Cosplay: Henching 4 Life

So it may seem like there have been far too many mentions of the costumes that will be making the trip with the GIR and I out to Gen Con, but very little beyond that. There are a couple reasons for that, one of which we’ve discussed a handful of times. The large size and multiple intended wearers of the Gen Con cosplay cache prompted me to tackle construction of the outfits a little differently than if I were making just one costume for a single wearer. This time around I’ve been plugging away on each costume at intervals so each of the three remain around the same level of completion and we’re at the point where all three are nearly done. Given all that, we can finally start talking about the last two costumes and how they came together.

The GIR and I have a long-standing and deeply-rooted affection for The Venture Bros. It’s watched, re-watched, and quoted on an extremely frequent basis in our house. We’re those crazy people who have convinced ourselves that the 2+ year breaks between recent seasons aren't frustrating but, rather, are some sort of test of our devotion. We regularly debate swapping our trip to Gen Con for a sojourn to Dragon*Con solely because the latter is the only convention regularly attended by the show’s creators: Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer. That substitution won’t be happening this year though, so Gen Con will be subjected to our fanaticisms. We’ll be cosplaying as Dr. Mrs. The Monarch and a Henchman (he refuses to say it’s 21 and instead claims he’s 28 or another semi-canonical member of the Fluttering Horde). The rest of this post will focus on the GIR’s Henchman costume and there’ll be a separate entry for the Dr. Mrs. outfit.
Photo via Adult Swim
The Henchman is pretty much the standard issue uniform for minions of the ‘mighty’ Monarch. This uniform consists of a black unitard-like body covering, a yellow tunic, a yellow utility belt with a Monarch logo buckle, matching knee-length boots and elbow-length gloves, a mask, and a set of orange wings affixed to the wearer’s back.  Let’s look at each of these pieces.

The Body Covering

The henchmen wear something that’s technically somewhere between a catsuit, a unitard, and a zentai. The garment features sleeves, leg coverings, and also a hood that covers the wearer’s hair, but not their face. You can re-create this suit using the techniques described in this post, specifically those on Tim’s excellent site as he creates suits for a male build. I highly recommend that, if you’re going this route, you use a Spandex/Lycra with a 4-way stretch and a medium weight. The fabric needs to be opaque, but it’s a good idea to also use something that can breathe a bit since so much of the wearer’s body will be enveloped in it.

If the premise of working with stretchy fabrics is terrifying or you’re otherwise not inclined to sew the suit yourself, there are a number of online outlets that offer ready-made suits. This one is a particularly close approximation and has the added benefit of hand/foot/head coverings that are detachable from the main suit. The one caveat I’d toss out there for Milanoo.com or similar online vendors is that you should place your order with them as soon as you can. It’s not uncommon for an order to travel for 6-8 weeks before it arrives at your home.

The Tunic

The henchmen wear a yellow sleeveless one piece over their black body covering. I call it a tunic, but really it’s more of a jumper or a romper than anything else. Think of it as a tank top and a pair of shorts combined. If you happen to own those two garments already, they can serve as ready-made templates for your pattern; just trace their outlines onto muslin or any other type of very cheap fabric, cut out your stencil and you have a nearly complete pattern. Alternatively, you can purchase shorts and a t-shirt or tank top and alter them. I recommend this and this from American Apparel, as that brand produces a color (Gold) that’s a near match for the yellow used in the show. If you do decide to purchase items, it’s a very good idea to buy them in person or order them online at the same time. Staggering your purchases increases the chances that you’ll receive items from different dye lots, so you could end up with two pieces in two distinct shades of yellow.

While you could choose to merge the top and bottom together into a single garment, it’s better from a functional standpoint to keep them separate. Seriously, no one wants to wrestle with a one piece when they’re trying to go to the bathroom. The belt will hide the seams between the pieces anyway. Speaking of which…

The Belt/Buckle, Boots/Gloves, Mask & Antennae

All henchmen sport a utility belt that’s a slightly brighter hue of yellow than the tunic; most belts feature at least one pouch in the same yellow (usually worn on the left hip). I bought a cheap leather belt and covered it with this yellow PVC fabric. Once the belt was suitably yellow, I attached the buckle with two phillips-head screws through the leather itself (obviously, the buckle is largely for show). I kept the real, functional buckle on the belt, but positioned it so it opens along the wearer’s spine. This not only presents a clean line when the belt is viewed from the front, but helps provide support for the wings, which will get to in a moment.
The belt was about 1.5 inches, (3.81cm) so I cut the PVC into a 2 inch (5.08cm) strip to cover it 
I used hot glue to wrap the PVC onto the belt, but it does show through the fabric, so I'd recommend just using hot glue on the back.
Finished.
I was all set to make the mask (as well as the buckle) and was planning to do so with a combination of foamstock and air-drying foam clay, but happened across Etsy seller cinemamasterystudios who had already invested in a mold for casting both the mask and the belt buckle. His prices and proposed delivery times were very reasonable, so I decided to commission both pieces from him. The finished pieces are both extremely high quality plastic/resin, particularly the colored lenses on the mask (getting good, clean, evenly colored lenses tends to be the trickiest part of making a mask). 
The boots are just these. While I had enough PVC fabric to make covers for existing boots, the GIR ended up finding very reasonably priced, fully functional boots that came in the right shade of yellow. Similarly, the gloves are run-of-the-mill dishwashing gloves. Why not invest in costume pieces that can also pull real-life duty?

