Connecticon 2019 Schedule

First off, I’m doing much better with this break, and I’ll be back in full force next month! And speaking of next month, I’ll be presenting panels at Connecticon 2019 in Hartford, Connecticut July 12-14. This will be my last time presenting at a fan convention–after this, I’m retiring.

But I’m going out with a bang! Here’s my schedule (subject to change if Connecticon moves things around):

Friday:

  • Fullmetal Alchemy: The Real-World Alchemical Tradition and FMA: 10:30-11:30 AM in Riverside 2
  • Anime Doesn’t Exist and Trek is for Girls: Fandom Secret Histories: 1:30-2:30 PM in Cityside 4
  • Break the World’s Shell: Apocalypse and Anime: 4-5 PM in Cityside 1
  • The Answer and the Question: The Radical Aesthetics of Steven Universe: 7-8 PM in Cityside 3

Saturday:

  • Queering the Monster: Sympathetic Others in Fantasy and Horror: 2:30-3:30 PM in Cityside 1
  • Lesbians, Flowers, and Free Will: The Anime of Kunihiko Ikuhara: (with the von Hoffmans and Judith & Natalie) 4-5 PM in Riverside 1
  • My Little Pony: A History of Gen 4: (with Viga) 5:30-6:30 PM in Riverside 1
  • The Duel Named Revolution: Making Sense of Revolutionary Girl Utena: 7-8 PM in Riverside 1

Sunday:

  • The Near Apocalypse of ’09: Trauma, Heroism, and Apocalypse in the DCAU: 10-11 AM in Cityside 1
  • The (Surprisingly) Good Place: How a Network Sitcom Became the Best SFF on TV: (with Viga) 12-1 PM in Cityside 4
  • Lost in Transmission: A History of Accidentally Transgender Narratives: (with Katriel Paige) 1:30-2:30 PM in Riverside 2

For those who’ve seen my panels before: Fullmetal Alchemy is unchanged, Fandom Secret Histories is about 2/3 new content, Break the World’s Shell is updated, The Answer and the Question is redone from scratch, Queering the Monster is new, my portion of the Ikuhara panel is content I cut from both panel and book version of Duel Named Revolution, My Little Pony is new, Duel Named Revolution is unchanged, NA09 is heavily revised, Surprisingly Good Place is new, Lost in Transmission is new, and my intent is to record all of these and post them slowly over the next year.

Also: now you know why I came this close to total burnout this month, heh. ^_^;

Pause

As you may have noticed, I haven’t posted NA09 in a week, and I haven’t posted video in even longer. Short version is, I have a lot going on at the moment, and my stress levels hit the point where it was seriously impacting my physical health. So, I’m taking a vacation from blogging and video-making. I’ll resume with the regular schedule in July. I’ll be spending this time working on shorter-term projects and polishing my stress management skills.

Wasn’t just that you got old (Knight Time)

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo

It’s October 10, 1998. Monica still tops the charts, while Antz still reigns at the box office. In the news, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is indicted for human rights violations; he will be arrested within a week. No U.S. official ever faces the slightest repercussions for backing the coup that put him in power or for providing financial and technical support for “Operation Condor,” in which a Chile- and US-led multinational covert action to assassinate prominent Latin American leftists resulted in the deaths of sixty thousand people.

Speaking of covert action and distasteful segues, Superman: The Animated Series returns after a mini-hiatus… with essentially an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, given that it takes place at night and is set almost entirely in Gotham. It is essentially a “what if?” episode, the question in this case being “What if Superman filled in for Batman for a case?” This question has, of course, been asked and answered in comics numerous times, but this is its sole DCAU outing.

Coming as close on the heels of “Old Wounds” as it does, it highlights why the production staff may have felt a need to differentiate Superman and Batman, as they really do resemble one another almost exactly. This is a biproduct of Timm’s approach to character design, of course, which is even more visible with female characters–Roxy Rocket at the episode’s beginning is, other than costume, essentially indistinguishable from Batgirl or Harley Quinn or any of a number of others–but the issue still stands: the two most prominent characters in the budding DCAU look basically identical.

