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Well met, readers and friends!

I am currently taking orders for signed books. If you haven’t been able to track me down at a signing or a convention and dearly want that book of mine signed, here’s your chance to order a signed book!

Buy a Book!

If, on the other hand, you have a much loved paper copy of anything I’ve written and want my signature, contact me through that page and we’ll work it out.🙂

Cheers

Extra-Life: Get in the Game!

Tabletop Extra-life is tonight, where a bunch of us gamers get together to roll dice to raise funds for kids in need.

Watch the game on Twitch, currently in progress: https://www.twitch.tv/wotc_dnd

Looks like fun, huh? Wanna play?

Here’s how:

My rogue/paladin, SHADOWBANE, suffers from a spellscar that lets him shrug off wounds. It’s essentially not under his control, though–manifesting at times and deserting him at times.

You control this effect during the game!

Tonight (8-12 PT), YOU play #Shadowbane’s hardening spellscar. For every $5 you pledge, he gets 2 temp HP. 

Pledge more than $5? He gets more. $10 for 4. $50 for 20. Etc.

http://www.extra-life.org/participant/erikscottdebie

For justice and the kids!
Let’s bane some shadows together.🙂
SHADOWBANE hails from my novel series of the same name. Check it out: https://erikscottdebie.com/bibliography/shadowbane-series/

Cheers,

Erik

Fall 2016 Update

So what’s going on with your favorite overworked author? Well.

1) Currently writing a Stormtalons novel for Onder Librum (The Ed Greenwood Group)

For those who’ve not yet pierced the mists that obscure these realms (absolutely the ones you’re looking for, btw), the STORMTALONS setting is a medieval-esque fantasy setting hatched from the brain of Ed Greenwood, creator of the Forgotten Realms, and forged and tempered with the pens of many extremely talented authors. (His first novel, Words of Unbinding, is launching within days, and preorders for the special collector’s hardcover edition are on!)

I am writing a novel that will come out sometime next year, I think, in the setting, telling a tale I’ve waited 20+ years to tell. My very first D&D character was a mysterious warrior, highly skilled in woodlore and the ways of the wild, called the Lone Knight (though he was technically a ranger in 2e terms). His boon companion? James the Wanderer, a fighter played by my friend Jim Campbell, a polearm expert from a distant land who wore the Jaguar for his totem. We’re talking some old-school STRANGER THINGS era gaming, where we were constantly on the run from epic monsters and thought a fireball could take out the Demogorgon. Anyway, those ideas have been kicking around in my head for decades, and now they’ve grown into a really awesome story. Much as I love all my writing, I haven’t felt quite this way about a fantasy novel since I wrote Ghostwalker. It’ll be amazing.

2) Mask of the Blood Queen to be released soon!

That’s right. Sometime (I hope before the end of this year), Mask of the Blood Queen–third in the WORLD OF RUIN series–will be released. I have just got edits back and am assured they will be a quick turn-around. I’m hoping it’ll hit in November, maybe even October. Just in time for Halloween would be excellent, what with a very scary MASK being on the cover… (Cover reveal soon!)

3) Extra-Life 2016 game September 16!

I’m raising money again this year for Seattle Children’s Hospital through the Extra-Life network. I don’t wanna take up too much of your time with the particulars, but you can help kids, get tax-writeoffs, power up my character to fight giants, get me to say something on our prime-time game livecast, and enter for a chance to win one of my books, all at the same time. Donate!

Here’s the link: http://www.extra-life.org/participant/erikscottdebie

4) Can*Con in a couple weeks

On September 8-11, I’ll be up in Ottawa at Can*Con, a literary convention in Canada, at which a lot of TEGG stuff will be going on. If you’re in the area, let’s hang out!

5) Anthology releases! Women in Practical Armor and Shadowed Souls!

For those who supported this anthology (or those who are intrigued by the name), this is a fantasy/scifi anthology out from Evil Girlfriend Media that stars female warriors in (as you guessed) armor. Functional, practical, useful, non-cheesecake armor (with one very pointed exception). My story is about Ovelia, heroine of my WORLD OF RUIN series and cover star of the second novel, Shield of the Summer Prince.

This is Ovelia. Practical armor like a boss.

This is Ovelia. Practical armor like a boss.

Books have started showing up! I’ve also written and sent my four MARK OF THE BLOOD QUEEN award stories, for backers who kicked in extra to have a special story commissioned just for them.

I am also a contributing author to the Shadowed Souls anthology, edited by the great Kerrie L. Hughes and a man who needs no introduction, Jim Butcher. It is perhaps my highest profile anthology for which I’ve ever had the honor to write.

My story? Stars Lady Vengeance.

I like to think that's Lady Vengeance on the cover. :)

I like to think that’s Lady Vengeance on the cover.🙂

6) Everyday life

Otherwise, I’m just working at my day job like a madman and occasionally kickboxing when I get a chance. And occasionally playing video games when I’m worn out of energy otherwise! I’m also playing in a few tabletop games, though it’s tough to schedule blocks of time when you’re an adult, you know? Things are stable, if really busy.🙂

Happy reading!