Sprouting from the heads of each henchman is a set of yellow antennae. To re-create these, I twisted two 18” (45.72cm) pipe cleaners together, then folded the twisted wires in half and twisted the two new halves together. I repeated that process to end up with a pair of 9” (22.86cm) wires, which I then wrapped in masking tape. Using hot glue, I stuck 1/2” (1.27cm) wooden beads to the end of each wire, then added color with some yellow spray paint on the whole shebang. The finished antennae were then wired onto a large headband, which I then glued into the inside of the hood of the body covering.
The Wings

Wings are one of those challenges that cosplayers tend to put in a category all their own. It’s no coincidence that most of us would consider making a set of wings to be a Major. Though I was initially gung ho to make a set of fully deployable wings for the GIR, I ended up making simpler, pared down version instead. Since we have to ship them out to Indy, it makes sense to have the wings be as uncomplicated as possible. It would have been gut-wrenching to create deployable wings only to have them be damaged in transit. Fewer parts = lower probability of catastrophic failure (hopefully).

Though they don’t have any extending mechanisms, and thus didn’t require me to build a custom rig, the wings still needed to be wearable and self-supporting. The easiest way to create a wearable foundation is to start with something that’s already been designed to be a garment and carry weight, then modify it to your needs. I began with a simple black backpack bought out of a clearance bin at a local TJ Maxx. The backpack is a sturdy blend of canvas and nylon, so it seemed as though it’d be up to the task of toting wings. I reinforced the primary straps with additional strips of nylon webbing (think the fabric version of the plastic straps you see wrapped around large packages) then layered foam on the underside of the straps to prevent them from digging into the GIR’s shoulders.
Believe it or not, this is really most of what you need to make wings
Since the backpack is made entirely of fabric, some rigidity would need to be added before it could feasibly support wings. I used a 1” (2.54cm) 3-ring binder as the core of both this support and the hinging mechanism for the wings themselves. The binder was essentially gutted for its components. I removed each of the covers, leaving the metal spine, then arranged the covers atop one another until they were the exact size of the inside cavity of the backpack. The covers were then permanently affixed in that configuration with a combination of hot glue and the absurdly toxic adhesive leftover from the construction of the Transistor. Once the glue had dried, I slipped the new support board into the backpack, then had the GIR try it on to test the weight and measure where it fell against his back. From there, we decided where the wings themselves would need to hinge in order to look right. 

With those measurements in hand, I took the board out of the backpack and glued the metal spine of the binder horizontally across the board at the point where we wanted the wings to hinge (just below the GIR’s shoulder blades) using the same combination of glues. Once the spine was secure, I opened the rings and slid the board back into the backpack, marked where each of the open rings pressed against the fabric of the backpack, then made tiny cuts and pulled the rings through. I then used the glue concoction to permanently adhere the support board  to the inside of the backpack.
The wings themselves are just two sheets of foamboard cut with a utility knife into two pairs of semi-ellipses. I blended two different acrylic paints to get a shade of orange that appears pretty close to that used in the show and it then took 3 coats of the paint blend to get the wings evenly colored. After the paint had dried, I used a leather awl to punch holes in each pair of wings that aligned with the rings of what used to be the metal spine of the 3-ring binder. I then cut small circles of foamstock and used hot glue to affix them around the holes in an effort to reinforce and protect them. After that, it was just a matter of coaxing the wings onto the metal spine and snapping the latter closed. 
Woot! Here's hoping the costume survives being shipped out to Indy!

Post Con Breakdown: Every part of the costume held up extremely well and can easily be used again. The only things I'd change would be to add some reinforcing on the pouch in the GIR's utility belt and some more support to help keep the wings vertical. While they performed admirably, the wings were looking decidedly wilted by the end of the day. Some added foam around the binder rings should prevent that from reoccurring.
The finished product!
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This Week in Geekdom

Hey everyone. Hope you're all having a great weekend (or a phenomenal con, if you're among those lucky enough to be at SDCC right now). The news is coming out of San Diego at a breakneck pace so, while this post will include as many of those stories as possible (kudos to DeSlided for that compilation), keep your eyes on the social media sites for additional updates. In honor of Comic Con, let's start This Week in Geekdom accordingly.