At the same time, this episode demonstrates why that differentiation isn’t that important, because in behavior Superman and Batman–and, for that matter, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne–are quite distinct. Robin says that he knows something is wrong with the message from Wayne because he smiles in it–but in BTAS, Wayne smiled frequently, sometimes as part of his unassuming gadabout persona, and sometimes genuinely, particularly in scenes alone with Alfred or Robin. It is only in The New Batman Adventures that his capacity for mirth and joy seem to have entirely evaporated–and thanks to “Old Wounds,” we know that it isn’t as a consequence of Dick Grayson leaving on bad terms to become Nightwing.

This episode highlights the difference between Superman and Batman: the audience has no trouble telling the difference, in part because we were told the premise from the start, but also because of how different they are. Even with Kevin Conroy, Batman’s usual voice actor, playing Supes-as-Bats, the character is notably distinct. In dialogue he struggles to maintain his demeanor, occasionally even breaking into a smile–which Bruce Wayne might have done in BTAS, but Batman did only privately and rarely. In combat, he is much less prone to dodging, lurking in the shadows, and surprise attacks, relying instead on his nigh-invulnerability and immense strength to carry the battle.

Both differences derive from the core distinction in demeanor between Batman and Superman. Batman is a conscious construct designed to project fear and give the impression of invincibility while helping the vulnerable human inside the suit stay alive; he is not just the audience’s protector fantasy, but eight-year-old Bruce Wayne’s as well. Superman, by contrast, is a protector fantasy for others only, as Clark Kent really doesn’t need protection; instead of fear, he projects an air of unassailable confidence–not smugness, but the justified belief that nothing his opponent can do will actually hurt him. These are very different positionalities, and we see in this episode that even given identical character designs and the same voice actor, we can still differentiate them.

Wayne and Kent, too, have contrasting personalities. Wayne, the playboy billionaire, is confident, friendly, and possibly a little dim; Kent the farm boy is earnest and smart, but shy and unassuming. They are, in short, the rich, popular kid and the fish out of water, easily distinguishable as discrete archetypes despite their similarity in character design.

So why the change to Wayne and Batman? Why make him so dour, serious, and solitary, if not to contrast him to Kent and Superman? The answer, simply put, is that the goal is not to differentiate Batman from Superman; it’s to differentiate Batman from Batman.

Terry McGinnis isn’t rich, but he is a middle-class Gothamite, closer in background to Wayne than farm-boy Kent. He’s not dumb by any means, but he’s not the academic or athletic star we’re given to believe Clark was. He is friendly and reasonably popular, but also driven and serious, traits we know Wayne possesses as well.

His similarity to a younger Wayne, diegetically speaking, is why he is chosen as Batman’s successor; the direction of causation is the other way around extradiegetically, but the two facts are still connected. The old Batman needs to be distinguished from the new, not just in experience and appearance, both of which go almost without saying, but in personality. And, too, “crotchety old man whose secret heart of gold is slowly revealed by his relationship with a caring younger person” is a common story arc for a reason: it works, it’s emotionally affecting, and it’s based on a different kind of relationship than media usually depict.

Meanwhile, it’s the 90s. The comics industry is imploding, and one of its desperate attempts to retain relevance is to cater to the angry white boy market by “darkening” characters and lines, which is to say by focusing on characters who are at best assholes, and often nigh-indistinguishable from the villains they fight in terms of destructive impact on the people around them. Batman is relatively tame by comparison, but nonetheless comics of the time played up his “outsider” status and angst.

