once and chases after Yan. She is in love, heart broken, young, and crazy. As you might guess, this doesn’t end well. In other words, she passes out in the train station and falls into shock.

Then comes a dream sequence in which the two Liangs confront each other. Older Liang is trying to call Little Liang; trying to get her to come back. But just as Little Liang is starting to calm down and come, they encounter a wall, and Little Liang starts slipping away again. Out of desperation Older Liang breaks the wall and catches Little Liang. They share a moment together in this dream world, while out in the real world (on a hospital bed)her heart has flat lined.

This is the moment where the two Liangs finally come together. All throughout the movie, it’s been the story of the younger and older Liang finding each other and working together. At the beginning, they are so far apart they aren’t even aware of each other. Then they tolerate each other. Then they help each other. And now, at least, they make peace with each other. As Little Liang slips away for the last time, Big Liang promises to never forget her and to always hold her near.

In a hospital bed, Liang wakes up. No longer Little Liang or Big Liang, but just simply, Liang.

At first I thought this was the end of the movie. I was a little disappointed and almost clicked away…. but I’m so glad I didn’t! I would have missed something very important! What I had mistaken as the credits rolling in, was actually a montage of all of Liang’s art and accomplishments over the next few years. And then the loose ends are tied up, and we see what became of the two men in the story.

Good Strong Female Characters

When I first heard the term “Strong Female Character,” my first response was to shrug. When I was a child, I had grown up with reruns of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, and one of my favorite characters of ThunderCatswas Cheetara. When I hit my teens, I really enjoyed Ivanova and Delenn of Babylon 5, with Lyta Alexander thrown in, if only because she was a redhead.

To hear the SFC label as an insult threw me for a loop. The first time I heard it was about a leftist complaining about women fighting evil.

Though recently, the Superversive blog has not only highlighted problems with the idiocy in Strong Female Characters, this horse has been beaten to death using the carcass of another horse as the cudgel. Between Dawn’s post, my post, and multiple others, it’s been covered fairly thoroughly.

Can we talk about when it works? I know it sounds strange, but bear with me a moment. I can’t imagine that anyone involved in the Pulp Revolution crowd will be happy if you dismiss Red Sonja as an SFC (or, looking at the history of her character development, perhaps they would). Let’s face it, there are times where it can at least be entertaining. As I mentioned the other day, Xena was entertaining at one point …. before it went really flipping strange; I, at the least, can enjoy most of Buffy the Vampire Slayer without accepting the agit-prop that Joss Whedon thought he was putting in.

Now, in these cases, it works in part because overly strong female heroes aren’t usually a problem when it’s someone superpowered. No one objects to the concept of Wonder Woman, Supergirl, or X-men’s Rogue. We have usually just complained about the execution thereof.

To see where things can go right, let’s see where they’ve gone wrong, shall we?

Agent Carter, brought to you by the spin-off department at Marvel, featured Peggy Carter from Captain America, and dear lord, what were these people smoking? Yes, I know, enough lefty agit-prop to kill a small herd of elephants. This was depressing. Hating men by the truckload — but it was okay, because our heroine did the hating [eye roll]. I’m not sure what was worse, Carter’s sudden hatred for all men (which wasn’t in the film she debuted in) or some of the flashbacks in season two that tried to explain it (yes. the show had a season 2). But no, Agent Carter was perfect, no flaws at all, and if you disagreed with her, you were wrong.

Yikes. At least in the case of 24, when Jack Bauer was “always right,” it was largely because he was surrounded by bureaucrats, and even then, he sometimes lost big. Sure, if everyone listened to Jack Bauer, the series would be called 12, but despite that, he’s lost his wife, daughter, his family, and nearly all of his friends. On her tv show, Carter is “always right” because the plot says so, all of her office mates were men, and therefore evil, and she loses nothing. It’s sad, because in The First Avenger, the character worked because she was empathetic with our hero, risked a lot on an untried Steve Rogers, because she saw in him the same qualities and virtues that he embodied as Captain America. AND she was nifty with a machine gun. The Agent Carter of the tv show? What is this thing called empathy?

