As I mentioned last week, the adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is now available on Hulu. The streaming site offered the first three episodes at once, and is now releasing the rest of the 10-part series on a weekly basis every Wednesday.
I decided to binge on all four episodes when I got home from work on Friday night. Don’t do this. Really, don’t. Unless you want to be haunted by the too many and too close parallels between a fictional world and this one. Unless you want your optimism hollowed out and replaced with dread when you realize that the show is goddamn too real. From the Washington Post, February 14, 2017:
“‘I believe one of the breakdowns in our society is that we have excluded the man out of all of these types of decisions,’ he said. ‘I understand that they feel like that is their body,’ he said of women. ‘I feel like it is separate – what I call them is, is you’re a ‘host.’ And you know when you enter into a relationship you’re going to be that host and so, you know, if you pre-know that then take all precautions and don’t get pregnant,’ he explained. ‘So that’s where I’m at. I’m like, hey, your body is your body and be responsible with it. But after you’re irresponsible then don’t claim, well, I can just go and do this with another body, when you’re the host and you invited that in.’”
These are the words of Representative Justin Humphrey, a Republican freshman in the Oklahoma state legislature, who has introduced a bill which would require that a woman get the written permission of the father – who would also have to be identified in writing to the healthcare provider – before having an abortion. The individual identified as the father would also have the right to demand a paternity test.
Note the word “host” as a description of a pregnant woman. This is exactly the same word and mind-think that is used to describe the Handmaid’s function in the world of the Tale. Elizabeth Moss, who stars in the series as the Handmaid known as Offred, told Rolling Stone magazine “that hits a little too close to home.” Amen, Elizabeth.
Another bill was introduced in that same session of the Oklahoma Legislature by Representative George Faught for a second time – House Bill 1549 would force a woman to go through a pregnancy despite the fetus having, or being suspected to have, a genetic abnormality, no matter how early the woman sought an abortion. Both bills passed out of committee, but have languished in the state’s Senate.)
Among the absolutely abhorrent and despicable and disgusting and shameful things that the Republican “American Health Care Act” – what a fucking oxymoron!!! – does is defund Planned Parenthood. And then we and the rest of the world were treated to a bunch of white men celebrating and downing brewskis in the Rose Garden.
To get the putrid taste of vomit out of my mouth and to, at least temporarily, displace the dread that had (and has) overtaken my optimism, I watched the pilot of Star Trek: Voyager (“Caretaker”), which, in an odd juxtaposition, Hulu automatically started playing after I finished my binge of Handmaid’s Tale.
So exhausted last night. And aggravated. Got stuck in a major traffic jam on the New Jersey Turnpike that was so bad I finally said fuck this, made an illegal u-turn, backtracked and got off the turnpike, and drove through side streets in Newark and Jersey City until I finally got home 3½ hours after I had left my starting point. By that time I had to pee so badly I was actually in pain, and I was cursing as I parked the car because I knew that at any minute I was going to wet my pants, and then of course, the straps on one of my bags broke and the contents went spilling all over the street, so by the time I actually got into my apartment building’s elevator I knew it was a lost cause, despite the Kegel’s, and yes, ladies and gentlemen, I wet my pants. The stream of urine warmed my upper thighs and my tuchas, and I cursed and at the same time felt so much physical relief.
Anyway, like I said, I was exhausted. I dropped everything I held in my hands to the floor in the hallway, went to the bathroom, tiredly cleaned myself up, threw my jeans and everything else down below into the laundry basket, put on my bathrobe, lay down on the couch, turned on the TV, and fell asleep. Out like a light. TV – the perfect lullaby.
And I woke up to Neil Gaiman in my living room. No, no, no, not that way. Neil is a married man, to the wonderful and amazingly talented musician Amanda Palmer. The TV was still on and there on the screen was Neil in the eponymous documentary Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously. I lay on the couch and watched for a while, memories flooding my head, watching Neil (whom I haven’t seen in a gazillion years) and other friends like Karen Berger and Heidi MacDonald (I haven’t seen them in a gazillion years, either), and then I finally got up, made my tea, turned on the computer, and started to write today’s column.
