Stories Matter: The Critic’s Thoughts on Captain America

If you were on the Internet yesterday, you probably saw the news that, in the new comic run that just came out, Captain America is really an undercover Hydra agent.

Just typing that sentence makes me vaguely sick to my stomach for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that Captain America was created by two Jewish guys during World War II specifically because they were “morally repulsed” by the actions of Nazi Germany. But there are so many more reasons I am angry than just that.

Art does not exist in a vacuum. Stories matter.

This is something we forget sometimes, I think.

Everything we choose to create, everything we bring into this world comes with myriad connections we may never have considered. And as responsible human beings, it is our JOB to consider all the implications we possibly can and to be aware of how our art can hurt people.

Because it can, and it does. And unfortunately, the people it hurts are usually the people who have been hurt time and again already.

Art does not exist in a vacuum. Stories matter.

Others have explained why this particular gimmick (it’s a gimmick; I don’t care what the PTB says) is tone-deaf and ignorant at best and downright hurtful and frankly enraging at worst, and they’ve explained it better than I can. (I would encourage you to read all of those links, especially the Twitter threads and the article.)

Suffice it to say it doesn’t matter if this is a clone or an impostor or Evil Steve from a parallel universe or he’s being mind-controlled or if Marvel will retcon it at the end of the year (or, hell, even in the next issue). This “narrative twist” goes against everything Captain America has ever stood for, it spits in the face of his original creators and the Jewish community at large, and it does so at a time when we, as a global community, need real, good heroes more than ever. Even if the run finishes and it turns out Cap isn’t REALLY Hydra (and honestly, the editors are pushing the idea that he is SUPER HARD), the damage is done.

I am just so TIRED of this bullshit. I’m so tired of creators pushing the idea that morally gray antiheroes or actual villains are more interesting than people who try their best to do what’s right, no matter how hard it is. I’m so tired of ~edgy~ and ~gritty~. I’m so tired of evil characters being glorified, of good characters being gruesomely murdered or turned into evil characters for shock, publicity, and sales.

Art does not exist in a vacuum. Stories matter.

Right now, Marvel has forgotten both of those things.

Quickie Book Reviews: M/M and Historical Romance!

I’ve been burning through a lot of books this past month (I’m currently in the midst of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which I am LOVING), so here are a few quick reviews of some of the books I’ve been reading! There’s a contemporary m/m romance, a science fiction m/m romance, and a historical m/f romance. All links are Amazon links, but they’re not affiliate links.

thebonesofyouThe Bones of You by Laura Stone

The Bones of You is a pleasant reconciliation story about Oliver, a grad student finishing up his master’s degree in Cambridge, unexpectedly reconnecting with his high school boyfriend, Seth, who has gone on to make it big on Broadway.

It’s been five years since they broke up, and when they run into each other again, it’s pretty clear their feelings haven’t gone away. But the same things that broke them up are still issues, and the big question is whether Oliver and Seth will be able to make it work.

It was very, very sweet, though I was never terribly worried about whether Oliver and Seth would figure their shit out. They just worked too well together not to.

My favorite character, though, was Big Mike, Seth’s gigantic motorcycle-riding father. He was so genuinely kind and loving and proud of his son that it brought tears to my eyes. My favorite scene in the whole novel was the New Year’s party at his house.

There wasn’t much conflict, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I did wish it had been a little harder to figure out how things would shake out at the end. You just knew everything was going to be all right. Overall, though, it was an enjoyable story.

thestarhostThe Star Host by F.T. Lukens

The Star Host is a fast-paced science fiction story that reminded me of Firefly at times. Ren is a duster, someone who was born on a planet, even though he dreams of seeing the stars. Those dreams are dashed pretty quickly when he, and several of the other teenagers and children in his village, are conscripted into service for the villainous baron, who’s trying his level best to take over the entire planet.

It’s while he’s in captivity that Ren meets Asher, a drifter who’s been held captive for over a year, and they realize they’ll have to get out together to thwart the baron’s plans.

I thoroughly enjoyed the worldbuilding in this story and the legends of the star hosts (people who have special powers granted by the stars), and I really liked Ren dealing with his newfound powers. His relationship with Asher starts out antagonistic before they each come to rely on the other, and I liked how believably it was built. Even though there is a romance between them, it’s not really as large a part of the story as the “stop the baron” plot, and that worked very well for me.

I really loved it once they got off the planet and started hopping between space stations. I wished we could have seen more of how the larger universe was set up, because what we did see was really cool. I’m really, really looking forward to the rest of the series.

thedukeandiThe Duke and I by Julia Quinn

Julia Quinn is one of the mainstays of historical romance, and I’ve heard so much about her Bridgerton series–of which this is the first–that I was very much looking forward to The Duke and I. Ultimately, despite the witty writing and hijinks that made me laugh out loud at times, the book had some issues that made it difficult for me to totally enjoy.