For Wayne’s arc in Batman Beyond to work, he must become a bitter, lonely old man by its dark future. How better to get him there than by having him transform into the then-current comic book version of the character, and thereby drive away everyone he cares about one by one? The path will be complicated by the interpolation of Justice League, but nonetheless, we are on the road to his status at the beginning of Beyond: an isolated recluse in a city evolved from anachronistic noir pastiche to cyberpunk–if those can even be said to be different things.


Current status of the Patreon:

Retroactive Continuity: She-ra and the Princesses of Power S1E7-8

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo

In past entries on She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, I’ve largely focused on the other princesses, in large part because that’s what the episodes focused on. In “In the Shadows of Mystacor” and “Princess Prom,” however, the focus of the show returns to its main character, Adora. Specifically, these two episodes address the fact that she and Catra grew up being abused by their adoptive mother Shadow Weaver, and examine the impact that abuse has had on them.

The focus of “Shadows of Mystacor” is Adora’s (and, to a lesser extent, Catra’s) fear of Shadow Weaver. In this, she is contrasted very effectively against both Angella and Castaspella. The former doesn’t actually appear in the episode, but she is evoked by Glimmer’s response to Adora describing how, in addition to providing for basic physical needs, Shadow Weaver taught her tactics and combat: “Right, Mom stuff.” Like Shadow Weaver, Angella is stern, demanding, and prepares her daughter for a life of violence and leadership–but she worries about her daughter’s well-being, and her responses to rule-breaking are typically parental, such as punishing her daughter with grounding. Castaspella, meanwhile, is not a parental figure for Glimmer, but she is quite passive-aggressive (which is a form of manipulation), and habitually ignores Glimmer’s words and preferences.

Angella expects a great deal of her daughter and is trying to prepare her; Castespella is self-centered and unpleasant. Neither, however, is abusive, and thereby contrast just how much worse Shadow Weaver is. For example, Glimmer clearly doesn’t want to spend time with Castaspella, because she finds it uncomfortable–but we’ve seen that when Shadow Weaver lashes out angrily in Catra’s presence, Catra recoils in outright fear. In “Shadows of Mystacor” we see why, as Shadow Weaver’s proxies work to frighten Adora so she has difficulty sleeping, then show themselves only when no one else is around, so that the others think Adora is imagining things. This simultaneously isolates her and makes her doubt her own perceptions, two standard abuser tactics, designed to make her more dependent and therefore more controllable.

This is, perhaps, the most crucial, defining feature of the abuser, regardless of the type of relationship within which the abuse is occurring: the desire for nonconsensual control, the imposition of the abuser’s will on their victim. What’s clever here is its contrast with non-abusive ways in which someone who feels a need for control can express that need. In the case of Angella, her desire for safety for her daughter leads to her to try to control her daughter’s behavior through punishments, which is fairly typical–and necessary–for parenting a child. Castaspella’s desire control seems to be more about her own easily wounded feelings, and a lot less healthy, but she also isn’t very good at exerting that control, and merely self-centered rather than actually malicious. Shadow Weaver, by contrast, when she finally realizes that she cannot control Adora, attempts to kill her, just as she will later in the series with Catra. Her “children” have no value to her as people in themselves, only as objects that she can use.

“Princess Prom” shows us the consequences of Adora and Catra’s upbringing. First, Adora is badly stunted in her social development, which is not at all uncommon for sufferers of complex PTSD, which in turn is common in survivors of child abuse. Admittedly, I don’t care for parties either, especially not this kind of party, but Adora actually seems to enjoy the concept, but is intimidated by it. Her decision to treat the party as a military campaign is telling: it terrifies her, because it is a social situation with a large number of arbitrary rules in which she has no power, a recreation of her time in the Horde, and so she deals with it by reverting to the behavior and relying on the skills that were rewarded in her time in the Horde.