On Saturday I watched the first three episodes of Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, which is based on Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel. Brilliant. Abso – fucking – lutely brilliant. And also horribly scary.
The scariest thing about it? The destruction of the United States of America happened so slowly, it was so normalized, that it wasn’t noticed until it was too late. In the third episode, “Late,” Offred (Elizabeth Moss) realizes she has awoken to the world, that “she was asleep before… Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.” We learn that the rights of citizens were suspended in the interests of national security – terrorism was blamed for the assassination of the President and the destruction of Congress, though the truth was far more ominous. Each “sacrifice” that followed was an incremental one, one made for the “greater good.” (The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few… or the one?) Until, finally, without realizing it, it was all gone. And it was too late.
“Having been born in 1939 and come to consciousness during World War II, I knew that established orders could vanish overnight. Change could also be as fast as lightning. ‘It can’t happen here’ could not be depended on: Anything could happen anywhere, given the circumstances.”
Including a “Baby Man” in the White House.
My theory on Trump’s “policies” always boiled down to this: “I’ll show him!” Everything about Trump, even his decision to enter the Presidential campaign, is that most simple reasoning of any child – or immature adult – who has been teased, made fun of, or otherwise embarrassed. He is determined to undo anything and everything President Obama enacted. All because the former President made fun of him at that White House Correspondent’s Dinner.
From “Trump Discards Obama’s Legacy, One Rule at a Time” (New York Times, May 1, 2017, by Michael D. Shear): “An obscure law known as the Congressional Review Act gives lawmakers 60 legislative days to overturn major new regulations issued by federal agencies. After that window closes, sometime in early May, the process gets much more difficult: Executive orders by the president can take years to unwind regulations – well beyond the important 100 – day yardstick for new administrations.
“So in weekly meetings leading up to Jan. 20, the Trump aides and lawmakers worked from a shared Excel spreadsheet to develop a list of possible targets: rules enacted late in Barack Obama’s presidency that they viewed as a vast regulatory overreach that was stifling economic growth.
“The result was a historic reversal of government rules in record time. Mr. Trump has used the review act as a regulatory wrecking ball, signing 13 bills that erased rules on the environment, labor, financial protections, internet privacy, abortion, education and gun rights. In the law’s 21-year history, it had been used successfully only once before, when President George W. Bush reversed a Clinton-era ergonomics rule.”
Hmm. My theory is proven.
Getting back to The Handmaid’s Tale and Margaret Atwood’s essay…
How responsible are we, all of us, for allowing Trump to sit in the big chair? How much did we normalize his campaign? Certainly the media didn’t help, covering every rally, every stupid fucking tweet, as if once again the burning bush was speaking to Moses on the slopes of Mt. Sinai. Ratings, baby, ratings. But ultimately, it was We, the People, who did it. I was talking to a Trump supporter during the campaign, someone in the health field, like me, and I asked him how he could support someone who made fun of a reporter with a physical disability? He answered, “Oh, he wasn’t making fun of that guy. Go online, watch him at other rallies. Trump always throws his arms around like that.”
Normalization. Seeing only what you want to see.
Are you fucking kidding me?
And now we, and the rest of the world, are in a “chicken fight” with North Korea. And we, and the rest of the world, are holding our collective breaths as two petulant children draw their lines in a sand and dare each other.
Out yesterday was Angel Catbird: To Castle Catula Vol. 2. Now, you might recall that I mentioned this series once. OK, twice. Well, maybe three times. OK, I may have gone overboard. In case you forgot, the Angel Catbird series is by the genius writer Margaret Atwood, who is behind the ever-relevant TheHandmaid’s Tale and fantabulous artist Johnnie Christmas.
At this point in the story, Strig (a.k.a. Angel Catbird) and his friends are moving to regroup at Catula’s castle (hence the title). As they walk, they tell stories about their past, and meet up with some new friends. We also get to see the dastardly plans of the evil Dr. Muroid and his rat army.
The pulpy nature of this story just makes you feel good when you read it. Plus, it gave me a great opportunity to use the word “dastardly” to boot. It’s got its own dark moments, to be sure, but overall it is a lovely break from the dystopian stories that have become more popular. Like for example, the nightly news. It reminds me of reading old school comics as a kid. This is something that feels more like old school Batman or Spider-Man. Plus the puns!! You laugh and groan at the same time for all the puns!
