Vlog Review: CatGhost 1-4 and Star vs Evil S2E19

Regular episode on a new series… plus a bonus episode on an old one! As long as the Patreon remains above $150/mo, I’ll post an two extra vlogs every month!
Reminder that Patreon backers can request commissions, see these videos (including Star vs. Evil, commissioned episodes of other series, and panels I presented at various cons) 4-5 weeks early, AND see Near-Apocalypse articles four MONTHS early!
 

Retroactive Continuity: Kill 6 Billion Demons

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo

Commissioned post for Aleph Null.

There are other worlds.

We know that in our bones. Our reality is not the only one; it cannot be. There are other modes of being, other modes of existing. We come close to touching them, sometimes–when we dream, when we meditate, when we alter our consciousnesses.

It’s not true, of course. Bones are not to be trusted. They’re too solid.

I’m so tired.

Kill Six Billion Demons is a webcomic by Abaddon. Kill 6 Billion Demons is a graphic novel collecting the first story arc of a comic by Tom Parkinson-Morgan.

Kill Six Billion Demons and Kill 6 Billion Demons are almost, but not quite, the same thing. The implication, therefore, is that Abaddon and Tom Parkinson-Morgan are almost, but not quite, the same person.

Fluids change shape to fit their containers.

The third eye is traditionally the hardest to open. It’s the one that sees into other worlds, but normally its gaze is turned strictly inwards. But that’s okay–there’s as many in there as there are outside.

Open it. See all of the many worlds. Be all of the yous in all of the worlds.

Allison’s key is shoved into her third eye. It is unlocked, and through it, the worlds are unlocked. There are wonders there, and horrors. Angels and devils and witches and lost boyfriends.

Mostly there are horrors.

You only have two eyes.

Reality (ha!) is an ocean. An infinite flux, the chaos primordial. All the worlds all at once. All the possibilities.

The Sea of Dirac they call it, and other things beside. It is much much much too big. It’ll never fit in our tiny heads. Slice it up! The gaze is a sword. To perceive the ocean is to carve it: me from not-me, then you from not-us. This from that. Time and space from here-now. Matter from void.

You cannot carve the ocean, and only a fool would try. The only alternative is to drown, but it’s okay.

You never existed to begin with.

Allison starts with a key to all the worlds in her eye. She ends with a sword to slice them away.

To gaze is to carve.

God is dead. Allison met him.

But he is really just a demiurge. Ialdabaoth and all the aeons gibber and dance at the heart of creation, the depths of the ocean. They understand nothing, see nothing. They do not gaze, do not carve.

They have drowned.

They are free.

There is no point. Only a blade and an ocean, a mind and an eye.

Angels have bodies of void in shells of ash. Devils inhabit flesh and wear masks. The witch has something in her third eye just like Allison, but red, not white.

The Red Queen goes faster and faster to stay in the same place. The White Queen believes six impossible things before breakfast. Jam tomorrow and jam yesterday, but never jam today. Carve as finely as you like, but you’ll never carve down to the here-now.

Alice takes the place of the White Queen’s daughter Lily. But the White Queen lives backwards in time, and the child is the father of the man.

Alice-son.

(You can’t carve the ocean. All of it is the here-now.)

Kill Six Billion Demons and Kill 6 Billion Demons have the same art, the same dialogue. But they tell different stories. Only the latter has the sword manual.

(Yes, yes, to gaze is to carve.)

Words. Pictures. Data on a screen, or perhaps printed out to a page, but data nonetheless.

A datum is a single point, the tiniest unit of facticity, one dot on a graph. Data is the plural of datum. Sand is sand, but it is also many grains. We can say the grains are covering the beach, or we can say the sand is covering the beach. Grains are plural, but sand is singular, because sand is a fluid. Like water, it cannot be carved. The water is rising.

To be fluid is to be singular and plural at once. Not many, but much.

We used to say “data are,” because the graph has many points. (Statisticians still do.) The greatest spiritual discovery of the digital age is that data flows. Data is a fluid.

Fluids change shape to fit their containers.

Once upon a time, there was time. But that was then, and this isn’t now.

I don’t know why I’m bothering. You’re not even here.

A pearl in her forehead and a sword in her hand, she fights for love.