Comics

Marvel's concerted effort become a pop-culture juggernaut of its own design is arguably one of the greatest such endeavors in entertainment history. However, despite all the press that's been given over to the movies, the TV show(s), and the comics, little is ever said about the man directing it all. This is the backstory of CEO Ike Perlmutter and just how the universe of Marvel comics as we presently know it came to be.

Movies/TV

Chris Carter, the mind behind the X-Files, intimated to Vulture earlier this week that a reboot of his beloved cult series may be in the works.

Here are your fresh-from-SDCC first glimpses of the Age of Ultron and Wonder Woman as she'll appear in Batman vs Superman.

The film is still technically in pre-production, but there have been quite a few changes to the cast of Ant-Man.

Guardians of the Galaxy will join the Hulk, Spider-Man, and the Avengers as the stars of their own animated TV series.

Since the 50th Anniversary special enjoyed such success in cinematic release, the BBC has announced that the first adventure of the latest incarnation of the Doctor will receive the same treatment.

Do you like kaiju battles? Well, Godzilla 2 promises to give you all the kaiju battles your giant-monster-loving heart can handle.

Legendary Pictures has confirmed that 2016 will feature yet another King Kong movie.

Disney has confirmed that there will be a fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. 

This is the highly amusing blooper reel from Game of Thrones season 4:


And this is the trailer for the Walking Dead season 5:


Games

We've covered the subject a few times before, but Polygon featured this excellent encapsulation of the state of the video game industry for the women who work in it.

Science/Technology

Researchers at the German Aerospace Center believe they have come up with a way to grow crops on Mars. Mark Watley approves.

2014 is somehow already more than halfway over, but these past few months have already produced some very interesting inventions. Here are 9 examples of what's been realized in the year to date.

The latest edition of Physical Review B contains this research by Dartmouth scientists that may allow for the transmission of data both to and from a quantum computer. 

Have you ever found yourself getting frustrated in your efforts to learn a new language? Turns out that those efforts may be the very thing that's causing you difficulty.

File this one under All Hail the Robot Overlords: this is a video of a robot adapting to a broken leg, utilizing math to 'teach itself' to be fully mobile again in under 2 minutes.

If you should come across a copy of Nature Communications you'll see this research by a cache of MIT engineers that details their newly developed spongy material as a potential game-changing device for all energy production that currently requires steam.

Image from MIT
General Awesomeness/Feats of Nerdery

6-year-old Alex Pring was born without an arm and his parents' insurance refused to cover a prosthetic replacement. After hearing this story, engineering students at the University of Central Florida built him this bionic arm for less than $350 USD. Bonus: the students then posted their blueprints online so that others can readily build their own bionic limbs.

Hot Toys will be releasing this insanely realistic figure of Marty McFly.

As always, best wishes for an awesome week ahead!
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Guest Post: Sex, Violence, Nerds, and the Media

With exactly three weeks left to go until Gen Con 2014, is it officially costume o'clock. While I'm feverishly sewing/gluing/engineering (posts on all this to follow!), my friend Oliver graciously crafted the post below. This marks the very first guest post on the blog. It's a thorny subject that we touched on in a broader sense last year and Oliver breaks down a few of the other, often darker ways that certain dichotomies and assumptions can manifest. I'll let Oliver take it from here.

Good day to all the readers of The Care and Feeding of Nerds. 

When my mind is free from its various other duties and concerns, it has been tangled around the issue of violence in our society.  My frustration at the violence is linked inexorably with its seeming ubiquity; while the number of violent crimes has been going down since 1993, the importance of the isolated violent events in terms of the public increases with direct proportion to attention provided them by various news outlets.  Simply put, the news focuses on islands of violence and makes them seem like ever-present continents.

Violence is a complex issue, and there are many causes of it, from the perpetrator that commits the violence, to the situation that elicits the violence, to the system and culture that perpetuates and glorifies the violence.  Here, I will do my part in not glorifying the violence committed by never mentioning the offender's name.  

I wish to talk about the violent gunning down of 6 people and the stabbing of three men in University of California, Santa Barbara.  This killing is unique among other killings, and please read that last phrase again later and know how hard and sad it was for me to write.  There should be no reason for me to indicate a killing is unique among others; there should not be a large enough sample size for that.The killing spree was horrific, with three gentlemen stabbed, followed by many women and men shot, seemingly at random, simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The killer; here unnamed as constructing the soapbox out of violence and death is too common, and should be discouraged until eradicated; was purportedly killing people because he was angry about the many romantic rejections he had faced.  He felt entitled to a relationship, and bemoaned the fact that other men were involved in relationships and having sex.  It was a big party, and he wasn't invited.  He put up Youtube videos explaining his feelings, as well.
  