Through all the pulp, puns, and groans, Atwood builds a new universe that we only glimpsed in Volume 1. This time, we get a nice sized history on some of Angel’s companions, while meeting new friends like the half-owl community. The owls and cats, two communities on opposite sides, untrusting but willing to come together to protect each other. It sounds so important to today’s time, two different groups getting along.
A valuable but overlooked part is the fundraising and awareness aspect of this series. It continues to share cat and bird facts to enlighten the readers to the struggles of the animal population. All proceeds are still going to Nature Canada, a preservation organization in Canada. Today’s society is filled with causes, all deserving of attention and funding. It is important for comics to be a part of that. Using this platform to educate and help others, whether human, feathered, or feline is important.
I believe that comics are a great educational tool that appeals to all ages. Everyone should take a moment to learn, and learning can be educational too. But when learning also contains a 1000-year old vampire half cat, half human, it’s f*cking fantastic.
Until next time, same bird time, same cat channel!
Sir John Hurt died a few days ago. One of Great Britain’s finest actors, his rise started with his turn as Robert Rich, a courtier and lawyer in Henry VIII’s court, in Fred Zimmerman’s A Man for All Seasons. The movie, based upon Robert Bolt’s play about the fall of, British Lord Chancellor Thomas More, could be considered a science fiction story as it deals with a perfectly harmonious island society that was nowhere to be found in More’s 16th century – or in the 21st, for that matter.
Sir John, in his long and brilliant career, was no stranger to our brand of cultural pop geekdom. Besides his outstanding turn as the War Doctor on the 50th anniversary special Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor – he recreated the War Doctor on four sets of audio plays for Big Finish; three are already out, and the fourth is debuting next month (and thanks to editor Mike Gold for the info) his filmography includes Alien; Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts 1 and 25; Snowpiercer; Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; V for Vendetta; and 1984.
I am struck with irony. Sir John rose to prominence in a movie about the man who coined the term “Utopia,” and later starred as the protagonist – Winston Smith – in the film adaptation of 1984, the classic, definitive novel of a dystopian society. Dystopian being, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, “[a]n imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one; the opposite of utopia” – just in case you needed to look it up. Which I doubt.
But here’s why I am “struck with irony,” and I quote from Friday’s (January 27) New York Times in “Why ‘1984’ is a 2017 Must-Read,” by the Times critic Michicko Kakutani:
“1984 shot to No. 1 on Amazon’s best-seller list this week after Kellyanne Conway, an advisor to President Trump, described demonstrative falsehoods told by the White House press secretary Sean Spicer – regarding the size of inaugural crowds – as ‘alternative facts’. It was a phrase chillingly reminiscent, for many readers, of the Ministry of Truth’s efforts in ‘1984’ at ‘reality control’. To Big Brother and the Party, Orwell wrote, ‘the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresies of heresy was common sense’. Regardless of the facts, ‘Big Brother is omnipotent’ and ‘the Party is infallible’.”
Sir John died the same day the article appeared.
There was another article in the Times, on Saturday, Jan 28, this one by Alexandra Alter, “Fears for the Future Prompt a Boon for Dystopian Classics,” in which the journalist wrote that sales have “also risen for [Orwell’s] Animal Farm, as well as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here. She also notes that last weekend, at the Women’s March in D.C. (and, I add, around the country and the world, including Antarctica), signs were everywhere referencing Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The book, which was written 32 years ago, has never been out of print – Ms. Alter notes that it in 2016 sales were up 30%, that it is in its 52nd printing, and that “Ms. Atwood’s publisher has reprinted 100,000 copies in the last three months to meet a spike in demand.”
In other news, Mary Tyler Moore died two days before John Hurt, on Wednesday, January 25. You young ‘uns may not remember, unless you catch reruns, but Ms. Moore starred on The Dick Van Dyke Show Laura Petrie, wife of Van Dyke’s Rob. She broke the mold of the then current (1960s) suburban housewives on television sitcoms; her Laura was well-read (she often had a book in her hand) talented (she was a dancer), fashion-forward (when Laura started wearing Capris, every housewife in America started wearing the cropped pants), daring (she dyed her hair blonde), and sexy (there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Rob and Laura closed the door to their bedroom for a reason.) And she and Rob had fights, too.