Catra has been damaged in a subtly different way than Adora, however: where Adora fled, Catra has decided to seek the same kind of control herself, to move up in the Horde so that she can become biggest bully on the block. She doesn’t want to be free of Shadow Weaver, but rather to replace her, and in essence become her. The fight on the rooftop epitomizes that: literally, Adora might be referring to getting out of their precarious position dangling off the side of a tower when she says “I can get us out of this,” but Catra’s reply of “Oh, Adora, I don’t want you to!” is about much more than that.

Already here it is clear that Catra felt hurt and abandoned when Adora left, and now she intends to make sure no one can ever hurt or abandon her again. We will see more of this when the show finally does an episode focused on her.


Current status of the Patreon:

Vlog Reviews: Steven Universe: S5E25-8, Dirty Pair: The Flight 005 Conspiracy, Lego Movie 2

Once again, I failed to post videos last week so doing it this week. I don’t know what’s wrong with me either. Anyway, have THREE videos:

Commissioned by BJ:

Commissioned by Aleph Null:

And a bonus video:

 

ETA: Sorry, original title had next week’s SU video. Fixed now.

Reminder that Patreon backers can request commissions, see these videos 4-5 weeks early, AND see Near-Apocalypse articles four MONTHS early! 

You have to trust (Old Wounds)

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo

It’s October 3, 1998. Monica tops the charts with “The First Night”; Aerosmith, Bare Naked Ladies, Jennifer Paige, and Edwin McCain round out this spectacularly 90s top 5. At the box office, Antz debuts at number one and What Dreams May Come at number two. Rush Hour and A Night at the Roxbury are at third and fourth, marking the first chart we’ve come across where I’ve actually seen all of the top four movies.

In the news, Europol is established and “pro-market social conservative” John Howard becomes Prime Minister of Australia, so the catastrophic rightward shift in the political winds that started in the late 70s/early 80s is still ongoing.

Speaking of catastrophic shifts, we have the episode The New Batman Adventures has been building to all season, the reveal of how Dick Grayson parted ways from Batman and became Nightwing. That, however, is not the catastrophic shift most highlighted by this episode, as the reason is more or less what one would expect: Batman being controlling, Dick rebelling, Batgirl caught in the middle between her lover at the time and lover to be.

The far more interesting catastrophic shift is that in Batman’s behavior. Since that change was introduced alongside with the changes in his relationship to Nightwing, occurring somewhere in the gap between the end of Batman: The Animated Series and the beginning of TNBA, it was natural to assume that it coincided with the breakdown of their relationship. But it didn’t; if anything, it precipitated that breakdown. The Batman we see in “Old Wounds” (colored, admittedly, by the narration of the very much not impartial Nightwing) is the same as throughout TNBA: cold, distant, manipulative, and calculating. Batman was, of course, capable of being all these things as part of his “I am the night” persona, but privately he displayed warmth, playfulness, and humor. And he still does in TNBA, in his relationships with his family–but “professionally,” so to speak, he is now all Dark Knight, never Caped Crusader.

So, we have to ask, what happened? And a clear answer shows itself almost immediately: Superman happened.

This is true on multiple levels. Extradiegetically, Superman is warm, playful, and funny in Superman: The Animated Series, so to differentiate the characters, Batman is made colder, more stern and serious. Diegetically, the emergence of Superman is part of a general shift into a world where both the characters and the threats they face are more fantastic, more powerful, and more alien. Batman’s world has changed from one where, once he kicks the gun out of an enemy’s hands, all he has to deal with are punches, to one where his enemies’ punches can potentially flatten skyscrapers–and with no guarantee that he’ll be able to tell who can do it, given that Clark Kent of all people is the physically strongest person in the world by several orders of magnitude. He is, in short, scared, and he deals with that fear by distancing others and becoming more hostile and work-focused.

But we are most interested in neither of those levels, but rather in readings that pass between and beyond them. Superman’s arrival wasn’t just Superman; it was apocalypse, revolution, and reinvention. Harley blew up Krypton, and Krypton was the world. The New Batman Adventures isn’t set in Bruce Wayne’s world, but in Harleen Quinzel’s, a place at once lighter and more dangerous, stranger and more open.