She fights for him.

She fights for herself.

(Who?)

Before I was born, I saw a seahorse. I tasted the ocean.

Seawater is poison, and so, I died.

The six billion demons are, obviously, us. We broke the worlds. We carved the ocean. We cleaved God in two, and two again, and then into hundreds and thousands and billions.

Into us.

We are the demiurge, who sees without understanding, who shapes a world and thinks it adequate. Who splits day from night and self from sea. We are monsters, with our keys and our swords, our divisions and our gateways. Simply to be is to tear the world asunder, but to not be is to kill the worlds within.

How many times and how many ways can I say the same thing?

None. [rimshot.wav]

What is real?

Whatever you can touch.

But  you can’t touch anything. The repulsive force between the electrons in  your hand and the electrons in the thing approaches infinity as the  distance between them approaches zero.

That’s what touching IS, stupid!

Who are you talking to?

And they were enlightened.

…Why did you just say that?

Everything is as it is supposed to be.

That sentence was in the passive voice. Actively, it is: Everything is as we suppose it to be.

That is what “good” means, and “real.”

It is never ever ever ever true.

You already have a key. You already have a sword. You already have six billion demons to slay.

There is nothing I can give you, not even a quest(ion).

Dance like no one’s watching. Scream for help like no one’s listening.

Spoilers: no one is. God is dead and the demiurge is lost.

No one’s listening, not even you.

Seven crowns on seven heads on one dread hill. How trite.

Hollowing them out to use as apartment buildings is new, though.

A sleeting curtain of inspiration. A susurrus of ideas. A door without a key.

There are clawmarks in the wood, and my fingernails are worn to the bone.

In the name of the moon and the revolution of the world, grant me the power to punish you!

This is nonsense.

This is profundity.

This is pretentious crap.

This is old hat.

This is contained in your mind now.

This is fluid.

I’ve got six billion of these. I could do this all day!

Don’t listen to your bones. They don’t have anything to say.


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Vlog Review: Star vs Evil S2E17-18

Regular episode… plus a bonus episode! As long as the Patreon remains above $150/mo, I’ll post an two extra vlogs every month!
Reminder that Patreon backers can request commissions, see these videos (including Star vs. Evil, commissioned episodes of other series, and panels I presented at various cons) 4-5 weeks early, AND see Near-Apocalypse articles four MONTHS early!
 

It’s just to scare the bad guys, really (Torch Song)

It’s June 13, 1998. The top song is “The Boy Is Mine” by Brandy & Monica; Next, Shania Twain, and Mariah Carey also chart. Top at the box office is The Truman Show, a story about a man trapped in a perception of reality he was taught from birth; Can’t Hardly Wait and The Horse Whisperer are also in the top ten.

In the news since last episode, on June 7 James Byrd, Jr was beaten to death by a trio of white supremacists in Jasper, Texas, and the Guinea-Bissau Civil War started; yesterday, France won the World Cup.

“Torch Song” represents an interesting evolution in the DC Animated Universe’s depiction of stalkers. Including this episode, we have had at least three supervillains’ origin stories begin by depicting them as stalkers: the Mad Hatter in “Mad as a Hatter,” Edward Lytener/Luminus in  “Target,” and now Firefly. Laid out this way, there is a distinct progression in the episodes’ choice of focus.

“Mad as a Hatter” centers Tetch’s descent into villainy in a sort of parody of “sympathetic villain” episodes. Tetch is entitled, aggressive, and hateful, but the structure of the episode means that his self-deception that he is a “nice guy” who has been mistreated is centered in the same way that Mr. Freeze’s much more justifiable claims. By contrast, “Target” centers the recurring threat against Lois, making it clear that Lytener’s rationalizations are just that. On the other hand, Lois is placed in peril and rescued by Superman throughout the series, so “Target” comes across as just a sequence of such moments in a life full of them, not a particularly traumatic episode for Lois.

Not so “Torch Song.” Cassidy is a one-off character who never appears again, so the choice to center her is an unusual one–typically The New Batman Adventures will center a recurring character or villain, but victims-of-the-week almost never get that treatment. The episode thus signposts clearly that it is Cassidy’s experience that is the focus of the story, and Cassidy’s experience is a fascinating one.