Then, in 1970, she broke the mold again, starring as single woman Mary Richards “making it on her own” working in the newsroom of a small television network in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Originally Mary Richards was going to be divorced, but there are two reasons that didn’t happen: divorced women were still an anathema to network execs in 1970, and there was actual fear that the audience would think that Laura Petrie had divorced Rob, and which would totally kill the show before it even got started. So the suits decided that Mary Richards had broken off her engagement. Along with a stellar cast that included Ed Asner as her boss Lou Grant, Valerie Harper as her best friend Rhoda Morgenstern, Ted Knight as the dimwit anchorman Ted Baxter, Betty White as devious, superficial Sue Ann Nivens, Cloris Leachman as neighbor Phyllis Lindstrom, Georgia Engle as Georgette Franklin, Ted Baxter’s ditzy yet smart girlfriend, and Gavin MacLeod as news writer Murray Slaughter, The Mary Tyler Moore Show won 29 Emmys and three Golden Globes, along with too many honors to mention.
And though the network chickened out of allowing Mary to be divorced, along the way there were plenty of separations, divorces, living together, and, yes, marriages. But Mary Richards ended the show as she started – single and living alone.
Journalist and television anchor Jane Pauley, writing in the New York Times on Thursday, January 26, noted that the “The Mary Tyler Moore Show started several years before two words, ‘and women,’ were inserted into an F.C.C. affirmative action clause pertaining to television station hiring. That might have helped women like me get a job, but Mary Richards may already have opened as many doors; she had made a woman in the newsroom seem normal.”
And speaking of death – one that occurs off-screen but will drive the plot of the show’s first season – I watched the premiere of Riverdale on Thursday night.
So far, not crazy over it.
Here are my texts to editor Mike about it:
“I thought it sucked.”
“That was the only funny part, if you’re an Archie fan. Lots of very weird scenarios running through this dirty mind.” (Regarding the scene between Archie and Miss Grundy doing the dance of the two-backed snake in the car.)
“Trying too hard.”
“Betty and Veronica instant friends? Ronnie would definitely not feel any guilt right away.” (Regarding getting it on with Archie.)
“Just seemed like it was plotted from one of those computer programs on how to write a screenplay.”
“Dialogue seemed false.”
“Best one was Ronnie’s mother.”
“Well, maybe next week will be better. Some of Buffy’s first season sucked, too.”
“I love Archie, too.”
“Trying too hard to be Twin Peaks.”
“Gonna eat dinner.”
That one was about my growling stomach, not Riverdale.
I’ve been traveling a lot for my day job. It’s been hectic and crazy but it did give me a chance to catch up on some comics I’ve been trying to read. Not sure if you remember, but about a year ago Dark Horse Comics announced acclaimed writer Margaret Atwood would be coming to comics with her original title Angel Catbird. The moment I heard about it, I was beyond excited. Really, I even wrote about how I was excited. Well, volume 1 was released on September 6th and I’ve finally gotten a chance to read it.
Ok, so before I talk about the comic, I want to talk about how amazing the introduction was. When you are talking about Margaret Atwood, a glimpse into herself is a great thing. She wrote the introduction herself, and you can’t really even call it an introduction. It is more like a journey through her childhood hopes and dreams. Who knew that she wanted to be an artist? Or was a huge comics reader as a kid… and still is as an adult? Atwood, one of the most important and influential authors of the 20th century, and she has the unrealized goals of being an artist. She spends time throughout the introduction also talking about her development process for this comic, as well as her partnership with Nature Canada. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about her, just read this.
Angel Catbird is a pulp-style comic following a young scientist who gets accidentally dosed with a genetic formula he is creating to become Angel Catbird, a half cat/half bird human hybrid. When that happens, he finds out that human-animal hybrids already exist and in the middle of a very big fight with a not so nice half-rat man. In the introduction, she mentions reading comics in the ‘50s and you can definitely see that influence in Angel Catbird. It’s got a fun, simplistic story that is enjoyable for young kids and adults. And if you don’t believe me, think cat band and high-tech rats.
