My Nomination for a Stand-Alone Female Superhero Movie

Last time I talked about how superhero films seem to fall flat whenever a heroine is at the helm, and I listed a bunch of reasons why. Today, I’d like to talk about which superheroine I’d nominate for a standalone film, one who could be introduced in an ensemble film.

I nominate… SHE-HULK!

Here’s all the reasons why I’d love to see her featured in her own movie.

1) We don’t need to have a full movie focused on her origin story. I say, “Well, she’s the Hulk’s cousin and got her powers from a blood transfusion.” If you know who The Hulk is, then you know who She-Hulk is.

2) Her alter-ego, Jennifer Walters, is a lawyer. Walters is an attorney who often works with other superheroes in matters of law. Having this kind of a job makes her character extremely flexible for a screenwriter to play around with. She can be on or off camera for a trial, which offers her the ability to be part of an ensemble cast or featured as the primary character in a story arc. The benefit to this job, is that her character can also fit our time period and be painted in a way we can better relate to.

3) She-Hulk has a reason for being strong. Due to her physiological nature, She-Hulk is expected to have superhuman strength, agility, speed, stamina and reflexes. We don’t have to get some overblown justification as to why she’s strong. Anyone who knows what the Hulk can do would hope to see She-Hulk lifting cars and throwing bad guys.

4) She-Hulk is an iconic character. Whether you paint her as a modern day Jekyll and Hyde or as a supercharged Bionic Woman, She-Hulk is an iconic character that resonates through and through.

5) Introduce She-Hulk in The Avengers! She-Hulk is a character that’s been introduced in several ensemble cast movies. To build up her fan base, introduce her in the upcoming Avengers movie or one of the superhero stand-alone films. There’s plenty of options available, so I think she’d make an excellent choice.

What do you think? Which female superhero would you like to see in her own movie? On Twitter and Facebook, some people mentioned Zatanna and others Power Girl. I can see why those might be good choices.

What’s the Trouble with Female Superhero Movies?

The superheroine is no stranger to the comics narrative, nor is she unique to a specific time period. Emma Frost. Batgirl. Firestar. Hawkgirl. Huntress. Witchblade. Wonder Woman. Ms. Marvel. Invisible Woman. The Magdalena. Liberty Belle. Mirage. Zatanna. Nightshade. Oracle. Phoenix. Liberty Girl. Velocity. And, of course, Supergirl.

But this isn’t a post about superheroines, it’s about the films and why they’re often poorly received. Here’s a great post that speculates Why Aren’t There Any Good Girl Superhero Movies?. I really liked this list, because it highlights there’s a problem with both standalone and ensemble movies. Neither one seems to get the job done, the question is why?

Hence, the reason for my post today.

Often, I feel the way superheroines are characterized is either toned down or hyperfeminized in the live action films. Sure, they are hypersexualized in the comics to the point where their bodies aren’t realistic or anatomically correct, but so are the men! There is, however, distinct differences in the way they’re portrayed in the films. They’re not the same type of heroic character. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that female superheroes really aren’t “super.”

In a movie, a woman isn’t allowed to kick all kinds of ass unless she has an over-the-top emotional response that justifies her need to be violent. In other words, in order for her to “be strong,” she has to be the spirit of vengeance (Ultraviolet, Aeon Flux), the token female (Fantastic Four, X-Men) or the girl power comic show (Charlie’s Angels).

The evidence for this is in the ending. Do you remember what happens when the heroine’s deed is done? In stand-alone films the problem I see, is that the story arc reduces the heroine to the life of an everyday character. Neither Ultraviolet or Aeon Flux are heroines after the film ends, because they save the day. Problem solved. We imagine that they can finally retire because there is no reason to kick ass anymore. Arguably, the same is true of Elektra and Catwoman (e.g. the Halle Berry version). Once the bad guy/girl is taken care of, many of these heroines drop what they are doing and either unmask or are “redeemed.” This, I’m sorry to say, breaks their character and the role of what a superhero is all about. For me, superheroes are supposed to be iconic. They fight bad guys, but after one villain is done, there’s another one around the corner. So they keep on fighting because the world needs them.