Cheers,

Erik

Why BLIND JUSTICE?

I got a bunch of paper copies of BLIND JUSTICE in the mail recently, and it prompted me to start thinking about the book and why I wrote it.

RAGE, mostly.

She knows you better than you know yourself--and she will punish you for it.

She knows you better than you know yourself–and she will punish you for it.

First of all, obviously, I wrote it because Ed Greenwood asked me to. He was launching a new series of novels through Onder Librum/The Ed Greenwood Group, and I was honored and thrilled to be a part of it (BLIND JUSTICE is the third TEGG book released). But Ed had nothing to do with the subject material of the book or its direction or any of that. That was all me. So why?

I guess the short answer is, I was angry.

I wrote BLIND JUSTICE from a place of anger. Of rage and of outrage. For years, I have watched story after news story about rapists, murderers, and other abusers escape justice, and always through casting aspersions on their victims. Questioning what they were wearing, obfuscating their lack of consent, singing about blurred lines. (Oh yeah, I *HATE* that song with a burning passion.) The events and characters in the novel are all created for the book and not based on anything or anyone from real life, but they *could be.* Easily. And that’s the point.

I purposefully set out to look at the evil that men do (yes, men–not all men, but it doesn’t take that many), and that’s what the book is about: human evil in our modern world. Evil that we turn a blind eye to, and the bigoted, ignorant, or selfish reasons we do.

Seraph the Justicar is a manifestation of humanity’s urge for vengeance. Unbridled. Unrestrained. Unchecked.

And Maria Ruiz–my human lead? She represents the human need to temper such violence with justice.

It is no accident that throughout the novel, Ruiz wonders not only whether she can stop Seraph, but whether she should. The daemon goes around killing people without trial–holding them accountable using only her own (generally perfect) judgment–and humans just can’t do that. But at the same time, perhaps she is doing us all a favor by doing what she does.

This informs the ultimate confrontation. Don’t worry, though–I won’t spoil it.🙂

All of my books are about two things, ultimately: 1) the tension between justice and vengeance, and 2) identity, and this book is no exception.

Ruiz’s ethnic/cultural identity and orientation is not causative in the book–she could have had a different identity and the book still would have happened the way it does–but it’s extremely important. She resides at the intersection of numerous vectors of hate in the book, and she could be a target (not victim–target) of a number of the novel’s villains. She *is* targeted with their harassment on many occasions, and the way she deflects, deals, and/or copes with it is meant to shed light on how those dynamics often play out in real life. However much she wants to lash out and attack her harassers and oppressors, she usually doesn’t, because she recognizes that won’t always help and might very well make things worse.

And lest I be misunderstood here, I am not attempting to explain anything to anyone of those identity vectors I don’t share–female, POC, non-straight. You already know how life is and are experiencing it every day. I’ve got nothing to tell you on this point.

This is me attempting to explain something to people who share my identity vectors–male, white, straight. To folks like me: while I don’t know everything about issues of race, gender, and sexuality, I have some awareness of it, and I want to invite you along the same path. We’re all learning. It’s an ongoing conversation.

To an extent, Seraph’s identity also informs the book. Her sexual orientation is unclear, but her human form is a WOC, and that is purposeful. Not only because her raison d’etre is to punish the abusers of people who look like her, but because too easily people who look like me (a straight cis white man) see themselves as the saviors of the oppressed, rather than (at-best) allies in their struggle. And that is what they are–at best–in this book.

There is no white male savior in this novel–no square-jawed cowboy with a white hat–nor will there be in the sequel. I am not rushing to the rescue. I am not in this book at all.

BLIND JUSTICE is not mine. It never was.

I mean, I wrote it, but I didn’t just write it for myself.

I want to help. I need to help.

And to those who look like me–who have the influence or privilege or whatever you want to call it that I have–I want you to want that as well.

Cheers

10 Reasons to Vote Democrat 2016

I try not to post too many political things, but this is important.

Look, I get it. This election is divisive, more so than most elections in our history. Feelings are running hot. Negative rhetoric is all over, on a continuously self-spawning loop. Even the Russians have got involved (maybe)! Our democratic process is on the line . . . though maybe not for the reasons everyone seems to think.

And before I go further, a few caveats. I am a political independent. I am not now nor have I ever been nor will I ever be a Democrat, and I’m *certainly* not a Republican, though I described myself as a Republican back in High School (before Disaster 2000, more on that later). I have always backed political campaigns with my heart and my head working in concert. I turned 18 in 2001, too late to vote in 2000, and have voted in three presidential elections: for John Kerry 2004 (not ideal), Obama 2008 (yay!), Obama 2012 (somewhat muted yay). In 2016, I vocally supported Bernie Sanders in the primary, though I admit I drifted away from his team for various reasons that had nothing to do with him (more on that later). I’m planning to vote Democrat again this year, and that means voting for Hillary Clinton (not ideal).

