Friday, June 16, 2017

An Enchantment of Ravens


Isobel is one of the most sought after portrait artists in Whimsy, a city between the human and fae lands. She lives there with her aunt Emma and her sister March and May, twin girls who used to be goats before the fair folk changed their lives. Isobel supports her family with her Craft and is paid in enchantments. Her patron Gadfly, a delightful and frivolous fae, warns her of the arrival of Rook, the prince of the Autumn Court. She becomes infatuated with him during the course of painting his infuriating portrait that always has something off around the eyes. Finally figuring out the detail, she sends along the painting only to find later that she depicted a deep, human sorrow in his eyes. He abducts her from her house and plans to take her to his realm to stand trial for the transgression, only to be taken way off course by fairy beasts, creeping rot, the Wild Hunt, and other assorted chaos. Will Isobel ever make it back home to her family? Will Rook ever gain back his people's respect?

An Enchantment of Ravens is my favorite read of this year. The writing is poetic, the worldbuilding dazzles, plus the characters and romance are well developed. Right from the beginning of the novel. I was sucked into the story right from the beginning because of Margaret Rogerson's unique world. Her take on the fair folk and the rules of her world are like nothing I've ever seen. Humans create Crafts like cooking, art, and music that the fair folk covet above all things. Fairies will die if they attempt to create anything of the sort, but surround themselves with these things anyway. The age of the Craft doesn't matter as fairies can glamour it to look as it did when it was new. The fae pay humans in enchantments that need to be carefully worded or they could ruin lives with their trickster ways. On the other hand, enchantments can provide food, protection, and other necessities for human life. Humans need to be cautious living in Whimsy because of fairy whims and all carry iron somewhere on them for protection.

The fair folk live for centuries and have no concept of time, but feel very little emotion. Human emotion is frowned upon and seen as weakness, opening up opportunites for other fae to take what they have. Despite this, the veneer of manners and composure are paramount to their kind. They have to respond to niceties like bowing, responding in kind to thank yous, and so on. The fair folk are beautiful, but alien, selfish, and cruel underneath their glamour. Each fae has one flaw in their glamour that sets them apart from humans whether it's fingers that are too long, emaciation, or height. The Spring Court is the only fairy court we see and it seems beautiful and fantastic at first until the horrific, cruel elements are revealed over time. The power of true names works both ways in this world where knowing it gives the person absolute power over another no matter if they are human or fey. Rogerson takes well known rules of fairies, gives them a twist, and adds her own unique ones to create a singular, detailed fantastical world.

The characters and their relationships are incredibly well drawn. Isobel is a practical, serious person forced to grow up early in life. She has been making portraits for the fair folk most of her life, so she has a healthy caution about them. Every time one comes in for a portrait, she's careful to be polite and as inoffensive as possible. The enchantments she earns are carefully worded because she knows their mischief could be disastrous to her and her family. Although her sisters are magicked goats, she loves them all the same and cares for them unconditionally. Over the course of the story, she demonstrates cleverness, ingenuity, and compassion. I love a heroine with a strong will, realistic familial connections, and good sense. All of her decisions are not always the best, but she has a good head on her shoulders that serves her well throughout the novel.

Her romance with Rook starts as a sudden infatuation based on his carefully crafted facade. When he shows who he truly is, Isobel understandably hates him because he's petty, vain, and inhuman. Over the course of their journey, they both reveal what's under their respective protective shells while fighting to protect each other and navigating fae lands infected with rot, fae society, and numerous enemies. Love kind of sneaks up on them when they weren't looking. Their declarations aren't poetic or idealistic and they disagree and see things they don't like in each other, but they grow to love by getting to know each other. I haven't read such a good romance in a while. The Good Law condemns fae and human lovers to death and one solution to this problem is the Green Well, which has the power to turn a human into a fairy. Isobel soundly rejects this because of all she would lose, namely her art. It's not just a interesting detail to flesh her out or be forgotten; it's an intrinsic part of her character that she isn't willing to compromise on, even in the face of the death. Her art is also used

I could write so much more about An Enchantment of Ravens because I loved every bit of it. I wanted to read it super fast to see what happened, but also wanted to savor the world slowly. I've been reading a lot lately and this one amazed me. I had to be left alone to read the last 100 pages so I could find out what happened with tears streaming down my face. I'm disappointed to see it's a stand alone novel, but I hope other stories will take place in that world. Margaret Rogerson has made me a lifelong fan with this one book and I can't recommend it highly enough.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It Comes at Night


