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Saturday, October 3, 2015

RJ Sullivan's Top Ten Butt Kicking Females (the first five)

 The Top Ten Strong Women Fictional Characters that Influenced RJ (Part 1, 1-5)

Welcome to the Darkness with a Chance of Whimsy blog tour, the Azure Dwarf installment. He asked for a top ten list of strong women, and I decided to list the top ten women characters that made the greatest personal impact on me. That means that, yes, Sarah Conner is certainly worthy, as is Ripley from the Alien series, and even Princess Leia, but none of them made as much of an impact on me, personally, or helped shaped my writing, personally, as the ten listed here. I’ll also do my best to list them as I experienced them in more-or-less chronological order, and discuss what it was like being introduced to these characters when I did may have affected my writing. Who knows, this is all 20/20 hindsight, anyway, so let’s just have fun.

1. Jamie Summers, AKA The Bionic Woman. While growing up, the Six Million Dollar Man was the hot show, and state of the art for super-heroics on series TV at the time. Season two capped with an epic two parter in which my hero Steve Austin asked his sweetheart and touring tennis star Jamie Summers to marry him. I was hooked. Before Romeo and Juliet, this show introduced me to the tragic love story. And what was not to love? (okay, the terrible country music song by Lee Majors, but other than that...) Lindsey Wagoner gave a fully invested performance that made me believe. I watched, sniffly and red-eyed as her newly acquired bionics caused a fatal aneurism and the story ended. Though written as a one-off guest appearance, fans would not have it, and so Jamie was given a retcon resuscitation in the season three opener and the eventual conceit (though as a kid I bought into it fully) of her memory loss that meant they may never be together, which set up her own series. I watched both shows faithfully. I could still see Steve every week and at the same time, watch a woman with similar powers risk her life on similar death-defying missions (did you know Wagoner won an Emmy Award for an “Evil Twin” two-parter? It’s true! Dumb premise sold by a committed performance). For the most part, the writers were careful to have her superiors treat her with the same respect as they did her male counter-part (this was the 70s!). They valued her input and  treated her as part of their team in an un-condescending manner. The show made me more cognizant of times when I see this not happening in real life. So it was a great show to grow up to...then along came the bionic dog and robotic alien Bigfoot when it all went to hell, but moving on....

2. Trisha “Trillian” Macmillain (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) Trillian plays a small but important role in the seminal SF Spoof of three decades. She is the only woman on the Heart of Gold, amongst three men and a paranoid (projecting a male gender) android. One man is literally the president of the galaxy, with an ego to match, who treats everyone around him with utter contempt...with the exception of Trillian. She is the only one besides himself he allows to take control of the ship. She’s the only one who understands the Improbability Drive, and whenever she speaks she proves beyond a doubt that she is the smartest one in the room. I remember reading the book in high school and being intrigued by Trillian. Because of what she doesn’t do and how attention is not drawn to her, I paid special attention to everything she did.

3. Rogue (X-Men) The X-Men lineup has no shortage of kickass female characters, from Storm to Jean Gray, you’ll find plenty to strong women to go around. But Rogue’s vulnerability is what draws me to her. In her comic book origin, she had permanently absorbed the powers of one of the Marvel Universe’s strongest superheroes. She can fly, she can bash through buildings with the best of them. She is, on the surface, a wisecracking fun-loving teenager (with a fun Mississippian accent to add to the charm, Sugah!) Yet, she is a 16 year old girl, she wants to go to the prom and dance with boys. But if they touch her skin, she absorbs their life force. She discovered her powers tragically while sneaking off kissing a boy who slipped into a coma, and while she turned the Rogue Kiss into a sort of ironic attack, it was clear that deep down, she craved the one thing most of us take for granted—love and affection from another. This touch of tragedy made me want to take her in my arms, hold her, and tell her everything will be alright. Except, of course, it’s the one thing you can’t do. Rogue dressed covered from head to toe, including wearing a pair of gloves. She removes the gloves to use her power, a theatrical flair I shamelessly reuse with Rebecca Burton. Rebecca’s psychic powers fully manifest with skin to skin contact as well.

4. Mrs. Emma Peel: So I remember kicking and screaming when the CBS Late Movie pulled reruns of Night Stalker from its Friday night lineup and replaced it with reruns of a quirky British spy show from the 60s called The Avengers. But luckily I gave it a chance, and it didn’t take long for me to realize it was possibly the best TV show from the 60s not called Star Trek. In it, suave secret agent John Steed and “talented amateur” Mrs. Peel, performed with flirty British charm by Diana Rigg, took on sinister villains out to conquer the world in a series of clever-spoofy scenarios that usually ended in a butt-kicking throw down. (Think 60s Batman meets James Bond and you have a good sense of the tone). In many ways a subversive show, one of the more clever notions is that the viewer quickly picked up that Mrs. Peel is smarter, a better fighter, and comes to the correct solutions more often, and one senses she appeases John Steeds ego so as not to hurt his feelings (Not that Steed didn’t have his own awesome qualities). Mrs. Peel was the role model most people of the era think of when referring to the “60’s Modern Woman.” The show was a joy to watch, and one I still spin on my DVD player every couple of years.

5.  Wonder Woman: Most people think of Lynda Carter’s TV show from the 70s, and it’s no lie that I enjoyed the show, and have fond memories of watching it. And yes, I own the box sets. In 1987, I was an avid comic collector when DC Comics held their post-Millennium event—put in Muggle terms, they hit the “reset button” on their universe and started over with new issue 1s of all their characters. George Perez, a comics artists and writer both hugely popular and incredibly talented, created the first of what would become a run of over 60 issues. He enhanced her origin, removing a lot of nonsense, and re-creating the character for an 80s audience. This Wonder Woman was closely linked to her Greek heritage. She was molded from clay and imbued with life by Zeus for Queen Hippolyta after the god had isolated the defeated Amazons on their island as penance for their prideful acts of war. Gone was the anachronistic and silly invisible robot plane (instead she flew Superman style with a pair of winged boots from Hermes). Gone also was the awkward romance with Steve Trevor along with her Diana Prince alter ego. Wonder Woman traveled to “man’s world” openly as an ambassador of her people, “Princess Diana of Themyscria.” She preached peace and love, did not go looking for conflict (though it found her) and resorted to violence only as a last result. She was an equal rights hippie in a war mongering world, unafraid to solve problems using love and understanding. Back on her island, hidden tunnels took her to Hades and other realms pulled from Greek mythology, creating a platform for epic monster battles of a heroic fantasy nature (this was the height of Dungeons & Dragons, after all). She was also (contrary to later claims) the first gay or possibly bi-sexual superhero of the comics, though you had to read a bit between the lines to pick up on that. (She lived for decades on an island populated only with women, so it made sense). This reinvention of the character was hugely popular, and an extended renaissance for a character often considered the Rodney Dangerfield of superheroes. Perez’ run on the book started during my first year of college, a time when topics like women’s rights and social change was top of mind. So this is why I am to this day an unabashed Wonder Woman fan.
Check out Coffinhill Tree tomorrow to read 
No’s 6-10 of this list!

RJ does not stint on his guest posts.  The guy goes in-depth and really shares his feelings.  Kudos to RJ for a great guest post!

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