Tag Archive: strong female characters


Review by C.J. Bunce

We scuffled.  He had a gun.  So did I.  I’m alive.  He’s dead.

Twenty years before Jessica Jones, there was Ms. Tree, writer Max Allan Collins and artist Terry Beatty′s 1980s private eye with the clever homonym name.  Her husband a cop, killed by the head of a crime family, she sought her revenge and went to jail for it.  Now she’s back and the killer’s sister is looking to get her own revenge.  A private detective running her own agency, she finds her son has fallen in love with the niece of his father’s killer, the daughter of the woman who is now reaching out to her.  That’s where readers meet Ms. Tree in the first chapter of Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother, a new collection of classic stories that will bring readers unfamiliar with Ms. Tree’s exploits current as she’s embroiled in her never-ending conflict with the Muerta crime family.  The 268 pages play out like a crime TV series, like Magnum, p.i. or Simon & Simon, maybe with some Rockford Files thrown in thanks to Collins’ ever-present noir style.

Ms. Tree is her own character.  She doesn’t have the quirks and antics of progenitors like Erle Stanley Gardner’s Bertha Cool or the meticulous process of a Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher.  But she does have the edginess we’d later see with Veronica Mars and Jessica Jones.  She’s a bit older, and because of Terry Beatty’s classic artistic style (reminiscent of Crime Does Not Pay and Dick Tracy), you may just wonder if she’s going to duck behind the curtains and emerge with a Miss Fury catsuit at some point.  Drawn by Beatty like a V.I. Warshawski era Kathleen Turner, she’s also not Jackie Brown–this woman plays by the rules, but the aura of her agency has that feel of Max Cherry’s agency in Elmore Leonard’s story.

With a style (in both writing and artwork) like Mike Grell’s Green Arrow, Collins populates his story with a variety of supporting characters like you’d find in the world of his Quarry series.  Characters like her friend on the police force Rafe Valer, and her colleague Dan Green, who has a hook for a hand in a call-out to J.J. Armes, the famous real-life detective in the 1970s (who had two hooks for hands).  The first book in this series, Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother, includes reprints of the stories Gift of Death, Drop Dead Handsome, The Family Way, Maternity Leave, and One Mean Mother, with an appendix featuring Collins discussing why Ms. Tree hasn’t made it to the small or big screen, and a related tie-in short story with a more modern take on the character (and without the pictures), Inconvenience Store.  Ms. Tree was featured in an earlier Hard Case Crime novel by Collins, Deadly Beloved.  In this volume Ms. Tree reads like it must have been the inspiration for Marge Gunderson’s storyline in Fargo, and the final seasons of In Plain Sight’s Mary Shannon.

Take a look at Beatty’s use of color, 1980s style, in these excerpts from the book:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is the rare show that tries to be many things and actually succeeds at them all.  If you are looking for the ideal way to spend this Halloween, absent a Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon, you’re not going to find a better TV pursuit than this new Netflix series.  It features a captivating lead in its teenage witch Sabrina, played perfectly by Kiernan Shipka, who shows every frustrating feeling, emotion, and indecision any teenager must go through, reflected in a mythology-rich world with enormous stakes.  Sabrina is a kid–a smart kid, but still a kid–so she makes the kind of mistakes teenagers make.  Raised in the occult world by a family of witch aunts and a warlock cousin, Sabrina is a half-breed (her mother was human, her father a high priest in the dark arts), but viewers will see she shares some commonality with Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter books–she’s loyal, she’s book smart, she’s street savvy, and conscientious, dabbling in the magical world.  She also is trusting and able to be manipulated by the adults around her.  She may not be the fully realized, badass, confident heroine everyone wants to see–just yet–but by the end of Season 1 she’s well on her way.

The series protagonist is actually not Sabrina, but a demon who takes over the body of Michelle Gomez‘s Ms. Wardwell, a teacher at Sabrina’s mortal-realm high school, an ever-present mentor steering her out of dilemmas when Sabrina’s aunts fail to give Sabrina the help she wants.  Gomez, who played Doctor Who’s #1 nemesis The Master, is even more engaging here, fully inhabiting a character whose motivations are hidden by a fog–a blurred reality paralleled by a clever fuzzy tweak in cinematography throughout each episode.  Sabrina’s aunts, played by Miranda Otto, The Lord of the Rings #1 heroine who saved Middle-earth (“I am no man!”) and Lucy Davis, the #2 female lead in the WWI era of the movie Wonder Woman, unite to create a classic duet in the spirit of Arsenic and Old Lace.  Otto’s Zelda is strict and a devout believer in her dark religion, Hilda a sweet and doting aunt who gets excommunicated for her support of Sabrina.  All three actresses bring their genre star power to the series, providing a jolt of heroine gravatas to support the title character.