While a fatal contagious disease ravages the outside world, former teacher Paul, his wife Sarah, and their 17 year old son Travis live in a remote house. They have strict rules and procedures for how to interact with the outside world, when to gather supplies, how to do chores, how much food to eat, etc. Their home is invaded by a lone man and they take the necessary precautions to make sure he isn't infected. His name is Will and claims to have a healthy son and wife in a house miles away. Paul goes with him to pick them up along with their farm animals to bring them back, cautious and suspicious the whole way. Is Will as he seems? Can Paul truly trust anyone outside of his own family?


It Comes at Night has polarizing reactions from crowds that witnessed myself and heard from other people. At the end of the film, someone behind me shouted "Boooooooring" and others agreed. It has a deceptive title, advertising that don't match the tone, and a slow, quiet, deliberate pacing. It's definitely not for everyone and I can understand the hate. I loved it. The outside world is not seen, but it's clear based that this is an apocalypse situation where the family is rigid in their rules to protect each other and what's theirs. At the start, Bud, Sarah's father, has somehow contracted the illness, devastating the family. Paul and Travis handle him with care in gas masks, gloves, and other protective clothing. They take him outside, shoot him, burn his body, and finally bury him. Travis is the most affected by the harrowing incident and dreams of his grandfather as a monster and himself becoming infected. Very little is shown of the disease beyond large sores, but they wisely never let it get farther for their own protection. Paul has found a way for them to survive and it has worked when the world around them crumbled. They never go out after dark unless it's an emergency. Each person keeps busy and contributes to shared resources. Life goes on even after tragedy.


When Will shows up, it's the middle of the night and he breaks into their house for food and water. Paul takes every precaution and ties him up outside for a day to make sure he's not infected. When he proves to be compliant and uninfected, Will leads Paul to his house with one mishap. A group of men attack them in the road, forcing Paul to kill them all to keep what's his and his life. This shows how the world is now. Paul isn't wrong to treat Will so badly, constantly training a gun on him and making sure he isn't planning to strike when the moment is right. They return with Paul's family without further incident and they live together in harmony, working together, for a while after that until one fateful night. It's hard to blame either side for what happens. Both are looking to protect their families and no matter how nicely they act together, trust can never truly be given anymore. Either side suspects the other of wanting to take all they have or wanting to do harm no matter how well intentioned. Travis sits in the middle of all of this as the most innocent, the most willing to trust and keep his humanity. He sits on the cusp of adulthood with all the hope in the world. The tragic ending for both sides shows that his hope has no place anymore.


It Comes at Night has very little music and builds tension throughout the film until the heartbreaking resolution. Neither side comes away unscathed and the most innocent people suffer the most. The film is not action packed or fast paced, but the emotions and the dimensions of all the characters make it one of the most realistic apocalypse movies I've seen. Some accuse it of being more of a drama as it focuses on the characters and their relationships over the disease or its horror elements. I think this take makes it even more horrific because these people seem real due to the writing and the excellent performances on all sides plus the lack of clear answers. I can understand each person's motivation which makes the ending all the more tragic. The ending scene shows the same as earlier in the film, that life goes on even after loss.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, June 10, 2017

It


* spoilers *

Derry, Maine looks like a quiet, idyllic small town where nothing momentous happens. Oddly, it has higher murder rates than the most large cities despite the population difference. From before the city even had a name, weird, macabre events occured with terrifying frequency for about a year every 27 to 30 years. Because of It's influence, the town experiences just over a year of grisly children's deaths and escalating violence that culminate in some sort of large scale tragedy, sometimes with Derry citizens as the perpetrators. A few notable instances include the factory explosion near an Easter egg hunt leading to dozens of children's deaths, the destruction of the African American club The Black Spot full of people. the murder of a notorious criminal at the hands of a mob of Derry citizens, and the disappearance of a colony of 300 people before the city was established. I found these vignettes to be much more fascinating than the present day plot of the Loser's Club as children or as adults. I would have loved to see a short story collection detailing what happened during a choice years in It's life cycle.