Then there’s Supergirl, the current TV show. I’m not sure what’s the worst element about this show: the message fiction (feminista, LGBT signalling, strange anti-Trump digs, et al), the writing, characterization or the plots. It is mind-boggling how much is wrong with this show, from the angsty men to how Supergirl herself is portrayed as, mostly, a ditzy blonde — and it’s not even an act. Depending on who’s writing the DC comic book, Kryptonians on Earth are naturally smarter, stronger, and faster than anyone else. Superman has often been described as overpowered. Technically, Supergirl herself could be a flipping Mary Sue, and it would at least be consistent with the premise that SHE’S AN ALIEN. Having recently seen the first two Christopher Reeves Superman films recently, the contrast is stark — Clark Kent is a front, a mask where Superman is clumsy and awkward and presents as a total idiot. In this Supergirl TV show, Supergirl herself comes off as awkward, uncertain, and even childish. It’s not a mask, it’s who she is. She’s not perfect in every way, and fewer and fewer people are willing to correct her about it.

And I think the real, major problem with the general concept and execution of the Strong Female Character: these women are portrayed as being totally problem free and perfect when they’re clearly not. To my recollection, no one called out Agent Carter on her BS, unless it was Tommy Lee Jones in Captain America: The First Avenger, and he was a honey badger — he didn’t care for crap from anybody. On Supergirl, the lead lacks empathy more often than not, and insists on putting down anyone who wants to stand up and be counted because they’re not as invulnerable as she is; and no one calls her on it anymore.

The less said about Blindspot‘s Jaimie Alexander being able to square off against and pummel men three times her weight with her bare hands, the better.

We, as an audience, are being force-fed women who are deeply flawed, and in some cases unlikable, and being told that they’re perfect. These aren’t the Strong Women Characters I grew up with. This doesn’t work.

So … where does it work?

In some cases, the SFC trope can work because they are pure popcorn action pieces. Xena worked, at first, because it was pure popcorn, and actress Lucy Lawless was just fun to watch. It failed when it went strange (Greek myths ran into the Old Testament, then Christian mythos? Huh? Please stop hurting my brain). And even then, her perky blonde sidekick would occasionally take her to task for her BS, which is a cute trick since it looked like Xena had about six inches on her.

Red Sonja has never had any pretensions, and if you think it has, I can’t take any project too seriously when the film stars Ernie Reyes Jr as a super badass 12-year old.

Why did Buffy work? Because if you were just looking for entertainment, it was, again, mostly pure popcorn, with some metaphorical overtones for teenage life. I think the least subtle aspect of that was a conversation after Angel went evil, where Buffy’s mother asked, “You slept with him and it was like he became a completely different person, wasn’t it?” Talk about your understatement. The character also had plenty of faults. Most, if not all, of the season finales came after an episode or two where, yes, she’s vulnerable– duh, she’s a teenage girl. She lost at least one boyfriend because she treated him like dirt, and it was Xander, the one labeled “loser” at every turn, who had to explain why she was being an idiot.

Black Widow, for me, works quite well, mostly because a lot of her characterization has been very straightforward femme fatale (see: The Winter Soldier). Or she would rather have a normal life than be a Russian super assassin (Age of Ultron). Heck, even “Mister Feminist” himself, Joss Whedon, directed a film in which she was not only a damsel in distress for five minutes, she even mourned that she had been sterilized as part of her training (also Age of Ultron)– wait, I thought good SFC Feministas were supposed to welcome being freed from the burden of children? Isn’t that in the Gloria Stienem handbook? No wonder feminstas pilloried Joss offline (he claims he just needed a break from Twitter … yeah, sure, Joss).

Emma Peel is fun to watch if only because, well, Diana Rigg. She was obviously having fun. She was obviously still a woman — and obviously the source of inspiration for Black Widow’s outfit. And, while the character knew practically everything, and naturally gifted in almost every form of spycraft and fighting, she still didn’t manage full on Mary Sue status. How did she manage that? In part, because she was captured in literally every single episode of the television show. She almost always had to be rescued … okay, she typically wasn’t held captive for very long, and she was usually, she was unleashed to beat up her captors, Sadly, I believed her fights in the 1960s Avengers than any of the fights on Blindspot.

For more recent examples of SFCs who work, I will direct you over to Baen books. John Ringo has two very nice female protagonists, who are perhaps more badass than anyone else on this list thus far.

In the first place, there is Faith Smith, of his Black Tide Rising series. Faith is a teenager, barely 14 years old. Because of genetic quirks, she’s tall and looks older than her age. She’s highly athletic, and fairly strong. When the zombie apocalypse hits, she is in her element, and becomes an awesome, neigh-unstoppable melee fighter who even makes Gurkas take a step back and watch in appreciation.

Surely, Faith is part of the problem, isn’t she?

Nope.

For one thing, Faith is still a teenager. When clearing seafaring vessels for survivors, she can’t handle seeing those who died because help hadn’t arrived in time. She becomes depressed, and starts claiming that Trixie, her Teddy bear, “Doesn’t like to see this.” She has literally put her trauma onto her Teddy bear. It’s touching, and a little creepy at times. By book four of the series, after months of working with Marines, they liberate Paris Island, where “real” marines threaten her, browbeat her, and drive her into a nervous breakdown. Because she’s handling a zombie apocalypse before she’s even old enough to drive, and she’s had a bad day. Strong? Yup. Perfect? Nope. Does anyone pretend she is? Nope. Her marines tend to her general care and feeding around things she’s bad at — like jumping from heights, or paperwork, et al.

Barbara Everette is Ringo’s other major female lead, of his Special Circumstancesseries. She is a tall athletic soccer mom with a rigorous prayer life that enables her to be the bad ass ninja warrior for God.  And no, I’m not snickering as I write that sentence. No, she’s not perfect. She actually spends a lot of her time calling herself out on her own flaws, particularly her temper.

I’ve got at least two characters who stand out from my own writing: Mandy Rohaz and Amanda Colt. In my Love at First Bite series Amanda Colt …. has social anxieties, to put it nicely. In my Last Survivors series, Mandy is a mercenary, by profession and by nature. She’s impulsive, but changes her mind as fast as new data comes in. She’s basically an armed tomboy who likes money, and will do the right thing, sometimes whether she likes it or not. There’s good under there, but you have to dig for it, and she’s been called to the mat for that a few times.

I think I’m making my point. At the end of the day, I don’t think there’s an actual problem with “Strong Female Characters.” I grew up on Emma Peel, Buffy, Xena, Red Sonya and Princess Leia. At the very least, we should probably stop labeling the offending phenomenon SFCs, and relabel it PPFC — Pretend they’re Perfect Female Characters. Because that’s really the problem here, isn’t it? It isn’t necessarily that the characters are strong, but that’s all that they are; they’re overly strong, to the exclusion of most other characteristics. And what else is there to them? Many of the examples used on the site lately are really shallow creatures. The most common description I hear about Katniss Everdeen is “Moron.” Bella Swan is a blank slate, at best — assuming you don’t view her as a fickle, manipulative Creature from the Black Lagoon.

But I think it’s time to bring back actual strength to these Strong Female Characters, and rid ourselves of the pretenders.

17 Again Pt 2: When a Boulder Meets a Lake

 It takes some time for the Little Liang and Old Liang to become aware of each other. In the meantime, every time Little Liang is let loose, she wreaks havoc and chaos wherever she goes. And on top of that, she meets a guy, and starts falling for him.

This happens when Little Liang is taking the train somewhere. A cute guy catches her eye, so she takes out her sketchbook and starts drawing. Just as she finishes the picture, the train stops… and the spell cast by the chocolate ends as well. Old Liang drops the notebook and walks out, totally unaware of what she has just done or of the boy who’d seen her doing it.

Later, we see Mao is talking to the all-important Mr. Geo. The businessman is not impressed with the designs for his new perfumes that Mao’s company is providing. He explains they need something fresh! And exciting! Like….. He pulls up a photo that has been going viral online. It’s a photo of the picture Liang drew and left on the train, along with a picture of Liang herself. Yan, the guy from the train, is apparently trying to find the girl who drew the picture. Mao is dumbfounded as he immediately recognizes Liang. When Mr. Geo finds out Mao knows the girl, he says he’ll invest in Mao’s company….. IF Mao will have Liang do the designs. Mao tires to argue that Liang is not right for this. But Mr. Geo just waves him off, and leaves Mao with no other choice.

And thus we enter the real meat of the story: Old Liang must convince Little Liang to draw the pictures. Old Liang has lost all her skill and passion, but she wants to win Mao back, (because when Little Liang was around, she kicked him out of the house and told him to push off). But Little Liang is not at all interested in painting for her older self. All she wants to do is go hangout with Yan and have fun.

It is very interesting, and amusing, watching the two Liangs learn how to communicate with each other and make deals. Slowly, the young and the old Liang become closer, working better together, and getting along. Many things happen. Little Liang discovers that not everything is fun and games, and that life and relationships can be hard and confusing. Meanwhile the Old Liang, while she still has many bumps and trials, is remembering there is still color and wonder in the world

It’s an interesting dilemma set up here. At this point I was totally committed. The two Liangs couldn’t be more different; it was like watching a boulder crashing into a lake and making waves without end. So how are they going to resolve this? I just had to keep watching to see.