Sabrina is approaching her 16th birthday, when she must choose between the world of mortals and the world–and protections–of the witching world.  She must decide whether she will relinquish her decision-making from then on to the devil himself or take her chances as a mortal.  She is surrounded by those she thinks she can trust and others whose motivations are hidden in a dark world of several levels of good and evil.  Making sense of the darkness and evil and placing a pantheon of 56-old comic book characters he rejuvenated in the pages of Archie Horror comics four years ago onto the screen for a new audience is Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, chief creative officer of Archie Comics, and executive producer and writer for the comics and CW’s Riverdale and Netflix’s Sabrina.  Quite shrewdly, Sacasa doesn’t comment on the dark religion of the series or any political stance his characters may reflect, instead letter the viewer bring their own value set to the show and making their own analysis.  Who do you want to cheer for, the equivalent of Darth Vader or Princess Leia in science fiction, or Sauron or Eowyn in fantasy?  Sacasa pulls from age-old classic stories, like Cain and Abel from the Bible, W.W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw, John Carpenter’s films including The Fog, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Robert Eggers’ The Witch, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and a classic horror film mirrored in the comics that might be a spoiler for Season 2–so we’ll hold that title back for now.

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It’s a useful story tool when used right: The historical talisman presented to a modern character who uses the power of that talisman to do harm or save the world.  We’ve seen it throughout The Librarian, Warehouse 13, Ray Bradbury Theater, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Highlander, Witchblade, Wynonna Earp, The Shannara Chronicles–it’s everywhere, and it’s timeless.  Frank Cho uses the same method to drive the story forward in his new five-issue, creator-owned, limited monthly series Skybourne.

Released this month from BOOM! Studios, Skybourne has what every comic book reader could want–Cho created the covers, the interior art, and scripted the story for a brand new action heroine.  The title character Grace Skybourne has been compared to James Bond–she has Daniel Craig’s Bond’s lightning reflexes and ability to level a room with her little finger.  And she’s an agent every woman wants to be and every man wants to be with.  So the Bond comparison rings true.  Cho used covers originally intended for DC Comics’s Wonder Woman series for this series, and it may very well be true that Grace Skybourne–and Cho’s series–is the Wonder Woman series we all wish he’d write.

grace-skybourne-frank-cho

In Issue #1 we meet Grace Skybourne and witness her abilities firsthand as she eliminates one baddie Terminator style and gracefully slips through a cover-to-cover fight scene straight out of John Carpenter’s They Live.  And because this is a Frank Cho project–being tough doesn’t mean she can’t be gorgeous and feminine along the way.  She’s searching for the story’s MacGuffin: King Arthur’s sword Excalibur.  Be prepared for some surprises.  Most of her foes take her for granted, but not all.  Cho’s choreography of combat and layouts are clean, simple, and as superb as you’d expect.  And his humor is back as well.  Color work is nicely rendered by Marcio Menyz. Continue reading

Rita Vrataski Emily Blunt

When we first heard that Hiroshi Sakurazaka‘s novel All You Need is Kill was being adapted for the big screen we knew this was going to be a winner.  Then the studio changed its name to Edge of Tomorrow and revised a fair amount of the characters and story arcs and we weren’t so sure.  By the time it hit the video stores the marketing folks realized Edge of Tomorrow as a title was responsible for some of the deficiencies at the box office, and so they elevated the status of their tagline Live. Die. Repeat. in big letters on the video boxes making it nearly impossible to remember the title.  So here’s some good advice:  Forget about the marketing screw-ups.  Ignore it if you don’t like Tom Cruise’s personal life.  And just watch this movie.

Although the outcome of Emily Blunt’s branded “Full Metal Bitch” Rita Vrataski is different from Sakurazaka’s novel, Rita is the finest example of kick-ass female that has hit the movie screen.  Everyone should be watching Rita and getting inspired to take tai chi or tae kwan do.  I’ve compared Rita to Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley and stand by that comparison.  And it’s worth noting it takes a real person to do all these physical acts of prowess to bring these characters to the screen, which should add Emily Blunt to role models like Linda Hamilton and Sigourney Weaver.

Edge of Tomorrow scene

Military men and women and anyone who likes World War II movies will appreciate the entire future military command setting in Edge of Tomorrow.  Bill Paxton’s Master Sergeant Farell is perfection, in a camp with Richard Jaeckel’s Sgt. Bowren in The Dirty Dozen or Warren Oates’ Sgt. Hulka in Stripes.  The D-Day-inspired battle scenes even rival the great work done by Steven Spielberg in the Omaha Beach landing scene in Saving Private Ryan.

Rarely does good science fiction also manage to pull off laugh-out-loud humor.  Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) took a production that began without a full shooting script and pieced together something gritty and complete, offset with some of the funniest stuff put on film this year.  Cruise’s character Cage tries repeatedly to escape and find Rita early in the film and is repeatedly killed–including an incredible scene involving him rolling under a jeep.  Cruise is a great actor and entirely believable as his character grows–really selling his performance convincingly here as he does with most of his films.

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