The biggest of these was the head-hopping, the way she drifted between Simon’s and Daphne’s viewpoints in such a way that it made it difficult for me to remember whose head I was in. I can’t count the number of times I had to go back and reread, trying to identify where the switch happened. And while I liked Simon and Daphne together overall, I wasn’t terribly thrilled with the resolution of their relationship for a number of reasons.

I also wasn’t a huge fan of the overprotective older brothers in Anthony, Benedict, and Colin, although thankfully they did get told off numerous times by both Daphne and her mother.

However, I can see why people enjoy the Bridgerton family; their family dinners and outings were hilarious and I really did like the messy, loving family dynamic between all of them. When the older brothers WEREN’T being overprotective nitwits, I really liked them as well.

So it was good, but I don’t think I’ll go hunting up the rest of the Bridgerton series just yet.

What have you all been reading lately? Any books I should add to my list?

Trailer Park: X-Men: Apocalypse and Warcraft

Despite the X-Men being my favorite of Marvel’s properties while I was growing up, I haven’t made a real effort to see the movies in theaters after the abomination that was X-Men: The Last Stand. However, both First Class and Days of Future Past were very good, and so I’m tentatively excited about X-Men: Apocalypse. It’ll be interesting to see how all the time travel from DOFP has affected the world and the characters and where, exactly, they decide to go with the movie.

In other news, I COMPLETELY FORGOT that Warcraft was coming out this summer. I played World of Warcraft for about a year and a half and while I wasn’t originally thrilled about the movie (video game movies have a tendency to be “meh” at best), this actually looks pretty cool. What do you think?

The Netflix Queue: The Great British Baking Show

The Great British Baking Show - PBSOkay, yes, I know it’s weird for me to be writing about a reality show, of all things, but bear with me for a minute. The Great British Baking Show (actually The Great British Bake-Off, but trademark stuff) is one of the best reality shows I’ve ever seen.

I came across it while poking around Netflix looking for something to watch, and I had heard other people talk about how good it was. And I like baking, so I turned it on and gave it a go.

The Great British Baking Show is about finding the best amateur baker in Britain. Twelve contestants are selected, and each weekend, they head to the baking tent for three different challenges: a signature bake, a technical challenge, and then a showstopper challenge. One person is awarded Star Baker each week, and one person is eliminated. Three bakers remain for the final challenge, where one person is crowned the winner.

It’s the kindest, most uplifting reality show I’ve ever watched, and it’s all topped off by acres and acres of delicious-looking food.

The hosts are silly and light-hearted, and their banter never feels forced or painful. The judges are effusive with praise when they like the food, and honest but not cruel when there are things that need work. The contestants are all supportive of each other, offering hugs and words of encouragement after they receive criticism and excitement after praise. There is so much hugging in this show, it’s glorious.

And the baking. I mean. The baking. Each episode revolves around a theme–cakes, biscuits, pastries, bread, etc.–and all the bakes have to do with that.

The signature bake is the first one in each episode, and it’s one that the contestants know about and can practice at home. It’s so cool to see them take the assignment–for example, a Swiss roll or a savory biscuit–and make it their own. Each person has their own tricks for getting their bakes to do what they want, and it’s really interesting to watch.

The second challenge, the technical challenge, is a complete surprise. The contestants are given a list of ingredients and the recipe, but there are key components missing, like a baking temperature or a baking time or what size you should chop the fruit. It’s up to the bakers to use their baking knowledge to bring the recipe together, even if it’s something they’ve never heard of before. Then, all the bakes are placed on a table and the judges taste them, then rank them from the least successful to the most successful.

In case you couldn’t tell, this is probably my favorite part of each episode. I love seeing how the bakers interpret the recipes differently, how some of them are familiar enough with the bake to make good guesses and how others are flying completely blind. Sometimes they wing it and it turns out beautifully, other times, not so much.

(In a side note, all the recipes for the technical challenges from the sole season on Netflix are available on the PBS website. I’m tempted to give them all a go.)

The final piece of each episode, the showstopper, is another challenge that the bakers can develop at home before they have to reproduce it at the tent. By the name of it, it’s clear this bake has to be as visually striking as it is tasty, and it’s really great to see how the bakers pull out all the stops for it.

It’s just a fun show, and it’s amazing to see the sheer variety of food the bakers have to tackle. In addition to expected foods like cookies and bread and tarts, there are puddings and samosas and entremets. In one episode, they make baklava, and they have to make their own filo dough to do it.

There’s only one season available on Netflix currently, and at this point I’ve watched the whole thing three times. It’s just such a sweet, fun, fluffy show–and I use “fluffy” in many senses of the word–that it makes me feel better just knowing it’s out there. If you like baking (or at least, like watching people bake), then you should definitely check it out.