Thursday, 29 June 2017

The world needs to make way for new characters and stories, not keep trying to reinvent the wheel - A ReadItTorial

Marvel's Thor - Now female in the comics - Outsold her male counterpart tenfold.  Comics, they are a-changing (for the better!)
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It's like that comfortable pair of slippers that are literally falling apart at the seams, but are just too nice and snuggly to throw away. Nostalgia wraps us up in a comfort blanket of reminding us who and where we were when certain events unfolded, or certain TV shows aired, certain movies were going great guns in the cinema, or certain comics thrilled us with amazing and original stories.

Hollywood treats nostalgia like a blood bank. At the expense of original stories and movie-making, Hollywood has been tapping into its past glories to try and float new multi-billion-dollar movie franchises for a new audience, most of the time instantly alienating folk who should really be along for the nostalgia trip.

I recently read a very thought-provoking article that made some truly fantastic points about how women in science (and science fiction) are powerful role models to young girls who have scientific aspirations, who could truly be the next Elon Musk or Bill Gates, or anyone they want to be.

It got me thinking about writing an editorial about how movies, comics, books and TV also need to stop treating female characters like second-class citizens, and how there's still this weird ingrained notion in a few male (and sadly, some female) minds that this is a perfectly acceptable situation.

One of the article's key sections touched on why now, more than ever, we need a female Doctor Who. "12" is about to step down, and there seems no better time to prove that the doc can indeed be male or female, any gender or race, as this is now part of the show's 'bible'.

It got me thinking how much I'd root like mad for someone like Sue Perkins, Tamsin Grieg, Joanna Lumley or even Michelle Gomez to take on that most iconic role (The Michelle Gomez thing. At time of writing I have this crazy crackerjack theory that Doctor Who might regenerate as Missy but I guess we'll have to wait and see on Saturday!)

It also got me thinking about the whole 'gender swap' thing in general, and a concern I have about merely lifting and shifting a character from male to female.

The problem I have with the idea of gender swapping well established characters in comics and science fiction is complicated, and might sound like a rather sexist knee-jerk reaction to seeing a change made purely to prove that a female character would work as well as, if not better than, a male counterpart. It's really not that, it's more that I feel cheated if we're starved of new story ideas by merely retreading old ones with new shiny ideas that are just a quick fix.

On many occasions I've had quite animated discussions with Charlotte about the idea that we now have fantastic characters in comics that could easily emulate Wonder Woman's movie and comic success, and in some cases we've had those characters for years.

Gender swapping is of course in full swing in the comics industry - and that's before you even start talking about female characters rocking the comic world in their own right.

We have a female Thor now, whose comics have outsold her male counterpart ten to one. A girl has taken over Iron Man's mantle in the comics, again reinventing Tony Stark's ego-driven technological genius as a slightly dorky but extremely driven and clever young woman. We also have Spider-Gwen, arguably one of the most tightly written and gorgeously created comics of the last decade, and She-Hulk has been around for a long time - coming along way ahead of her time and basically making the big green bloke look like a bit of a whiny wussbag.

In the movies we have a female team of Ghostbusters who kicked their own brand of ass in a movie that actually surprised the heck out of me by not being a total suck-fest (Again, more because I don't like Paul Feig's stuff - nothing to do with an all-female cast though Holtzmann stole the show, just sayin').

But for both Charlotte and I, the characters that have always interested us the most are the ones that established a strong and viable female core character right from the very start - in some cases when comics, movies and TV were in their very infancy.

I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that a female Doctor Who would work. It would cause a gigantic uproar too, and - similar to what happened when the Star Wars series suddenly started to focus more on strong female leads with Episode 7 and Rogue One - we'd lose a load of buttheaded morons who'd instantly boycott or swear off the show (Boo bloody hoo. Good riddance I'd say).

But I'd want to at least see that it was being done for the right reasons. Not as a measure of 'girls are as good as, if not better than boys', but definitely to establish a strong and inspirational character that would again lend weight to the argument that science fiction and stories can continue to push not just boundaries of science and technology, but for storytelling too.

Back to the point though, again it still feels like for each and every instance where a gender-swap is proposed, we're missing the opportunity to tap into the vast sea of science fiction and fantasy works by women featuring strong female characters. Recasting Doctor Who as female still feels a bit like camping on an already well-established mythos, when there are so many potentially awesome stories and books out there that would work as TV or movies in their own right.

Something like "Station Eleven" by Emily St John Mandel, a superbly written post-apocalyptic novel that you could easily visualise as a series.

Or "Boneshaker" by Cherie Priest, again a truly awesome slice of dark and gritty steampunk that would be awesome as a movie.

And for goodness sake WHY have we still not seen any of Malorie Blackman's work given the big or small screen treatment?

Comics wise I'd truly love to see Motor Crush become a movie sensation (and it so easily could, it's so cinematic and pacy), Snot Girl would be a classic cult flick in the making and I'm pleased to see that at last we're going to get a Hilda animated series (though the early look at this was a bit jarring, the characters weren't quite there).

My main point is that there are so many great female fantasy and science fiction authors out there, why are they not getting picked up for movies and TV?

Gender-swapping male characters also seems to nudge uncomfortably against the argument that we are pushing towards a genderless society - or at least a society where gender is no longer seen as a war, a battle, a conflict, two sides endlessly butting heads trying to prove a point that seems woefully old fashioned and prehistoric now, that "One is better than the other because bullshit".

How are we supposed to encourage kids that gender doesn't matter, does not define you, if we spend endless hours on the internet arguing that "making character A female would make a huge, huge difference to women and girls", are we not just switching the argument from one side to the other rather than negating it entirely?

It's tough to not give in to the allure of reinventing characters as female though, particularly when the results are usually stunning, and you can see the different and original possibilities that this would open up in storytelling (and yes, it's certainly a far easier idea to visualise than doing the flip in the other direction - I still can't imagine the new Splash movie - featuring a Male "Madison" as being anything other than a complete disaster).

Last point - let's assume that the next incarnation of the Doctor is female, but is still written largely by an all-male writing team, in a show overseen by a male showrunner (though thankfully with a good few female episode directors and writers doing the show justice, like Rachel Talalay who has constantly surprised me with her Doctor Who work, considering how disastrous I thought the Tank Girl movie was).

Wouldn't it be neat if those roles were swapped too?