News, Stuff, Things.

Harlequin-SmallThe Harlequin, in one of her many costumes.

So… A lot has happened since Thanksgiving–nothing above-the-fold newsworthy, but progress on several fronts. The above piece is the last of the Sentinels’ character pics and now the artist is beginning work on the gamebook’s cover. And that’s just the most visible sign of progress.

The playtest files for the hero-creation round are now going out to willing victims–I mean generous gamers–and several concepts for superhero roleplaying using Fate Core will be tested. Since, while I have played numerous tabletop RPGs in my time I’ve never designed one, I am more than a little worried about this stage; it could prove traumatic.

On the Ronin Games front, the plotlines of the story are still coming together although I know how it will begin and end. Among other things, it will involve a rather abrupt reevaluation of a recurring “villain.” And Magical Girls.

Meanwhile, I have found myself prodigiously entertained by some unexpected treasures. The most notable is Agent Carter:

Agent CarterI was leery of the concept of the mini-series–not because of the character but because I doubted the studio’s ability to pull it off. While I enjoy Agents of Shield, I’ll be the first to admit it has a few problems, and in its way Agent Carter is even more ambitious. However, if the rest of the show lives up to the first two hours, it will be the best “superhero” TV show of 2015 (possibly of the decade). The writing and production is top-notch, and Hayley Atwell is, again, amazing as Peggy Carter. On top of that, James D’Arcy steals every scene he is in as Jarvis, Howard Stark’s omnicompetent butler (and I wonder if we will ever meet Mrs. Jarvis?).

One comment I have to make after watching the show, is that it reminds me again of the difference between sexism and misogyny. Sexism is the belief that one gender is superior to the other; misogyny is the hatred of women.

Why was I thinking about that? Because Agent Carter is showing us a world that might as well be another planet for 21st Century Westerners; the 60s, 70s, and 80s saw a cultural shift unlike any in history–watching Peggy Carter navigate post-war society is painful at times since most of the men in her world are blindly sexist.

Even Howard Stark, the man who recruits her to his mission, is sexist–he simply makes an exception for Agent Carter based on his personal experience with her. While there are few misogynists in the show (and what Agent Carter does to one is fun to watch), the sexism of 1950s society is on full display–even hilariously highlighted by the tendency for the Captain America Radio Show to be on in the background, featuring “Nurse” or “Aid” Peggy Carter being threatened by villains and rescued by Cap, while Agent Carter hands out serious beat-downs.

I have only one objection here, and it’s not directly about Agent Carter but a trend.

It’s not universal, but in Hollywood and on TV the pure Action Hero–strong, competent, and without major flaws or humorous ticks–is almost always a Female Action Hero. Take, for example, my favorite humor-mystery series, Castle; Detective Beckett is the Action Hero, Rick Castle the comedic sidekick.

It’s funny, and I love it, but the other day Agent Carter/Butler Jarvis dynamic made me think about how pervasive the trend is becoming. Let’s look at other “action” shows.

Eureka: Director Allison Blair is much smarter than Sheriff Jack Carter, Deputy Jo Lupo much more dangerous.

Warehouse 13: Agent Mykay Bering is in every way superior to Agent Pete Lattimer (other than his intuition, not a traditionally masculine trait).

Agents of Shield: In a plane full of ridiculously competent people, the most physically dangerous is…Agent May.

I could go on, but I will summarize instead by arguing that most male action-heroes today either have female counterparts more physically dangerous than they are, or have some flaw or tick that renders them funny–often flaws and ticks that, if applied to female characters, would be labeled sexist (Castle’s metrosexual behavior, Sheriff Carter’s baseline state of exasperated confusion, Agent Lattimer’s dumb-guy/slut act, etc).

Keep in mind that these examples are from some of my favorite shows, and it goes without saying that I purely love strong female characters. But I am seeing the trend, one rising to the level of cliche, and as a writer I find myself wanting to fight it–to restore balance to the force, as it were.

A final note: Small Town Heroes has been a tremendous success. While I am not sure it is the strongest book in the series, reader comments have been mostly very positive and it has performed as well as the others on Amazon–making for a good financial year for me. Now if only I can write faster.