What I’m going to present in this post are reasons for you to follow suit and vote Democrat this year. Note importantly that you don’t need to agree with all these points. If even just ONE of these points is something you agree with, then voting Democrat in 2016 may just be for you. Because I can guarantee that a Trump presidency will give us NONE of the benefits I mention below, but only the hindrances.

So. Here are a few reasons to vote Democrat in 2016:

1. You Like Hillary Clinton

Believe it or not, a lot of people do.

The lady has been in politics a long time. She’s played the game, she’s endured the mud slung at her (a consistent smear campaign for the last 30 years). She’s the most qualified of the candidates currently running (by a LONG shot). She has the connections to get shit done. She’s smart, skilled, and we know she’s capable of changing her views when shown new information (such as that the Iraq War was fought based on fraudulent intelligence, or that LGBTQIA+ people deserve rights). She evolves. She learns. She makes mistakes, and she tries to fix them. She’s human.

Is she from the war hawkish branch of the party? Sure. Does that mean she’ll start WW3? Unlikely. The most important aspect of Clinton is that she actually does bow to public opinion. I mean, that’s what all her detractors say, right? That she flip-flops and supports the popular opinion? At least she can change her mind, and she still cares about democracy.

2. You like Bernie Sanders

Believe it or not, a lot of people do.

This wild-haired Jewish man shouting in the wilderness with song birds landing on his podium and rays of light cascading from the heavens to light his path may not be Jesus, but, well, he’s got a lot of supporters who believe really fervently in him. Me, for instance. I love Bernie Sanders. He’s ethical. He’s moral. He’s largely remained on a consistent path throughout his political career. He’s an outsider, which I like. I see myself in him, and I think that’s really important to a candidate. Would his ideas have been too liberal and too radical to get through, and he would go down in history as the second coming of Jimmy Carter? Very possibly. But his nomination and election would have been an amazing message.

Unfortunately, he didn’t win, that message wasn’t delivered, and now our liberal option is Hillary Clinton. Whom Sanders has endorsed. Whom he is actively campaigning for. Sanders wants you to vote for Clinton. If you support him, you should really do what he says. Why? Because he’s your guy, and because SUPPORTING CLINTON GIVES HIM POWER. Sanders has carved himself a place at the table. The Democrats have to appeal to his supporters to get power, and that means moving to the left. That means addressing some of his points. That means highlighting the points of his platform Clinton agrees with (like 90% of it anyway). With a Clinton White House and (Gods and Goddesses willing) a Democrat-controlled Congress, that great vision we were all hoping for from Sanders? We might see movement toward that.

But only if Clinton wins in November, and we also vote in a Democratic Congress and Senate. Imagine if the Dems took back the Senate and Sanders leveraged his position and influence to become Majority Leader. Imagine what Clinton and Sanders could accomplish.

3. You Want a Third Party

Some of you reading this, like me, probably want to break the Big Two’s stranglehold on American politics. You might be pissed about having to choose between two candidates you don’t like, and though one is DRAMATICALLY WORSE than the other, you still feel like you have to compromise your principles to do the right thing. But lo and behold, here are two Third Party candidates that most people don’t seem to know about! You could vote for one of them!

Don’t do that. And here’s why.

This isn’t how you get a president in the White House. I mean, yes, running for president is part of it, but you run when you actually have a chance of winning. The Third Party candidates in this election (as in all elections before this) aren’t interested in winning: they’re running to “raise awareness” for their parties, not because they seriously think they have a chance of winning. Because they don’t. We all know they don’t. So what are they doing?

Imagine you want to run a marathon. 26.5 miles is a pretty long distance, even on a bike, and most human beings never run such a long race in one sitting. But those who do tend to be in fairly good shape, train HARD for it, prepare for it, map out the route, etc. They’re prepared. And when they succeed, it’s the culmination of months or years of work.

The Green Party and the Libertarian Party aren’t interested in all that. They’re just flopping off the couch where they’ve been Netflix-and-chilling for six months, stumbling out the door five minutes before the race starts, and expecting to do well. They haven’t put in the work, so of course they aren’t going to do well, let alone win.

If you want to get into the upper echelons of government, you need to start small. Elect city councilors. Sheriffs. Judges. Commissioners. Make yourself a household name. Build trust. Build recognition. Introduce yourself to people so they know you as a concrete entity, rather than a hypothetical group to turn to when they’re angry about some “lesser of two evils” business. Then you run and get elected to state office. Then national office. You keep working until you have 20-25% of the seats in Congress and the Senate and at least 10 governors. Then and only then will you have a reasonable chance of winning the presidency.

But instead, the Third Parties are running Jill Stein and Gary Johnson right now, without that support base. They announced about a month and a half ago, and are angry they’re not being taken seriously as candidates. They’re showboating. Not actually running.