In the animated films, this isn’t as much of a problem for me. Hulk vs. Thor was an excellent example of how the female characters make sense in an ensemble cast. Even though it had a love triangle between Sif, Thor and Amora, the writing was fantastic. Amora is a villainess who teamed up with Loki because she wanted revenge, but when she saw the damage she caused, she had a change of heart. However, her core personality didn’t change. She was still a villain, even after the fact. There’s this really tense scene where she shows up to defend Odin alongside Sif as penance for her crime. That one scene shows she hasn’t irrevocably turned into a namby pamby good girl. She will be who she is regardless. Sif, on the other hand, is a really fierce heroine. We do see her tender side, but she dons the role of defender even through impossible odds. While there’s not a lot of romantic tension between her and Thor, the movie isn’t about the two of them, so this makes sense.

Yes, there are a few live action movies where the main character is a superheroine, but we either have to look outside the comics industry to find them or go to a smaller press. Kick Ass. I’m still laughing about that movie. It was tongue-in-cheek, but Hit Girl doesn’t stop being who she is, even after the death of her father or her attendance at a school. Phil Elmore on Twitter mentioned Aliens. Ripley is a great character and an excellent example of how it is possible to have an ensemble cast with a female at the helm; even though she’s not a superhero in the traditional sense, she’s still iconic, in part because the real bad guy, the corporation, will never go away. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series NOT the movie…) and Liz from Hellboy are two other examples. They’re the reluctant heroes, but they do the job because they have to, not necessarily because they want to.

All right, so all these complaints are fine, well and good. Let’s come back to reality for a second. Would a mainstream audience respond well to a superheroine rather than a superhero? Sure, marketing is a big part of this, but so far none of the films have been that successful. Is it because the public doesn’t want a mainstream superheroine film? Can we really say that with a straight face?

Here’s what I would look at for a stand-alone film:

    Her character needs to be iconic. None of this emo glitter crap. Seriously. Comics have proven time and time again that there is absolutely nothing wrong with an iconic female superhero. That can resonate in the films, too.

    The character needs to resonate with the time period. One of the reasons why I feel Iron Man is such a great film, besides the fact that Robert Downey Jr. was made for that role, is because his backstory in the movie is contemporary. So, a stand-alone film would work best for female characters that fit within our time. So, while I think a The Magdalena movie would be pretty cool, I feel we need an exemplary modern film before we move into other eras.

    Give us a character we can all relate to, regardless of the audience’s gender. It is an absolute myth that women only relate to female characters and men only relate to male characters. If that were the case, then only female authors would write female characters and vice versa. Instead of amping up all her feminine qualities, amp up her heroic side.

    Build a story that’s crucial to her heroic deeds. Okay, here I’m talking about movies where the token female is kind of thrown in. She doesn’t really have to be there for the story to continue. In a stand-alone film, if you remove the main character, the world should fundamentally change for the worse.

    Introduce her character in other films so you don’t have to have an origin story. One of the biggest challenges with female superheroes, is that they can’t stand on their own. They’re not popular, so they’re not supported, so they’re not popular. By picking a character with a stronger origin within the context of other superheroes, you’d have an easier time of it. Black Widow may be going that route, but it’s hard to say. We’ll see.

So who would I nominate for a stand-alone film? Find out next time! Don’t forget to nominate yours below or add your thoughts.

Will Hindmarch, an Author’s Hidden Enemy and the Solution

If you’re an author, you know that there’s a lot of things we have to deal with that fall outside of our craft. One of those things is our hidden enemy: bitterness.

The BonesYesterday, I was replying to Will Hindmarch on Twitter about the topic. If you don’t know Will, he worked for White Wolf as the developer for Vampire: the Requiem. In fact, it was his design of Scenes of Frenzy that served as the template for my newly-released Scenes of the Embrace.

Besides being a talented developer, he’s also an author, a graphic designer and one of the owners of GamePlayWright. Will and I worked together on The Bones which is pictured at left; his style of editing taught me an important lesson. Track your research thoroughly whenever possible, just in case a need for citation comes up, even if it’s for a specific word. Otherwise, you’ll be scratching your head. A lot.