21 thoughts on “News, Stuff, Things.

  1. George: I am so delighted to read that Small Town Heroes has been successful. I look forward to future Astra/Hope Corrigan stories. I admit that I am still a book behind. But Young Sentinels showed me some growth in your signature character! I wish you all the best in 2015 on your projects and successes!

  2. I agree with your comment about the prevalence of female leads taking the forefront. I was thinking about it today, and the only strong male leads I have seen what you mean bout the rise of strong female leads. Bones’ Dr. Temperence Brennan, Captain Rayder on Major Crimes, Rizolli and Isles on their show. However, it may be difficult to balance the areas of male lead/ female lead in today’s society.

    On the STH front, I am glad for all the positive feedback you received. I can’t wait for Ronin Games!

    1. Sorry, my thoughts jumped ahead of my fingers. I was going to say the only really strong “Hero” types that I have seen pop up in my shows are the Flash and Green Arrow, both of whom are television versions of their comic book selves. I skipped that in the second line because my brain ran away too fast for me to catch.

      1. Agreed; Arrow and The Flash, both excellent shows, deal with established iconic characters, so they don’t fit the current trend. Instead, in both shows the men are the “muscle” and the women are the brains (although not the leaders). But again, in both shows the women are less “messed up” or flawed than the men.

  3. I had a similar response to what we’ve seen of Agent Carter so far. The boys of SSR are so screwed by the structure of the story being told that I find myself sympathizing with their dumb, bumbling, meatheaded designated-screwup doomedness. Especially Krzeminski, doing his whingy, lazy-ass worst to get out of the night shift that eventually killed him. He reminded me a bit of Dante in the alternate-ending of Clerks where the movie is ended with him being shot by a holdup artist. “I wasn’t even supposed to be here! [dies]”

    1. Perhaps. But they are playing the counterpoint to Agent Carter’s The Only Competent Man (Woman) trope–a standard trope in action movies, necessary to give the protagonist reason to buck authority, go maverick, fight both the enemy and his teammates…

  4. I’m really loving Agent Carter – Great to hear the beta testing of the game is underway. If you need another willing victim, just let me know 🙂 – I’m ready for Ronin Games!

      1. I’ve mostly RPG’d the original run of ShadowRun, Cyberpunk, CHampions, Gurps, and the White Wolf series from my first falling apart soft cover edition of Vampire the Masquerade that I then razor’d apart and put each page in a binder sleeve, to Wraith that I read the source book under my covers at night and didn’t actually get to role play it (group I was with wasn’t interested in that edition) but I’m a completest and got the source books anyway. I’ve Live Action Roleplayed during conventions. I have done my time in classic D&D long long ago when we had to color in the dice numbers with the white crayon that came with the box set. It’s actually been awhile since I’ve done any RECENT gaming as I’ve become indecently addicted to my computer, and spend a lot of time in 3D mmo worlds like Second Life doing things like raising virtual horses and having parties with furries and slave girls (and sometimes furry slave girls) and virtual shopping. Always on the market for a good spell or gadget. As most of my real life friends are gamers both RPG and computer, and many of my online friends are as well, I’m sure I can get a group to either beta with me, or I’d be happy to join a group that wants to play over the computer. I am quite willing to learn a new game system and join in on the mayhem… um testing.

      2. end note: Bliss Crimson is Mooncatx >.< in case there was any confusion. Re: gaming, I rarely gm. I'm mostly a player at heart. I love the creation stage so much. The story telling pars of the game are
        my favorite.

      3. Thanks for volunteering, and keep your eyes out for playtesting news! For this round I am working with testers who are already familiar with Fate (especially in its Fate Core form), but I will be following up with a round for playtesters who are not familiar with Fate at all (to see if the Beta Draft of the rules are understandable to players who don’t know Fate). I think that is where someone with your extensive but non-Fate RPG background would be most helpful.

  5. I don’t think those flaws on a female character would be labeled as sexist. I think what you are describing is “benevolent sexism” wherein competent female characters are simply [i]not allowed[/i] to be flawed characters.