An up-and-coming rock star, Cassidy is the picture of performative femininity. She dresses in a way that is as attention-grabbing as Leslie Willis in Livewire, but in the opposite direction: where Leslie wore deliberately shabby clothing–baggy pants and ratty shirts–to emphasize her rejection of social norms around feminine dress and behavior, Cassidy spends most of the episode in a backless black minidress, heels, and long black gloves, essentially eveningwear, but showing a lot of skin for eveningwear. She is presenting herself as formal yet sexual, a “good girl” who can function in polite company but nonetheless is very clearly a physical, sensual presence. She is the essence of the Good Girl Art aesthetic of Bruce Timm just as much as Supergirl is.

Her body language in the scene where she tries to hire Batman as a protector is similar. She is coy, flirtatious, deliberately making herself appear small as she approaches him. This is a woman who has spent her life fitting herself into the spaces she can find, performing whatever she needs to be in order to survive. If all anyone wants of her is her body (and her music as shown in the episode really is not very good), then she will offer up her body how and when it is wanted. She will perform the role she is given–on stage and off.

But the performance is never enough. It is not possible to be everything for everyone, and yet that is what is demanded of her. On stage she must be the innocent-yet-sexually-available ingenue and the powerful performer who holds the audience enthralled; in her everyday life she must deal with the demands of the men around her, from her pyrotechnician/ex-boyfriend turned arsonist/stalker to her manager to, yes, even Batman. And while her performativity clearly works well in her career, fitting herself into the spaces left by others gives her very little leverage to actually get what she wants: her manager doesn’t listen to her, Batman refuses her offer to hire him, and Firefly plans to destroy the city and disappear with her, regardless of whether she wants to be with him.

The result, inevitably, is trauma. Helpless and alone, she is trapped in fire while Batman–who, remember, refused her offer to hire him as a protector!–fights Firefly. Neither seems particularly interested in her impending death until the very end of the fight. She is, in other words, placed in terror for her life with no support of any kind, and afterwards returns immediately to her existence of pure performance, with no one to whom she can express her honest feelings about the experience.

This is a perfect recipe for trauma, and at episode’s end we see that she is indeed traumatized: her terror at the flambe at the next table and the reflection of the flames in her eyes imply that her mind has been plunged back into the fire she very nearly didn’t survive. The episode ends before we see her outward reaction, if any; we do not know if she tries once again to continue the performance, to bury it and shrug it off, or reaches out for support, nor do we know if she receives that support.

We can’t know, because trauma is the heart of Batman; to depict its healing is to call into question his very reason for being. If this one-off character can find support and healing, why can’t he, the main character around whom the narrative bends itself?

These are not questions the show is prepared to answer–and yet it is already setting itself up for its own replacement, which might be able to. Batman is unable to face Firefly on his own, in his normal gear, so he wears armor that is at once reminiscent of the Batman Beyondbatsuit and of the “mecha” batsuit depicted in that series as Wayne’s final, failed attempt to remain Batman despite advancing age. The world is evolving, and the spaces in which he exists and performs his role are squeezing gradually shut.

Bruce Wayne, age eleven, might have to actually grow up.


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His partner. His girlfriend? Whoa! (Over the Edge)

It’s May 23, 1998. Tomorrow, I turn 17.

Topping the charts, we have Mariah Carey with “My All”; Next, Janet featuring BLACKstreet, and Savage Garden also chart. In the movies this weekend, Godzilla (the bad American one) opens at No. 1; Deep Impact, The Horse Whisperer, and Quest for Camelot also make the top five.

In the news, on May 11 and 13 India conducted its first nuclear tests in nearly 25 years. In response, Pakistan will detonate its own test devices on the 28th. In Indonesia, a week after riots against Chinese-Indonesian people killed around a thousand people, long-reigning President Suharto resigns on the 21st. He is succeeded by his Vice President, B.J. Habibie.

Batgirl’s greatest fear is that her father will learn the truth about her.

That’s not subtext. It’s text. Even the way she tries to tell her father at the end plays like a coming out: “Dad, have a seat… this is important. It won’t be easy for you to hear…” Gordon’s response strongly resembles a (more or less good) parental response to the same: “Sweetheart, you’re capable of making your own decisions. You don’t need me to approve or even acknowledge them… All you need to know is I love you. All of you.”