It is an interesting creature whose favorite form is Pennywish the Dancing Clown. Although frightening clowns existed before it, Pennywise put the clown into a whole different level of horror. It takes the form of whatever secret fears we have that include a giant bird, wolfman, the mummy, a lecherous leper, giant aggressive leeches, and all manner of creatures. It lives in the sewers, so anywhere there are drains aren't safe. It can even use the voices of the dead to torment the living. Every single person in Derry has experienced some sort of supernatural event that scared them, but few ever talk about it. I love this aspect of the novel because idyllic looking small towns always have unspoken secrets. This story just adds a terrifying supernatural element. One small problem I had with It's forms were the inclusion of the pom pom buttons or a part of It's silver clown suit in each form meant to tie them together. However, if all the kids are seeing movie monsters and things out of their nightmares, it's safe to say they are from the same source without a visual cue.

The members of the Loser's Club are Beverly Marsh, Stan Uris, Bill Denbrough, Mike Hanlon, Richie Tozier, Eddie Kasprack, and Ben Hanscom. They met as a group during the summer of 1958 when they were 12 years old. Each character is well drawn and memorable, even the minor ones. Stephen King is always adept at making all of his characters feel real. The novel introduces them as adults and has each of them answering Mike's call, telling them to return to fight It. It takes an excruciatingly long time for essentially the same thing to play out for each character in order to give a window to their lives. It could have been accomplished by throwing them together and looking at how they interact and what stories they tell instead to keep the story movies forward instead of stagnating. At this point, we don't really have a reference for how they were before. I understand that King wanted the two storylines to echo each other in form, but it would have meant so much more if we had known how much they grew and how they changed over time. The two stories also have parallel expositions going on at the same parts of the novel that make for a long stretches of dull reading, but the ending has each of their fights with It and the escalating supernatural events that are much more interesting.

Although I enjoyed the book, Stephen King's books always have aspects I don't like such as the length of novel, the use of deus ex machine, and the treatment of women in the story. This book is over a thousand pages and could have benefited from a lot of editing. Some passages are repetitive and don't have a lot to do with the main story. I expect it could have been half the length and been a much faster paced story. When the Loser's Club are adults, they don't remember anything at all about their childhoods and are even missing scars that reappear when they are called. These memories only resurface when they are sorely needed and then fade away again by the end. They also feel a supernatural connection to each other and have knowledge that can't be explained by conventional means. This feels so contrived and badly reasoned. How can their entire childhood memories being gone escape notice? It seems that they only have a small amount of free will and are basically destined to fight It. I don't like heroes who are forced to; I like heroes who choose to. It seemed like their only choice was to go back or kill themselves.

The treatment of Beverly Marsh and other women in the story truly bothered me. Even as a twelve year old child, the descriptions about her are sexual in nature because of how she is viewed by her friends. However, these types of descriptions stay with her throughout the novel no matter who is with her and she's the only main character viewed in this way. The other women in the novel are seen in the same way, showing that women are seen as sexual objects. As a child, Beverly was beaten by her husband and then grew up to marry an equally abusive man. It seems telling that the only female main character is physically abused thoughout her life. The ending scene of her having sex with all of her friends as a twelve year old child as a means for them to "mature into adulthood" is nothing short of disgusting, disturbing, unnecessary, and incredibly unrealistic. The last piece of the misogynistic puzzle is Kay, described as a strong, feminist who supports Beverly. Beverly's husband Tom breaks into Kay's house and threatens to kill her unless she gives him Beverly's location. Kay stays strong until Tom threatens to multilate her face, basically saying that she was willing to die for her friend but proves too vain to live with a scarred face. It's completely out of character and a gross stereotype.

Stephen King's It has a lot going for it. A small town with a big secret, a macabre past, and the threat of horrific events happening far into the future. It is a singular entity that is horrific and also able to communicate directly with its victims. I wish It's true form was left up to the readers' imagination. Another of King's flaws is defining every aspect of the ending when it's not necessary like in Gerald's Game. It has enjoyable parts and well drawn characters, but it's incredibly bloated. I would tentatively recommend it if you are a fan of King's writing and you have a lot of time to read. I look forward to watching the new movie adaptation to see how they handle the problems I had with the story.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Wonder Woman: Warbringer


Diana lives on Themyscira with her mother and her sister Amazons. Formed from clay, she isn't really considered a full fledged Amazon and looks for ways to prove herself. During a race she is sure to win due to her practice and alternate route, a boat explodes off the coast of the island, so Diana has to decide to the leave the lone survivor to die and finish the race or save the girl and throw the race. She finally decides to save the girl Alia, but after leaving her in a remote cave, earthquakes wrack the island and sickness comes for the Amazons for the first time since they settled there. Diana suspects that Alia's presence on the island is the reason, so she goes to the Oracle with an offering to see how she can fix her mistake. It leads to a quest to the modern human world where Diana can prove herself, protect her charge, and save the world if she succeeds.