And that has Batman scared, because a world that is open is a world less controlled. Though in the past he was warmer and kinder, he was always in control of himself and often of his environment. He was, in most of the senses that matter, Alfred’s son, but he was also always Alfred’s boss. He was Dick’s father, but he chose that role because he saw something of himself in the angry, grieving little boy. He craves control because of that terrible moment when his life was entirely outside his control, and he exerts control by maintaining law and order (read: authoritarian control) in “his” city. He and he alone sorts the city into its four-caste hierarchy: the general populace, weak and helpless; the criminals who prey on them; the police who enact violence against the criminals; and the Bat who hangs over them all.

That his coldness and distance is a response to feeling out of control is demonstrated by his relationship with Batgirl. Theirs is a relationship of power exchange, of control, and with her he is still warm, even teasing. Likewise with Tim, still young enough to be unable to do much without Batman’s approval, and Alfred, to whom he can directly give orders. The only one he can’t control anymore is Dick, and Bruce doesn’t know how to love someone he can’t control.

Which is not to say he doesn’t still love Dick. Of course he does! But love isn’t just a feeling, it’s a process and a relationship, and Bruce is very bad at it with people he can’t control. His only familial relationships are with children he “rescued” and adopted and an employee; his romantic relationships are all with “bad” women that he tries to make “good,” most obviously Catgirl and Talia al-Ghul, but that’s also the role Batgirl takes when she plays the BDSM “brat” in their relationship. The last time he loved someone he couldn’t control, she abandoned him to become the Phantasm; the last time before that, they were gunned down in an alley. Batman is his own protector fantasy, and so his great nightmare is of caring for someone that won’t let Batman protect them.

He simply does not know how to handle Dick slipping out of his control, and reacts poorly, which drives Dick further away. The choice not to tell Dick about Batgirl’s secret identity is a bad one, but it’s understandable in this context: it’s a point of leverage, a way of trying to bring Dick back under control by telling him that he’s replaceable, and to undermine his independence by knowing something crucial about his life that he doesn’t.

The hardest thing to do, when you’ve been hurt, is to allow yourself to be hurt again. To drop the barriers and let go control, to trust another person, depend on them, permit them the power to hurt you as you were hurt before. This is the pain that causes Batman to go down this darker path, one that will keep him isolated and dark, driving away everyone he cares about, right through to his bitter old age in Batman Beyond. He is wrong, and getting wronger, but through this episode we understand why, and can feel for him.

“Old Wounds,” from a synopsis alone, sounds like an origin story for Nightwing. Which of course it is–but he’s the hero of the story, and as is often the case in BTAS and TNBA, the hero is not the emotional center. As a result, this isn’t just an origin story, or even primarily an origin story. It’s something else, something that BTAS in particular always excelled at.

“Old Wounds” is a sympathetic villain story.


Current status of the Patreon:

Crisis on N Earths: Animosity vol. 1

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo

Commissioned post for Shane deNota-Hoffman. Thanks as always for backing, Shane!

And now a third take on animals attacking humans.

We’ve seen violent animals as the grotesque, a worrying violation of the social order that unsettles and disturbs us. We’ve seen violent animals as throwaway victims of human control, depicted as less grotesque because “only” their behavior, rather than their bodies, has been violated. Now we have animals as an oppressed underclass.

This is not the first time animals have been depicted as such. War with the Newts, by Karel Capek of R.U.R. fame, depicted the titular species of intelligent amphibians as victims of human colonization and exploitation, who then turned against and conquered the colonizers, only to repeat the cycle. Similarly, the animals in Animosity vol. 1, by Insexts writer Margeurite Bennett, are suddenly granted not only intelligence, but human intelligence and understanding–and more to the point, the animals we see (all of them American) seem to share a basically Western outlook. The result is, inevitably, violence, as humans and animals alike seek to draw lines against the Other.

