Because let’s face it, your mom is a superhero. Here’s some of the company she keeps!
Raquel Ervin had only been a superhero for a short time when she found out that she was pregnant. Still a teenager, she stepped up and decide to have the child and be an awesome mother. She put her heroics on hold for a time in order to raise her son well, but soon returned and kept a beautiful superhero-mom balance. Hardcore. Besides, she named her son Amistad Augustus Ervin. Awesome.
The Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit opened this weekend, and I’m terribly jealous of everyone who made it out to the Kennedy Space Center. The last orbiter to be built by NASA, the shuttle represents the long history of hope for manned space flight. As goes in the astronomy field, of all the (badass) astronauts who flew on Atlantis, most were white and male. None were Black women. Ellen Ochoa was the only Latina to fly on Atlantis, and is to-date the only Latina woman to travel to space.
In fact, only 57 women from all nations have traveled into space. Only 14 African Americans have traveled into space, only 3 of whom were Black women. 12 Latino or Hispanic astronauts have traveled into space, and Ellen Ochoa is the only Latina woman. The numbers for astronauts of color is pretty low across the board.
Considering Uhura from Star Trek was an inspiration for the first Black woman astronaut, maybe diversifying the space-worlds created in fiction might help add a little color to our space programs. Earth might be stewed in white patriarchy, but let’s leave that ish behind. Maybe some of these astronomically-minded women of color in fiction can inspire more POCs and women in a star-ward direction.
MIRANDA MERCURY is one of my favorite space-faring ladies in comics. Created by writer Brandon Thomas, Miranda Mercury is a galactic adventurer in her own self-titled graphic novel The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury. Miranda travels with her sidekick Jack Warning while fighting evil-doers and hunting down magical artifacts. Miranda was injected with a long-acting poison by one of her enemies, a poison that will kill her in a year. In a race against time, she scours the universe for a cure and for revenge.
ZOE WASHBURNE (played by(the amazing) actress Gina Torres) – Literally born on a spaceship, Zoe Washburne (nee Alleyne) is a character in the show Firefly. She served in the Unification War under Sergeant Malcolm Reynolds, before joining his ragtag crew of misfit pirate cowboys aboard the spaceship Serenity. Zoe eventually married fellow crew member and pilot Wash (Hoban Washburne). Zoe‘s role on the ship is as second-in-command, battle tactician, and “the muscle” (that is, much more intelligent muscle than crew badboy Jayne).
ANASTASIA DUALLA (played by actress Kandyse McClure) – In the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica TV show, Lieutenant Dualla was a communications officer aboard the military spaceship Battlestar Galactica. A native of Sagittaron, she quickly ascends from petty officer to Lieutenant and marries Commander Lee Adama and the two later divorce amicably. Dualla commits suicide after the crew discovers Earth and finds that it is inhabitable.
Athena aka Sharon Agathon
Sharon Agathon was a cylon and lieutenant on the sci-fi show Battlestar Galactica.Originally loyal to the cause of the cylons, Sharon fell in love with a human officer and joined the Battlestar crew first as a suspect cylon prisoner before gaining the trust of many (certainly not all) of the Battlestar crew and gaining the call sign Athena. Fiercly dedicated to the child she has with her husband Helo (aka Karl Agathon), Athena puts her daughter before anything. While the other “Sharon” cylons are messing up, crying, or just downright confused, Athena always has her priorities straight and at the end of the day she gets what she wants. Also she can put a hurtin’ on.
MARILYN JONES is a veteran space jockey in the brand spanking new comic by John ByrneThe HighWays. She’s been travelling the space ways for years and is the first friendly face that new recruit Eddie Wallace meets. It’s not long before Jones and the crew find themselves embroiled in all sorts of trouble and shenanigans. Throughout the mayhem and deception Jones is always cool-headed and on-top-of things, even when she has to pause to throw a little side-eye at someone being dense. She’s the real hero of the story. The trade collecting the entire miniseries is out this week!
HOSHI SATO was the communications officer on the star ship Enterprise in the tv show Star Trek: Enterprise.Played by actress Linda Park, Hoshi knew more than 40 languages and was possibly the best linguist in star fleet. With a black belt in Aikido, she was more than just a good talker. She was an integral character on the show and went on to develop a universal translation matrix. (*Anyone starting to notice an abundance of “communcations” gigs for the women in space?)
AFROELLA– Member of the Ella’s, the Elite Lunisolar Liberty Agents, Afroella along with her sidekick DIVA (Digital Interactive Virtual Assistant), flies through the galaxy kicking ass and taking names in the name of justice, all while keeping her fro in check and her lips glossed. (She is decidedly not a communications officer.) Created by comics writer Gemma Bedeau, the character owes some inspiration to blaxploitation character Barbarella. Issue #2 is out now!
TRUDY CHACON (played by actress Michelle Rodriguez made was a super-skilled fighter pilot in the movie Avatar.A former Marine, this woman doesn’t play around. She eventually joins forces with the Na’vi, lending her hardcore pilot skills to their cause, and earns them some major wins. Unfortunately, she doesn’t live to drink the champagne, but she went out guns blazing and died a hero (in a kinda pointless war started by a a kind dumb dude, if you ask me, but that’s beside the point…)
The unforgettable, mysterious, and dynamice Wh- I mean… GUINAN (played by actress Whoopi Goldberg) was a character on Star Trek. Originally from El-Auria, Guinan is somewhere between 500 and 700 years old when she joins the Enterprise as a bartender. Many of the crew members seek her out for her wisdom on many matters.
And of course the one who started it all…
LT. NYOTA UHURA was a character in the original Star Trek series in the late 60’s and 70’s, played by actress Nichelle Nichols and later by Zoe Saldana in the reboot. Uhura was one of the first Black characters to play a significant role in an American TV series. She is a communications officer from the United States of Africa and a native Swahili speaker. Her last name comes from the Swahili word for “freedom”. Her first name, which was never used until the 2009 film, is Swahili for “star”. In the 1968 episode “Plato’s Stepchildren“, Uhura and Captain Kirk kiss. The episode is popularly cited as the first example of a scripted inter-racial kiss on United States television. Uhura did not have any romantic story line until the 2009 reboot. Actress Nichols had planned to leave Star Trek in 1967 after its first season, but a conversation with Martin Luther King, Jr. persuaded her to stay, when he told her she was a role model for the black community. Whoopi Goldberg and Dr. Mae Jamison both cite her as their inspiration.
This weekend geeks have double the cause to celebrate! Not only is Geek Pride Day May 25th, but we also have Memorial Day to celebrate this Monday. What does geekery have to do with Memorial Day you ask? Well…
Memorial Day is about honoring the men and women who have risked and sacrificed their lives to defend ours throughout history and today. Whether you’re a comics fan, a gamer, or an avid science fiction geek, you’re familiar with the idea.
Military heroes are everywhere in geek culture. They’re the heroes we play in shooters; they’re the nameless enemies we kill in tabletop battles; they’re who we root for in science fiction shows like Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, and Stargate. Many of our beloved superheroes were non-powered heroic military men and women first – Captain America, Nick Fury, Green Lanterns Hal Jordan and John Stewart, and Ms. Marvel (now Captain Marvel), to name a few. Others represent military values — honor, duty, service, loyalty, courage, sacrifice.
The armed forces motif in games, comics and and sci-fi is wide-spread and variously contentious, ignored, and/or celebrated in different geek mediums. Video games are usually criticized for inculcating violent behaviors in youth, science fiction is alternately praised and damned for its tendency to create either laudatory or critical allegories of our own real wars, and in many popular comics where soldiers become superheroes and superheroes become soldiers we idolize the military hero model.
For example, in The Avengers, war hero Captain America and his crew of super-powered patriots answer the government’s call to defend America from threats alien, mutant, and otherwise. There are, of course, many comics that criticize war and the military, like AlanMoore‘s TheWatchmen which takes a critical look at the Vietnam War in particular and calls to attention the relationship between superheroes and war in comic books. Truth: Red, White, and Blackby Robert Morales and Kyle Baker looks at another troubling aspect of war, re-examing the story of CaptainAmerica‘s origin and through the lens of the real-life medical experimentation on American heroes at Tuskegee.
There are plenty of comics, games, and sci-fi shows that steer clear of battlefields and infantries, nonetheless it’d be difficult to deny that war and armed forces are pervasive in geek entertainments. War and soldiers have been a part of American comic books since their inception in the early 1930’s. The war effort itself used comic books to boost support and recruitment. So what is that about? What’s the deal with geeks and soldiers? Geekery and war?
Gerard Jones’s in his 2004 book Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Bookoffers an interesting answer. Jones takes a look at the inventors of the comic book medium, the majority of whom were young Jewish men, the children of Jewish immigrants, whose adult lives were sandwiched between two major wars. Two of these young men Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegelcreated the ultimate outsider, the alien do-gooder Kal-El, who would go on to become one of America’s most iconic superheroes Superman. Shuster and Siegel and cultural outsiders like them claimed a place for themselves in American culture with ink and paper, creating heroes that would come to be definitively American — an American mythos born out of a need to belong.
Given comics and comics fans’ dedication to legacy and continuity, it’s no wonder that war and military heroes remain a strong motif in comics and comics-inspired stories in film and tv today.
Both the outsider foundations of superheroes and the context of war and military heroes as icons in geek narratives is something we must keep in mind when we discuss/rage/ponder the lacking or mis- representation of women and minorities geek culture. These contexts show us the power of these mediums to influence inclusiveness and represent the values and people that we consider American, and particularly who we consider heroes. Women, people of color and people of various faiths who have served in our real-world wars have been marginalized and often forgotten by history. And this has been reflected in comics, sci-fi, and games. With heroes like Wonder Woman and Ms. Marvel,comics in particular reflected the woman heroes who joined the war effort in the 40s and made sweeping social gains, but despite their service in American armed forces throughout history, heroes of color remained and remain largely absent from comics until much later.
Science fiction, however, was telling stories of war long before comic books hit the scene, presenting science based fantasies as early as the 17th century, and finding it’s real footing in the early 19th century with books like Mary Shelley‘s Frankensteinand Edwin AbbotAbbot‘s Flatland. And war settled itself into the genre’s mold in the beginnings as well with the likes of H.G. Wells‘s War of the Worldsin 1898 depicting, almost prophetically, a new, more ruthless face of war through the story of an alien invasion of Great Britain, the dominate military power of the time. Many science fiction stories then and today deal with topics like class, space exploration, technology, often, though not always, in the context of war or apocalypse. Though science fiction inspired the creators of comics like Shuster and Siegel, today the two mediums both inform and inspire stories between them and in video games. Science fiction engages in much more analysis and commentary regarding war, but, like the innovators of comics, science fiction’s heroes are often outsiders who find a place for themselves through battle. This outsider turned patriot and hero theme clearly speaks to the geeky outcast ranks. Sci-fi isn’t all about war and military heroes, but there is much to be said about the vast world of sci-fi by much smarter people than me.
cover of War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
Superman: War of the Worlds #1 (1999) by Michael Lark
Taking much of their inspiration from science fiction and superhero mythologies, from Space Invaders to Mass Effect, video games are the geeky art form most entwined with military themes. Shooters, MMOs, RPGs… So many of the popular games are about being the heroic leader and going out there and bravely killing thousands of the other side’s foot soldiers. And this engrossing medium takes the outsider attraction to such heroism to a whole new level by putting the player in control, thereby deepening the connection of the player to the hero. It’s a world where death is temporary and ammo is endless. Understandably games that offer the action, adventure, heroism, really cool weapons, and clear goal of war, minus the traumatic consequences of real-life war, would be appealing to anyone bored by the social strictures or outcast by social norms and tensions.
Whether criticizing, evaluating, honoring, or romanticizing militarism, geek history is very much entwined with wars (real and imagined), the men and women who fight them, and the youth who grew up in wartime. At a time when we are fighting wars in the Middle East, many Americans are struggling to make ends meet, we’re living in an increasingly diverse country, and fear is rampant, the escapism, fantasy, and heroism offered by geeky art forms has obvious appeal much as it has in the past. The question is what is the role of this legacy in geek culture today?