DON’T ENABLE THIS BEHAVIOR. Advocate for a third party built from the ground up, so that it might actually win, rather than help the Donald.

“But won’t Johnson supporters be taking votes away from Trump?” you ask.

Statistics show that the third party candidates are more harmful to Clinton than Trump. The Republicans have always been better at organizing their base, even to vote for people they hate. Just look at the GOP party leaders coming out of the woodwork to endorse Trump. (It’s encouraging that some in the GOP actually speak out against him, but it’s not enough to keep The Donald from devouring their party.) The point is, Trump has the Republican party on lock, generally speaking.

You, however, might be one of those Republicans who wants to stop Trump. You’re not going to do that by voting for Johnson. You’re only going to do that by voting for Clinton.

I’m sorry, I know it sucks. But that’s the only way you can participate in stopping Trump.

And on a related note:

4. You Remember 2000

Now admittedly, it’s debatable whether Nader really made a difference that got Bush elected. (Here’s an article about that.) There was a perfect storm of factors that swept Bush into office: low democrat turn-out, complacency, voter irregularities, Nader taking votes from Gore, the Supreme Court siding against disenfranchised voters, etc., all of which favored the GOP. But what isn’t debatable is that Nader tainted his party with a reputation for aiding Bush in getting elected, ushering in 8 of the worst years our country has had to endure in my lifetime, at least.

And Nader could have had it all. If he had sided with Gore, uniting their causes, and Gore had been elected, Nader could have leveraged his showing in the election into a cabinet position or become a significant advisor in the Gore White House. If he’d acted early enough, he could have been Gore’s VP, and how would that look for the Green Party optics? He’d have ushered in a new era of trust and recognition for his party, and he would have got at least some of the political things he wanted enacted, because the Dems and the Greens are both liberal parties, and they could have compromised.

Instead, he followed his ego, kept pushing for publicity, and we saw the worst, most f***ed up election in my lifetime, got a president who not only eradicated all the things the Green Party supposedly cares about but plunged us into multiple wars that have led to the deaths of thousands upon thousands of people, shattered our economy, and shepherded the rise of terrorism in our modern world.

I don’t think I’m alone in growing up loathing or (at best) distrusting the Green Party. They set back their cause by years if not decades. And Jill Stein stands to do that again. I’m not 100% opposed to her because of her platform (there’s a lot we can agree on, though she might want to reconsider her anti-science stances). It’s because I’ve seen what the Green Party has done to itself and to all of us, and I will not enable or encourage that again.

Stein and Johnson only stand to do damage: to themselves, to their respective parties, and to the country. Voting for them will at best do nothing, at worst get Trump elected, and most likely damage their parties’ prospects in the future. And that’s not what you or I want. (See #3 above.)

Whew, that was negative. More reasons to vote for Clinton!

5. You Are a Principled Person

Now let’s be clear. When I say “principled,” I mean “cares about things like civil rights, the rule of law, the environment, other people, America, etc.” If you have other principles, I’d be curious what they are.

Is honesty your principle? In most analyses (here’s one), Clinton has been the most honest candidate so far in this election. I know, right? Hard to believe, particularly if you listen to the jeers of the GOP. But it’s true. She tends to tell it like it is, whether it’s encouraging or not. And sure, she puts spin on things, but so does every politician in the history of ever. That’s their job. That’s what we pay them to do.

Is progress your principle? Clinton pushed for universal healthcare in the 90s. She followed America’s lead on same-sex marriage and has become one of its biggest advocates. She’s pro-choice. She is to the left of Obama on almost all issues.

Is social justice your principle? I . . . I don’t really have to go into that one, do I? Trump and the GOP are the team that advocates registration for Muslims, who casts black people as insurgents leading to a civil war with police, who make fun of people with disabilities, etc. Clinton, well, doesn’t?

Ugh. I knew I’d have to get to Trump eventually.😦

6. You Like Living in a Democratic Republic

A couple thousand years ago, there was a vast, sprawling country called Rome, which controlled a whole lot of the known world. They had a Senate, elected by the people, which made decisions on behalf of the rest of the country. It wasn’t perfect, obviously. Slavery, imperialism, war, entirely too much bloodshed, etc. But at least it was a country ruled at least ostensibly by its people.

Then a guy named Julius Caesar swept in and took it all over, becoming the Emperor.

I know, I know, we glorify the dude in all sorts of plays and movies and video games, but the truth of the matter is, he was a tyrant strongman who rode a swell of popular opinion to the top, and smashed the Roman Republic. Sure, he maintained a semblance of popular control–the senate still existed–but he was the guy in charge.

In the 1920s, a guy in Germany rose to power in a similar way.

Sound familiar? That’s what Trump wants to do. He has risen through the Republican party and now wants to present himself as the strong savior of America, which is under all sorts of threats from all directions (according to him), and only he has the solutions (what those are, none of us know, but he’s got ’em, he says). He wants to throw his political opponents in prison. He wants to purge the nation of ethnic and religious minorities. He wants to close the borders. He bullies. He blusters. He threatens.

