Kelly Sue DeConnick may be leaving “Captain Marvel,” but an amazing team is taking over: the “Agent Carter” showrunners and one of my favorite comics artists, Kris Anka! I’m digging his redesign, especially the return of the fauxhawk. (Less thrilled that this will be the third “Captain Marvel #1″ in four years, but that’s comics for you. Mostly I’m relieved she’s sticking around after Secret Wars!)
In other women-of-Marvel news, Disney has a super-limited-edition t-shirt (available until tomorrow) on sale, presumably in response to the repeated pleas for more superheroine merch. But I kinda feel like this is just set up to fail: if it sells well, Disney will be able to get by with making a t-shirt or two and calling it good, and if it doesn’t sell, they can claim women don’t want to buy superhero stuff after all.
So there’s going to be a Harry Potter play written by JK Rowling, and it’s about Harry’s “early years!” Accio this play to the Pacific Northwest!
“There is a centuries-old notion that white men must defend, with lethal violence at times, the sexual purity of white women from allegedly predatory black men. And, as we saw yet again after this shooting, it is not merely a relic of America’s hideous racial past. American racism is always gendered; racism and sexism are mutually dependent, and cannot be unstitched.” A challenging but important article about the large, uncomfortable reasons behind the Charleston shooting.
Mist concealed the Calakmil as the Summer Empire Traveling Players approached. As they drew nearer, trees began to delineate themselves, dark and ragged against the fog. And something else appeared: a band of white demarcating ordinary grassland from the vast forest.
“Someone will meet us at the Wall?” Idris asked dubiously.
“Yes.” Izel consulted her letter again. “It says we’ll be guided to our destination from there.”
“Hard to imagine there’s a proper theater in there.”
“Our full payment awaits there regardless. It can’t be worse than Masul, right?”
She took the lead and the rest of company urged their nervous horses on behind her.
The Wall showed its age plainly. Along the base, roots punched through the cracks between the huge limestone blocks, while vines snaked down from the top. Still, nothing more exotic than a lily grew on this side of the Wall, as if the Calakmil was restraining itself out of politeness.
Which, given the stories, was entirely possible.
Two towering white trees, at least three hundred feet tall, stood where a gate would have been in an ordinary wall. Their pale branches arced across the entrance, shading it with their glossy, plate-sized leaves.
“Titantrees,” Jada explained from her seat on the players’ wagon. “It’s believed they grow so large because they house the souls of the Calakmil’s inhabitants after death.”
“So their afterlife is being trapped in a tree?” Sakae raised an eyebrow. She was their ingenue, young and opinionated, and prone to expressing those opinions unkindly when she was nervous. “Sounds uncomfortable.”
“Some respect, Sakae,” Jada said. “Would you speak thus about the Empire’s gods?”
Izel raised a hand. “Someone’s coming.”
Just beyond the titantrees, sunlight broke through the canopy in dancing shafts, but beyond that, the leaf-strewn path itself was shadowed.
“I don’t see any – ”
With a croak that startled them all, a large pink jungle frog hopped into the center of the path. It croaked again, then took off with long leaps deeper into the misty jungle.
Izel and Idris exchanged looks.
“Well,” she said, “the letter didn’t specify a human guide.”
“We are not following a frog.”
“It’s the Calakmil! We’re lucky our guide is something recognizable.” She started her horse forward.
“A frog is not a guide! I don’t care how much money –”
But the pink frog had stopped at the bend to wait for them. Izel waved to it and it proceeded onwards. Behind her, Idris heaved an aggravated sigh and clicked his reins.
She kept her eyes on the frog as she rode, even though they were surrounded by trees and vines and fragrant flowers that even they, who’d traveled the whole of the Empire, had never seen before. The mist dissipated as the sun climbed. Still the frog led them on.
They finally stopped at a broad circle of ten titantrees, much taller than the two guarding the Wall. Their curving white branches soared high above a soft, grassy clearing, in the center of which sat a stack of gold coins: the rest of their payment.
“Is this…our stage?” muttered Balam.
As if to answer him, the frog settled on a knobby root.
Izel dismounted. “Let’s set up.”
They opened the wagon, placed their props, and began to dress. The frog waited patiently.
“Where’s our audience?” Sakae hissed as she finished her makeup.
Izel nodded at the frog. “I think he’s it.”
“This is insane!”
“We’ve been paid to perform here, and we will,” she said firmly.
No one – and nothing – else had arrived by the time Idris began the opening monologue. Izel fidgeted with one of the coins to remind herself that this was a paid performance like any other, that there was nothing strange or concerning about being brought into the heart of a neglected magical jungle to perform a romantic drama to an audience of one frog.
Not strange at all.
