Xialing was a delight in Shang-Chi. She balances Katy the perky American girl as a disciplined martial artist, raised in a sexist family. Abandoned by her brother, ignored by her father, she becomes a spectacular warrior all on her own.

After they discover her in her fight club (where she beats her brother), she and Katy exchange compliments:

You’re such a badass. You’re so cool. –Katy
I like your pants. –Xialing

While this might read like a quick Bechdel test passer, there’s a deeper significance. Each is acknowledging the other’s choices as valid and valuable. It’s great, each suggests, to…


Shang-Chi enjoys subverting expectations even as it leans into them. It begins nodding to Iron Man, with a privileged man crashing his jeep far from home. Next, he meets a gifted woman, suggesting it will be a kung fu adventure, with its warrior heroine flying through the air and invoking the wind. However, she is dead and the story quickly moves to America.

A cool guy slides from his fancy car, and viewers channel Doctor Strange or Tony Stark…until our hero is revealed to be the valet. Expectations are flipped again and we find ourselves following the underdog, in a…


Katy was a real delight. Unlike Pepper Potts, Jane Foster, and Christine Palmer, she doesn’t have a crush of any sort on the superhero. She’s loyal and aggressively dependable. And she’s funny! How often does the woman get to be funny? Certainly not Black Widow.

Katy most reminded me of a modern Doctor Who companion — funny, snarky, willing to tell the hero when he’s wrong and support him either way. Meanwhile, she provides the grounding for the hero who’s not only traveled to a far-off land but found the magic kingdom and powers within it. Her ordinary powers of…


(Clearly this will be full of spoilers)

Avengers What If #3 was a shocker: what if we kill off Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Hawkeye, leaving Black Widow supported by Coulson and Fury? Incidentally, having Ant-Man 1 and his daughter taken out means there’ll be no Ant-Man 2, and also, no Wasp. (She could potentially come back from shrinking to near-nothingness like her mother, but it’s likely she’s just out of the picture.) The secret question isn’t “What if the first lineup of Avengers had died. …


This article on the first Suicide Squad film was published on Legendary Women, August 2016.

Suicide Squad has been heavily heavily advertised with trailers all known for their fun and sometimes jarring theme music. At last it arrived, and certainly, the soundtrack was delightful. The Joker creeped people out, Will Smith’s Deadshot was cooler than cool and pretty snarky too. But what about the women?

There were a fair number of female characters in this one — an improvement on Superman/Batman’s enigmatic Wonder Woman plus the various females Lex Luthor was happy to sacrifice (by my count, all of them)…


Even as more superheroine films, including Birds of Prey, offer a female perspective, it’s interesting to see the choices they make. This quite recent genre (whether one starts it with Hunger Games or Wonder Woman) has the potential to be exploitative, feminist, self-aware, clichéd, honest, hokey, culture-critiquing, satirical…or, in this case, all of the above.

First Harley is flung into the quest. “I got road rage. In a bank,” she explains, suggesting this is after Birds of Prey. Off they go and her rather grotesque and laughable team (The Weasel? The Detachable Kid? Mongal?) are slaughtered in a surprise for…


Rey (Daisy Ridley) of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I just saw the new show The Shannara Chronicles. And I couldn’t help thinking (aside from the anachronistically slangy teens) that it’s suffering from the same problem as Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

In an attempt to be credible in the twenty-first century, there are now two chosen ones, a boy and a girl (at least, that’s it for Shannara eps 1 and 2). …


At last Marvel has made a solo superheroine film — technically their second (despite the heroines’ appearances in team-ups). Fans have been requesting Black Widow since before Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman — in fact, since she showed a tough, competent presence in The Avengers (2012). For years she was basically the MCU’s only option (contrasting with the comics, which have many stand-out heroines). However, the character is closed-off and over-serious in contrast to her more fun teammates. She also has the least interesting superpowers and cool technology. Giving her her own film makes all this a little too apparent.


Black Widow…the film many had clamored for since The Avengers (2012) finally arrived, after nearly a decade of stalling on the superheroine film, waiting for Wonder Woman to do well, introducing Captain Marvel, a covid delay, and on and on.

I disliked it.

My biggest criticism is that it doesn’t feel like a Marvel movie. It was just too dark, creepy, and violent, especially at the beginning. Black Widow was already the too-serious, mass murder in her past, issues about feeling like an infertile monster in the present, character. There were quips in the script, and even the delightfully rare…


Well! That was an experience.

Let me preface this by saying that I’ve spoken at at least twenty online fantasy conventions, most often on zoom and discord but sometimes proprietary tech. I’ve gotten to all my panels on time, mic working, etc, and done just fine. But this time…

The convention, Enter the Imaginarium, had sent some reminder emails earlier in the week that I had been too busy to look at. This would be my first hybrid con, half in person and half virtual, but I was only worrying about the virtual part. The online schedule was confusingly organized…

Valerie Estelle Frankel

Valerie Estelle Frankel has written 75 books about pop culture. https://www.amazon.com/Valerie-Estelle-Frankel/e/B004KMCLQK

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