Connect with us

Analysis

Asami Sato Intensifies

Kylie

Published

on

If you spend some time looking through our categories and tags here, you’ll notice that there’s quite a few concepts and character archetypes we tend to bring up a lot, be it acedia, the dutiful princess trope (“Martells”), Watsonian versus Doylist lenses, and even the phrase “media is not created in a cultural vacuum.” Yet there’s one recurring reference ‘round here that we haven’t bothered to explain, and it comes in the form of a character from Avatar: the Legend of Korra by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko: Asami Sato.

You may recognize the name from “Korrasami,” the show’s unexpected and ground-breaking end-game relationship between the protagonist Korra and her not-just-gal-pal. While there’s no reason to ever stop gushing about that, or the show in general, there’s a lot more to Asami, and she has features we seem to be finding highlighted in an increasing number of characters. Kate Kane’s run in the Detective Comics Rebirth featured her making strikingly similar decisions when confronted with a strikingly similar choice as Asami had in Korra’s first season, Sansa Stark in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire exhibits nearly the same personality and constantly-whirring brain, and Supergirl’s Lena Luthor may as well be a copy-paste at this point.

Thanks to the rule of three, it means it’s time to officially take a closer look at who Asami is, so that we can keep our eyes peeled for more Satos (or just shake our heads when Lena inevitably repairs an airship while flirting with Kara).

Intuition and Empathy

Out of the gate, it’s important to note something: Asami is a secondary character on a Y7 show who actually had a surprisingly limited amount of screentime. Yet even though she turned into something of a Where’s Waldo game in the final season, her scripting was quite consistent and she was packed with a ton of agency, so she felt like a fully realized character just from the few moments where she got to wield it.

Asami is a nonbender within her universe—part of the disempowered majority who are inherently vulnerable to attacks from benders (especially when they form crime organizations), which is how her own mother died. She did take self-defense classes and is a capable enough fighter as a result, often donning an electrical shock glove, but to say that’s her primary weapon or even go-to strategy wouldn’t be accurate. In fact, when there’s no vehicles for her to build or pilot, she normally watches fights from the sidelines.

She was even ordered there once.

However, that bit about vehicles is rather important. You see, Asami is an engineer, though Omnidisciplinary Scientist is a far more accurate title. What she lacks in physical fighting prowess, she makes up for in innovation and technological contributions, or at the least is able to hop into a never-before-seen tank and have a chicken fight to the death because she once took a forklift for a spin. She tends to crash…all her vehicles, often for no discernible reason, but she’s also stupidly rich and takes over her universe’s equivalent of the Ford Motor Company in the 1920s by the second season, so we have to assume it’s fine.

This is important, of course, and Asami’s terrible piloting and constant supply of luxury technological goods do help to drive the plot. Heck, the third season is spent with Korra and Co. flying through the Earth Kingdom on what looks to be Pemberley with wings because Asami wanted them to go “in style.” But even this comes from a more fundamental aspect of Asami’s personality: her intuition. Throughout the show, she demonstrates an ability to read a situation or person, and then find a solution or tactic to reach a desired outcome. From turning one of Bumi’s outlandish stories about hog-monkeys into a battle strategy, to manipulating a guard into tying her up against a bar she later pries off the wall (damn shoddy Cabbage Corp. workmanship), to even dominating at pai sho games, Asami is able to use her brain as her “weapon.”

Though she also uses it for far nicer aims, such as completely redesigning her city’s infrastructure, reframing a problem as an asset and bringing Korra’s spiritual vision for the world into the material. Like one does.

There is one strong limit to her intuition, which is that we see Asami place her trust in two people she shouldn’t have: her father, Hiroshi, and Varrick, a shipping merchant/inventor-turned-competitor (it’s weird). In the case of Hiroshi Sato, it’s rather understandable why a daughter would probably need quite a bit of overwhelming evidence to realize that the guy who’s been raising her on his own for fourteen years was secretly a mustache twirling villain who helped fund a genocidal revolution that bombed the entire city. With Varrick, we’re shown that Asami’s company is about to go belly-up if she doesn’t at least try to make a partnership with him work. Given that she views Future Industries as “the only family [she] has left,” turning a blind-eye to some warning signs with Varrick more demonstrates just how much in crisis mode she is during this time. Though she kind of is in crisis mode for an astounding percentage of the show.

Either way, Asami adapts her approaches after her dealings with both of these men, and as a result shows extreme sensitivity towards lying and being abandoned. She also makes sure to protect herself from being blindsided again. Mostly through threats.

This was in front of the President, I might point out

Though her intuitive understanding of situations and ability to break-down complex problems is one of the strongest aspects of her personality, her empathy is equally as important, if not more so. We are shown Asami caring about the well-being of just about everyone she comes across, not hesitating to comfort Korra, Mako, or Bolin in moments where they’re feeling stressed and confused. In fact, her entire first date with Mako seemed to be bonding over dead parents and getting him to open up about what was bothering him. Mako of all people. Trust me when I say that this is not a small feat.