It was a good performance, all things considered. Sakae had a shaky start, but Balam supported her well, and Jada had Izel and the stagehands stifling giggles as Balam’s narcissistic mother.
Idris delivered the conclusion. The actors bowed at the silent frog. Izel peeked around the wagon, waiting.
The frog looked up.
High overhead, the titantree boughs began to wave. There was no wind, and no creatures visible to disturb them…
Jada understood first. “Bow again,” she hissed, gripping her costars’ hands. They bowed and the trees rustled more, their leaves whistling.
“Well done, players,” Izel murmured, and she took her bow.
My firm sent every available inspector to investigate the Brandt mansion the moment his lawyers called. Something had gone wrong on his estate on the rim of Tycho, rendering the house a total loss, but he refused to say what happened. It was our responsibility to find out.
I had always wanted to travel into space, to see with my own eyes what Earth looked like from a distance. Unfortunately, I was bad at science and atrocious at math, which narrowed my prospects significantly. Having a solid reputation for discretion and reliability, however, opened up certain other opportunities, which was how I ended up going to the Moon as a claims inspector for the rich and famous. The paperwork was a pain, but the views made up for it. Going up in the shuttle, gliding down the ladder in the EVA suit, watching your feet make contact with the surface of the Moon…even on my seventh mission, I knew it would never get old.
I was partnered with Chen. I paused while we unloaded, unable to look away from Earth. The Pacific was in view, shrouded by thin veils of cloud, fragile and elegant as steam.
The mansion was almost as impressive.
“I think I could fit nine of my house inside that,” Chen commented.
“I don’t even want to know how many of my apartment could squeeze in. Twenty?”
“At least. Plus another five in the garage.”
“Please, it’s not that small. That garage is only four and a half Fox apartments at most.”
Brandt had borrowed the style of the antique British great houses for his mansion, replicating a small three-story palace in space-friendly metals and polymers. The mansion’s windows were triple-paned, triple-reinforced, and equipped with alloy shutters that were designed to close automatically in case of breakage. Instead of a practical tunnel linking the entrance to the garage and shuttle pad, it had an honest-to-God front door and porch, encased in a thirty-foot-tall half-bubble of clear polymer and accessed via an airlock that linked with the rover that brought guests – fully dressed for the party, because who wanted to arrive at a Brandt function in a spacesuit? – from the shuttle pad. Visitors could step out of their car and walk up to the house like they were arriving on a red carpet, except for the constant risk of ruptures, breaches, or implosions.
None of which appeared to have happened here. The house, airlock, everything we could see from the outside looked undamaged.
“Shutters didn’t close,” I pointed out. I could even see a grand piano through one of the ground floor windows.
“Maybe the windows weren’t the problem.”
The exterior inspectors started up their buggy and careened off towards the rear of the estate, where they would inspect the other half-bubble that protected the veranda. We picked up our own gear and headed towards the airlock in easy, gliding leaps. “Forgot how fun it is up here,” I called.
“Eyes on the prize, Faye.”
“What?” I laughed. It wasn’t that funny, but everything became less serious in low gravity, even mysteriously ruined houses. “Who even says that?”
“I overheard West. Whoever figures out the cause is up for a big promotion.”
“In that case, more luck to you.” I took another flying leap, still gazing at the ever-changing swirl of silver and blue. “Promotion means sitting behind a desk all the time, never getting to come up here.”
“Also means less chance of a variety of terrible deaths.”
“You’re no fun.”
Chen keyed the airlock for entry. “After what happened here, how many of these billionaires do you think will stick around?” he pointed out. “This job may not exist in a few years.”
We entered the airlock and I sealed the door behind us. “Then I’m going to enjoy it while I can.”
The exterior guys found it first: dust buildup in the circuits that monitored the veranda’s pressure independent from the house. When they overloaded, it registered as a pressure loss, and the bubble compensated by drawing oxygen from the house. It happened gradually, giving Brandt time to evacuate and concoct some story to hide the fact that he’d broken his multi-billion dollar estate due to crummy maintenance.
West dealt with Brandt’s lawyers while Chen and I began the paperwork. He obviously pined for the promotion, but I was relieved. I barely registered the papers through my waking-dream memory of the empty mansion and the sunlit, ephemeral marble of Earth beyond it.
Oh what a movie! What a lovely movie!
I’ve seen “Fury Road” twice already and will happily watch it every week for the rest of my life. I even want to see it a third time, preferably in IMAX because this movie exists to blast your face off with explosive awesomeness. This is not a movie to be comfortable at. Your heart rate will reach dangerous levels, your eyes will hurt, and your ears will retreat in terror from the onslaught of colliding spiky cars, technicolor desert battles, nuclear hellfire dust storms, and Charlize Theron’s righteous fury.
None of this is exaggeration, because this is “Mad Max” and it is not possible to exaggerate anything.
So here are a few reasons why “Mad Max: Fury Road” is one of my all-time favorite movies, and why you should see it immediately:
1. In a somewhat surprising twist in an action movie starring sex slaves, Furiosa and the wives are not sexualized (beyond a brief introductory scene where it does make sense) and Furiosa is essentially the main character. This led to some whining about boycotting from boys who can’t share, but it also led to the creation of Feminist Mad Max:
2. Since there’s nothing much to do while filming in Namibia, Theron taught Tom Hardy and Nicholas Hoult how to knit. I really need someone to draw me a sketch of Mad Max failing at knitting, while Nux knits gun cozies with hearts on them.
3. There’s a flamethrowing battle guitar.
4. Tom Hardy didn’t think it was a big deal to share his movie with a bunch of women, hence #1.
5. That chrome paint the War Boys spray over their mouths before they die historic on the Fury Road? It’s real, and edible.
6. And Mad Max fans proceeded to leave reviews on its Amazon page:
7. 80% of the stunts actually physically happened! With dozens of vehicles, who knows how many stuntmen, and some truly insane fight sequences shot in the middle of a desert, this is incredibly impressive – especially to me, a millennial who came of age on green screen filming.
8. FLAMETHROWING BATTLE GUITAR.
Have you seen “Fury Road?” What did you think?
The guttural purr of the Ford clunked into silence well before Johnny and Earl made it down the drive. Grace put down the dress she was hemming and went to the screen door.
She shaded her eyes against the glare of the setting sun on the yellow fields. The Model A was still a good twenty yards from the safety of the garage, but judging from the sounds it had made, it wasn’t going to get there on its own.
“Finally out of gas?” she called as she stepped out onto the porch. The dry planks creaked underfoot.
“Yep.” Johnny and her brother had already hopped out, opened both doors, and started pushing. “Wasn’t sure we’d even make it home.”
Earl freed an arm to point through the empty car at her husband. “You owe me a quarter.”
“Can I help?” Grace asked. Johnny hesitated, and she didn’t quite blame him. When they’d married four years ago, she was frail thanks to childhood illness. But the drought had no mercy on the frail. Times like this, everyone had to pull their own weight, no matter what.
“Just take it easy, Gracey.”
Johnny ushered her to his place on the driver’s door. He planted a gentle kiss on her cheek before dropping back to apply his weight to the bumper. Grace settled her hands into the prints her husband had left in the dusty window frame and pushed.
Her back and palms and legs ached by the time they reached the shade of the garage. She slammed the door on the dead Ford and leaned against it, catching her breath, ignoring the fiery catch in her lungs.
“So,” she said. “Now what?”
“Head to California, turn migrant?” Earl suggested. He took off his cap and wiped his brow. “I hear it’s not so bad in Salinas.”
“It’s bad everywhere. Besides, how can you turn migrant if you can’t move?” Johnny kicked one of the cracked tires.
“But how are you going to get to the employment lines without the Ford? How are we going to deliver my sewing?” The catch was turning into a tickle, threatening a coughing spell. “How are we going to eat?”
“If we sold the tires off the Ford, we might – ” Earl stopped suddenly, staring at the car.
“I was just thinking,” he mused, “we could do what the Johnsons did.”
A laugh burst out of Grace before she could contain it, and it turned quickly to coughing. She checked her hand – no blood this time. Ignoring Johnny’s concerned expression, she turned to Earl. “That ridiculous thing? You trying to kill our mule, too?”
“It’s not that heavy!” he insisted. “Once you take out the engine, it’s much lighter. Even the windows could go. You just –”
He darted to the front of the car and tapped on the bumper. “Just fix the tug here and Izzy can haul ‘er like a cart. It’ll be slower, but we can still transport your mending, and we can keep going into town to wait in all those lines.”
Johnny raised an eyebrow. “It’s not the craziest thing I’ve heard.”
Earl pressed his advantage. “We could even get Grace to town for medicine. If we sold a few things, we could just afford it.”
“If we do this, though,” Johnny said slowly, “we got no way of going to California. Izzy can’t get us there. The car can’t get us there – even if we did have gas, if we take the engine out, it’s done. We have enough saved for bus fare, but not enough to survive in a new place.”
For a moment, Grace envisioned California as it had been in the magazines: America’s Eden, green, breezy, with an abundance of crops instead of endless dying oats. Maybe it wouldn’t be as dusty there, and her lungs could get better…but there still wouldn’t be enough to eat. There still wouldn’t be enough work. The land, the languages, everything would be different – yet not different enough.
“We stay,” she said. “It’s gotta rain sometime, and once it does, we should be here. This was my granddaddy’s farm, and I’m not quitting on it.”
She opened the Ford’s hood. “Now how do we get this thing out?”