Anyway, now you know who Will Hindmarch is. So back to the quote at hand. Here’s what I said to him.

A writer’s worst enemy is being consumed from bitterness not by what we haven’t done, but what someone else has.

Can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into this. The first experience I had with interacting with other authors online was on a message board. Can’t remember the author’s name, but I do remember his piss poor attitude. At the time, he published a series of books over twenty years ago. Hadn’t published anything since. He was so negative and pervasive in his attitude toward other people, telling them they would never be successful. The guy had more experience than we did, yet he was focused on telling us what we didn’t have and why we’d never make, because he never did.

Mind you, I’ve learned there will always be someone more experienced than you and more successful than you are. The reverse is also true. I’ve had people tell me I’m not a real author because I haven’t been published by one of the big guys; I’ve also had authors say they wish they had my background.

Hand of PublishingSo what do you do when you feel bitterness seeping into your bones? You write more, dammit. No seriously. You drop what you’re doing and you work your ass off. You’re never going to get anywhere unless you put your fingers on your keyboard and write another story. Then you submit it. Then you work on the next one. And so on.

That’s it, people. ‘Cause there is no hand of publishing that will magically reach out of the sky and deem you worthy. If one story isn’t successful, you gotta suck it up and work on another one. In this business, success is relative and it’s not a guarantee. Am I saying that to sound negative? Nope. That’s the reality of publishing.

If you’re still stuck, read The Cult of Done Manifesto and then…

Get your butt back to work!!!

Why Writers Suck at Marketing

Writers and marketing. In this digital age, the two words are becoming synonymous, but to what end? Having been on both sides of the fence, this is a difficult post for me to write. This isn’t the sort of thing I care to admit or highlight to people, because writers are a unique breed. Immersed in words, we use them to the best of our advantage. We research. We’re intelligent. We should be able to learn anything we set our minds to.

But not all of us can.

Our Personality Matters

By nature, our work requires us to be introverts. We turn our focus to the voices inside our head to produce the words on the page. Marketing, on the other hand, forces us to be extroverts. The two fields don’t always jive with our personalities. No matter how hard we try to hide it, we all have our quirks and sensitivities. Is that wrong? No, not at all. Our personalities aren’t something to be picked apart and analyzed, but by their nature it’s difficult to pull off both at once.

Many authors read popular marketing books from the likes of Seth Godin, etc. or learn more from their organization. (Truthfully, I’ve learned more about marketing books from my romance writer’s group than I have in any other.) Can an author understand marketing from a pragmatic and theoretical level? Yes. Can an author turn around and apply that knowledge to reach new readers?

Well, that depends.

Books are Products, Unfortunately

Once the book is done, our vocabulary changes. Instead of authors, we’re small business owners. Instead of offering a book for our readers, we have a product to sell. That concept is uncomfortable for a lot of authors (and editors) because it cheapens our art, turning it into a money-making machine. While that concept doesn’t resonate with every author the same way, the idea of “going corporate” with a book is a direct attack on the romanticized view of an author.

For many, the idea of writing commercial fiction is painful. It’s no longer your story, it’s someone else’s. Indeed, there’s a stigma for authors who have bestsellers or write tie-in novelizations. They’re sell outs. They’re not real authors. They’re hacks. The question is: Why do those stigmas exist? Is it because the writing is any better or or worse than non-commercial fiction? No, most definitely not. Many authors have written both original works and tie-in novels including E.E. Knight, Tobias Buckell, Matt Forbeck, etc. So what gives?

Emotions Blind Us

Perhaps these impressions exist because it goes back to the same reason why authors suck at marketing. We are so emotionally attached to what we do, it’s challenging to deal with the reality of it. Once a book is published, we have to sell it. Not just when it first appears, but continually. Putting the discussion of sales aside, the reality is also that not everyone will like our book, including reviewers. Even if someone is interested in it, they may not want to recommend it or buy it, either. On the flip side, readers may love it and cherish it. But the negative side to that? Can we deal with scathing or uninformed reviews? Not so easy. We created the work. We’ve given birth to a story. In many ways, we view an attack on a book as a personal one on the author. Whether or not that’s the case, this is the reason why authors investing in a career have to have a thick skin.