Against this backdrop, the comic centers the close relationship of the bloodhound Sandor and the young human girl Jesse, whom he is determined to get across the country to her older brother in San Francisco, after (it is heavily implied) either killing her parents or persuading her that they’re dead in revenge for his abuse at the hands of her father. Jesse is a kind and giving child, and Sandor is fierce in his love for her, which (much like the relationship at the heart of Insexts) helps carry a comic that could otherwise be a bit didactic.

Which is a good thing, because the lessons here need badly to be learned. As is often the case with oppressed classes, animals outnumber humans massively, and once they attain consciousness of who they are and how they’ve been treated, humans have no chance of stopping them. Happily, the comic isn’t that focused on said treatment–this isn’t Grant Morrison writing yet another “animal rights” screed–but rather on how the survivors feel about it, and what they do with that anger. The comic is, in other words, less interested in the rather silly question “What if animals are people?” and much more interested in “What if animals became people?”

As Sandor describes and the negotiations in New York confirm, the animals mostly don’t actually care much about what happened beforethe Wake; what matters is that in the moment of acquiring consciousness, they became an oppressed class, and at the same moment realized their power and acted to end that oppression.

But, again, the consciousness they attained was a basically Western one rooted in the us-them divide. Animals became the new Other to humans, and humans the Other to animals. When Sandor acts to protect Jesse in the chaotic massacre the New York negotiations degenerate into, Oscar doesn’t see a member of his family protecting his daughter from a dangerous killer; he sees an animal killing a human, and reacts violently, treating Sandor as a threat rather than a protector.

Meanwhile, by defining themselves as an in-group, animals immediately begin othering each other. The mutinous members of the Animilitary justify themselves by demanding meat instead of substitutes, but the one who declares this is a koala, an entirely herbivorous species. Their rebellion is against Mimico, who is insufficiently revolutionary in their eyes, a difference which marks her as Other and therefore as an enemy in their eyes. It’s a pattern I’ve seen played out again and again in leftist and queer spaces, gatekeeping turned to Othering of those who don’t make the cut, turned to infighting that leaves all involved more vulnerable and less able to resist the real oppressor. The result is sadly predictable: the animals fight each other, and the humans fight them, and a scant few escape with Jesse and Sandor.

The arc closes out with a look at Jesse’s brother’s experience, which goes the other way: instead of degenerating into a chaotic free-for-all, the animal takeover in San Francisco was orderly and thorough, with humans like Adam who are “vouched for” by an animal–in his case, by a seal whose life he saved on the day of the Wake–essentially tagged and kept as prisoners. This is the War With the Newts outcome, the straightforward reversal of fortune, with the oppressor becoming the oppressed and vice versa.

Of course, those are always the arguments made against revolution: that it will lead to chaos worse than the current order, or that it will result in mere inversion and a new underclass. By using animals as a stand-in for all oppressed classes and marginalized identities, and realistically depicting the resulting problem that carnivores must choose between murder and starvation, the comic acknowledges that there is no perfect solution. Someone will always oppress someone else.

The question–the big one, the only political question really worth asking in the long run–is whether that oppression can be minimized and made temporary.


Current status of the Patreon:

Twip (Animal Act)

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo

It’s September 26, 1998. The top song is Aerosmith with “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”; Monica and Jennifer Paige also chart. The top movie is still Rush Hour, with Ronin and Urban Legend opening at second and third, respectively.

In the news, English-language media report that the President of Iran retracted a fatwa on author Salman Rushdie, ending that country’s official support of and call for his assassination. By failing to translate the word, said media perpetuate the common, but Islamophobic, misunderstanding of what a fatwa actually is: it is a judgment on a point of religious law, and thus almost never a call for assassination. (Indeed, whether it can legitimately be used to call for assassination is a matter of some debate among Muslim scholars.)

There are days when I really regret committing myself to doing a chapter for every single episode of every single DCAU show, and this is one of those days. “Animal Acts” is not, despite Bruce Timm’s claims, one of the worst episodes of Batman: The Animated Series or The New Batman Adventures; however, it is exceedingly mediocre, and those are always the hardest episodes to write about.

This episode’s purpose seems mostly to be as set-up for “Old Wounds,” reminding us that Nightwing exists and is Dick Grayson, former acrobat. Things are suitably tense between him and Batman, but he is clearly bonding with Robin. He also makes some snide remarks to Batman that imply he sees being Robin as less than healthy for a young boy, which of course it is; thus, in the next episode he will launch into the story of how he left as a kind of warning to Tim.

This is also the second episode in a row to feature animals as the villain’s primary muscle, but in a very different way than the previous episode. Farmer Brown’s genetically engineered livestock were grotesque; these animals are physically ordinary, with only their behavior surprising. Both Brown and Mad Hatter use their technological and scientific expertise to acquire their minions, but what Brown does to the animals is framed as inherently horrifying in a way that what Hatter does isn’t.

This is a very strange decision. Brown, ultimately, doesn’t actually violate any living thing: he uses and exploits them, but he is a genetic engineer; everything he does to his animals is done before they’re alive. The Mad Hatter, meanwhile, controls living animals, forcing them into unnatural behaviors in ways that are likely physically painful, and almost certainly psychologically damaging. And of course, at the episode’s climax he falls back on his old standby, controlling people. Surely, in any remotely moral accounting, he is far worse than Brown?

But this is the old familiar problem of substituting Us and Them for right and wrong, now projected onto the body instead of onto others. The “natural” body and “natural” behaviors are good and right, in this view, and “unnatural” is wrong, with “natural” inevitably being defined as whatever is most familiar. The animals and even people under Mad Hatter’s control are not abject; they remain intact bodies, under the control of a different mind from the usual, but then we are used to thinking of bodies as being distinct entities under the control of minds. Hatter’s control doesn’t force us to confront that we are bodies; we can continue to pretend that we are something else that merely inhabits a body, and is momentarily displaced by his technology. It’s wrong, but not inherently distressing in the manner of the grotesque.

To put it simply, the Mad Hatter’s treatment of animals doesn’t seem as bad as Farmer Brown’s because we’re used to seeing animals perform under human control. The circus environment in particular is one where animals are forced, often under extremely poor conditions, to act for human gain and amusement. It is familiar, and therefore non-threatening; he simply does with technology what Miranda does with a whip. At least the technology probably involves less pain and fear.

But then, what of the humans he controls? But again, this is a circus–show business, as Dick reminds us at episode’s end. We are used to seeing people perform here, too; Mad Hatter simply does with technology what the circus does with a paycheck and tradition. What any job does with a paycheck and social norms, the carrot and stick by which we are all conditioned to perform.

That really is all there is to it. The Mad Hatter ultimately violates neither the social order nor the body; he is a loathsome little parasite guilty of, at minimum, sexual assault, but he is not a threat to order. Batman and company take him out with absurd ease once he reveals himself, and everything is returned to normal: animals in their cages, people performing their roles.

As Dick observes Tim, tricked into mucking out the animal’s cages, he says he misses it. The implication is that at least part of him would rather be knee-deep in gorilla shit than out fighting crime as Nightwing. For all its mediocrity, this episode is the perfect setup for “Old Wounds,” because it shows us the source of Dick’s angst. He loves the safety and stability of even the nastiest parts of the social order, which is why he works to preserve it as a superhero; but as a superhero, he is necessarily on the fringes of that order, rather than inside it. He is a guard, but he would rather be inside the cage.


Current status of the Patreon:

Crisis on N Earths: She-Ra S1E6: “System Failure”

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo

In some ways, the sixth episode of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power continues the pattern previously established in episodes four and five of introducing a princess who is initially unhelpful, but roused by She-Ra to become an ally against the Horde. And this is what happens in this episode, but with a major difference: up until this point, every episode has climaxed in a battle with Horde soldiers, and has a B-plot involving Catra and the other Horde characters. In this episode, however, no Horde characters or soldiers appear at all.

Instead, the A-plot follows Adora and Glimmer as they meet Entrapta, Adora gets infected by the virus afflicting Entrapta’s robots, and the trio has to fight the robots until they can defeat the virus. Meanwhile, the B-Plot follows Bow as he meets Entrapta’s servants, exhorts them to stand up for themselves against the robots, and leads them to save Adora, Glimmer, and Entrapta. We have, in short, what appears to be an episode without villains, since the virus hardly counts.

Or do we have villains?

The character of Entrapta has been somewhat controversial. She is quite popular, likely thanks to the combination of her unflappably positive attitude, eccentricity, and humorously odd priorities, placing her curiosity above the well-being of others. Disability advocates and some autistic people, however, have argued that her hyperfocus to the point of being a danger to herself and lack of empathy combine to form a negative stereotype of autistic people.

Fans of the character argue that, in the words of io9’s Beth Elderkin, “Entrapta is not a bad person.  She only cares about the pursuit of knowledge, to the point where the people  around her are only worth the data they provide.” But that’s just it: Entrapta does not care about others, except in terms of what they can do for her. Her attitude toward other people is entirely instrumental; if there is such a thing as a “bad person,” surely that would be its definition.

Consider again how this episode is structured. We naturally assumed, since it involves the main character of the show and takes up more story time, that Adora, Glimmer, and Entrapta’s scenes comprise the A-plot. But if we reverse the two plots, Bow is the one recruiting people to the Rebellion, people who are at first highly reluctant, but gradually convinced to embrace their own power and aid the Rebels, just as Perfuma and Mermista were in the prior episode. Bow is playing the role of Adora and friends in prior episodes; therefore, we can expect the other plot to follow the pattern of past episodes and place some other characters in the position of Catra and the Horde.

This other plot, of course, is the one that follows Entrapta–who, like Catra, is selfish and dismissive of the needs of others, but nonetheless sympathetic. Entrapta is responsible for this episode’s entire conflict, her recklessness creating an army of evil robots for the heroes to fight. And at the end, she’s learned nothing; instead, the ending of the episode has her scheming to do the same thing all over again.

Entrapta, in short, is the villain of this episode, albeit a villain whom the heroes accept as a friend. Her moral ambiguity, lack of empathy, hyperfocus, and scientific acumen all derive from the same source, the “mad scientist” archetype. That, too, is why she reads as a negative, ableist stereotype: because the “mad scientist” is rooted in just such a stereotype.

“Mad scientists,” generally speaking, come in two varieties. The more traditional type, epitomized by Victor Frankenstein, is arrogant, vengeful, and if not outright villainous, at least prone to creating villains and monsters. The second variety, most common in comic books and related media, combines elements of the “absentminded professor”–good-natured but distracted by their own creative genius and therefore forgetful–with the amorality of the “mad scientist”; their creations are usually “good,” but they are prone to obliviously and inadvertently harming others.

It is to this second group that Entrapta belongs, and it is here that the ableism enters her character. To create a character in a villainous role readable as a friend, the show uses the latter type of “mad scientist” but has her obliviousness extend to the point of seriously endangering others without caring. The result is that those relatively benign traits of the “absentminded professor,” itself rooted in a lesser form of ableism, become amplified and vilified.

Later in the series, Entrapta will actually straight-up join the Horde. This will be framed as the result of her accidental abandonment by the heroes; however, that abandonment is a direct result of her skewed priorities. We will examine that more in the episode in question; for now, we can leave it at this: Entrapta becomes a villain because she values information too much and human life–her own and others’–too little.

Or, rather, that is why she is villainous from the start.


Current status of the Patreon: