Wonder Woman’s current story arc has meandered quite a bit over the past three issues, jumping between stories of pseudo-personal vendettas and large bounty hunter gauntlets. It started with the bombing of the wedding of Etta Candy’s brother, and from there lead to medical experiments being performed on Diana and at least one attempt to artificially duplicate her powers.
Issue #29, part 4 of “Heart of the Amazon”, starts to explain how these seemingly unconnected elements all fit together, and leads up to what will presumably be the Big Reveal next issue.
The issue picks up where issue #28 had left off, with Wonder Woman and Etta Candy confronted by a host of bounty hunters outside of Etta’s apartment. These include Cheshire and Plastique, who have a long history in comics and a combined body count that I frankly don’t even want to think about. They might not quite be in Wonder Woman’s league, but I at least give them credit as a challenge. Others in the group (Abolith, Baundo, and Cat Eye) were created for this appearance, and so obviously do not engender much of an impact.
The fight itself is interesting, and I appreciate the way they weave Etta Candy in and out of the action. Etta is a trained and experienced combat veteran, but she is also only a normal human without any super powers or abilities, and she is recovering from a grievous injury to boot. It wouldn’t make sense to have her sit the whole fight out, and it also wouldn’t make sense to have her trading blows with a cyborg. As such, she focuses on taking out Cat Eye, who apart from having Laser Eyes seems to have only normal human strength and speed, while Wonder Woman slugs it out with the metahumans and Super Assassins.
My only real critique of this fight, and this is solidly in the area of a Nerd Frustration, is the way Cheshire’s plan seems to be to scratch Wonder Woman with an Amazon-strength sedative (Presumably the same sedative Dr. Crawford used earlier in the arc). This makes sense at first glance, since Cheshire is a poisoner and also one of the world’s finest martial artists, but it falls apart when you really think about it.
Cheshire is smart enough and experienced enough to know not to get in close with Wonder Woman. If she was trying to take her down with a drug, Chesire would have delivered the sedative before ever making her presence known. That’s how she has operated in the past, and how other super powered and super-skilled beings have been taken down unawares. But that’s a minor point, and generally speaking I like the way the foes are worked through (Particularly the way Wonder Woman takes out Plastique by literally hitting her with Cheshire).
At the end of it all, Diana uses the Lasso of Truth to get information out of Plastique, and then Steve Trevor rides up on a motorcycle in perfect Action Hero mode. Really, this is some Grade-A Action Staging with the way he skids the bike and poses, only to have missed the fight completely as Etta tells him that he is a “little late”.
Once the fighting is over they all return back to the Picket, which is still under an exterminator’s tent because of the recent ant infestation. As an aside, I am still confused at the way the arc began with talk of how their offices were closed due to an ant problem. I honestly can’t tell if this was supposed to be a joke, or if it was a touch of “realism” by saying that things like bugs and everyday maintenance is still an issue in a world with superheroes.
Anyway, Sasha Bordeaux has returned to head the Picket, and we get the first real reference to the end of Greg Rucka’s run on the series, where Etta and Diana had had a rather significant falling out. They started this arc as best friends again, and now Sasha asks Etta about how their relationship was patched up. Etta explains that regarding Diana as an enemy put her in bad company, and she chose to make her peace.
Together with Steve and the still-unnamed general (I just checked on-line, I still have no idea who he is), they all figure out that the reason Diana is being targeted is an extension of what Dr. Crawford wanted at the beginning of the arc: Medicinal cures extrapolated from her powers and DNA.
The bounty was placed by a powerful pharmaceutical company owned by Hamilton Revere, who hopes to use Diana’s blood to make all sorts of remedies, and the Picket plans to storm in and wreck up the place to put a stop to their plans. Diana, however, puts a stop to this and decides to voluntarily go see the head of the company. Since what she wants most in the world is to help people, including the millions of people across the globe suffering from chronic and terminal illnesses, Diana considers offering herself up to assist with his research. This would do more than any amount of villains punched, and could continue to help people for years even after she was gone.
The rest of the Picket is of course opposed to the idea, but they all know that none of them can stop her, so at the end of the issue she flies to their headquarters. She tells Revere that she is there to see if he can really help people, but warns him not to try anything because the government knows where she is.
Hamilton Revere’s mocking reply is to look around, since they are the government.
We’re gonna jump right to the end of this issue, because that last panel and “twist” does not make any sense.
First off, why is Diana warning them about retaliation by the Picket if she is mistreated? She’s Wonder Woman. She just effortlessly took down the cadre of bounty hunters this place sent after her, one of whom has previously killed a country (Seriously, Cheshire is bad news). If they had been implied to have hidden powers or abilities to outmatch her own then it might make sense, but so far they have only offered an inconvenience, and a minor one at that. So the warning of “if you hurt me, my friends will avenge me” is unnecessary, and serves only to set up that last line. Then we get to the reveal itself that Revere “is” the government, and there is absolutely no impact to this line. Nor is there any meaning.
The “look around” instruction does not make sense, because nothing that is present visually indicates the government in any way. With that line you expect to see US Army soldiers in full uniform, or police officers holding their badges, or Federal insignias on the wall. Something to identify either a specific government agency, or at least to imply the connection. There aren’t even generic CIA/FBI/NSA/ABC guys in suits with sunglasses. All we have here are “soldiers” wearing cargo pants, t-shirts, and holding machine guns. The only connection I can think of is just his name coming from Alexander Hamilton and Paul Revere.
