Monday, October 29, 2012

Final Girl, Redux

I talked about this last year, but I love Halloween. I love being frightened, I love being pushed right to my edge, and I love reading about characters who hit their edges and find ways to vault above and become heroes. (I write about people with superpowers. Come on, you're damned right that I have a hero/heroine fetish.) I also believe that fiction reflects and informs life. Horror flicks don't work unless they hit us right in our guts. Big bug movies in the fifties talked about atomic fears, the wave of possessed/scary children movies in the seventies talked about counter-culture, and the slasher films of the eighties talked about sex. (Bay-bee, talked about you-and-me…I'm sorry, I'll stop now.) Given how recently feminism had emerged as a force to be reckoned with, you would think that demonic women vanquished by tough, manly men would emerge as a major trope in these movies, but that's not how it shook out. Demonic forces arose, all right, and only one person could stop them.

And the answer was a girl. It's probably no small mistake that slasher films were aimed at teenagers, they of the shiny-new freedom and disposable incomes. It would have been easy to go for the lowest common denominator and make the boys the stars of the show, since girls will usually consume media about boys while boys are much more hesitant to be associated with anything that could be construed as "girly", but they didn't. Slasher films decided to depict girls being strong, smart, proactive badasses, which is a big part of why I love the genre so very hard.

But enough love songs to horror, or we'll be here all day. I have a deep fondness for Final Girls, which undoubtedly informs everything I write even though I don't dip my toe into straight horror all that often. As I said last Halloween, Sidney Prescott is still the Final Girl to end all Final Girls for me. That doesn't mean that the genre doesn't have plenty of other awesome female characters to offer, though, most notably one Nancy of Nightmare on Elm Street fame. This movie's as old as I am, but I never get tired of watching it. Nancy's smart, tough, and doesn't even think about backing down in the face of evil. She's also, it has to be said, kind of a bitch, but by the end of the movie she's pretty sleep-deprived, and what can I say? I've always had a soft spot for the cranky ones.

Halloween's only a few days away. Who's your favorite Final Girl?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

REVIEW: Karma Girl by Jennifer Estep

Description: Investigative reporter Carmen Cole gets the surprise of her life on her wedding day when she discovers that her fiance and best friend are sleeping together – and that the two of them are her town's resident superhero and ubervillain. Shocked and hurt, Carmen reveals their secret identities and then decides to devote her life to unmasking every superhero and ubervillain who crosses her path.
A series of successful unmaskings lands Carmen a job at The Expose, one of the biggest newspapers in Bigtime, New York, a city that's full of superheroes and ubervillains. Carmen is in her element – until she gets kidnapped by the Terrible Triad, Bigtime’s most dangerous ubervillain team.
The Triad orders Carmen to uncover the secret identity of Striker, the leader of the Fearless Five, Bigtime's most popular superhero team – or else they’ll drop her in a vat of radioactive goo. With that threat hanging over her, Carmen sets out to unmask Striker, but what she doesn’t count on is falling for the sexy superhero. But with the Terrible Triad lurking around, this is one story that just might be the death of her ...
My Thoughts: For the first half to two-thirds of this book, I was ranking it as a solid five. There's enough plot in the first third alone to satisfy an entire book, and Estep is not afraid to let her heroine Carmen screw up hard and face the guilty conscience that comes with it. Carmen is tough, smart, and flawed in ways that are understandable and sympathetic even as you're screaming at her to knock it off before she ruins someone's life. The will-they-won't-they between Carmen and Striker is based upon actual conflicts of personality and philosophy, not authorial fiat.
If this book does one thing to knock it down to four stars by the end, it's that Estep can't quite seem to make up her mind when it comes to how she wants to approach her superhero world. You can play it arch, or you can play it straight. Trying to do both makes Estep seem at points as though she's laughing at her audience rather than with them. There are also several moments when female rivals of Carmen's are disparaged in especially gendered ways, which always makes me twitch. If you're a fan of both paranormal romance and comic books/superheroes, however, give this book a chance. I think you'll enjoy it.