We see this most explicitly when Asami serves as what appears to be Korra’s primary caretaker for a few weeks following an injury that left her in a wheelchair. Heck, she even offered to travel down the south pole with Korra when that’s what the Avatar decided she needed in order to heal, which is not something most CEOs and business owners are wont to do.

This isn’t to say Asami’s the babysitter of the group. Though she’s probably the most emotionally mature, at least before the final season, the dynamic is very much just that of four young adults hanging out together. Instead, she’s just kind of the friend who will actively try to pull out what’s bothering you and be there to talk things through, usually framing issues in the big picture, since she is always solutions-oriented. If you come across an Asami Sato in the wild, treat her nicely.

Truth, Justice, and the United Republican Way

This probably shouldn’t be a shock, but because since she is primarily concerned for the well-being of others, she’s a good person. I mean, a Good™ person. Her commitment to Korra’s cause is never in question, and she never once places herself in any sort of opposition to the Avatar’s decisions or aims, even when it comes at a major inconvenience, a great personal cost, or involves doing some…questionable things.

For instance, when new airbenders begin popping up thanks to Korra opening two spirit portals, Korra decides she wants to help rebuild the Air Nation, which is a worthy cause given that they were victims of genocide. However, to help her bring this about, Asami willingly goes along with a plan that involves acts of war against the Earth Kingdom—at least two or three times I might add. I’m sure Future Industries doesn’t need that market or anything.

Yet Asami’s most telling moment comes when it’s revealed that her father has secretly been working with (and funding) the revolutionary group trying to take all benders’ abilities from them, because benders killed her mom. Asami is not into the broad-brush blame game, and even though nonbenders do have legitimate cause for complaint with how their government is failing to protect them, she makes a decisive choice to attack her father and save her friends. And again, Hiroshi is the only family she’s had since her mom died when she was five, and she met Korra, Mako, and Bolin…maybe a few months before this?

No, and your enthusiasm is exhausting.

Plus, she not only makes this choice, but then becomes committed to stopping Hiroshi to the point where she says, with complete sincerity and intensity:

“It’s time to take down my father.”

They do.

The most important thing to understand is that like Asami’s ability to problem-solve, her commitment to justice is based on her bigger-picture ideology. Even though spirit vines overtake Republic City, rendering an entire area unlivable, damaging pipes everywhere, and blocking roadways, Asami never expresses any sort of frustration, actually going as far as to tell Korra that she can’t take the negative feedback for these very real problems “to heart.” She then goes on to devote herself to restructuring the city’s entire infrastructure for three years to accommodate the situation. When Republic City is threatened with the world’s allegory for a WMD, Asami gets to work on technology that can help in a battle, though refuses to use that same weapon in her designs, instead utilizing biomimicry to design flying mecha suits.

An interesting thing about Asami is that the second anyone challenges or seeks to stand in the way of her, well, pursuit of justice, she gets angry. She snaps at police officers and politicians when she thinks they’re profiling nonbenders, she snaps at detectives who don’t seem to be doing the best job at their investigation, any time Varrick appears again she snaps because he’s proven himself untrustworthy, and she even fights angrily. She’s actually the only person in the main group we see do this with any sort of consistency.

Asami “the angry one” Sato

She’s no waifish idealist; Asami’s the person who willingly gives gang members some of her tech in exchange for their help. At the same time, she avoids that man-tear drinking femme fatale vibe she might have originally been designed for thanks to her guiding empathy and caretaker nature, while also neatly side-stepping “tsundere,” since we see her frustrations manifest, and they’re the result of her consistent aims and past hurts.

This is why Asami Sato doesn’t fill a trope—she’s a trope-setter, damnit.

My name is Asami Sato and my life is garbage

You know what else Asami isn’t? A Mary Sue. And yes, I’m aware that the term has been misused into oblivion and more or less gets applied to any woman exhibiting competency. But it does need to be said that in fandom dialogue, particularly as the show was finishing its run and immediately after, this was a common term attached to Asami. I must admit, every time I hear it, I can’t help but laugh, because I can’t think of anything more off the mark.

“The canon protagonists are all overwhelmed with admiration for her beauty, wit, courage and other virtues, and are quick to adopt her as one of their True Companions, even characters who are usually antisocial and untrusting; if any character doesn’t love her, that character gets an extremely unsympathetic portrayal… Other than that, the canon characters are quickly reduced to awestruck cheerleaders, watching from the sidelines as Mary Sue outstrips them in their areas of expertise and solves problems that have stymied them for the entire series.”

I’ve called Lin Beifong the “unsung hero” of Korra, though a lot of that had to do more with being passed up in fandom conversations. However, if there’s one person who in-canon is rarely thanked and often shit on, and who was even turned into a literal awestruck cheerleader despite having just found out she partnered with the guy who tried to kill the President and start a war, it’s Asami.

TFW you’re sidelined in your own plot.

Heck, Mako more or less treats her like some gum stuck to his shoe for two seasons, and he gets anything but an unsympathetic portrayal! The only person who loved her from the start was Bolin, and he’s also the dude who needed to be threatened with a reeducation camp to realize that the dictator he was working for *might* not be the best person to measure that. Though, Korra did come around to her very quickly.

It’s actually remarkable to think about the amount of suffering Asami endured, and how much of it was in the background. Her own father tries to murder her, and though Bolin fortunately intervened and stopped Hiroshi from smushing her like a bug (yikes, poetic justice for Hiroshi in the end?), this is never mentioned afterwards. In fact, no character even asks her the bare minimum of “hey, how are you doing with that whole dad-betrayal situation?” They find out Hiroshi isn’t a good guy, immediately after Mako actively pursues a relationship with Korra while still dating Asami and making no effort to hide this, and she ends the season alone, being handed a company she’s got no clue how to run.

In the second season, Asami works overtime to keep Future Industries afloat because it’s more or less all she has, trusts in a business partner who tries to steal it out from her, gets quasi-back together with Mako only for him to publicly choose Korra over her because Korra has amnesia (it’s complicated), and runs her company so poorly that all her goods can fit in a single warehouse. In fact, within the span of about an hour, she finds out the truth about Varrick, gets dumped by Mako for a second time, and then is forced to go visit the jerk who tried to steal her company in jail, despite us learning that it’s an emotional toll for her to set foot near one given her father being behind bars. And no one says a thing.

Just that quintessential perfect character who steamrolls the narrative, right?

Somehow she pulls her company out of its hole and is able to travel with Korra, provoking the Earth Kingdom, reassembling the Air Nation, and quite obviously falling in love with the woman in the process. We see Asami taking care of Korra for a few weeks, urging her to go easy on herself, and assuring her that she’s there for her. Korra ends up leaving for what she says is going to be two more weeks so that she can heal, but it ends up being three years (her recovery arc is beautiful, by the way). From what we can tell, Asami writes her a letter just about every day, and gets a grand total of one back after two years. Yet this is enough for our engineer to be speaking about Korra in gushing tones in the final season’s opener.

Asami decides to try and repair her relationship with her dad by visiting him in prison, and when the city falls under attack, he ends up working with her on the flying mecha suits to save the day, only to sacrifice himself in a crucial moment to the cause. She and Korra do get together, so there’s one good thing that happens to her. But looking back over this description, it’s kind of the only one. Well, two: she runs a successful company and is stupidly rich.

It’s not just that Asami deals with a lot of awfulness; pretty much everyone else in the series does, and Korra especially gets put through the wringer (though at least in the last season, Konietzko and DiMartino gave her narrative space to explore her own trauma). However, with Asami, one notable thing she does is take herself out of the equation. She’s no Dutiful Princess who hides from her own feelings—rather, she understands and is in command of her feelings, but will swallow them and not assert herself if she thinks it will inconvenience others.

She sits quietly after almost being killed by her dad, because Korra lost her bending and it’s not the time. She somehow refrains from slapping Mako’s face off of his face following breakup #2, because there’s a task at hand and everyone needs to be focused on the cataclysmic event. She’s willing to back-burner her company for Team Avatar business time and time again. And most notably, she doesn’t think to assert anything she’s feeling, despite being canonically in love with Korra, when she’s taking care of her. It’s worth pointing out that this is a complete reversal of how Mako behaved in a similar situation.

Not to demonize Mako: he just discovered his feelings, and it’s not unreasonable to think Korra would want to feel loved. But it does put a lot on her.

Since Asami’s always stuffing her feelings down, it’s not exactly a shock that her anger can flare up quickly. Perhaps the most telling moment is when she snaps at Korra shortly after they’re reunited in the final season. Asami clearly understands everything Korra’s gone through and is worried about what she heard in the letter, but we’re also seeing a person who has repressed feelings for three years and who was actively deceived by Korra (everyone else was too) for six months. It was just a moment of frustrations boiling over, but it perfectly encapsulates her character. Asami is more or less the on-screen embodiment of “still waters run deep.”

If you give a story a Sato

In many ways, that’s the reason Asami feels like such a fresh and ground-breaking character: we don’t see her on-screen a lot. In fact, her personality traits don’t make her very suited to it. There’s plenty of introverted characters, but Asami’s entire personality and mode of operation are based on very internal motivations and processing. You can tell that her mind is whirring away, though she doesn’t say a lot when she speaks. Instead, her words can feel carefully weighed:

“You tainted our past and destroyed our future together.”

“Meticulous” is not an uncommon adjective attached to her. Of course, when she’s needed in a split-second, her intuition is able to guide her:

Korra: Uhh, this evening? I’m not sure about leaving so soon…
Asami: [lying] Because our airship is having engine trouble. It’ll take me until tomorrow to finish the repairs.

Asami was utilized in interesting ways in many fights, and frankly her “self-defense” skills are ridiculously overpowered, even though she’s never the one to be going against elite benders. But in general, the *meat* of her character is…not very suited to the screen. She begs for the written medium, where what’s in her brain can be explored and even fully explicated, depending on style. It’s perhaps thanks to the prevalence of Korra fanfics that she does have a healthy number of fans.  

But that doesn’t mean she’s a worthless on-screen character either—just one we don’t see a lot of. We’re so used to the externally-driven hero, and what we tend to celebrate is tied to action. Introverted women who are perceptive and empathetic can too often be seen as weak and incapable, and many shows who have such a character force them into a mold of a more “active” person.

Asami did get short-changed by The Legend of Korra’s narrative a bit, even if she received more space for follow-through as the show went on. Yet she was never “fixed” in her personality, because she had writers who understood there wasn’t a need. She didn’t become an airbender, she wasn’t forced into the plot-role of designing the spirit weapon, and she didn’t magically become a straight-shooter who would assert her feelings and wants. Asami Sato is simply that internally-focused engineer with a commitment to justice, a compassionate approach to life, and a whole lot of silent suffering.

In other words, she’s painfully realistic. And that’s what makes her cinematic.

Action Figure Asami comes with infrastructure contracts!


Images courtesy of Nickelodeon

Kylie is a Managing Editor at The Fandomentals on a mission to slay all the tropes. She has a penchant for complex familial dynamics and is easily pleased when authors include in-depth business details.

Advertisement
Comments

Analysis

The Expanse Season Two Still Fares Well As An Adaptation

Barbara

Published

on

By

The Expanse has had the seventh book in the series released this month, while its third season (meant to adapt the second half of the second book) is scheduled to come out some time next year. In other words, both the authors of the source material and of the adaptation are keeping busy, making it a very current show. So allow me to continue in my attempt to assess how it fared as an adaptation.

The second season works with the second half of Leviathan Wakes, the first book in the series, and the first half of Caliban’s War, the second installment. It continued its similarity to Game of Thrones as an adaptation by diverging from the source material significantly more than in the first year it was on air. The good news, however, is that the changes are not so dramatically for the worse as is usual, and in some cases are even for the better.

Warning: the following contains spoilers for both the show and the books.

Some problems remain from season one. Chiefly, two of them. One is the scope of the world as it is depicted on the show.  The other are the universally dark and gritty visuals. Ganymede is supposed to have corridors carved in ice. Wouldn’t it have been awesome to see that? But now, just more indistinguishable black and grey.

The most significant difference between the books and the show in season two is, without a doubt, all the added drama. It’s everywhere. Every little thing that is routine in the books becomes exceedingly tense on the show. Starting with the Somnambulist, which is not taken by force – or near enough to force – in book!verse, but is simply a ship at OPA’s disposal that Holden is given by Fred. Continuing through Bobbie’s escape from her rooms in the UN compound; she simply walks away in the book and that’s it. And ending with the escape from Gynemedes, which, int he books, is not so much of an escape as simply, you know, leaving. I could keep listing other instances, but this serves as a good example of the sort of tension added for television.

Related to this is also the complete secrecy that surrounds everything on the show. The books work much better with the reality of modern technology where things are streamed immediately. Billions of people watch Eros crash into Venus live, for example, and the data available from what happens there is available to everyone. Or there is the whole thing with the zombie terminator attacking on Ganymede. On the show, it’s a huge secret Chrisjen has to exert extreme energy to ferret out. In the books, everyone knows and there is footage of the attack available. One of my favourite little moments is when Holden tries to hide his identity behind a scruffy beard as he comes to Ganymede, and you end his chapter feeling that he succeeded. Only to open Chrisjen’s chapter and find out that he really, really did not.

Secrecy adds drama, so it is understandable why the show decided to go this way. The need to keep viewers hooked is evident, too. And ending the season in a middle of a book, they needed a suitably dramatic bang to end with. So while all of these things make me roll my eyes, I do not truly blame the show for them. I feel the missed character beats much more keenly.

Captain James Holden

Holden is one character whose arc from the first half of Caliban’s War was adapted truly well. There was the inevitable added drama, as everywhere, but his essential story arc remained.

With regards to the end of Leviathan Wakes, however, the issues from season one continue, and Holden is treated as more of a boy scout by the show than he is by the book. One fantastic moment (though one that could hardly be adapted) was seeing inside Holden’s head when the Head Human Experimenter tried to convince him to join forces before Miller shot him. The reader can see, with intimate certainty, that Holden is this close to giving in when Miller pulls the trigger. We know for certain that it was done at just the right time. Yet Holden condemns Miller for it without the slightest trace of self-awareness, confident he would have resisted. It’s no doubt intentional, and it’s perfection. It should have been replaced by a similar scene suitable for the visual medium that would have conveyed the same. It wasn’t, and Holden’s character suffered for it.

On the other hand, I very much appreciate the change made to Holden’s dynamics with Naomi. In the books, when they start their romantic relationship, it turns out that not only has Naomi been in love with him for ages, so had pretty much every female on the Canterburry, because he is obviously God’s gift to womankind. It’s something to be thankful for that we don’t have to deal with that on our screens, even though I admit that the way book!Naomi handles Holden after that is exquisite.

I’m also very much in favour of the open communication that happens between them before they have sex in the books, as opposed to the “thick erotic tension” kind of deal the show went with. It would be easier to teach people about affirmative consent if there were actual examples of it in the media. There was a scene like that in the book, and guess what? It didn’t get adapted. Let’s all pretend at astonishment.

Dr. Praxidike Meng

I must admit that I was surprised when I saw he was one of the point of view characters. I neither knew nor expected it, and that in itself sums up the biggest problem with his show adaptation. He was very much pushed into the background. I understand why, I suppose – it might have been felt that there were too many new characters – but he lost a lot of his appeal when his role was cut. He is there to represent a valuable civilian point of view among all the trained soldiers and expert politicians. And his expertise adds a crucial dimension to the catastrophe of Gynamede.

Though if someone had to be cut short, I’m glad it was Dr. Meng. I understand they could hardly reduce Hodlen’s role, as much as I’d appreciate it, and both of the ladies are more interesting than Dr. Meng.

Still, I remember lamenting the sharp division between the first and second half of season 2 and pointing out that had Dr. Meng been included in some of the earlier episodes, it would have helped to make the transition more seamless. Now that I know he is one of the point of view characters, I feel this even more strongly.

Assistant Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala

I cannot quite decide whether Chrisjen is an adaptational success or failure. Because she is perfection on the show…but she is also quite different from the books. If I should compare book!Chrisjen to someone, it would probably be Miranda from Devil Wears Prada, or characters of that sort. She is not likable in any straightforward way, but at the same time, she has a charm to her that is oddly irresistible as much as you want to punch her in the fact at the same time.

Show!Chrisjen, on the other hand, is much softer on the surface, not showing her hard lines so obviously. Even when she swears, she does it with a kind of disarming smile that takes the edge off it. Book!Chrisjen is nothing but edges.

I don’t want to complain, because show!Chrisjen is one of the best things that ever happened to me, and there is nothing intrinsically better or worse about either of their characterisations. But I cannot help but wonder how far gender stereotyping played a part in making Chrisjen less obviously hard. And it becomes especially problematic when paired with her stupidity in season 2, which takes the form of that oh-so-very-feminine failing of trusting too much in her friends, or ex-friends.

I wrote out my thoughts about that elsewhere in detail.To summarise, it was a subplot that prioritized a male character over a female one, and made Chrisjen look naive. But it was also an excellently done one. So while it troubles me, I cannot with a clear conscience say I wish it didn’t happen. I just hope it won’t again.

Additionally, one change I definitely appreciated was Chrisjen not being Errinwright’s subordinate on the show. It changed the dynamic significantly, and very much for the better. It also made this whole added subplot in season two possible.

Gunnery Sergeant Roberta Draper

Bobbie has a similar problem as Chrisjen: she, too, is made to look markedly more stupid on the show. Only as Chrisjen is effectively a genius, she ends up being just a little incompetent. Bobbie sometimes ends up looking downright stupid.

To be fair, her character is exceedingly hard to adapt. She has that in common with Dr. Meng. While Jim and Chrisjen constantly talk to people around them and even the things that are part of their inner monologue are easy to change to a personal conversation with someone close, Bobbie doesn’t have that option. She doesn’t have anyone close to her left. For a long time, the only person she talks to at all is the chaplain, whom she just dismisses in many different ways when he tries to ‘help’. There is no way to naturally have her talk about what she thinks and feels, because being alone is an important part of her character arc. But not everything can be shown with images.

But that is not the biggest problem with her character. No, that is reserved for the mysterious decision to make Bobbie into a fanatical war-monger at the beginning. I have been complaining about lack of proper representation for Mars in the first season, and so was very happy to see Bobby in nr. 2. And it’s not like seeing her slowly change her approach when confronted with new facts was worthless. But it also made her into a very flat and irritating character for the first two thirds of the season.

It’s not like book!Bobbie goes through no character development after she sees Earth with her own eyes. It’s not like she’s not patriotic or proud to be a marine. But she can be all this and still retain some nuance, and some brain cells. The showrunners seem to have forgotten that. Bobbie on the show frequently comes off as a brat, something her book self never does.

There are other characters worth a mention, naturally. Fred Johnson is probably the most significant. His role was changed significantly as well, and much more tension withing the OPA was included. It adds to the problematic depiction of OPA as uncultured and wild space terrorists, but on the other hand it’s masterfully done. One can understand the sources of tension and where the different branches and wings are coming from. Much like with Errinwright, here again one is willing to forgive the problematic nature of the added material for a large part, because it forms such excellent additions.

In the end, the only thing I truly blame the second season for is the assassination of Bobbie’s character. While changes to Chrisjen upset me, they were compensated for by the excellent quality of Errinwright’s subplot. Yes, it is telling that the two female protagonists were undercut by the adaptation, making them look less smart than they are in the source material. But Chrisjen still comes out of it pretty impressive. The changes to Bobbie, on the other hand, are much more destructive, and they held no compensation, no hidden bonus. She is simply depicted as unlikable, to such an extent that even when we finally get legitimate reasons for sympathy, it’s long in coming.

Season 3 should fix that, and fast. Hopefully, Bobbie is here to stay. She shouldn’t have to carry the weird season 2 baggage with her throughout the show.


Images courtesy of SyFy

Continue Reading

Analysis

The Legend Of Korra Is A Perfect Deconstruction Of Superman

Griffin

Published

on

By

Superman is arguably the single most recognized fictional character in human history. He’s right up there with Batman and Mickey Mouse. His ‘S’ is, at times, even more widely known. “Truth, Justice and the American Way”. “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” We know that these phrases are attributed to Superman, even if we don’t know the specific origin or, in most cases, how in the world we even learned them in the first place.

For 80 years, Superman has served as a beacon of hope and change for anyone and everyone. His origin, that of the immigrant whose home and culture were lost the day of his birth (an identity he can never fully regain), is a tragic yet resonant one that has, and will continue to, stand the test of time. Even if it has been re-appropriated into that of a pseudo-messianic myth, the immovable Jewish foundation of Superman’s internal struggle between assimilation (Clark Kent) and refusing to do so (Kal-El) isn’t something anyone has any intention of erasing.

Superman is the bedrock on which all modern heroes are based. Every divergence and every variation, no matter how big or how small, starts with Superman. He is the source, so, naturally, that means he’s the most prone to deconstruction and revisionism.

There have been so many attempts to deconstruct Superman as a concept, as well as his character, that it’s become almost a cliche to even consider it. Nearly every run at it ends in failure, most often due to a fundamental misunderstanding of what Superman even is. What he means, why he is who he is, etc. Off the top of my head, I can name two stories that actually succeed in deconstruction, as they have something worth saying: Superman: American Alien and Superman: Red Son. Wait, no, three examples.

The Legend of Korra. And it does it in a way that is embarrassingly similar to what Zack Snyder’s vision of Superman failed to be.

Xenophobia, A Modern Take

The narrative of Superman is one that is eternally relevant. Immigration as part of the American Dream, let alone an aspect of the nation’s entire identity (“Give us your poor, your wounded, your huddled masses…), has always been a hot button issue. In the new millennium, however, with the onset of the age of instant communication and social media, as well as the events of 9/11, it has ballooned into a political issue based almost entirely on fear. Fear of the “other”, to put it simply. And who is more “other” than Superman himself? He looks like us, and talks like us, but if you’re you and Superman just showed up one day in the real world…you’d have no idea where he came from and what his intentions are.

The only thing you, and everyone else, would know is that he’s different, and possesses abilities that effectively make him a living God. And that is terrifying. Even if the first thing he does is save a plane from falling out of the sky, he’s still going to be looked at with suspicion and fear. At any moment, he could decide to burn the world to the ground. And that’s exactly how Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice treats Superman.

Something to fear, because he isn’t like us. Because he’s too powerful. Because nobody asked for his help, no matter how altruistic his intentions may appear to be on the surface.

It’s a fantastic opening premise for a deconstruction of Superman, as it makes it necessary for him to prove he’s on our side. To do so much good in a world that resents him out of instinctual fear drilled into their heads by the era that they’re eventually forced to give him the benefit of the doubt. That, as far as the public is concerned, it isn’t any more complicated than a man who is just trying to do the right thing. Except that never happened in those movies.

We never saw Superman be Superman. We saw him save people, yes. We saw him do the thankless job. We saw the world resent him. But we never saw him inspire. We never saw him do anything to make us want to trust him at all. To challenge our preconceived notions of who Superman is.

Until General Zod and company arrived, he only operated in secret, using his powers when it was convenient for him. And even when he was forced to face Zod, he brought untold destruction and and collateral damage to his adopted world…completely invalidating the point of the post 9/11 narrative in the first place. How can the world trust a man who destroys the very city he is trying to protect? They don’t need or want Superman, especially since the only reason Zod attacked at all was because he had been “hiding” on Earth.

When Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice rolled around, Superman is stuck in an inconsistent guilt spiral from the destruction of Metropolis. Except he doesn’t actually do anything to address that, and the movie doesn’t really either. The first thing Superman does is intervene in a fictional African nation to take down a warlord for the sole purpose of saving Lois Lane. Which, if the film wanted take the very-often-overlooked implications of Superman being an American icon, thus leading to him acting as a sort of unintentional symbol for American interventionism, would have been extremely interesting. Except it doesn’t do that either. Superman is there because he wants to save Lois, and that’s it.

Batman acts as a sort of audience surrogate for the fear that Superman inflicted on the world during his battle with Zod, which might have worked had that gone anywhere aside from Batman trying to kill Superman. He never tries to talk to him or understand him; not even after the infamous Martha scene. If he’s supposed to represent our combined terror of what Superman could be capable of, we should probably be able to agree with his rationale (or even understand it) for not stabbing the man who he saw as a monster two seconds ago in the face.

And then Superman dies, only to return in Justice League to a world that, for reasons that aren’t in evidence and also directly contradict everything that came before it, loves and adores him. A world that was on the verge of eating itself because of his death, despite no one wanting or needing him in every other instance.

None of it is earned. None of it really makes any sense, and the whole production, over multiple films, is only half of what is necessary to convey the narrative Zack Snyder clearly tried to tell.

Avatar Korra, Sequence Breaker

As Kylie so eloquently laid out last week, The Legend of Korra is one hell of a transgressive narrative due mostly in part to its titular protagonist. Korra is brash, overeager, and immeasurably powerful. Her series arc is one of self discovery and self acceptance in a world that actively rejects her existence every chance it gets. She wants to be, essentially, Superman, in a world that has no need nor desire for one. The similarities don’t stop there.

She holds ultimate, untold power and uses it with reckless abandon at the start of the series. In her first few hours in Republic City, she undertakes vigilante justice and violently destroys several storefronts. Because that’s the kind of person she is.

People don’t trust her the moment she announces herself, they wonder why they need her, even though previous incarnations of her have almost always been treated like spiritual leaders and authorities. No matter how many times she saves the world, people still hate her. They are suspicious and cynical of the stranger, since she is inherently an outsider due to her birthright and connection to a world (the Spirit World) few can even comprehend or understand.

This set-up is supposed to make us question and consider what being the Avatar actually means when the assumed role is no longer relevant or necessary. What can Korra reasonably do when the geopolitical climate isn’t as simple as “stop evil”? When every action she takes is looked at with intense scrutiny from a far more connected public. That is to say, the show asked us to consider Korra in relation to her previous incarnations to explicate the disparity just as Snyder’s Superman did by contrasting him the with the multitude of other versions of Superman across every form of media imaginable.

Zack Snyder’s Superman begins his journey in much the same place Korra did. He has powers he doesn’t know how to control, and hides them until the world is ready, just as the White Lotus hid Korra. Of course, this is where the deconstruction of Superman falls apart: it doesn’t actually go anywhere. He starts where Korra starts, and doesn’t progress at all. He does the thankless job, sure, but he doesn’t learn from any of his choices or mistakes. He intervenes without thinking about it, and chooses to brood instead of facing his issues and trauma.

At the end of Man of Steel, Clark faces off against General Zod and causes devastating damage to Metropolis. Zod has the same abilities as Superman, as they are both Kryptonian, meaning that he’s basically supposed to serve as an evil mirror. This is far from dissimilar to the finale of Book 2, where Korra fights Unalaq after he becomes the Dark Avatar and starts destroying Republic City. She even kills him in the end, as there was no other way to save the world.

Even Superman’s death at the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — as well as his subsequent resurrection in Justice League — is paralleled and unintentionally blown out of the water. Korra did something very similar with the end of Book 3, sacrificing herself at the hands of the Red Lotus to save the Airbenders. Though she is not killed, she vanishes from the public eye as she heals…just as the world enters a state of actually, truly needing her intervention with the chaos spreading throughout the Earth Kingdom like wildfire.

Superman and Korra are both on isolating journeys of self discovery. Korra’s takes place before and during the final season where she learns to cope with her PTSD, and how to better approach her role even though it is so undefined and volatile. She can be the kind of person she wants to be without constantly fighting for relevance, and even if the world resists her she can pick and choose her battles.

Korra learns how to be happy as Korra, rather than her title and all of the baggage she had stripped from her in the finale of Book 2. Previous Avatar cycles (much like previous incarnations of Superman) operated in a traditional way, but that’s not how the world works anymore and that’s okay! She can still find happiness and purpose in whatever she chooses to do, even if it’s not what her childhood self believed it would become due to the White Lotus jamming that into her head. Not unlike Jor-El did to Superman in Man of Steel.

Superman’s journey takes a confusing amount of years throughout Man of Steel, given that he wanders the world as a bum with a depression beard. The entire sequence doesn’t seem to serve a purpose, since he discovers who he is from the Fortress of Solitude. He doesn’t learn anything about himself as an outsider living in a foreign land, nor does he have a wound that requires isolation and introspection to heal or understand. This is the kind of thing that would have made more sense to happen after killing Zod.

But since it doesn’t, we’re left with an angry, brooding Superman with no redeeming qualities or justification to treat him as Superman. He’s just a superhuman guy in a cape who does things that are kinda nice sometimes.

Korra, meanwhile, justifies her own existence and acts as the hero people grew to mostly tolerate, and occasionally love. She gave them every reason to trust her, and a good amount of people do by the end of the series. Unlike Snyder’s Superman, it was something she earned by deconstructing her own legacy.


Images courtesy of DC Comics and Nickelodeon

Continue Reading

Analysis

Why You Need To Be More Excited About Bisexual Rosa Diaz

Dan

Published

on

By

Television has been a mixed bag for bisexuals. Even as gay and lesbian representation become more and more common (though not as fast as it should), characters within other parts of the acronym are few and far between. For bisexuals, who often suffer from confusion not just without but within the LGBT community, proper, outright representation means quite a lot. Not hints, not little flirts after a female character breaks up with her boyfriend. And especially not characters that just hook up with the same gender as fanservice. We want characters who can say “I’m bisexual.” We’ve been lucky to have characters like Sarah Lance or Daryl Whitefeather in recent years, but as a whole, television seems reluctant to acknowledge bisexuality.

But we finally have another name for that criminally short list: Detective Rosa Diaz of Fox’s Brooklyn 99. And not only is she bisexual, but she’s also a bisexual Latina woman played by a bisexual Latina woman. Let me say that one more time to help it sink in. We have, on a major network, a Latina woman coming out as bisexual who is played by a Latina bisexual woman.

Brooklyn 99 has been a success since day one thanks to its character, heart, and style of comedy that refuses to punch down. It has also become well known for its handling of social issues, best represented by the character of Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher); a black, gay man whose sexuality is merely a part of his character, not his entire identity. The handling of Holt, who stands out in a sea of shallow stereotypes and tokenism, has led the show’s fans to hope another character to come out as a member of the LGBT community. When it turned out that it was Detective Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) would be coming out as bi in the show’s ninety-ninth episode, appropriately titled “99,” the people rejoiced.

The episode itself did a good job of keeping her coming out low key. She only comes out to her friend, Detective Boyle, and only after he’d spent the episode bugging her about her new paramour. Interestingly, the show played with ideas of heteronormativity as Boyle pesters her about who “he” is, about her “boyfriend.” Rosa’s frustration seems not to be with Boyle’s prodding into her well guarded personal life (though that is part of it), but instead with his assumption that she was only dating a man. This episode restrains the result of this coming out to Boyle and Rosa bonding, letting the coming out stand alone. It is in this week’s follow up episode, “Game Night,” where the show’s dedication to Rosa and her coming out becomes more obvious.

The conflict in this episode, for Rosa, is in coming out to her parents and co-workers. Rather than let it just be played off as something she can sweat like so many other things, it instead very realistically captures the fears an LGBT+ child, particularly an adult one, might face when coming out.

Rosa’s first act is to come out to her co-workers during a meeting. She uses the term “bisexual,” and allows “one minute and zero questions” of seconds. We learn that she, like many other lovers of the same sex, discovered her sexuality while taking in media, in Rosa’s case Saved By The Bell. The show makes a conscious decision here not to make it some “phase” or something she’s just now discovering. Rosa Diaz has been bi since she was in 7th grade. She has been bi for all five seasons of the show.

Coming out to her parents has an entirely different set of emotions. Rosa fears that her coming out will change something with them, that somehow they won’t love her or they won’t want to be around her (Of course, in Rosa’s usual fashion, their bonding time consists of silent dinners). With Jake’s help (who gives an impassioned and curiously personal coming out speech to Rosa to help prepare her for her parents), she makes an attempt over dinner. Here, Rosa’s fear rapidly turns to anger when she learns that her parents were worried she was going to come out at dinner and were relieved that she was, thanks to a misunderstanding with Jake, just a mistress. The show pulls no punches here, capturing not just how angry she is at her parents’ ignorance but also heartbreak at being burned due to her vulnerability. In true sitcom fashion, this conflict wraps up cleanly by the end of the half hour. But the power and authenticity of it remain.

Stephanie Beatriz, herself a bisexual woman, has not been quiet in her desire for Rosa to reflect her own sexuality and has been effusive in her support of the storyline. She’s worked hard to make sure that the story reflects the bisexual experience, and has personally validated many fans in their own journeys. She does all this while still portraying Rosa as the stone-cold bad ass she’s always been. The emotions we see in Rosa as she comes out are real, they are powerful, and they are beautiful. But they are all 100% still Rosa’s.

As a final and personal note, this is a huge moment for me as a bisexual man being able to see the representation of some of my experiences on the screen. But I can only capture a small part of why this matters. I can’t even fathom how much this matters to bisexual women, let alone our POC brothers and sisters who are even less represented. Rosa Diaz’s coming out is their story as much as it is anyone’s, and I hope that I was able to capture a small measure of the joy this news has caused. 


Images courtesy of FOX

Continue Reading

Trending