The beginning of the novel establishes Themyscira, the Amazons, and Diana plus her origins. Themyscira is a utopian society populated by only women of all different nationalities and sexual preferences who have chosen to live there after rejecting the wartorn, violent world of man. Some of them a resentful of Diana because she doesn't have the experience and hasn't proven herself as an Amazon, yet receives preferential treatment as Queen Hippolyta's daughter. Although Tek, the most vocal about this subject, has a point, she resorts to pathetically insulting teenage Diana overtly and covertly at every turn. As a result, Diana has to hide her true feelings, brush off the poor treatment, feel like she doesn't belong, and strive to prove herself as capable as much as she can. When Alia lands on the island, the storms, disease, and earthquakes are shocking on such an idyllic island and fill Diana with guilt. The Oracle brings the timbre of ancient myths as a powerful, dangerous mystic who gives useful information if approached correctly.

Diana is thrown into the modern human world without being totally ignorant of their technology or modern sensibilities. The island is somehow aware of all the technological advances and human history, so Diana's gaps are in actual interactions in this unfamiliar world. She has knowledge of cars, helecopters, war, disease, etc, but it's completely different to hear the noise of the city, sit in a moving car, and dodge lethal bullets. What I love so much about her character, especially compared to the cinematic version of her, is that she defends herself physically and verbally. She throws clever barbs when needed and translates modern sensibilities through the lens of her experiences instead of looking at everything cluelessly. The biggest adjustment to our world is the ease with which we lie. She's so used to people being genuine that it shocks her and makes her cautious in the future. Her abilities are a mystery to her since she's never had to use them to actually protect herself before and she pushes her limits time and time again. Her journey to prove herself is understandable and blossoms into a genuine desire to protect humanity and their world.

Alia comes from an affluent family with a Greek father and a Louisianan mother. She tries to escape notice and keep to herself as a way to avoid how she's inevitably treated due to her skin color. She also somehow always finds conflict surrounding but not including her. Her status as Warbringer brings violence and chaos wherever she goes, completely involuntarily. Her very presence will cause the next worldwide war if she doesn't either die or bathe in the waters of Helen of Troy's resting place. Alia thinks Diana is insane and part of a cult before Diana's proved right, but they find common ground in both of their disparate experiences. Both want to be judged for their actions rather than things they have no control over like origins, money, family, or bloodline. Alia is much more sarcastic and funny than Diana and has a point of view more relatable to the reader. She doesn't have physical strength, but strength of will and interesting ways of thinking through situations with her science background. By the end of the book, she develops into someone unafraid of attention, willing to fight for her friends and what she believes in.

After seeing the Wonder Woman film, I was curious to see how this book fits into that lore. They prove to be in completely different universes and most of the changes are ones I would have liked to see in the movie. So much of this book is amazing from the natural character interactions to the crazy awesome minor characters like Alia's best friend Nim, eccentric clothign designer. I especially loved her unique point of view seeing the world's patterns and finding meaning in visual art plus her killer sense of humor. Some plot points didn't feel right to me even though it fit the theme. The villain in particular seemed to come out of nowhere, but the ending is satisfying. Wonder Woman: Warbringer is an action packed book with friendship, heart, and characters struggling to find their place in the world. I would love to see another Wonder Woman book by Leigh Bardugo because she fundamentally understands Diana and creates a fantastical world grounded in reality.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Shadow Bright and Burning


Nettie is resigned to a life as a teacher in at a school where it's always freezing and the headmaster abuses students without repercussions. For a while, her emotions have been tied to an innate power that produces fire. Sorcerer officials come to investigate the students for powers and she's found out. She expects execution. Instead, they think she's the prophecized savior against the Ancients, giant horrific monsters. Most of the other students welcome her, but Blackwood keeps aloof. When the lessons aren't going as well as they should, Nettie discovers that her magic isn't like all the other sorcerers and struggles to hide it while the barrier around London against the Ancients thins. Is she the prophecized girl sorcerer or is she a fraud?