Marketers are our Shields

Marketers act as a buffer between the creator of a product and potential customers, much like a public relations agent protects a celebrity or politician. A marketer deals with the good, the bad and the ugly from the PR side and determines how to leverage the positive points a book has in order to reach out to new readers. Marketers are cheerleaders, cops, therapists and investors. They may have a vested interest in selling your book, but they can see it from an outsider’s viewpoint because they didn’t write it. That perspective is invaluable to any author, because it often helps you express details about your book you can’t see.

The reality of selling any item, whether it be a book or a stuffed animal, is that you can’t make everyone happy. As authors, we really love what we do, so it’s hard not to take it personally when a reader doesn’t like the stories we’ve worked so hard to tell. Part of that, of course, is the fact that it takes a lot of time to do what we do. By the time the book is published, we’re already exhausted. We’ve nurtured the story for months, from first draft to final. No one else knows that, though.

Marketing isn’t Easy

The gut reaction when a book debuts is to take the path of least resistance. Writers flock to Facebook and Twitter or blog because it’s the easiest and most comfortable thing to do. We think by blogging once or twice or getting a couple of reviews that’s what marketing is all about. We’ve done our job, right? But it’s not. Marketing campaigns don’t last a single day, often they stretch out for months at a time. Bookstores, for example, specialize in merchandising books. Take a look around the next time you’re in one or visit their website; they don’t just carry new releases.

Yet, that’s what a lot of authors do. They focus on the “one” book and promote the living hell out of it. If that doesn’t work, they repeat ourselves over and over again. BUY MY BOOK BUY MY BOOK BUY MY BOOK. Granted, it’s infinitely harder to market one product as opposed to a line of them, which is why working with a publisher or like-minded authors whenever possible is so important. The nature of the web favors the biggest, not necessarily the best. The truth is: lone voices are just a drop in the bucket online, unless you put the work in to make your voice heard. That takes a long time to do if you don’t have any help.

Sure, people point out several examples of authors who do all right, but typically an author had something prior to their success, an asset they either leveraged or forgot they had. Maybe they wrote for a popular game line and developed a fan following. Maybe they were a contributor to a well-known blog. Maybe they had been previously published through a book chain.

Whatever the reason, remember that there was an identifiable and quantifiable justification for their success. It may look easy to us, but any successful person knows there’s something to be said for hard work.

What’s an Author to do?

The more websites pop up and the more books that are sold, the more challenging it will be for new authors to market their books online without professional help or the backing of a publisher. I have strong opinions about what that means and how much it’s worth; I feel that now instead of vanity press, we have vanity marketing. Some of the prices for such services are simply absurd. If you’re considering hiring someone to provide marketing for you, be sure to do your homework. Any professional marketer will have data and examples of what a typical campaign looks like. If a service cannot provide that to your satisfaction, do not hire them.

Whether it’s short stories or tie-in work, marketing for an author is most successful when you have a built-in audience of people willing to pay for your work. Mind you, that is not the same thing as a platform. The reason why popularity online is so attractive for people, is because it’s akin to brand awareness. The thinking is, the more people who know about you, the more likely they will convert into paying customers. Larger platform? Higher conversion. Though, even then that’s not a guarantee.

Does all of this include me? Who has a background in online marketing? Let’s just put it this way. For some of my new releases? Once the work is done, I hope to partner with my publishers, to figure out how I can best help bring awareness of my works in a way that’s comfortable for both of us.

Yep, I’m a Feminist

girl power

There are things going on right now that deeply disturb me. Strange and unusual things. Things like a movement to redefine what rape is to counteract Roe vs. Wade. I get that people don’t like abortions, but what I don’t understand is why any woman in her right mind would support legislature that decreases the rights we’ve fought so hard to get in the first place. Push the topic of abortion aside for a moment. Redefining an ugly act that has a deep stigma associated with it for its victims is really narrow-sighted and incredibly selfish. This isn’t “for the people,” this is for someone’s vanity.

