Heroine Complex, Fun Superhero Romp

The comic book genre floods the movie market and, I assume, has prompted an increased  interest into the often-underrated comic books as a media. Certainly, graphic novels have grown in popularity. Many of these stories deal with the angst and uncommon lifestyle of the super hero. Yet other than the cute movie, Sky High, very few deal with the life of the sidekick or support team. After all, much of the work, or at least rebuilding and redecorating, falls on someone else after the hero has kicked some ass and taken his/her bows. 

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn focuses on the San Francisco superhero Aveda Jupiter as seen through the eyes of her personal assistant, Evie Tanaka. The book starts with a hilarious scene of Jupiter handling a case of teeth-gnashing demonic cupcakes while Evie and her crew are attempting to film the event for social media. However, publicity is only one part of Evie’s job, along with cleaning up demon blood out of the heroine’s clothes and controlling Jupiter’s tantrums when the world doesn’t seem to love her enough.

Things become more complicated when Jupiter becomes too injured during training to keep up with the demon fighting and classy social events. Using a little magic help from her high school buddies, Evie Tanaka does what any good sidekick would do. She disguises herself as Jupiter and fills in at the social events. Unfortunately, the same events begin to turn into demon fighting, much to Tanaka’s fear and dismay. Whereas Jupiter comes with a superhero ego, martial arts, and flashy quotes, Tanaka is much shyer, keeping rigid control on her emotions to hide her own secret power, creating fire out of emotional overload. Of course, the stress of being a substitute flamboyant Jupiter blows her careful façade apart and the flames start to burn as the demon menace takes on more serious and less sugary forms.

The comic book story is a feminist homage to best-girlfriends-forever thinking. For example, while bedridden with a sprained ankle, Aveda Jupiter obsesses over what the media thinks of her and Evie’s (as her) actions, driving the entire crew crazy with her whines and attitudes. It is also a light commentary on blog bullying since the antagonist of the story is the blog queen of the city who uses fake-friendship quips and nasty personal comments to basically turn popularity away from the superhero.

The moral of Heroine Complex falls along the lines of “to thine own self be true.” At the beginning, Evie fears and hides not only her conflicted emotions of being a sidekick for Jupiter and substitute parent for her sister, but also her own true nature. She fears her fiery power both from its destructive nature and how it will push her into the limelight, possibly at odds with her best friend. In order to save the day, she must learn to regulate her emotions, accept her true feelings, and find her own way in the world by letting go of issues as much as accepting them. This is a tall order for Evie Tanaka, who has always put others before herself.

Sarah Kuhn’s book is well written and amusing throughout. Tanaka is likable enough for the reader to root for her even when she seems to be obtuse about factors in her own life and her own personality quirks. In the end, saving the day becomes a team effort as she accepts her own superhero ability and creates a persona that is much more comfortable for her rather than trying to mimic others. The only downside, in my personal opinion, was the foul language threaded through the book. The conversations sounded real and contemporary, which I suppose does include a lot of F-bombs, but as an older person I found them unnecessary.

All in all, I would highly recommend this quick, enjoyable urban fantasy, particularly for anyone looking for a new view of the comic book genre. The heroines are not too Superman-powerful and come with a lot of heart and human worries, all the while looking great in spiked heels and spandex.

Kuhn, Sarah Heroine Complex. Daw Books, Inc. 2016.

Annihilation: A Confusing Alien Adventure

I love complex, character-driven movies as long as I understand the plot. Annihilation is a multi-layered but plot-hole filled mess that leaves audiences wondering what the heck happened.

This alien movie opens with an object hurling through space and colliding with a lighthouse on an empty beach. It then jumps in time to Lena, played by Natalie Portman, teaching biology, specifically cell growth, in a fancy classroom, which sets the theme of the film in biology. This main character still deeply mourns the loss of her military husband a year after he has disappeared. Then suddenly Kane who is played by Oscar Isaac of Ex Machina fame, suddenly shows up at the house as an unemotional shadow of himself. He gets ill and both he and Portman are whisked away to a top-secret facility.Annihilation

Once there, Lena learns that Kane is the only survivor from multiple expedition groups who entered the Shimmer, a visual border of alien reality that encompasses miles around the punctured lighthouse. The Shimmer is growing and yet no one knows why or what it is. They look to Kane for answers but he is now in a coma. Since she is ex-military and a biology expert, Lena offers to go with an all-women crew to investigate the Shimmer in order to find some clues on how to cure her husband. Eventually, the audience learns that the tale is being told in retrospect by Lena, the only survivor, who is being held by the same biohazard-clad scientists that snatched her husband. At this point, the movie seems to turn into a love-conquers-all theme but it later fails that premise.

Once they get inside the barrier, things get beautiful and weird. They quickly lose time, compasses are useless, everything is Earth-like but changing, and the individuals’ mental stability begins to crumble. They are attacked at several points by oddly mutated creatures, and the film now turns into a survival flick as only Lena finishes the goal of reaching the site of impact and discovering the secret of the Shimmer… sort of.

Throughout all this, the audience learns that Lena, who is driven to find to cure her husband, has repeatedly cheated on him in the past. This definitely kills the love-conquers-all vibe. At one point, one of the character says they all have self-destructive natures. Infidelity is Lena’s sin and it makes the character unlikable.

The movie focuses on cellular mutation. The DNA of plants intertwine with animals and new species rise out of the still living bodies of the people. The movie explains this as the Shimmer is a prism and everything is reflected back, including DNA. The error in that idea is that foreign DNA would not get into body cells and morph an already living animal unless it does so like a virus causing a cancer. True DNA modification of a whole body must take place before conception. Therefore, humans would not turn into plants as shown by the movie. The ending just heightens the confusion about what exactly is going on.

Annihilation tries to work with the concepts of DNA and cell growth in the same way Interstellar was all about the laws of relativity and time. Although Interstellar was a think-piece that not everyone could get, it at least had a clear, science-based plot. Arrival too was another complex movie that was quite confusing at first but finally led the viewer through the logic of language translation and alien contact to a clear ending. The confusion never cleared with Annihilation.

Other plot holes make the audience wonder questions like, why an all-woman team? Why are all these women basically throw away characters in that none of them are true experts, except maybe Lena and the psychiatrist-leader, Dr. Ventress, played coldly by Jennifer Jason Leigh. If the government has sent multiple groups in before and no one came out, why continue throwing in more people? Some scenes were a bit gory, definitely implying that the alien intrusion was not friendly, but the audience gets no indication on whether the Shimmer was intentional or purely an act of bad luck with a contaminated meteorite.

In the end, Annihilation simply was not enjoyable. Even thinking about the plot and trying to put science into did not help. We never get a chance to like the characters and therefore don’t care that much when they die. By the end, I walked away feeling like I had just wasted two hours. It didn’t crash and burn as bad as Life did, but this science think piece certainly is not worth the theater time.