A Shadow Bright and Burning is a fantasy novel that merges a magical world with Victorian England. This world has three classes of magic user: sorcerer, magician, and witch. Sorcerers are the only magic users that can legally practice and the most lauded by society. They protect England from the Ancients, which were brought into this world by the combined powers of a magician and a witch. This is why both groups are killed if they practice magic and considered morally bankrupt and evil. All of this occurs within conventional Victorian society where women can't hold any power, which is why Nettie experiences opposition. Another reason is her fondness for Rook, a poor man with scars from an Ancient that makes him the lowest of the low. Nettie doesn't make compromises with her opinions that the poor and the scarred deserve protection while now they lay outside the barrier.

One aspect I especially loved was the Ancients. They are giant Lovecraftian monsters who attack all around the world. Korozoth towers at 60 feet with a horned head and vicioud tentacles. R'hlem has the appearance of a giant skinless man. On-Tez has the body of a vulture and the head of an old woman. Nemneris is a fifty feet long, venomous water spider. Molochron is an orb of disgusting disease. Zem is a serpent that breathes ice. Callax is an ogre with a taste for children. Familiars serve these monsters, corrupted humans imbued with some of their power. Some of them hold entire cities in their thrall. These are my favorite part of the story, but Cluess pulls back on the horror aspects by giving vague descriptions of horrific events. I would have liked more horror elements because they were the most unique part of the story.

I wanted to like this book so much, but it was a bit of a hot mess. The magic system is interesting, but apparently there are fairies that don't fit into the world and pop up conveniently in a few choice scenes. I was very disappoointed in the treatment of other women and the absence of any witches at all. Nettie seemed happy to have the prestige of one of the only women in power, but didn't really fight or even acknowledge the plight of other women. I thought this would be introduced during others' misogynistic treatment of her. Queen Victoria, the only other woman in power, is portrayed as a frivolous child, which felt both condescending and unrealistic. The inclusion of a witch at the end would have brought the story full circle. I was interested to see this extremely oppressed group whose power was discriminated against because of their gender and the focus of their magic.

Other things I had a problem with were Blackwood, the love triangle, and the ending. Blackwood keeps her at arm's length and doesn't give her any respect. Later, he explains why, but this seems to be perpetuating the idea that it's ok for people to have bigoted opinions if they have really good reasons. It would have been a good opportunity to model how one should act when confronted with bigotry. The love triangle between Nettie, Rook, and Magnus isn't well done. Love triangles are overdone anyway, but Rook only appears in the story a few times while Magnus is constantly there, building a relationship with Nettie. Then, as always, one of them is completely destroyed in the eyes of the reader to solve the triangle. The ending has so many bad deceisions made in very little time. Leaps of logic and the magic system made me give up on this series. I'm not interested to see what will happen next. A Shadow Bright and Burning had a lot of promise, but it focused on things I didn't care about and downplayed the things I did in addition to the hot mess of an ending.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Monday, June 5, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017)


* Spoilers *

Diana lives in Themyscira, an island isolated from the world of man. The Amazons of Ancient Greece live and train there, ready to combat Ares in his return after killing the complete pantheon of Greek gods except for Zeus. An American spy crashes near their shore and Diana saves him, leading the German troops to their hidden island. The Amazons suffer casualities and refuse to help him. Diana decides to help him, unable to stand by while millions of people die in the World War, and leads him to England where she vows to destroy Ares.


I've have been excitedly anticipating the movie adaptation of Wonder Woman for a long time. It's gratifying to see a kickass female superhero who has a similar powerset to god-like figures like Superman. She lifts and throws tanks, blocks bullets, tears through bad guys like paper, and generally kicks ass. Her breakout scene where she smashes into No Man's Land between foxholes is awe inspiring. It's the moment she truly becomes Wonder Woman. Her softer side has her enamored with babies and sympathetic towards the victims of war, who give her a more personal reason to fight against Ares than just her ancient legacy of obligation. She shows off her education and intelligence in translating a difficult hybrid text. At every turn, she proves those wrong who would underestimate her and push her into the gender roles of the time. She also experience the very best and the very worst of what the human world has to offer.