He isn’t protecting our two party system. He wants a ONE party system. His party.

For more on this point, I recommend this piece.

America’s democracy is at stake in this election. The monster the GOP has morphed into needs to be soundly defeated, and its ideals firmly rebuked. Fascism does not wither and die when ignored. It must be completely destroyed, and defeating Trump is the first such blow.

7. You Like Freedom of Choice

Not just birth control and family planning. I’m talking about other medicines. Doctors. Religion. What you wear when you go out. What you say online.

Because Trump and his cronies have questioned all of these things and insists he will overturn and dismantle important pieces of our free expression.

Clinton won’t do that. Heck, why would she?

Also? Trump stands to nominate 4 Supreme Court justices, who will reshape America for generations. Is that really what you want?

8. You Like Having an Economy That Works

Trump likes to talk a big talk about how “you’ll all be rich” or how he’ll fix all our trade issues, but he has no idea how to do it. Not only does he have no real economic policy or demonstrate even the faintest understanding of how the American economy works, he’s also a horrendous business man. He makes his money on fraud and stealing money from people who’ve done work for him, who he just bullies into accepting less than was promised. He’s gone into bankruptcy many many times. He is far worse than even Mitt Romney (a.k.a. Richie Rich).

Meanwhile, Clinton will continue Obama’s economic policies, which have pulled us back up. And on that point….

9. You Like President Obama

Personally, IDGAF Obama (who relentlessly trolls and rebuts GOP talking points these last six months) is my favorite Obama, but generally speaking, he’s been good for stability of our country. He pulled us back from recession. He’s proved remarkably capable at international relations. He hasn’t got a lot accomplished, but then, no other president has ever met such massive, continuous roadblocking from a hostile Congress.

Clinton will continue his policies. She’s a little left of him on almost every issue, in fact. And that centrist attitude will be good for the country.

10. You Like Ken Burns

I had to include this one.🙂

IN CONCLUSION

I get it. You don’t want to vote for Clinton. I’m not a big fan either. I don’t think we’d be friends.

I know some people are–some people love her, and I can see why. Me? She’s not my ideal candidate. I wanted Sanders. But he’s not an option any more.

But the Democrats are still running. They are still our best option for stopping the rise of American fascism.

It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s not about her. It’s not about him.

It’s bigger than that.

It’s bigger than all of us.

So I’m voting for them. I’m voting for her. I’m voting for you. I’m voting for me. I’m voting for ALL OF US.

Your vote is yours. Please use it, and think hard about how you use it.

Cheers

 

Related: Check out John Oliver discussing the RNC:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/07/25/john-oliver-exposes-donald-trump-this-is-a-dictatorship-and-i-m-the-dictator.html

Avengers… Hail Hydra!

So, it’s been about a week since the revelation that Captain America (the honest to goodness, original, Earth-616, Marvel comics Captain America, Sentinel of Liberty and Man Out of Time) is apparently a Hydra agent and has been since the beginning.

Well, balls.

Now, what exactly that comic was telling us or what the implications are, we can’t say for sure. I’m sure Marvel has a plan, and I’m sure they’ll come up with some interesting way to redeem the character. That wasn’t really my issue. if it was, the whole thing would have rolled off my back as easily as any other fleeting change to the status quo (Wolverine’s dead! Peter Parker switched minds with Dr. Octopus! Etc!). This . . . this is something much different.

My evolution on this issue over the past week has involved a great many discussions with friends–be they fellow writers, fans, or otherwise–and a number of articles I’ve read both supporting and condemning the decision. I’ve attached further reading below. Unless I specifically call out someone else, all ideas presented here represent my own thinking on the issue, influenced by those discussions.

And before I go on, let me state something flatly for the record:

THERE IS NO CONCEIVABLE EXCUSE FOR THREATENING OR ABUSING THE CREATORS OF THIS . . . OR ANYONE ELSE, FOR THAT MATTER.

If you’re one of the assholes doing that, knock it off right now. You are worse than Hydra.

Now then. Let’s get into it.

captain20america20hydra

From Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, Copyright (c) Marvel Comics

The Public’s Response

As far as I’ve seen, the response to this twist has been mostly negative from the audience. I haven’t seen a single person excited about the possibility that Captain America might be a racist supervillain, though I’m sure there’s someone out there somewhere who is.

There are plenty of people urging “well, wait and see,” and “you’re being overly emotional about this,” and “it’s just a comic book.” And we’re getting plenty of Gamergate-style trolling from would-be geek cultural gatekeepers. (If that’s you? Knock it off.)

I am particularly sympathetic toward my Jewish friends and others whose families and lives have been directly or indirectly shaped by the Nazis and Neo-Nazis. Nazism wasn’t just some fun comic book pretend villainy–it was a real thing that produced oceans of harassment, assault, abuse, murder, and corpses, and is still around in various states and forms today. It is irresponsible in the extreme to pretend it’s just some plaything to be used to make a story “edgy”–just as reprehensible as the worst exploitation of sexual assault or racism or homophobia in fiction.

Let me say this:

If you don’t think Marvel could create a character as anti-Nazi propaganda 75 years ago, called him CAPTAIN AMERICA, put the Stars and Stripes on his uniform and unbreakable shield–a character who has stood the test of time, starred in multiple TV shows and multiple blockbuster hit movies, and has legions of fans who grew up believing that he (and America) by association stood up for them, and people would NOT be irrevocably emotionally invested in him, then you don’t know shit about people or art.

It is NOT a surprise that there are so many people upset about this horrendous inversion of the character, and to cast aspersions upon what they love and cherish is not only insanely rude, extremely privileged, and incredibly insensitive, but it also fundamentally misunderstands the very concept of art* or why people love it.

(And before you say “but comics aren’t art,” check yourself. Comic writers and artists and fans have been pushing for comics to be taken seriously as art for decades. WATCHMEN and THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS came out thirty years ago. Comics have won Hugo awards. Comics push the limits of storytelling by leaps and bounds, and they are getting better every year. If TV shows or films or paintings or drawings or stories or poetry or photography are art forms, comics are art, because they combine any or all those things.Comics are never more respected or admired as they are today. Comics are art. And you can’t demand comics be taken seriously one day and then pretend “they’re just comics” the next. They’re always art, whether you personally understand them or not.)

Art is *designed* to evoke an emotional reaction as well as an intellectual one. That’s how it works. Pretending that we should or even *can* be strictly intellectual in our discussions of comics in general, let alone something like HydraCap in particular, is intensely dishonest and disingenuous and reeks of the worst kind of snobby elitist privilege.

Maybe you didn’t have an emotional reaction to this. Maybe your family wasn’t persecuted by Nazis. Maybe you don’t live in America. Maybe you weren’t bullied as a child. Maybe you didn’t grow up reading Captain America, or any comics at all. Maybe you never reassured yourself that things would be ok, because heroes could exist in this world. Maybe you did all these things and you STILL didn’t much care about Hydra Cap.

That still doesn’t give you the right or moral high ground to deny other people’s feelings or reactions.

Symbols have power. Captain America is our symbol, and has been for 75 years.

And now not only is it stripped from us–not just taken but suborned into something truly evil–but the rug has been yanked out from under us and that symbol has been something horrifically evil all along? And we have been evil by association for supporting it?

You can bet people are upset.

Nick Spencer’s Commentary

You can read the Spencer interview in the Further Reading links section, below.

I gotta admit, the first time I read Spencer’s interview–where he talks blithely about “feeding” on controversy and being pumped about all the rage, where he wears the badge “most hated man in America” with pride–it made me more upset. Mostly, because I compare how he’s handling this to how I would handle it, as an author who has worked with other long-established intellectual properties (the Forgotten Realms, for instance). I like to think I would never do something like this–never destroy a character hundreds have worked on before me because I thought I could do something clever with the story, never outright insult millions of fans and make thousands of little kids cry and then be not only not apologetic, but actually proud. That seems beyond the pale to me.

Reading his interview again, however, I wonder if that’s really what’s going on. I start to see an author who is a little rocked by the impact of what he’s done, and he’s just trying to roll with it as best he can. Will he be able to salvage it? Perhaps. Will it matter? That remains to be seen.

Marvel Doubles Down

Marvel seems to be 100% behind Spencer and seems pretty confident that not only is this a good idea, but everyone will agree once they see where it’s going.

The logical question there, of course, is whether that’s worth making your shining hero a a member of the closest thing we have to a universally despised group: the Nazis. Which is basically a massive insult not only to entire subgroups of people (the Nazis’ victims and their families) but to everyone who has ever loved or identified with this character.

And yes, as a comics reader I recognize that Hydra and the Nazis are not exactly identical, but it’s either naive or disingenuous to assert that there isn’t SIGNIFICANT cross-over, thematically and in terms of some of Hydra’s most powerful villains (Baron Strucker, Red Skull, Baron Zemo, etc). In the Earth-616 universe, Hydra is basically Marvel’s stand-in for the Nazis. They were initially that, they are still that. And the significantly more popular MCU makes almost zero distinction.

Really? You’re going to tell me that “Heil Hitler” and “Hail Hydra”–whilst raising your right hand in a salute–aren’t related?

Nazis and Hydra: thematically occupying the same place, alike in all the ways that matter.

(More about this in the Further Reading links.)

And anyway, even if one was to grant that “well, Captain America isn’t a Nazi, exactly . . .” that boils down to “he’s not exactly the worst villain ever–just close to it” which earns, what, exactly?

Captain America is a supervillain, and has been since the beginning–a member of an organization dedicated to world domination and stomping out all who oppose it. The exact opposite of everything the character is supposed to stand for.

Maybe my problem with this is that it hits too close to home.

The Cancer of the American Dream

So here’s the thing. Here in America we live in an increasingly divided country–politically, culturally, philosophically, etc. The state of our discourse grows worse by the day, and what might have been a peaceful, civil discussion as little as a year ago is much more likely to turn into a heated argument where aspersions of an opponent’s character are casually thrown around, and even threats of violence (particularly if your opponent happens to be a woman, a person of color, LGBTQ, etc.). We’ve lost the art of discussion through the rancorous noise that surrounds it, and we start looking at every counterpoint as a personal attack.

This is harmful to our society, our governmental structure, and our way of life.

In a way, we live in a country that is built on hate.

Captain America is a symbol that we can all share. He’s good. He’s decent. He’s strong. He’s sensitive. He cares about people. He’s moral. He’s ethical. He cares enough about freedom and doing what’s right to stand up to his friends and superiors even when the whole world tells him to move.

He is, in a sense, how we Americans like to see ourselves–the shining hero in the shining city on the hill, keeping the rest of the world safe.

And he’s a villain. Not only that, he has been a villain all this time. And not just a villain, but one of the worst villains imaginable: a double agent for the Nazis, who are the closest we come in today’s society to a universally reviled group.

Because America . . . we are not the shining beacon to the world that we like to think we are. We murder thousands of innocent people in foreign wars drummed up to further our financial and imperial interests. We shovel money at an elite upper class and continually swallow their lies about personal responsibility. We normalize rape culture and seek to oppress the rights of people of different sexualities, genders, or even just appearance that’s outside our strict heteronormative norm. We tolerate a police force that brutalizes, incarcerates, or murders black people at astronomically higher rates than white people. We send thousands of our own men and women to die overseas, and don’t bother caring for those who come back. We enslaved a whole group of people for centuries and continue to exploit poor people and immigrants. And maybe worst of all, America is built upon the shallow graves of millions of people who were here before us, who we casually trampled over because they were in the way.

And this year, a substantial minority of us supports a presidential candidate that wants to blame our cultural and economic problems on an entire ethnic group–who openly supports camps and denied immigration and in all the ways that matter parallels the rise to power of Nazism in 1920s Germany.

Hydra is the gross, rotting, noxious underbelly of America, and what Marvel has done with this revelation about Captain America is knock America over and bring the cancer into the light.

I don’t call things “cancer” lightly. I’ve had many friends and family members succumb to cancer over the years, and I am a cancer survivor myself. I know how insidious and awful it is. How you can go day by day, not knowing it’s there, explaining away the symptoms as something else–a flash in the pan, someone else’s problem, consequence of something you ate or too much to drink or too little water or whatever. And all the while it is eating you, growing worse and more damaging and more toxic until finally you can’t ignore it any more, and by then it’s too late.

(Christ. Maybe Mark Millar was right to make Ultimate Cap such an asshole.)

Captain America is a symbol of our patriotism–our nationalism–and some of that is bullshit. “Our Country, Right or Wrong” leads to a lot of wrong. We might do some things right, but we do a lot of things wrong. We’re not just kinda evil, racist, and misogynist–we’re a LOT those things. It’s a problem.

And the first step in solving a problem? Admitting that it’s there.

Maybe that’s what Marvel has done. Maybe they are making a bold statement in an election year when one party is running a fascist who wants to round up an entire ethnic group he blames for the problems in his country. (Instead of Hail Hydra, Cap could easily have said “Trump 2016.”) Marvel is trying to point out the problem–make us stop pretending its not there and rise up to do something about it.

Maybe Marvel isn’t the enemy.

Maybe we are the enemy.

What are you going to do about it?

In Conclusion

Ultimately, you should make up your own mind about this, as you should with any piece of art. Art is supposed to challenge us, to make us uncomfortable, to force us out of ourselves and explore possibilities. This could be a brilliant commentary on the state of our nation and politics. It could be a performance piece about outrage culture. It could be a blistering mistake that brings down the character and profoundly taints Spencer’s career. All of these things could be true, and they could all be true at the same time.

If you’re upset about Hydra Cap, I’m sorry on behalf of the universe for what you’re going through. Gods and Goddesses know Marvel isn’t going to apologize, and neither is Nick Spencer. I don’t think you were the target of this, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t hit you. Maybe this conversation will prove useful and we can start addressing some of the very real ways in which we in America are Hydra.

If you’re not upset about Hydra Cap, well, I’m jealous. I wish I could let this just roll off me and come out the other side unaffected. Please try to have some patience for those who ARE upset, and don’t be dicks about how it’s just a comic. Maybe take a look at yourselves, too. Because if we’re Hydra, then you certainly are too.