Even if they were “the government” (Whatever that means)…so what? As was repeated several times in this issue, Diana does not report to or work for the government, even though she often cooperates with them. She also does not have a blind faith in the US government that will be shattered by this betrayal, she has plenty of experience with malevolence from authority. Her narration at a point earlier in the issue even had her reflect on the fact that she cannot trust her own Patrons, so why would she be surprised or saddened or shocked to find that she can’t trust the government?
This is supposed to be a Big Moment, and instead it’s just…eh.
Diana’s decision to voluntarily go visit Revere is lacking its own kind of sense as well. I agree that she would want to see if her abilities really could help cure disease, but she would never chose to put herself under his power in order to do so. This is the man who helped bomb a wedding and sent mercenaries after her, and all without first even asking for her cooperation. He is not a noble man forced to extremes, he dove into Extreme Measures as soon as he could. What Diana would do, what common sense dictates she do, is have him arrested for the crimes he has committed just in this arc (Terrorism, attempted murder, attempted kidnapping, etc.), collect his research, and have the Picket’s own scientists take a look at it to see if there’s worth.
However, with the recognition that this closing fumbles the ball—hard—let’s rewind and discuss the rest of the issue, where they manage to get most of the bits right.
The very first page of the issue, before we actually got to the fight scene, is Steve Trevor storming out of a debriefing when he learns that Diana is in danger. The general follows him, explaining why they didn’t recall him from Greece sooner and telling Steve that he hasn’t been dismissed, and so Steve hops onto his motorcycle (Grade-A Action Staging), turns around, and asks for permission to leave. To which the general gives him permission as he is riding away. I love this scene for both in-universe and out-of-universe reasoning.
In-universe, it’s obvious that Steve is going to go no matter what the general says, and he knows that Steve is going to go, so he gives him permission instead of shouting and hollering “Come back here! That’s an order!”. It’s one of the basic rules of command that you never give an order you know won’t be obeyed, since it undermines your own authority and forces you to enact punishment afterwards. Steve Trevor is a decorated war hero, and is a critical part of the Picket operation, so unless this general is an out-and-out moron he’s not going to want to back himself into a corner by ordering him to not go help rescue Diana. Acquiescing is both the right thing to do, and also the smart thing to do.
The out-of-universe reason I love this scene is because it is the first part of the issue with Steve’s Grade-A Action Staging, and at the end of the day none of it amounts to anything. He rides his motorcycle dramatically (No helmet of course), and he’s rushing to the rescue of his lady Love with panels of him bypassing major national monuments, and when he gets there he dramatically skids to a stop as he cries out to Diana….and she and Etta Candy have already dealt with everything. It’s the perfect subversion of the archetype of a woman being rescued by her boyfriend because it lays on Action Hero Steve so heavily, and it doesn’t even need to pull the rug out from under him. By the time he gets there she’s already rolled up the rug and thrown it out.
There was also this perfect pointed comment on the sexism & misogyny of fandom, as Diana reflected on the way people on the internet are constantly fixated on her appearance and endlessly debate the size and shape of her body. As though she was a commodity created solely for their consumption and entertainment. This would’t need to change a single word to apply to the real-world message boards that spend hours arguing and haranguing on the same subjects.
Where the issue shines, and I mean really shines, is in the portrayal of Diana and Etta’s relationship. Their strong friendship and….I’m honestly not sure if I can bring myself to say it, but…maybe more than friendship?
Because the bond between Diana and Etta is so strong, so firm, and so expressive, that if I didn’t know that Steve and Diana were in a steady relationship together I’d think that the three of them were in an ongoing love-triangle with Diana at the center. Or, dare I say it, maybe they’re all in the same relationship. The three of them are so in-synch that a polyamorous finality is not beyond thought. To those familiar with the history of Wonder Woman it’s not unreasonable, as her creator, William Moulton Marston, and two of her inspirations, Elizabeth Holloway Marston & Olive Byrne, were all three married together.
Knowing both the comic industry and media in general I’m 99.9% sure it won’t go that way, but still….right here, in this issue, these three people love each other. Etta even gets the last word when Diana says goodbye.
Now I’m going to start getting into supposition and theories, but I think that this is the first issue of this arc which was written after the conclusion of Greg Rucka’s run on the series. As I said back in my review of the first issue of the arc, it started with a relatively minor but distinct disconnect from what had come before. Diana and Etta’s relationship, which had been sundered pretty severely, was repaired without an explanation. There was no mention at all of Barbara Ann Minerva, Etta Candy’s girlfriend. These points all spoke to a story that had been written without knowing what precisely had happened in the preceding issue.
Here we get the first references and attempts to explain how things changed. Nothing to retcon either Greg Rucka’s issues or this arc, but characters saying “I thought you…” and being told enough to fill in some of the gaps for us. I am assuming that Shea Fontana was not privy to Greg Rucka’s plans as he was finishing out his run, and when she was asked to write the follow-up she had to make her best guess. Now that we are four issues into her run, her writing timeline has probably caught up to the publication of Rucka’s finale and she had a chance to read the story herself.
I’m a little iffy in both directions on this line. One the one hand, I absolutely adore Diana and Etta’s friendship and I’m happy to see it continue, particularly with the way Shea Fontana is writing it in this issue. On the other hand, I would have liked to have seen the two of them rebuild their relationship, and deal with the issues between them and come out stronger at the other end.
Oh, well. At least we’re not getting into direct retcons.
Wonder Woman #29 and all images courtesy of DC Comics
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.