Barbara Gordon is not, as far as we know, any flavor of queer–all of her relationships are with men, and there is nothing to suggest she isn’t cis. She is, as established earlier this season, kinky, but that’s more queer-adjacent than queer. Nonetheless, there is a powerful reading there of the superhero’s obsessive defense of their “secret identity”; we have generally viewed it as a trauma metaphor, but it works well for being closeted, as well.

I am far from an expert on the closet. I spent the first 36 years of my life so deep inside it, I didn’t even realize the closet existed. Once I did, I was fully out barely six months later.

But I spent those 36 years convinced there was something inside me. Something terrible, that could ruin everything, something that must be kept contained and hidden at all costs. The truth of my monstrosity. (The monster’s name is Jenny, and she turns out to be awesome.)

But we’ve talked about monsters, and queerness, and we know that heroes are monsters facing out. It makes sense that superheroes have their queer readings as well. Far more interesting are the details of Barbara’s fear: that her father’s discovery of her monstrosity will lead him on a trail of vengeance against her lover. In reality, he sees her as a grown woman capable of her own decisions, but her fear is (understandably, seeing as he’s struggled with this in the past) that he will seek a man on whom to blame her choices, and then seek vengeance against that man.

Her fear, in short, is that she will not only die but be fridged; that her death will be an excuse to create conflict between male characters, and opportunities for them to emote, while her character and her agency are effaced from the narrative. “It was all just a dream” is unfairly maligned as a plot device, and “Over the Edge” is an excellent example of why. First, the “just a dream” informs Barbara’s character and pushes her toward taking a major step, one which in turn illuminates Commissioner Gordon’s character as a better father and less clueless than we’d previously been led to believe. But more importantly, it emboits the fridge within her nightmare. It turns what is inherently a sacrifice of a woman to advance men’s characters into a sacrifice of men to advance women; without Barbara, Commissioner Gordon and Batman destroy each other, and the fear and pain engendered by their deaths is what drives Barbara to confess.

To be clear, simply making it a dream does not undo that it’s a fridging. All fiction is equally fictional; the story-within-a-story that is the dream is still a story told by the writers. They still started this story by fridging Batgirl. But its emboitment transforms it; the fact that Barbara’s death was just a dream does not unfridge her, but the fact that her father and lover/mentor are killed as well, and her actions at the end of the episode are motivated by this death, makes it much more interesting. Or to put it another way, this story inverts both aspects of a fridging: at the end of the story no one is dead, and a woman’s story has been advanced via her emotional response to the deaths of two men she was close to.

There is, of course, still the issue that seemingly every story about Batgirl has to be a psychosexual drama of some kind. If it’s not about tensions between her current lover and his estranged, adopted son who happens also to be her ex, it’s about tensions between her lover and her father. Certainly there’s plenty of psychosexual drama to go around in stories about Batman, too–pretty much any time Catwoman or Poison Ivy is around, for instance–but Batgirl seems to get little else. Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures stories are, as we’ve observed before, rarely about Batman; the pattern shared by Batgirl, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and hell, let’s throw in Harley Quinn, too, is that the stories turn sexual when women are involved. The DCAU has come a long way from the misogynistic, gynophobic femme fatale depiction of Poison Ivy in her introductory episode, but it still struggles to position women as anything other than sexual objects, even when it’s about them.

This is, unfortunately, a problem it will never entirely overcome.


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Retroactive Continuity: Devilman Crybaby E8 “I Must Know Myself”

Content warning: Discussion of transphobia, TERFs, and abusive parents

There are two ways you can go with the revelation that devils are people.

Last week (as of this writing), Lisa Littman, an assistant professor at Brown University, published a methodologically questionable* paper on “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” essentially a transphobic claim that kids are “catching the trans” the same way homophobes in the 90s claimed that kids were “catching the gay”. The “theory” originates with transphobic parents of trans children convincing themselves that their children’s dysphoria does not arise from actually being trans, but is rather a kind of “social contagion” caused by exposure to media that positively portrays trans people and friendship with other trans children.