Her home Themyscira is a beautiful, colorful, bright place that I wish we could have stayed at the whole film. The society was fascinating and it showed strong female friendship, which is rare to see. Their society is completely separate from the world of man even though they are charged with protecting it. The others are happy to stay in their utopia while the rest of the world suffers because man is inherently flawed and prone to violence. It showed how Diana fought even as a child to become the warrior she knew she could be when her mother was satisfied with her state as a beautiful, ignorant, innocent child. Robin Wright has the best role here as General Antiope, the woman who trained Diana when it was forbidden. Although she is short lived, it was wonderful to see her as well as the rest of the diverse cast of Amazons running their own society and defending what is theirs.


Wonder Woman has numerous flaws including Diana's treatment by others, her romance, and her intelligence not matching her actions. Once Diana and Steve get to England, the film returns the typical DC monochrome and muted look. Most of the film has Diana follow him around being condescended to, commanded, and sexualized by others at every turn. It borders on a Born Yesterday plot and gives Steve way too much power over her. There a way too many remarks about her beauty and it's annoying and lazy writing when she's obviously capable. Lip service is paid to her bisexuality and then she's shoehorned into a hollow heterosexual relationship. Steve dies so Diana will have the emotional pain to tap into her true power. The romance wasn't well developed enough for that and it fell flat. It's also a crappy trope and only interesting because of the gender reversal of what usually happens. Also, Antiope's death had much more emotional weight even though she was only onscreen for a few minutes. Diana seems way too naive, especially in the ways of war. Despite being so well read, she refused to believe she couldn't save everyone. Her singleminded belief that all of man's evil is attributed to Ares got annoying because it didn't seem to fit with her character and made her more childlike than warranted.


Other problems with the film are the terrible villain, the portrayal of the human villains, the CGI, and the ending. Ares is the villain of the piece, but he disappoints when he appears. I was at least surprised by his identity. The Germans are the only human villains portrayed in this film set in World War I. It felt more like they wanted to portray Nazis, but set it in the wrong time. That aside, I felt the human villains were more interesting and compelling than Ares in every way. Dr. Maru, a female scientists dedicated to creating the most destructive weapons, and Ludendorff, the German general, had more excitement and passion for their work. It was also refreshing to see a woman villain playing a significant role. The CGI was terrible and very obvious in most instances. The fight scenes keep having this Matrix-esque moment of slow motion in between normal time in every single one. The ending is a huge mess of CGI ridiculousness.


Wonder Woman is the best DC movie by far, but it doesn't come close to most Marvel movies. I found it to be poorly written. Although the acting was decent, it doesn't change that story is predictable and the dialogue doesn't feel natural. I wanted to the film to be so much more feminist than it was. I honestly had incredibly high expectation going into it and I was pretty disappointed by the end. It has a lot of good going on in Gal Gadot and the Amazons. It was so universally lauded by critics and individuals that I don't think DC is going to learn from the mistakes made here. I'm glad of its success both critically and in the box office because of what it will mean for the future of superhero movies led by women. I will be seeing it multiple times to support it despite its flaws and I look forward to more Wonder Woman movies that will hopefully improve as time goes on.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Refrigerator Monologues


Deadtown isn't so bad. Forgotten songs, books, and art are all available for its inhabitants. The Hell Hath Club meets all the time, comprised of the abused, condemned, and brushed aside women of comic book fame. They each share their stories and bare their souls for each other, always welcoming new members to their ranks. Catherynne Valente skillfully created a whole new comic book world that has familiar characters by different names. The Marvel and DC universes are blended seamlessly into one with Justice League, X-Men, and the like with different names and slightly different abilites. Valente gives some easter egg type clues as to what existing characters are being referenced. It works surprisingly well and makes all the characters make sense and some appear in others' stories.


The first one is Gwen Stacy, known here as Paige Embry. Despite all of her own accomplishments such as being an excellent scholar and scientist, she's known as the girl who died in order to give her boyfriend hero pain. His current girlfriend is satsisfied sitting at home, cooking his meals, and generally being subservient, but Paige wasn't. The creation of Kid Mercury (Spiderman) and his archenemesis were her fault because she improved the mercurial substance by a small margin. She tried to do the right thing and get rid of it so it wouldn't be abused, but she died. She fought with no superpowers with a bravery and a passion exceeding Kid Mercury's, but she's only known for one thing. Now her ex-boyfriend gets to get his hollow revenge and Paige leads the Hell Hath Club in Deadtown.


The second is Jean Grey or Julia Ash. The Dark Phoenix saga is one of the most popular X-Men story lines and it's been done to death. Here, Julia blinks in and out of Deadtown because of how often her character is resurrected only to die again. The story reason is a character named Retcon who constantly changes her reality, but the real reason is her popularity in comics. She was the only founding woman on the X-Men team and fought alongside her fellow mutants (or mockingbirds). As Julia gained power rivalling others on the team, her male counterparts started looking at her with fear, judgment, and suspicion. Even though others were similar in power level, they didn't like her showing them up, not needing their help, or showing how much power she really has.  Now, she can't even make eggs because of Retcon's power that keeps her bouncing in between realities wher she's the Dark Phoenix, an abused housewife, and others that amount to a footnote in someone else's story. Every day, at a specific time, she blissfully holds still.


The third is Harley Quinn or Pauline Ketch AKA the Polly to Mr. Punch. I love the Joker's new name because it says so much about how he treats her. He calls her Polly, the one Mr. Punch loves in the play but he treats her like Judy. This was my favorite chapter because her voice and point of view is so different from the others. Her story is linear, but felt chaotic. She jumps into her own fractured musings about her past, Mr. Punch, and his nemesis Grimdark in between the main plot.Throughout their relationship, Polly is convinced that she deftly manipulates Mr. Punch by posing as a psychologist in jail and withholding Grimdark's real identity in order to lengthen their time together. The whole time, he played her by faking being zombified by drugs and later convincing her that he had feelings for her. Through it all, she's convinced her love will come to find her in Deadtown despite all the abuse he doled out.

The fourth is Bayou or Mera, Queen of Atlantis who is quick to say the sea isn't the pristine blue water we picture. Despite her royal obligations, she opted to live independently, play in a punk band, and focus on partying. Children were far from her mind. During a journey to the surface (to get drunk on air), she's "saved" from drowning by John Heron (Aquaman). Her nonchalance at his accomplishments immediately annoys him (because she can do all of the same things) and she reveals that he is half Altantean. Whirlwind romance happens and Bayou unexpectedly becomes pregnant. When her son dies in a fight to save Atlantis, she's understandably devastated. John gets to callously tout his dead son as motivation to fight enemies while Bayou is branded as unstable and insufferable for expressing her loss in any way. I found Bayou's story the most heartbreaking.


The fifth is Daisy Green or Daredevil's Karen Page, another woman tormented by her relationship with a superhero. At first, she was a successful actress with a lot of potential. Then, the Insomniac came into her life and she lives in constant fear of his archnemesis. When she distances herself from the Insomniac, her life returns to normal, but she can't find work. She turns to prostitution to support herself, framing it as acting for an audience of one, leading to a job as a porn star. I loved the comparison of the trajectory of a porn star and superhero career where people love you in beginning and all is wonderful, but as time goes on, people want more, get resentful, and force the hero/porn star to become darker and grittier to keep their attention until they spiral out of control.
 

The sixth and last is the literal woman in a refrigerator, Samantha Dane or Alexandra DeWitt. Her relationship with this world's version of the Green Lantern puts her in danger. At first, they were both artists in their own right; she was a photographer while he was a graffiti artist. After he finds a pin that imbues him with powers, his values suddenly change. He treats her as inferior even though she solely brings in the money they need to survive. Samantha has to give up her dreams to make her boyfriend's a reality while he goes back on all of the ideologies they agreed on. Through all of this, his nemesis targets her and stuffs her in a refrigerator, effectively reducing her to just another reason why that hero fights and further hates his nemesis and nothing more. The newest member of the Hell Hath Club arrives in Deadtown and she is welcomed with open arms to the people who understand her most.

The Refrigerator Monologues is an amazing story that frames these comic book characters in more realistic situations and shows how life is from their perspective. All of them are treated terribly and only have value in how they relate to the men in their lives when so many of them have numerous merits on their own. Catherynne Valente creates this shared universe with subtle clues as to their real identity, thematic threads, overlapping characters, and fleshed out characters all around. This is a must read for feminist fans of comic books who are frustrated at women characters being killed, raped, pushed aside, suppressed, and otherwise dismissed in favor of the "superhuman" man in their lives.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins