Separated at Draft: M’gann M’orzz from Supergirl and Finn from The Force Awakens
Characters can give you déjà vu. You see them on screen and something about their arc or their backstory strikes you as familiar. You think to yourself, “Hey, haven’t I met you somewhere before?” When two characters (or stories) from different fandoms might as well be the same, we call that ‘separated at draft.’ Like Gene Belcher from Bob’s Burgers and Steven Universe or Asami Sato and Kate Kane. They’re like twins (or triplets) separated at the drafting board instead of at birth, get it? (Shut up, we have great metaphors.)
Just last week, one of my friends pointed out that M’gann M’orzz was Supergirl’s Finn from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It was an offhand comment, but it stuck with me. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that she was right. M’gann and Finn were basically the same character. I grew even more excited to see M’gann’s arc this season. See, I loved Finn in The Force Awakens (I like him even more than Rey, for whom I have a shit ton of love), so seeing him/his arc brought to life in my current favorite TV show gave me such joy that I needed to share it. Though filled with brokenness and pain, their stories are powerful and uplifting, which is exactly what we need these days. So without further ado, I give you the next installment of Separated at Draft: M’gann M’orzz and Finn.
Skilled Fighters from A Militaristic Society
Beyond sharing an affinity for the color white (white Stormtrooper armor, the White Martians), the societies that raised M’gann and Finn are brutal and militaristic. The First Order and the White Martians raised them to be emotionless, ruthless killers. J’onn claims he has never known a White Martian to show mercy. One might even call what was done to them brainwashing, especially in Finn’s case. But even M’gann was brainwashed in a way. So far as we know it, there were literally no other perspectives but the one her culture had regarding the inferiority of the Green Martians. She was brainwashed by default.
The assumption of superiority is another aspect that these societies share. Both the First Order and the White Martians believe themselves to be inherently better to others and sought to either control or destroy those who did not agree. The militaristic hegemony and totalitarianism apparent when we first meet the First Order differs on the surface from the instinct toward racial destruction that we see from the White Martians. At the same time, the First Order built a sun destroying monstrosity that wiped out a planet, so both seem perfectly willing to use planet-wide destruction and genocide to achieve their ends. That both are coded with Nazi-like features is no accident.
Within these societies, both M’gann and Finn are trained to kill and are highly skilled. From the novel Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka, we learn that Finn was top of his class. He wasn’t just any Stormtrooper, he was the Stormtrooper, the perfect specimen of Stormtrooper training under Captain Phasma. We don’t know much about M’gann’s training or background from Mars yet, but I imagine she wasn’t any old fighter. I assume her story to J’onn was actually about herself, so she was a guard at one of the
concentration internment camps. Moreover, it takes skill not to kill someone in a brutal cage match, especially if the other party is going all out. She holds her own against J’onn, who is no mean fighter himself.
On top of their martial skills, both M’gann and Finn are heirs to powerful abilities that can be used for good or ill. I am a huge proponent of Force Sensitive Finn (you can pry this from my cold, dead hands), meaning that the awakening Kylo Ren felt was probably Finn’s (though perhaps Rey’s as well). Like Rey, Luke, Leia, and Kylo himself (maybe even Han?), Finn must choose which path he will follow: Dark side or Light side. If I’m right about him having the Force, he must now choose how to wield it. M’gann has superhuman powers of flight and strength and can shape-shift as well. As we saw when the White Martian took over Senator Crane, such powers could be used to destroy humanity and other enemies of the White Martians. For both, the powers themselves are neutral, how they use them will determine their fates.
Broke Ranks When Faced with Committing Violence
When faced with the ‘necessity’ of acting within their training and hurting real, living beings, neither could stomach it. Despite their training, they broke ranks. Again from the novel Before the Awakening, we know that Finn hesitated when given the chance to hurt his own fellow trainees. While he did well in simulations, he already evinced a compassion that made Phasma uneasy. Then, when thrown onto a battlefield, Finn is unable to kill the civilians as ordered. Him breaking Poe free and flying away was the last step of a process already in motion for Finn, a disquiet with causing physical harm that could not be ignored.
Likewise, M’gann refused to kill when presented with an order from her superiors.
“One day, a White Martian broke rank and refused a kill order…Uh, she was…different. She smuggled me off, helped me off-world. I never looked back.”—M’gann M’orzz, 2.04 “Survivors”
In retrospect, she’s clearly talking about herself. We also need to remember that, according to both J’onn and M’gann, she was at the worst of the internment camps. A place where guards would shoot people at random to cause panic and laugh as the Green Martians trampled each other. A place where the Green Martians were treated like animals. Rather than dehumanize (demartianize?) them as the rest of her culture did, M’gann refused. Like Finn, she chose to flee rather than commit violence against others.
Subsequently Aligned with the Former Enemies
Upon becoming a hunted refugee on a different planet, both characters align themselves with their former enemies. Make no mistake, neither chose just a different culture from their own, they chose the one that was in fundamental opposition to their own society. M’gann could have picked literally anything else. She’s a shape-shifter. She could have lived as a human on Earth like J’onn did, only she wouldn’t have had to pretend to be a specific individual. She could have blended into human society, disappeared into the masses. Or, if she wanted to live as an alien, she had every other race to choose from. Instead, she chose to become a Green Martian.
Likewise, Finn had an array of options to choose from when he told Rey who he was. Even limiting it to potential careers or backgrounds that would have gotten him trouble with the First Order, he had options. He could have said he was a smuggler or a pilot/crew member on a ship that drifted too far into First Order space and saw things he shouldn’t have. He could have said he was a potential recruit who changed his mind or that his family was being hunted by the First Order for some reason. Instead, he chose the Resistance. He could have just been honoring Poe (and I’ll get to that), but I think there’s more to it.
Think about it. They both were members of a martial society with a clear enemy; both of them broke ranks. It isn’t just that they perceive themselves as standing apart from their home culture, it’s that they see themselves as fundamentally in opposition to it. They both chose to say they were the literal enemies of their society of origin because they see themselves as enemies. Not just defectors but antagonists. It would be like a KGB officer in the Cold War breaking ranks and subsequently identifying as American whenever asked. It isn’t just “I don’t belong there” but “I belong with the other team.” Not just “I am an outcast” but instead “I am an enemy”.
I was tempted to argue that M’gann perceives herself as victimized by her society in some way, which is why she chooses a Green Martian identity. However, upon further reflection, I see it not so much as claiming a persecuted status as an enemy status. She could be hunted down and killed in the same way that the White Martians hunted and killed the Green Martians. Comparing her story to Finn’s makes this distinction clearer, as his choices are much more obvious about claiming enemy status. The First Order isn’t persecuting the Resistance so much as they are at war with them. But to both the First Order and the White Martians, the ‘other side’ is the enemy to be destroyed. A brainwashed former soldier taking up the other team’s mantle is thus defecting to the enemy.
Honoring the Dead
One could even say they are both honoring, memorializing, and grieving some one/thing by their choices. M’gann believed all the Green Martians extinct. What better way for her to show she grieved for them and was ashamed of what her society had done to them than to be one of them on Earth? In this way, M’gann is not so different from J’onn. Both feel responsible for the deaths of others (in M’gann’s case, an entire race) and cope with that by taking on the guise of the people they feel responsible for. J’onn feels responsible for Jeremiah’s death, and quite possibly even for Hank’s. By taking on Hank’s identity and working to transform the DEO, J’onn honors Jeremiah.
M’gann likely has an even more profound sense of guilt and shame because her race completely destroyed another. Alongside perceiving herself as an antagonist to her home culture, then, is the same impulse that drove J’onn to choose Hank’s identity: the mixture of guilt and grief transformed into honoring the dead in whatever way they can. A way of saying, “I will not forget what has been lost.” Although she claims to want to forget, M’gann living and fighting as a Green Martian would be a constant reminder of where she came from and who she is.
Calling herself a Green Martian also seems to be a form of self-flagellation, born of her guilt as well as her desire to honor the dead. This hits home even more so with respect to her choice to join the alien fight club. She’s fighting as survival, but not to make money. She’s punishing herself for surviving by forcing herself to fight over and over again, as J’onn points out. What J’onn fails to recognize, though, is that she doesn’t just have survivors guilt, she has the guilt of being one a White Martian. She, a White Martian, survived when all (but one, as she now knows) of the Green Martian’s didn’t.
Likewise, Finn takes up the mantle of being ‘with the Resistance’ as a way to honor the sacrifice Poe made to save him. He saw what the First Order did to innocent civilians on Jakku and the subsequent brutal torture of Poe Dameron. When he meets Rey, Finn thinks Poe died in the crash. Finn must, at some level, feel responsible for Poe’s death and claims to be with the Resistance in his honor. I don’t know how much guilt plays into Finn’s choice to identify with the Resistance, but I believe there is some measure of it present. Grief and guilt often go together. He broke Poe free only to have him die on impact; that has to haunt him.
They differ in the extent to which they have internalized this experience, however. M’gann’s guilt is more profound than Finn’s. She’s had more time alone (300 years) for her grief, guilt, and ghosts to grow, morphing into the desire to punish herself. Finn meets Rey soon after defecting and since then has not had time to ruminate on his conscience. Perhaps that will come later, who knows. Star Wars is not known as a franchise that permits narratives space for characters to explore their trauma. For now, we can see how the choices these characters made kept the memory of a fallen person and culture alive when they seemed to have been destroyed.
Trying to Survive
Yet there’s a deeper level to their choices. I have seen Finn labeled a coward for running and hiding, for lying about being with the Resistance. I haven’t seen it yet with M’gann, but I’m sure there are those who would interpret her actions in the same way. For me, such an interpretation fundamentally misunderstands the stories being told. For, alongside a perception of being enemies with their former culture and wishing to honor the dead, taking up these identities is also a survival mechanism.
They are fleeing battlegrounds and internment camps, both scenes of blood, death, and violence. Both witnessed atrocities inflicted on innocents: civilian men, women, and children. M’gann fled the dehumanization of an entire race. Finn saw the aftermath of physical and mental torture. They both likely have PTSD.
Even their deceptions were a form of survival. They fear for their own safety. With rigid, militaristic backgrounds, they know that breaking ranks will be severely punished. Aligning themselves with the enemy means that they can find shelter among those with whom they now sympathize. Instead of being handed back to their regimes to face god knows what kind of punishment, they will be taken in and protected. They will not have to worry about being treated with suspicion or labeled a spy. Neither expected to meet another survivor or Resistance fighter so soon, or ever in M’gann’s case. Aligning with the enemy provided both a shield and a form of self-identification that neither character thought would hurt anyone.
In other words, the intent behind the deceit matters. Did they lie? Yes. But it was a lie told to protect themselves, a lie of survival. The intention is not to deceive manipulatively, but to cope with their trauma and survive long enough to get away from the forces that would destroy them, if found.
Choosing Light and Breaking the Cycle of Violence
M’gann M’orzz of Supergirl has a different backstory than her comic book counterpart, the latter of whom was sent away from Mars by her parents during the Civil War to protect her. This change creates a much more powerful narrative. She’s not just any refugee, she’s a defector—like Finn—from a brutal regime in which she refused to partake when given the order to kill. It’s a more complicated and emotionally painful story, but also a more moving one.
Alongside the latent narrative of escaping a militaristic society, their arcs resonate with stories of escaping an abusive home and breaking the cycle of violence, of choosing to flee violence rather than perpetuate it. They made difficult choices that their society would punish them for if they had been discovered. Yet, they chose them anyway. No one dragged or sent them away to protect them, no one berated them into leaving. They saw violence and brutality being carried out and fled. They chose compassion, empathy, light, and healing. They decided that the cycle would end with them, even if no one else chose the same. They chose to become better versions of themselves and not allow their futures to be defined by their violent heritages. They chose to get out.
The roads ahead of them are rocky, no doubt, as breaking the cycle is fraught with complications. It will not be easy, but I have faith in both of them. If I got what I wanted, Finn would become a Jedi and M’gann her own superhero. Finn would become a Jedi master with padawans of his own and M’gann would become a mentor for a Teen Titan generation of alien and metahuman heroes. If neither story gives me this, it will be my preferred headcanon because I love these characters and what they represent. They’re heroes already in my book, just for leaving and choosing to break the cycle. But, it would be wonderful if they got to have that choice fully realized and recognized by their new societies.
In light of recent events, Finn’s and M’gann’s stories are even more powerful. They’re a beacon of hope and light, a reminder that we have the power to break ranks with the traumas and brainwashing of our pasts. We can choose to be better than the violence of our upbringing and society. Like them, we can redeem ourselves with the choices we make to be better than what we were trained to be. We can transcend racial, ideological, religious, and cultural divides and find a home with those we once called ‘enemy.’
Images courtesy of CW and Lucasfilm.
The Unattainable Beauties of BioWare
Happy week after Valentine’s Day! For those of you in a relationship, I hope you were able to spend time with your loved ones and maybe have a little romance. For those of you who are single, I hope that it wasn’t a terribly bitter or frustrating day. In honor of both these states, I’m going to be writing about Bioware characters. But not romanceable characters, oh no. Enough ink has been spilled about them. No, today, we are going to be talking about the ones who for whatever reason are non-romanceable. In fact, it’s going to be a list of who I consider to be the best non-romanceable characters in Bioware games.
A few ground rules first though. First, this list is completely and totally subjective. If you feel like I’ve missed a character, let me know in the comments. Most of these characters are either from the Mass Effect Series or the Dragon Age series. Those are the games I know the best have have played the most. Finally, I’m only going to list five male and five female characters. I could go on all day if allowed.
So, with that out of the way, let’s start with the guys. And first on that list is…
Right off the bat we get a character who seems to contraindicate my first two points. He’s from Jade Empire and isn’t normally the type of character I’d enjoy. But let me justify his place on my list. First off, he’s just a fun character. Pretty much his entire character is dedicated to fighting things with his axes, drinking, and drinking while fighting with his axes. Second of all, given what we do see of his backstory, he’s fairly sympathetic. He was abused by his father until he was finally to defend himself and killed his father, and then was tossed out by his mother. He fought in the arena until he thought he killed his brother. And finally, his voice. Victor Brandt voices him in the game, and that man could read from the stock exchange and make it sound like he was trying to seduce you.
I can understand why they chose not to have any love interests in Awakening. A lot of the companions are missable and even if they aren’t, there’s better than 50-50 odds that they would die at the end of the expansion. That doesn’t excuse them from making Nathaniel Howe though. He has a compelling and sympathetic backstory, an interesting perspective on the location and events, and a sardonic sense of humor that lets him either play the straight man or the funny man in conversations. And! He got an easter egg quest in Dragon Age 2. I just wish they had followed through and included him in Dragon Age Inquisition (and gave us the chance to smooch him.)
Bann Teagan gets a bit of a bad rap now, particularly after Trespasser. Time (and the switch to a new engine) were not kind to him, but I remember a different Teagan. A Teagan that stood up to Loghain. A Teagan that risked his life to defend Redcliffe, and then walked straight into a demon’s clutches to buy your party sometime. From a story perspective, having a female human warden marry (or at least be involved with) an up and coming Bann would make just as much sense politically as marrying her to the new king. And from a purely personal standpoint, I would have loved for him to respond to the “Who is dis women Tegan?” quote by saying “My future wife.”
Jeff ‘Joker’ Moreau
Ever since Mass Effect 1, Joker’s presence at the front of the Normandy has been very welcome. Snarky, quick with a quip and a comment about any of your companions, the only fault I have with him was that he was far too quick to abandon the Alliance and hook up with a bunch of racist, human supremacist terrorists in Mass Effect 2. But the fact that he’s loyal specifically to Shepard always melts my heart. I was hoping that in Mass Effect 3 he finally would be a romance option, but alas he was infatuated with EDI. It took a great deal of self control not to sabotage that relationship.
And here we come to my favorite non-romanceable male character: Ser Derin Barris of the Templar Order. Dude has it all. Good voice and one of the few male PoCs in the series. In addition, he’s everything that a Templar is supposed to be: brave, intelligent, loyal, and willing to defend the weak and the innocent. And yet, after the quest to recruit the Templars, you only see ever see him one more time. The cutscene where he is promoted to Knight-Commander. (A promotion he deserves.) I can only hope that he reappears in Dragon Age 4 as a full romanceable companion.
That covers my five favorite non-romanceable male characters. But what about the ladies? Let’s start with…
Gianna Parasini was one of those characters I didn’t expect to find myself liking as much as I did. When you first meet her in Mass Effect 1, she’s working (undercover) for Novaria’s Internal Affairs. She quickly shows herself not to be completely amoral. Just overworked, overstressed, and tired of being a Yes-Woman to a corrupt executive. When you see her again in Mass Effect 2, she’s much less stressed, and much more willing to joke with Shepard. She leaves far too soon, leaving a male Shepard with a kiss and a promise to see him around. A promise, unfortunately, left unfulfilled.
Dr. Karin Chakwas
Dr. Chakwas is an interesting addition to this list. She is much older then Shepard. She seems at first to be a poor match. But much like Joker, she offers Shepard a sense of continuity aboard the Normandy. She even mentions that as one of the reasons why she stays aboard the Normandy in all its various incarnations. And, unlike some returning squadmates or even Joker himself at times, her presence aboard the ship never seems forced. Of course Dr. Chakwas will be in the medical bay. Of course she’ll be happy to see you. And of course she’ll be waiting to share a drink with you.
Dr. Lexi T’Perro
Unlike Dr. Chakwas, Dr. Lexi doesn’t really provide much in the way of continuity between different versions of the ship. Instead, she almost provides a mirror for Ryder to see himself and his actions. When she’s first brought aboard as your team’s doctor, she’s nervous. And she channels this nervous energy into annoying practically everyone else on the ship. But as she gets more comfortable with the ship and how things work, she starts to relax a little. Not much, but a little. Add to that her backstory in addition to the fact that she seems to care for the team’s mental health as much as their physical health and you get a character who would be perfect to romance. Shame she’s not an option.
Emily Wong is one of the most frustrating examples on this list. In Mass Effect 1, she filled the ‘plucky reporter’ archetype so well that I missed being able to speak with her or give her an interview in Mass Effect 2. As the release date for Mass Effect 3 drew closer and rumors of a romanceable reporter on board the Normandy began to swirl, I had hope that it would be Emily. I was bitterly disappointed. The reporter character on the Normandy was quite weak compared to the strong impression Emily gave in Mass Effect 1. And Emily Wong herself? Unceremoniously killed off in a marketing ploy before the game was released. She deserved better.
Vivienne is a ‘love her or hate her’ type of character. As you can tell by her inclusion on this list, I am in the former camp. Aside from being one of the few women of color companions in the game, Vivienne brings to the table a unique perspective: A mage who fully supports a return to the Circles. Not only that, but she has clear, eloquent arguments to back her up. In addition to that, she has a very striking character design and a wonderful voice actress. Most important of all though is that if her approval of the Inquisitor is high, she seems to genuinely care about them and their well being. I just wish that she didn’t politely shoot you down every time you flirted with her.
So there you have it. My five favorite male and female non-romanceable NPCs from Bioware games. However, there is one person that I have thus far neglected to mention. Or rather, one group of people. That’s right, I’m talking about…
EVERY SINGLE DWARF FROM DRAGON AGE
In Dragon Age: Origins, it was just a bit of trivia. “Hey, did you know that you can’t romance Qunari and dwarf characters?” When Dragon Age 2 came out and we were introduced to Varric, it became a joke. But at least the dwarf fans could still console themselves by remembering that there hadn’t been any Qunari romanceable companions either. By the time of Dragon Age Inquisition and the introduction of Iron Bull and Lead Scout Lace Harding, it’s become one of my main problems with the series.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. Why wouldn’t Bioware let us romance Scout Harding, or any other dwarf for that matter? Is it because the animation would look awkward? Too much work? In the end, I can only repeat the refrain so many others have, pining after characters who they couldn’t romance: “Maybe next game.”
Images courtesy of Bioware
Kingdom Come, Representation, And Layers Of Privilege
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a brand new Czech video game that just came out last week. And ever since its development started, there has been one big controversy connected to it: its almost complete lack of characters of colour.
It isn’t exactly helped by the fact that the chief mind behind the game, Dan Vávra, is right-leaning, and also a bit of an asshole when it comes to responding to these complaints. He doesn’t go far for an insult and refuses to listen to any kind of criticism. Not exactly the kind of person that makes one want to defend him.
So…this is where this article should end, right? A jerk makes a racist game, news at seven.
Well. It’s a bit more complicated than that.
Vávra isn’t the only person working in the development. And the most important thing to know about the game in this context is that it’s not a generalized medieval setting. Instead, it takes place in a particular set of villages and towns and the surrounding forests, villages, and towns that exist until today and that aren’t and never have been big or cosmopolitan in any way. A number of events in the game are based on historical events. It isn’t just a story, it the story of Česká Skalice just before the Hussite wars.
In this context, the usual arguments of “there were plenty of people of colour in Europe in the Middle Ages” fall kind of flat. The usual argument of historicity that is pulled for this is frequently false because Western history is whitewashed and contained markedly more people of colour that we like to pretend. But it’s not always false. There actually were parts of the world where only white people lived. And not only are there no particular historical marks of black, brown or Asian people being present in the particular time and place where Kingdom Come takes place, it would also be very unlikely.
Honestly, the most likely place to find a person of colour in the time period would be Sigismund’s armies, and since those play more the role of the antagonist in the game, that’s not exactly ideal. So this is not, in fact, a case of ignoring the real historical presence of black and Middle-Eastern people.
Instead, the first question to ask here is: is it ever legitimate to create all-white media? If we’re depicting a situation where there realistically wouldn’t be any people of colour – not just history, there are still plenty of towns in the world a non-white person has never set foot in – is it all right to make it whiter than new house paint?
On the face of it, the answer should be yes. As long as we’re depicting an actual situation, we’re depicting. And yet. It may be “accurate,” but it might at the same time be unwise in the current climate, where every all-white piece of media contributes to a narrative that is far from inclusive to people of colour.
So the second question: does it even matter? That is, is historical realism such an important goal to achieve?
Most media that supposedly take place in the past play hard and fast with history to make things more convenient for the narrative, so why should the amount of diversity, of all things, be what is kept realistic? It shouldn’t, that is the answer. As long as other things are changed freely, the argument of historicity is irrelevant one way or another.
Kingdom Come, however, is a game that takes great care to be as realistic as possible. The most frequent complaint from players at the moment is the insane difficulty of lockpicking because that isn’t easy in real life either. So does this change anything? Is the argument of historicity valid in such a case? In other words, even in those media that do their best to stay historically faithful, is such an ambition a worthy goal? Is it more important to have something fit history perfectly than to provide representation?
Accusations of rewriting history would naturally follow a negative answer. First, it’s important to point out that it’s no more rewriting than the constant whitewashing, and with a much better intention. But it is true that with a game that boasts of its realism, it presents a problem. It would discredit their claims of historicity if they simply ignored these kinds of facts. You cannot painstakingly reconstruct medieval Skalice and then add random representation from all over the world without becoming a laughing stock. Not the least because this sort of rewriting of history would play down the racism of the past, and that is not an excuse we should be making for ourselves.
Unless we say that media has to abandon goals of high historical realism, then, we have to admit that in certain setting an all-white cast is appropriate. So that brings forth another question: is it legitimate to choose such settings?
And this brings us to the more complicated power dynamics at play when it comes to Kingdom Come.
As I’ve said, Kingdom Come is a Czech game, dealing with events from Czech history. My history. We, as a country, have always played the lovely game of being both oppressors (towards Slovaks, the Jewish and the Romani people, and even Germans after WWII) and oppressed (by the Austrian empire, Nazi Germany, USSR). In the global world of today, we’re far from being the ones in the most desperate situation, but we’re also hardly the top dogs. On the global scale, we’re a minority.
And both our history and our present are mostly white.
Just to be perfectly clear, this is not a good thing. I’m not saying it as a good thing. It massively contributes to the widespread xenophobia in the Czech Republic. But it is what it is. The fact remains that our by far biggest minority are the Romani people, who form about 3% of the population. So every time you tell a Czech story, it is going to be overwhelmingly white.
So should we be allowed to tell our own stories?
Kingdom Come, of course, is not made for the Czech market. It’s distributed globally, and it means it has a global effect, on people who know nothing of our particular context. As an all-white medieval game – which is all most people will take out of it – it perpetuates exactly the image of whitewashed history that we need to rid ourselves of. It becomes part of the problem.
So does this mean, then, that when we want global money, we have to change the image of our own history to avoid exacerbating the global problem of racism? That is problematic as well, especially as making the game for Czech audience only is not a real option. Our ten million people total don’t make for a big enough audience to pay for a game with this kind of budget. It’s another kind of disadvantage global minorities have. It shouldn’t be necessary to pay for it by adjusting our stories.
And even disregarding that, what if we want to show our stories and our world to the rest of the planet? What if we want to share ourselves? We should be able to do that.
Yet…what if what we want to share turns into a white fantasy in others’ hands?
It seems it shouldn’t be such a big deal. Who cares if we change the skin colour of some characters in the story? It’s still going to be a Czech story. But the problem is, it doesn’t quite work that way. After all, that is the “I don’t see colour” argument, only in reverse.
What I’m about to say will sound insanely racist to anyone from a more cosmopolitan country, but when I was little, I didn’t like watching Sesame Street because the multi-ethnic children there were making it so very foreign to me. I saw them and instantly knew it wasn’t my world. Outside of my travel abroad, I spoke to one non-white person total before adulthood. And I live in the capital, the most multicultural part of the country. Whatever it says about us, the truth is that if we populate historical Czech stories with black people, most Czechs will not regard it as their story.
But there is a reason I was specific in this last sentence. There are truly very few black people living in this country even now. You know who is living here, though? The aforementioned Romani. The presence of Romani people in the game would not make any Czech person feel like it was not our story. It would make them angry — because the racism the Romani face in the Czech Republic is something incredibly ugly — but it would not make the game feel foreign. The Romani minority has been here since the Middle Ages, and there are definitely historical records of them being here in large numbers shortly after Kingdom Come takes place. In fact, there are even complaints of there being “more and more” Romani people in our records because of course our racism would be traditional.
We don’t know, of course, if there were any Romani around Skalice, but it was a way to include people of colour that wouldn’t break with general Czech history. It wouldn’t have gone against our own understanding of who has lived here for a long time. And yet they were never mentioned in any of the diversity complaints I have seen. There are also Cumans included in the game, and no one seems to care much either. And that brings me to my last point.
Demanding diversity in Kingdom Come with a particular idea of diversity in mind, the idea that is based on the ethnic composition of the US, is not only American-centric but also offensive to the oppressed minorities of the Czech Republic. And complaining about such lack of diversity truly does not come across in a way that would endear the author of the complaint to anyone Czech. Especially if the person complaining is white. If a person of colour is offended by so much mayo in their game and would like to feel represented, I can understand that.
But when a white privileged American talks about what sorts of representation a Czech game should contain – particularly with arguments like that Czechia is “just north of Italy” and Italy is by the sea so obviously there’d be plenty of people of colour in here, which is an actual argument someone presented – it suddenly gains whole another tone. Because whiteness is not the only privilege in the world, and while we certainly benefit from it, we do not benefit from the privilege of being American, and anyone from the US telling us how to tell our own stories without knowing anything about us is always, always going to ring a very uncomfortable bell with us.
So yes, making all-white games should be avoided when possible, because it reinforces an uncomfortable narrative. And representation is a good thing, especially representation of those who hardly ever find themselves on screen. Whenever at least a little possible, diversity should be supported. Warhorse Studios really should have included Romani people in their game, just as Czech filmmakers should try casting some in their films. But not all representation fits one muster and demanding medieval Skalice should look like medieval London only makes stories more identical to each other and less interesting. There is more than one kind of diversity.
Images courtesy of Warhorse Studios
Barbara Kean From Housewife to Mobster
Gotham had a tall order ahead of it at its inception. It had to take some the most iconic characters from the comic page and meld them in a story that takes place before they were iconic. Any prequel adaptation has to grapple with this in one way or another. But Gotham had the unique challenge with Batman’s famous rouges. The origins of so many of his opponents are intertwined with his. Gotham would have to reinvent these characters and their origins. The series has made these characters its own by allowing their development to move away from their comic book counterparts. There is no character with which this is more prevalent in than Barbara Kean.
In the comics, she’s anything but a rival to Batman. She’s the wife of one of Bruce’s closest allies and the mother of one of his sidekicks. Yet she herself plays but a small role in the narrative. Gotham’s Barbara Kean has made herself a part of the narrative in ways that have seem to have completely change the character we first meet. Gotham has taken a woman destined to be the mother and wife of heroes and made her one of the most prolific members of the Gotham City’s underworld.
We meet Barbara in the pilot engaged to James Gordon, the perfect place to lead to her becoming her comic book counterpart: married to James Gordon and the mother of his children. They’re in a good place in their relationship. As James finds himself confronted with the corruption of Gotham, Barbara becomes a pillar of support for him. She reaffirms his values when he doubts himself. But this can only last for so long. With James fighting against so much of the darkness in Gotham, it was only a matter of time before it got back to Barbara.
Even with the first bit of tension seeping into their relationship, Barbara’s still willing to stand by James. When she learns James’s life is at stake she goes to Carmine Falcone, the king of Gotham’s underground, to beg for his life. But after she’s terrorized by Falcone’s men, her own faith in James is shaken. She’s seen the true dangers in the mission he’s tasked himself with. She can’t share the burden he’s willing to take on.
At first, she falls back into old habits for the comfort and familiarity, drugs, and her ex-girlfriend, Renee Montoya. It doesn’t last with Montoya, and Barbara finds herself in a state of flux. During this time she meets Selina Kyle, who later becomes a close companion. She also meets Jason Skolimski. He becomes an inciting figure of change for her. A serial killer and psychopath, he takes Barbara captive and she almost doesn’t make it out alive.
Her time with him drives her to edge of sanity. Under his influence she kills her parents. She almost kills Lee Thompkins, James’s new girlfriend. The love she has for James becomes an obsession. It doesn’t end well for her with James stopping her. She’s arrested and sentenced to Arkham Asylum. But it ends up putting her in the perfect position for the next wave of her development.
Her stay in the Asylum is short lived. She’s broken out by Theo and Tabitha Galvan, the latter of whom she enters into a romantic relationship with. It’s through them she’s truly indoctrinated to Gotham’s underground. Barbara’s sanity at this point is shaky at best. Having a girlfriend willing to kidnap her ex-boyfriend and his current girlfriend doesn’t help the situation either. Though even when the last remains of her sanity seem all but gone, the compassion she held for James still comes through. Her kidnapping attempt unravels and her escape ends with her falling out a second story window. Before that happens she helps James, giving him the information he needs to take down Theo.
After some time in a coma, she’s released back onto Gotham streets. Though her love for James still borders on unhealthy obsession her pursuits become more personally motivated. She opens a nightclub with Tabitha. It’s successful but she’s gunning for more, namely to get out from under Oswald Cobblepot’s thumb. She’s openly contentious of the Penguin when he all but runs Gotham at this point. Only a few people could have gotten away with this without fatal consequences.
She gathers some powerful allies with the intention of overthrowing Penguin. And it works. She becomes the queen of Gotham, taking over the city’s underground. Unfortunately, it’s a short-lived reign when conflict brews among the very allies who helped her take down Penguin, and she ends up dead.
In the true fashion of comic books and their adaptations, Barbara doesn’t say dead for long. After she’s brought back to life she returns ready to take on the city again. Reaching out to Selina and Tabitha, they work together running a weapons racket to rebuild their status. Death seems to have tamed Barbara, she’s more rational with her return. She’s even willing to work under Penguin. If only for a short time until a better opportunity presents itself for her, Tabitha and Selina.
At this point, I think it’s important to note Barbara could have easily fallen into the old stereotypes of the ‘crazy bisexual ex-lover’ or even the ‘villainous queer’. But similar to the way the Carmilla series defies its negative tropes, Gotham’s exploration of these narrative tropes doesn’t feel like it steers into the negative aspects. Gotham also avoids these tropes in a way few other series could. The villains make up a huge portion of series. They are the lungs that breathe life into the series. As much as this series is about Bruce and James growing into the heroes we know they’ll become, it’s also about watching the other characters grow into the villains we know they’ll become.
Barbara earns her place among the villainous elite in Gotham. She’s gone from a mild-mannered Gotham socialite to one of its most conniving criminals.
She’s still a woman capable of deeply caring for someone. But now her way of showing she cares for someone involves fewer words of empathy and more shooting their enemies in the head. She learnt to thrive in a city where so few can even survive. She adapted in ways that not even James has been able to. Her place in the story going forward is still uncertain. The possibility of her and James come back to each other is small but stranger things have happened in this city. Though at this point it seems more likely one of the many colourful adversaries Bruce will face when he truly dons the cowl.
Regardless of where she’s going, watching her get where she is has been a wild and entertaining ride.