Of course, as a working scientist at a reasonably prestigious institution, Littman presumably knows what a methodologically sound study looks like. She is an excellent example of what I know as Fred Clark’s Law, named for the blogger behind Slacktivist, a community in which I used to be quite active. The law can be phrased as such: “sufficiently advanced malice is indistinguishable from incompetence, and vice versa.” In other words, Littman’s hatred of trans people is so great that she conducted a worthless study and her worthless study led her to write a paper that will be used to hurt trans people.

She, of course, will insist that this is an unfair characterization. She doesn’t hate trans people at all, her defenders will declare. Perhaps she even has trans friends. She’s just trying to protect the children.

But she isn’t. She’s protecting the children’s parents, from the realization that their children are a thing they hate. (“But more than 80 percent of study respondents say trans people should have the same rights as everyone else!” Yeah, but what does that mean? Does it include a right to transition? To have one’s gender identity recognized and affirmed? I doubt it, because they don’t see the privilege in having their own gender recognized without debate.)

Look at her choice of language: “social contagion.” Being trans is declared a contagious disease, caused by seeing trans people accepted or associating with them as friends. I am a disease, apparently.

Well, and in a sense I am. I am absolutely in favor of destroying cisheteronormative, white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal kyriarchy. I am actively trying, every day, to get other people to also favor destroying the kyriarchy. The eventual goal is, from the perspective of Littman and her ilk, outright apocalypse: a world in which it is an obvious, mainstream idea that a parent who doesn’t accept their child’s self-declared gender identity is engaging in abuse.

The kyriarchy, however, is the grandest of grand narratives, the super-superstructure that supports all of our cultural superstructures, the meta-metanarrative. It is everywhere, and that makes it so easy to build our own narratives on top of it; for example, by incorporating its transphobia into an otherwise feminist narrative. It infiltrates everywhere, but not as a contagion; it is more like a pollutant, present in the groundwater of ideas before we even grow them.

But as a grand narrative, it shares the weakness of all grand narratives: it cannot abide alternatives. It insists that it is the only way, and so the presence of another way damages it. It tries to defend itself, to use the Dan Turpins and Maggie Sawyers and Lisa Littmans to attack the new narratives. (“Trans people should have the same rights as everyone else!”)

We who don’t fit in, who don’t follow the rules, who chafe at authority and question society; we are what they call “contagion”. We gather, we share our stories, we present alternative ways of being, and in so doing, shake the very foundations of society, because this society’s foundations are so rotted and so narrow that any alternatives at all are anathema to it.

We are monsters, here to destroy society. We who are dissatisfied with society, are devils.

And of course Littman is just a recent example of personal import to me. People like her are fighting to prevent a world in which I could have realized my gender and come out as a child, saving me decades of unnecessary suffering; but to them my suffering is necessary, to preserve their cisnormative narrative. Other people fight, in other ways, to ensure the continuation of the suffering the kyriarchy engenders; some because they derive value from that suffering, but most because they value the comfortable stability of grand narrative more than the well-being of people unlike themselves.

As I said, there’s two ways to go. If you have compassion, real compassion, radical compassion that values people wherever, however, whoever they are, you say “Devils are people, so we must make room for them. We must try to understand them. We must treat them, always and without fail, as people.”**

On the other hand, if you value society over people, if you are a hard-edged “rationalist” who rejects the infinite multiplicity and complexity of human experience, a traditionalist or authoritarian–if, in short, you are a Ryo or a conservative or a TERF–you say “Devils are people, so some people are devils. We need to kill them.”

Or, since real life is not usually a deliberately over-the-top horror anime, you use terms like “social contagion” or “illegal” instead of “devil,” and you leave the second sentence out while endorsing policies that ensure the suffering and death of the people you don’t like. It’s not any less transparent to the people you’re abjectifying, but it apparently makes it easier to sleep at night.

*Read “methodologically questionable” as a polite way of saying it’s bullshit. Julia Serrano covers a few of the most egregious of the many, many ways in which the paper’s methods fail any reasonable standards of rigorous science, and thereby creates a serious threat of harm to an extremely vulnerable population.

**Note: There are circumstances in which violence against people is justifiable. There are many more circumstances in which it is not. Laying out the details of which circumstances are which lies beyond the scope of this essay.


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