And anyone who is harassing, abusing, or threatening any creators involved in this, or doing anything typically moronic and sociopathic (rape threats, badgering on social media, calling people SJWs, etc), knock if right the fuck off. You’re being worse than Hydra, all right? You’re being A.I.M. right now, and no one wants to be those assholes. Be a little better, for the Watcher’s sake.

As for me, I don’t really know what to think about the comic. It’s going to take me a long time to figure out what to do from here–whether I’m going to read it or not. I may never read a Marvel comic again. I’m certainly going to be depressed for a while. (As someone who struggles with chronic depression, I don’t use that term lightly either.)

Time will tell.

Happy reading and writing, all.

Cheers,
Erik

Captain Hydra

OMG STEVE WHY. (Credit unknown)

FURTHER READING: 

The basics of HydraCap: http://www.dailydot.com/geek/captain-america-comic-steve-rogers-hydra-twist/

Nick Spencer on turning Cap “green”: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/05/25/captain-america-writer-nick-spencer-why-i-turned-steve-rogers-into-a-supervillain.html

Marvel people talk about HydraCap: http://moviepilot.com/posts/3941853

On Whether Hydra are Nazis (spoiler alert: they are): https://shoshanakessock.com/2016/05/29/yes-hydra-were-nazis-and-no-i-will-not-forget-it/

On whether HydraCap is antisemitic: http://panels.net/2016/05/26/on-steve-rogers-1-antisemitism-and-publicity-stunts/

On fan entitlement: http://birthmoviesdeath.com/2016/05/30/fandom-is-broken

On false equivalences (partly a rebuttal of the previous piece): http://bibliodaze.com/2016/05/from-hydra-to-ghostbusters-the-false-equivalences-of-fan-culture/

 

Why be Inclusive in Games?

I often hear the argument (as came up with the recent rigamarole over the inclusion of a trans character in Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear) that trans characters don’t belong in video games unless there’s a particular *reason* for them. Otherwise it feels “forced” or “breaks the immersion” or “insert excuse here.”

Now, aside from the obvious:

1) Not everything in a video game has to be for you–sometimes it’s for other people, and

2) You’re ok with elves, dwarves, dragons, boob plate, and fireballs, but not trans people? WTF? . . .

There IS a reason to put transgender characters in a game: namely, to be inclusive to trans members of the audience.

And maybe (just maybe!) it’ll teach something to those of us who aren’t trans: specifically, that it’s ok to have trans people in the game.

Not sure you buy it? Here’s an analogy:

Say all the games you had ever played starred lesbian Asian women. * And not just games, but movies, books, TV shows, etc.

All their major supporting characters were also lesbian Asian women.

Occasionally you’d see an Asian man, but mostly only in a minor role and then his stories were often caricatures of what it’s like to be manly. They all pretty much focus on one thing men do, say, play basketball. Pretty much all male characters you see play basketball, and no acts like that’s weird.

Occasionally you see white people too, but again, their stories are very one-note and all about one particular thing white people do–say, listen to Walkmans. Every white person (male or female) has headphones for an outdated music technology around their neck at all times.

You basically never see straight characters, and when you do, they’re always shouting about being straight and generally making fools of themselves.

And what you basically never EVER see is a straight white male. In fact, people in your games and movies are always talking about how gross straight white males are–constantly demeaning them, taunting others by calling them straight white males, and even threatening to murder them for being not lesbian Asian women. And those times a game or film tries to be “edgy” by starring a straight white male character? They cast a lesbian Asian woman in the role.

Meanwhile, the lesbian female Asian characters are varied. Some are super strong and tough, some are super smart and witty, some are malevolent and unpredictable. They have nuance. They have depth. They explore the corners of human nature.

Everyone else? They’re pretty one note. They show that the writers didn’t even try to be sensitive to their cultures, but just went with stereotypes. Because that was easier.

Your characters in Baldur’s Gate? 90% lesbian Asian women, a couple black people (one male, one female) and a gay white dude. No straight white males. Because why would the game include straight white males? They have to be in there for a REASON, right?

Now say a Baldur’s Gate expansion comes along where LO-and-BEHOLD, there’s a straight white dude. He’s not obviously a straight white dude–you only realize he’s straight if you go into his dialogue tree–but he’s there. Living his life. Being who he is.

Finally, a character who looks like you. You, who haven’t had any characters who look like you in a D&D game before, and few anywhere at all.

Haven’t you earned that, at last? You, who’ve been playing these games loyally for years. Wouldn’t it be meaningful to you to see the designers and developers FINALLY try to include you in a meaningful way? To acknowledge you and your way of life–to embrace you as a worthwhile part of the audience?

That’s the reason to include trans characters. Because trans people play the game, and it’s not fair that you and I get to be the vast majority of the heroes and NPCs and villains, and they get no one.

Particularly when we’re talking about the Realms is a big sandbox. It’s big enough for everyone. We can share it.

* Note that I have absolutely nothing against lesbian Asian women. That was just the analogy I picked. It could be orcs, it could be dwarves, whatever.