    Also: I will admit that Small Town Heroes is my least favorite entry in your series, but it’s still really good and I am looking forward to the next book.

  6. Okay, so something about this post kept coming back to me and I had to revisit it:

    Your complaint about women in TV shows and movies being more competent than men: It’s not a valid complaint. Agent Carter is about Agent Carter, so why is it questionable that she is extremely competent? She’s the main character.

    As far as Agents of SHIELD goes: May is a very experienced agent, and as such is physically dangerous. Someone has to be the most physically dangerous, so why is it questionable that she is?

    Starbuck was the hotshot fighter pilot in the original BSG. One of the changes to the character was to have Starbuck be a woman in the remake. She is a good fighter pilot, and possibly the best – that’s the point of her character. Battlestar Galactica has no shortage of men who are the most competent in their own specialties, and women are by far not overrepresented on BSG at all.

    Like, someone has to be the most competent, most dangerous character – why is it objectionable to you when women are the ones picked? Despite your list, you must be aware that the vast majority of action heroes are men, and that the examples you list do not constitute a majority. It constitutes a shift in which in at least some cases, women are being given roles that in the past would have only gone to men.

    As far as competent women outnumbering competent men in film and television, I think that’s a contentious claim that requires something more solid than “I think I see a trend.” The point at which women are perceived to equal men in representation is approximately 17% of women (at least according to a study I’ve read) – so if 20% of action hero characters are women, then there’s a good chance someone is going to perceive that as “too many” or “outnumbering men” but that’s not the case.

    Seriously, I’d just suggest relaxing and not trying to keep score. Men are in no danger of being discriminated against in favor of women, and women being cast more frequently as action heroes is a good thing that’s been a long time in coming.

    Oh, and your claim that if women were portrayed as less competent it would be sexist – women have been portrayed as less competent for decades, and while a lot of that representation was sexist, some of it was only sexist because of the lack of balancing representation (for example, a lack of women as action heroes).

    There’s plenty of room for men and women to share the spotlight, and no need to dig for offense where none should exist.

    1. I totally agree with you on your thoughts, Elizabeth. I write realistic YA and my main character is a female. If your main character is a leader of a group and also quite resourceful in their talent, of course they are going to be quite competent. Whether they are the captain or a team player (captains are team players, too), the captain earned their position because of their skills and their strong confidence to do the job, even though they may not express total confidence in their character.

    2. You mistake my meaning, Elizabeth. First, I was referring to a much more specific trend: “in Hollywood and on TV the pure Action Hero–strong, competent, and without major flaws or humorous ticks–is almost always a Female Action Hero. Second, as I also wrote, I love strong female characters (I’d better–so far all of my protagonists have been just that).

      My “complaint” was simply that in the modern TV/Movie media, an interesting trend is emerging. And while I have greatly enjoyed specific examples of that trend (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Warehouse 13, Eureka, Agents of Shield, Agent Carter, Forever, Castle, Bones, etc), as a writer I find the trend…interesting.

      And it’s been going on for awhile; an earlier example is The X-Files, a great and groundbreaking series that led to an interesting discussion with a sociologist friend of mine. She pointed out that, while Mulder and Sculley are equal partners, they are not only not the same but if you switched their genders they would have offended many feminists; Mulder was the True Believer who went with his intuition, while Sculley was the rationalist. Feminists would have considered “Ms. Mulder” a stereotype, and they would have had a point–it’s hard to be purely objective, of course, but as for me I would have enjoyed the dynamic between the two agents much less if that had been the case.

      So my “complaint” isn’t about the trend itself, it is simply that in certain genres that trend is starting to predominate–and I think this may lead to a narrowing of possibilities. At worst, it may rise to the level of cliche.

  7. Pardon the comment spam on multiple posts tonight but I do want to reiterate my willingness and eagerness to playtest.

    I saw earlier you asked for credentials so; my group meets weekly, have played Strange Fate games as well as Fate Core (including modifying it Fate Core and designing it for our home brew world’s and existing IPs like Mass Effect) and range in experience from 6 months of gaming to two decades. Any further questions please let me know!

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