The art of Angel Catbird mimics the older style of comics and reminds me of the Archie comics I read as a kid. It fits the story perfectly. Johnnie Christmas really captures her writing perfectly in the art and he pairs well with the coloring by Tamra Bonvillain. They also outline their character design process at the end of the graphic novel, as well as some guest art pieces.
Well, this comic is really activism wrapped up in pretty pictures. Proceeds are going to Nature Canada, and within the introduction, Atwood mentions a pledge to have cats stay indoors to help save birds. The story also includes facts about cats throughout the story. I can only guess that bird facts will be included within volume 2, but I’ll have to wait for 2017 and volume 2 to find out.
I was looking for a lighthearted, enjoyable read, and that is exactly what I got. Angel Catbird is not an in-depth, dark tale but its purpose is to highlight the real dangers towards cats and birds in the wild and it accomplishes that in a fun way. Also, the introduction, if you didn’t guess, was a big and amazing wonderful addition for me. It was a perfect airplane read and one I would totally recommend.
Here we are at the end of 2015. It is crazy and amazing that I have been writing at ComicMix for the past year. Personal tip: Always start things in January, it makes it easier to track time. Right now, I’m not alone in reminiscing about the past year but frankly, I’m ready to start looking forward to all of the amazing things that 2016 will debut! Here are a few things I am getting excited about….
Next year is the arrival of famed writer Margaret Atwood’s first foray into comics with Angel Catbird from Dark Horse Comics. Atwood’s writing style never struck me as the superhero type, so it will be interesting to see how the story develops. Additionally, I am eager to see if or how the addition of a non-profit charity is integrated into the story.
The other comic I am (weirdly) excited to read is the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers comic from Boom! Studios. Yes, I have a soft spot for 90s nostalgia comics and this is no different. While I haven’t kept up with the newer series, I want to see what they do with the characters that I remember from my childhood.
Next year will also be the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. This means a year of celebrities doing fun things in memes, lots of tidbits from the new show arriving in 2017, and the new movie Star Trek: Beyond which will hopefully not suck. I also can’t wait to see what IDW Comics does to celebrate.
Most importantly, I’m interested to see how the events of this year unfold into the next. 2015 was a year of turmoil in the world. In the geek community, diversity became a polarizing issue, whether in comics, TV, or movies. There were protests about female representation in toys, which echoed loud enough for companies to being listening. Enough people clamored about diversity in comics, either for characters or creators, that it became a standard must-have question/panel at most comics conventions this year. Each week the publishers seemed to have a different answer to the problem. In the greater world, the new civil rights movement has only just begun in the US, while other countries are still fighting wars. 2016 will be a defining year for us as the human race and just might be a year of peace and understanding.
It’s been a long week in comics, for me at least. Frankly, I’m already behind on reading all the “Best of 2015” lists and my inbox is totally overflowing. So I when I saw the latest announcement from Dark Horse Comics, I was super surprised, definitely excited, and a little anxious.
It was announced yesterday that Margaret Atwood is writing her very first graphic novel series. It is a superhero tale called Angel Catbird, who is a half-cat, half-owl hero with a bit of an identity crisis. The first book in the series of 3 will be out in Fall 2016, with more announcements to come. The best part is the comics are being published with support of Nature Canada, a conservation charity.
Her comic sounds very lighthearted and fun, which is not at all the descriptors I personally think of when talking about Margaret Atwood. To ma at least, she has always been a serious and deep writer, warning the world of lessons it needs to learn. If you’ve ever read The Handmaiden’s Tale, you know exactly what I am talking about. When I read that novel, I was (and still am) terrified of that world.
Right now, that story has more in common with today’s reality then anyone would like to admit. We are living in a time where we are turning against each other out of fear and misunderstanding. Literature is here not just to entertain, but to pass on knowledge and lessons. With each passing day, the path towards The Handmaiden’s Tale becomes a little clearer, which should scare all of us.
I’m not sure if Dark Horse’s Angel Catbird will have a lesson to learn. I can make a guess that it will considering the involvement of Nature Canada. I will just sit here and hope that its readers and the world will be there to listen.