With all the crazy going on in the world, it’s only natural to wish for a hero to show us the way. Some days, we really NEED one, but not just any hero. If we’ve learned anything from the turmoil that’s happening all around us, it’s this: the powerful don’t always live up to their mantel. Being powerful doesn’t mean you’re intelligent, compassionate, or brave… and being male doesn’t automatically make you more capable of leading anything.
This month, we look deep into our favorite genres to bring you some of the best examples of what it means to be a hero. Internally, we call this issue the “strong women and anti-meathead” heroes edition. Hopefully, you’ll call it a collection of thought-provoking and inspiring creativity that shows you the best of who we can be when we decide to put on our capes and soar. Enjoy!
All Indie. All Awesome.
p.s. – If you are headed to New York Comic Con this October, stop by booth #2157 and say Hello! We’ll be there along with authors Lynn Emery, Crystal Connor, and our very own Cerece Rennie Murphy. They’ll be on hand to sign copies of their brand new releases Thursday through Sunday.
2016’s The Girl with All the Gifts was one of the few zombie films to bend the genre’s expectations in every logical direction, right down to its prioritization of female characters. The absolute stunner of a lead, Sennia Nanua, plays Melanie, an infected young zombie-like girl under intense protection and analysis in a government compound. Her teacher and caretaker Helen (Gemma Arterton), along with a surprising appearance by Meryl Streep (who must have taken a significant pay cut to appear here) venture off into the damaged wilds, looking for a cure to the fungal-related zombie epidemic while simultaneously keeping a wary eye on their young ward. It’s been two years since The Girl with All the Gifts first released, and it’s all-but required viewing, bringing more unique concepts to the well-worn zombie horror genre than the last ten years of its peers, and all three central female characters defy trope characterization – they are tenacious, bold, world-weight-carrying bastions of the remnant human civilization, and manage to surprise the audience all the way through to the film’s immensely satisfying finale. Amazon Prime is currently offering the film free to stream for subscribers.
Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm series has to be his most enduring contribution to the medium, taking and mixing cues from Lovecraftian mythos, body horror, slasher films, high-tech gore, and even post-apocalyptic survival tales. While many critics cite the first and second films as the series’ crown jewels, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead features certain aspects that demand reevaluation. While several series mainstays such as the Tall Man and good ol’ Reggie make their return, it’s impossible to overstate the pure joy evident in the character of Rocky, played by Gloria Lynn Henry. A badass Black woman with nunchucks and a leather jacket, Rocky manages to not only kick copious ass on-screen, but deftly rejects Reggie’s sexual advances as well, even surviving through to the end of the film (she eventually gets an admittedly minuscule cameo in Phantasm V: Ravager, but at least her character is confirmed to be alive and well). For a Black woman co-star in a horror film, that last point is an especially notable achievement, and it’s gratifying to see the character penetrate popular film tropes while retaining an incomparable toughness and charisma. Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead is on Shudder with subscription, or available for rent or purchase through Amazon Prime Video– note that the DVD release contains a slew of interesting bonus features that make it worthy of a physical purchase.
As the debut work of the sole woman filmmaker on this list, Ana Lily Amirpour’s artful Persian vampire spaghetti western (that’s a mouthful) A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an absorbing tone poem with textured storytelling. The titular Girl, played by Argo’s Sheila Vand, is a badass bloodsucker stalking prey in the industrial Lynchian Bad City, and emerges as a kind of quasi-heroic example of the vampire archetype. Her establishing scene sets the mood for the entire film, with a memorable feeding scenario played out on an ignorant tattoo-covered drug-dealing pimp who believes he’s encountered another hapless victim. Shot entirely in a moodily dramatic black and white and in the Farsi language (with English subtitles), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an independent film with an absolutely pitch-perfect soundtrack, and while it made a few critics’ lists in 2014, any vampire fans who have missed it need to check it out on Amazon Prime Video or YouTube Movies.
Writer/Artist – Tillie Walden
This great read is a web comic from Eisner Award-winning Tillie Walden, who won for her biographical work Spinning (2018) and was nominated in the Best Digital Comic category (2017) for On a Sunbeam. My first introduction to this talented Texan was before last year’s NYCC when I saw her name on a list of guests. I didn’t recognize her so I did what anyone would do and googled her…and that’s when I discovered this amazing blend of sci-fi/mystical realism as Mia travels the universe in search of love and family with a crew that restores ruined structures to uncover the past. The story has been collected into a print version and will be on sale 10/2/18, but the original format is still available for free. Allow plenty of leisure time for either version as you will get sucked in by the ethereal artwork and intricate dialogue.
Writer/Artist – Natasha Alterici
Heathen takes place in a land of Vikings, legends and gods. Our protagonist, Aydis, takes us on her heroine’s journey, a quest to piss in the eye of Odin by freeing a Valkyrie and winning her heart. And yes, I got my genders correct. Aydis, having been caught with a woman, has been given the choice of marriage with a man or death; with the help of her father she fakes her death and begins her search for the Valkyrie Brynhild. The tight dialogue makes for a compelling story, the art is beautifully rendered in a style that is reminiscent of rough animation cells, and while she doesn’t wear a lot of clothing, she’s not drawn in the super sexualized style of massive boobs and impossible body contortions common among most superhero books. Smaller shops might not carry this book, but if they can order or hold books put it on your pull list.
The Road to Neozon, by Anna Tambour. Remember when the short story presented epics in condensed form? This collection does. It’s a collection that travels various places thematically, but orbits a gravitational center of strong, determined womanhood, particularly in the penultimate story Vedma, which means “witch” in Russian. It’s the story of a WWII nurse who saves lives—even those that don’t deserve to be saved—but learns that even the good “witches” get vilified by men. She ultimately founds a community on her own of safety and acceptance for those finding themselves at odds with “normal” life. It’s a tour-du-force of a story that brings to mind every strong mother, aunt, grandmother, sister, friend, or acquaintance whose life was simple yet epic, and who was strong yet never truly aware of just how strong.
The Steerswoman, by Rosemary Kirstein. This is one of those treasures you hear about during panels of book recommendations at conventions. A 4-volume series, The Steerswoman begins its title character’s life with this premise: if you ask, she must answer. Truthfully. In this world, steerswomen are nomadic living libraries, curators of knowledge protected yet freely given. Rowan, our protagonist, is one such, whose life—after coming across an object for which neither she nor those she asks has knowledge—is put in danger by the very principle for which she lives her life: curiosity. Why? Turns out the object is magical, and in this world “magic” has been traditionally denied the steerswomen. This tale weaves science, community development, adventure, and especially practical magic into its worldbuilding so seamlessly the volumes feel like fascinating historical accounts rather than fiction. Add to that our main character who’s part sleuth, part clinician, part leader and part…destined? Yes and please.
Of Oysters, Pearls, and Magic, by Joyce Chng. This is a short tale, but Joyce Chng manages to pack more life and soul into the tightest packages than most epic fantasists do in a tome thick enough to break a whale. Here, again, we have a woman who makes the world her own, and all is well…until magic enters the fray. Men! Forever afraid of the Vedma. But this is not a “past” fantasy. It’s sci-fi in a tale of interplanetary colonization and humanity generations to come. Magic is never what we think it is, especially for those who think it a source of exclusive power for themselves.
A LITTLE PLUG DEPT:
BOOKS TO LOOK FORWARD TO WITH STRONG WOMEN AND ZERO MEAT-HEADERY FROM YOUR FAITHFUL NARAZANS, CERECE RENNIE MURPHY AND CLARENCE (ZIG ZAG) YOUNG, COVERS-ONLY EDITION.
In the Land of Yet, at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, a young woman lives alone…
The Wolf Queen: The Hope of Aferi (Book I) is the story of Ameenah, a young woman who has spent her life retreating from the world, until a chance meeting brings her talents and the hidden magic in her blood to the attention of the evil Hir. Despite his efforts to force her into his grasp, Ameenah resists, until she discovers that her greatest enemy may hold the key to a part of her past she thought she had lost forever. To reclaim the past she longs for, Ameenah must choose between resisting the evil that spreads across her land or joining it. The Wolf Queen will be available in paperback and ebook on October 4, 2018. You can read the prologue and order your copy here.
Only one book made several best-of lists and featured a giant, psychic whale. At the back of that book was a teaser for its book 2:
Desiree Quicho shouted, “Move your ass!” once and only once. Anyone unclear on the concept got a view of her retreating back. She whipped hell to get to the shuttle’s quickly-descending ramp…
Book 2 is on its way. Say hello to Captain Desiree Quicho, Neon Temples, Yvonne DeCarlo Paul, and new addition Inez LaFleur in a Brothers Jetstream Universe tale so epic it could only be accomplished with an all-woman crew.
The Brothers Jetstream: Afro Puffs Are the Antennae of the Universe, coming 2019. Sneak peeks = here.