Just this morning, I came across an article talking about how Justice Scalia claims the 14th Amendment doesn’t apply to women or gays, in part because he prefers an original interpretation of the law. The “original interpretation” makes me laugh. Our founding fathers were not gods, they were human. They applied the law to what they thought would be best for their society at the time. Although the law does affect future generations, there’s only so far a human being can see into the future. Take a trip back in time for a second. The 14th Amendment was drafted because back in 1868, they were still dealing with the repercussions of something called “slavery,” yet another topic we gloss over and pretend has no effect on racism today.

Keep in mind, too, women didn’t receive the right to vote until 1920. That is less than a hundred years ago. Multi-racial marriages? Weren’t legal until 1967. It’s worse for people dealing with sexual orientation issues; it’s now 2011 and two human beings still can’t marry who they choose to? Were any of these changes in the constitution? Nope. Laws change as a result of our cultural progress. Sure, our culture ebbs and flows like the tide, but it flourishes when we have a well-fed, healthy and literate population.

What kills me about these attacks, is that if we let this happen, we do a great disservice to the generations that came before us. We forget the wars they fought to be treated like decent human beings. The U.S. is still very, very young compared to the rest of the world; our country is unusual because it has experienced rapid growth. Are we cultural leaders? Yeah, not a chance.

While this country has been through a lot, our short history is rooted in violence and strife because a bunch of immigrants forged a series of micro-cultures on top of the ones that already existed here. (e.g. Native Americans. Yeah, they were here first. For thousands of years, in fact.) Did America begin with an amalgamation of different religious and political movements? Yes. Has our society changed dramatically over the last century? Yes. Not only did we go through several wars and the Age of Industrialism, our population levels have increased, to the point where a movement called “zero population growth” was founded in the late 60s. And we’re still growing. Still advancing. Still changing. Truly, miraculous.

Mind you, I love this country and all its possibilities, but what I don’t love about it is our cultural attacks on “the other.” When someone isn’t like us, typically we don’t try to identify with them, we isolate them and attack them. Worse, we make claims that someone is whining when they stand up for themselves. It takes a bunch of kids dying for us to go, “Oh shit, maybe bullying gay kids is bad.” Terrible stuff, that.

In my opinion, the biggest challenge we face is apathy. The increased channels of communication we have are both a blessing and a curse. Change is happening all over the world and we’re right there to see it, hear it and respond to it without ever leaving our desk. But change is damn scary to a lot of people, if not most of them. Very scary. Some believe that if they themselves change, it makes them less honorable or a hypocrite. Some people are so afraid, that they need to either revert progress to make it safer for them and those around them, or they hide and stick their heads in the sand. Let someone else deal with it, it’ll sort itself out. Right? Or, change it back to the way it was, because that’s how they can cope.

Maybe I’m missing something, but when did we lose our ability to be empathetic toward other human beings?

So what happens when the proposed changes by our elected leaders are not justifiable? What then? Do we allow a reversal of rights to happen, even when it doesn’t apply to us directly, because it’s too hard to deal with? We absolutely have to pick our battles, sure. But for crying out loud, if there’s one thing I learned: the less you exercise the rights you have, the more chance you have of them being taken away.

So yeah, I’m a feminist. I abhor labels, especially ones I have to identify with simply because I support the idea that all human beings were created equal. For bonus points, you should know I also believe we are not islands. Just by living, we have a relationship with other people, our environment and the animals around us. So, I guess my stance also makes me a person of coloralist and a gayist and a senior citizenist and an animal loverist… Well, you get the idea.

A couple of links follow below. I am absolutely willing to hear alternate points of view. Do I listen to the “you suxx0rs” comments? Yeah, no. Fair warning: if you’re going to be an asshole, I will screen your comments out. Unlike YouTube! or a newspaper, I do have a comment policy. Say what you gotta say, just don’t be a jerk about it.

Oh? And the reason for the picture? Because I needed a little pick-me-up. I shouldn’t have to remind myself why I’m awesome, but hey… Sometimes, I have to reassure myself that just because I was born a woman, of which I had no choice over, I don’t have to allow myself to be treated like dirt.

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