"Captain's Log" hiatus

As those of you who follow it may have noticed, I’ve been struggling more and more to maintain e-n-morwen.tumblr.com, to the point that we have now finally reached the point where there have been NO updates since last Thursday.
My current plan is to try to get the remainder of the current storyline written up, at which point I have a bunch of log entries I can copypasta in based on actually playing STO (hey, remember when the blog was about that?). And then I’m probably going to start only updating when the game has new content.

Panel Video: Fullmetal Alchemy at Anime Boston 2016

A panel I gave at Anime Boston 2016, talking about the real-world alchemical tradition and how Fullmetal Alchemist references and builds on it.
Early access to all videos for Patreon subscribers: http://patreon.com/froborr

Maybe she's not so far off (Harley and Ivy)

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo
It’s January 18, 1993. The top movie and song don’t change between here and “The Mechanic” six days later, so see that post for chart info. In the news, yesterday marked the end of the Braer Storm, the most powerful extratropical cyclone ever in the North Atlantic. Tomorrow will see the signing of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which as the name implies bans the use and stockpiling of chemical weapons. It will also see IBM post a nearly $5 billion loss for 1992, the largest single-year loss in U.S. history. These facts are probably unrelated.

In Batman the Animated Series, we have the much-beloved “Harley and Ivy,” which focuses on the two titular villains, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, as they form the first true team-up in the DCAU. It opens with a demonstration that despite both being distinct characters that work together, Harley and the Joker are very much not a team; she is clearly subordinate, as he makes demands, gives orders, then blames her when his orders have bad results.

But once Harley teams up with Ivy, she shines. This is very much a sympathetic villain story (for Harley more than Ivy), albeit rather different than most since it doesn’t try to make Harley sympathetic by showing where she came from, but rather where she is. Being the Joker’s sidekick/girlfriend isn’t a great place to be, not least because he merges those categories. Their relationship is just another of those power structures that the Joker ostensibly seeks to destabilize, but, as in “Joker’s Favor,” he’s completely fine with it when it’s his power.

Harley isn’t. Harley’s relationship with Ivy is much more of a partnership. We see when they meet that Harley is clever, resourceful, and a much better thief than Ivy, who needs Harley’s help to escape; on the other hand, Ivy has powers, a cause, and most importantly offers Harley unwavering emotional support. There’s no formal confirmation in the show (of course–this is an American cartoon in 1993, after all) that they are anything other than friends, but frankly it’s pretty straightforwardly obvious that they’re lovers, or at least–and this much is visible on screen–the sort of friends who go around with no pants on.

They’re pretty much a perfect match. We see how fantastically successful they are together in a classic spinning-newspaper montage, not to mention such gems as their high fives after successful heists and Harley shooting a rocket at catcallers. They both smile far more in this episode than we’ve ever seen them smile before.

But the Joker has warped Harley badly. That much is obvious from the scene where Harley calls him, not just in the fact that she does call him, but in her visible terror that Ivy will find out. Harley expects to be punished when she does something her partner doesn’t want, and doesn’t understand that Ivy almost certainly would have no worse than maybe some harsh words–and even those would be rooted in Ivy’s recognition that the Joker is bad for Harley.

Mixed in with all this, of course, is Ivy’s particular brand of feminism, which is very binary. She seems to believe that hurting men is the same thing as helping women–her first suggestion to help Harley get over the Joker is to rob a men’s only “adventurer’s club.” Which, to be fair, is obviously a sexist institution and could probably do with a good public shaming, but it’s still hard to see how exactly that’s supposed to help Harley.

Still, Ivy’s conviction of feminine superiority does get some delightful payoff when, five seconds after her declaration “no man can catch us,” Renee Montoya pulls an Eowyn and arrests Harley and Ivy both. Frankly, this episode didn’t need Batman after the initial chase; it would have worked just fine with Ivy, Joker, and Renee Montoya as the three forces competing for possession of Harley.

Because that’s what’s happening here. Montoya and Batman represent, as always, law, order, the traditional structures of power. Montoya is an example of someone who is at a disadvantage within those structures (triply so: she is Hispanic, a woman, and, as revealed a decade later in the Gotham Central comics, a lesbian) but who nonetheless achieves some measure of success by working within the system as one of its defenders. Batman, meanwhile, is someone who (like Harley) stands outside the system and violates its rules, but works to support rather than undermine the structures of power, and enjoys a position of great power within those structures. Like Batman, the Joker represents the same thing he always does: anarchy, the destruction of all power structures purely for the sake of eliminating those structures.

And all three reveal the hypocrisy in their positions. Montoya defends the same society which marginalizes people like her. Batman is, as we’ve observed before, as much of a criminal as the criminals he fights. The Joker seeks to destroy power, but that in itself is a violent act that requires immense power, and as he shows in his relationship with Harley it’s really the power he craves–he wants not to eliminate all structures of power, but to replace them with a simple structure that has him on top and everyone else below.

Only Poison Ivy is sincere and straightforward about her goals. She likes plants, hates men, and wants to upend the structures of power so that the natural environment is valued over convenience and corporate success, and women over men. Most importantly, she’s the only one who doesn’t want to control or change Harley, she just wants her to be free, healthy, and happy.

But this love story is doomed. The forces within Gotham, represented by Montoya and the Joker, are powerful enough; even stronger are the forces without, the systemic homophobia which says that an American children’s cartoon cannot show a lesbian relationship. (Even after 22 years of arguably pretty significant progress, that bias is only starting to crack; The Legend of Korra and especially Steven Universe are pretty clear about the orientations of their characters, but even then they build in a veneer of deniability.) Harley must return to the Joker by the end of the episode, though this will hardly be the last time Harley and Ivy team up.

After all, they got closer to killing Batman than anyone else to date. They dumped him in a lake full of toxic waste, in which he opened his mouth; the fact that he’s not dead by the next episode is a testament to the fantastic medical technology available to one of the richest men in the world. Lesson learned: teams work.

Which means Batman needs an equal. Not a Robin he trained himself, a sidekick, but a counterpart, someone who can do what he does on their own but also work together with him if needed. Someone smart, dedicated, frustrated with the way Gotham works but nonetheless devoted to defending it. Someone he can trust.

It’s time for the return of Barbara Gordon.

Current status of the Patreon:

MLPFIM S6E3 and 4 Liveblog Chat Thingy!

How to participate in the liveblog chat:  Option 1: Whenever you watch the episode, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting! Option 2: Go to http://webchat.freenode.net/. Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We’ll be watching two episodes of MLP there starting at 2:00 p.m. EST.

After the chat, I will update this post with the log.
ETA: Chatlog below the cut!
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Captain's Log, Weekly Digest 69

A summary of the past week of posts to my in-character Star Trek Online Tumblr, chronicling the adventures of E.N. Morwen, a science-loving and thoughtful young woman trapped in a galaxy of warring space giants.

  • Behemoth: Morwen leads a search team for Ensign Regina Bartholomew-Moriarty and Commander Saga, who vanished while surveying the forest.
  • Life Cycle: A curious discovery leads to the solution of more than one mystery.

As the flag officer of a fleet or tactical group, Starfleet regulations also require Morwen to provide a Fleet Status Report briefly summarizing the current status and mission of all ships under her command, every Stardate that’s a multiple of 10.

Vlog Review: Sym-Bionic Titan Episode 1

Commissioned video for Shane via my Patreon! Backers can see these videos (including Star vs. Evil, commissioned episodes of other series, and panels I presented at various cons) 4-5 weeks early AND Near-Apocalypse articles four MONTHS early!
Those of you who follow on Tumblr, for whatever reason the videos don’t play there. Click through to JedABlue.com to watch.

Heard you lost the car (The Mechanic)

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo
It’s January 24, 1993. The top song is Whitney Houston with, you guessed it, “I Will Always Love You” from The Bodyguard, which is at number eight in the box office charts; Aladdin is number one. The number two song is Shai’s “If I Ever Fall in Love,” and the number two movie is A Few Good Men.
In the news, Bill Clinton was inaugurated as President of the U.S. four days ago. Tomorrow, Space Station Mir will host the first ever art exhibit in space. And on the 25th, playwright-turned-politician Vaclav Havel, who as President of Czechoslovakia oversaw its dissolution in the Velvet Divorce, will be elected President of the new Czech Republic.
In Batman: The Animated Series we have “The Mechanic,” the sole appearance of Earl Cooper, designer and maintainer of the Batmobile. It’s an odd story; most of it involves a reiteration of a scheme the Penguin carried out in Batman Returns, namely planting a device in the Batmobile that allows him to control it, and then attempting to drive Batman to his doom. (The giant yellow ducky boat from that film also makes an appearance.)
Much of the rest of the episode is occupied by a flashback, narrated by Cooper, in which he recounts the origin of the Batmobile. It’s a puzzling thing to spend time on; was this something people were curious about, or a story the writers felt strongly had to be told? It’s not as if there’s an origin story for Batman’s grappling gun or batarangs; why for the Batmobile? It’s possible that it’s intended to make the show more toyetic—an industry term for television that showcases toys for the young viewers to badger their parents into buying—but unlikely, as there is little evidence elsewhere in BTAS of writing decisions influenced by the desire to sell toys.
It’s not a bad little story by any means, illustrating a side of Batman that we haven’t seen in some time, namely the way he remembers the innocent people he encounters in the course of his adventures, and provides them jobs if needed. Plus we get to see the car he drove before the current Batmobile: the Batmobile from the comics of the 1940s, because of course it is.
In a way, Cooper serves the same role as Zatanna, Leslie Thompkins, or Matt Thorne, someone who can serve as a gateway to Batman’s past. In that sense, this episode is the conclusion of a trilogy that began with “Paging the Crime Doctor” and continued with “Zatanna,” in which the introduction of new characters opens a way for the audience to learn more about Batman and his family through flashbacks, with those flashbacks taking up a more prominent place in each consecutive episode: off-screen and after the ending of “Paging the Crime Doctor,” brief but illustrative in “Zatanna,” and a major focus of the episode here in “The Mechanic.”
But at the same time, the flashback in this episode tells us almost nothing about Batman, except something we already knew, that he is prone to making job offers to innocent people hurt by the schemes of his villains. But it tells us more about Cooper: that he’s a whistleblower, someone who won’t stand idly by while the organization he works for endangers lives. For which, of course, he ends up destitute, punished for challenging the structures of power around him.
Batman rescues him, of course, but in a curious way, which as mentioned he’s done before: he gives Cooper a job. That is, he rescues Cooper, but only if Cooper does something for him in return. Then, in this episode, he rescues Cooper again, from the danger working for Batman put him in.
On the other hand (or perhaps flipper) we have the Penguin, who as we have seen before is a brutish thug that puts on aristocratic airs. His minions (who have the delightful names, never stated in the episode but given in the credits, of Eagleton, Sheldrake, and Falcone; one wonders how Sheldrake feels about being a duck caught between two birds of prey) bow and scrape in terror of his ever-present threat of violence, but play along as best they can with his pretense of gentility, because that is the world within which they live: they can be subject to the Penguin, and hence live under threat of his violence and Batman’s, or they can be like Cooper, and still under threat of violence from Penguin and those like him. Cooper’s only protection is to be rescued by Batman, and in exchange for that protection and a small fraction of Batman’s vast wealth, he serves loyally. Just as Penguin’s minions serve him.
What this episode shows, in short, is a skirmish between two neighboring feudal realms. Batman is Cooper’s liege-lord, who in exchange for his loyalty and service provides protection from bandits and rival lords, and the Penguin has the same relationship with his trio of minions. Admittedly, Batman is a rather better lord to serve than Penguin, if only because he doesn’t pose a constant threat of physical harm to his minions, but it’s still service.
Such is the nature of Gotham (which, as we have observed elsewhere, is the world). There are structures of power, and those structures are made of people. To stand at the top is to stand on the people below. Some, like the Waynes, try to be polite about it, to offer kind words to the people holding them up, while others, like Thorne or Penguin, like to kick, but in the end they’re all still people who step on other people. No matter how nice Batman is to Cooper or how appreciative Cooper is, the arrangement is still the same: serve or starve. Be a good employee or the wolves will get you—or eagles, falcons, a penguin, and a duck in this case.
Small wonder Batman turns so readily to violence as a remedy for Gotham’s many ills: his very existence, his role in society, is itself steeped in violence.
But what alternative is there? Even the powerful cannot accomplish much alone; isn’t it therefore necessary for them to dominate the less powerful, so that the combined power of all can be channeled toward the powerful’s goals? Even the Joker relies on minions as often as not! Even Robin is just a sidekick, not a partner.
But that word answers our question. The alternative to dominance is cooperation. The alternative to leadership is collaboration. The alternative to hierarchy?
Is a team.
And because that’s a massive change that fundamentally challenges the structures of power, it’ll be the villains that do it first.

Current status of the Patreon:

MLPFIM S6E1 and 2 Liveblog Chat Thingy!

How to participate in the liveblog chat:  Option 1: Whenever you watch the episode, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting! Option 2: Go to http://webchat.freenode.net/. Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! Since the premiere is a two-parter, we’ll be watching two episodes of MLP there starting at 1:00 p.m. EST.

Next week we’ll do another two to finish catching up on MLP, and after that we’ll do one ep of MLP and one of Psycho-Pass.
After the chat, I will update this post with the log.
ETA: Chatlog below the cut!
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