His frustration at being "denied" what was "promised" is not unique to him.  There is a community like him, and the even have a name- Incel, or Involuntary Celibacy.  The people of the Incel community feel that, despite their best efforts, they are "the state of a person who has not established an INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP or engaged in sexual intercourse for reasons other than voluntary celibacy or sexual abstinence. The term is used especially for adults who, despite general expectations, have had little to no sexual or romantic experience." 

I want to focus here on why this community exists, and how it could create a person like this killer.  The Incel community claims that it is the "general expectations" that are causing much of this frustration.  Does society have general expectations for people regarding sexual intimacy?  Deeper into the Incel website, they clarify that the problem is not a lack of the sexual act, but a lack of touching and affection that goes along with committed relationships. Are all of these things linked and if they are not, why do people in the Incel community believe that they are?  

As this is a fantastic nerdy blog, let's focus this topic by using a movie many nerds have seen, and many quote often: The Forty Year Old Virgin.  What in this movie could be encouraging the world view that people of the Incel community believe is so prevalent in society?  What does this movie say about nerds?  Does it portray nerds realistically?  Let's find out!

In the movie, Steve Carell plays Andy, the titular virgin.  He works at an electronics store, a la Best Buy, and he is their stock boy.  His life, while simple, seems to be fulfilling.  He appears to have identified his personality strengths and uses them daily.  He cooks, keeps his place clean, follows his hobbies, the majority of which would likely be considered nerdy (playing the tuba, biking, collecting action figures, playing video games, painting miniatures, and apparently playing a good amount of online poker).

As the movie continues, and his secret is discovered, his new "friends" try to get him laid, because they feel he needs this in order to be an adult.  They get him involved in public urination, heavy drinking, making and using an apple bong, and some pretty sleazy "pick-up artist" moves as it is, "...in the male DNA to fuck drunk bitches," according to Andy's 'friend' Jay.

Andy does fewer and fewer nerdy activities as the movie progresses, with his friends even cleaning out his apartment before his hobbies are discovered by his paramour, which they assume will result in the immediate termination of their courting.  The movie makes a clear distinction between nerdy activities (painting miniatures, playing band instruments, video games, etc.) and adulthood.  Seth Rogan and Paul Rudd's characters are shown as perpetual adolescents. They play video games at Andy's place, Mortal Kombat, to be precise; and they discuss how they 'know' the other person is gay.  While the dialogue can be amusing, it underscores their immature viewpoint of the world. 

The ultimate indictment of nerd culture as a non-adult pastime comes when Andy and Trish, Andy’s paramour, discuss their future.  Andy wants to open up his own electronics store, and Trish encourages him to sell his action figure to fund his dream.  Her support of Andy is wonderful; one just hopes that he can continue collecting again when money allows it.  

Andy and Trish marry, and Andy does have sex.  Thankfully, the marriage is shown as an acceptance of two people' faults and strengths, and not a "winning over" story as is common in many movies.  Andy does not win Trish as a trophy, but Andy and Trish marry after they discuss their dreams and fears. Andy bonds with Trish’s daughter, Maria, by Andy hiding the fact that she is pregnant from Trish, and Maria hiding the fact that Andy is a virgin from Trish.  Eventually, all the news comes out, but the bonding that happens here creates more dimensional characters, and avoids the 'trophy winning' trope so prevalent in romantic comedies (and which we'll address more in a second).

This movie created comedic ripples in the mid-2000s which continue to reverberate through today's cinema and invites us to question our view of nerds, adulthood, and sexuality.  This movie, and others of its ilk, have likely had an influence on the incel community (the Wikipedia page uses involuntarily celibate as the main descriptor for Andy).  It is this belief that sexuality is a "rite of passage" for adulthood that spurs much of this violence and misogyny in the incel community.  What to do about this incorrect belief?  We need movies and books that show sexuality as a personal choice, and show women as fully fleshed people worthy of respect, and not trophies to be won at the end of the film.

What is it about American culture that links sexuality with adulthood, and eschews the trappings of nerdery in favor of those of adulthood?  I believe that as much as nerds are mainstream, with movies made, games played, and conventions attended; this is an economic move more than a cultural one.  The approval of nerd culture exists only insofar as it can be monetized and constructed into commodities.  It is ok to be a nerd as long as you go to conventions and buy all the stuff, just put it in your house and don't invite people over.

Oliver maxed out his charisma stat and, as such, specializes in conflict mediation and interpersonal communication. When he's not training to be a ninja (yes, seriously) you might find him writing for and working with the Red Kite Project.
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This Week in Geekdom

And what a week it was or, more accurately, still is! Aside from the multiple canonical shifts that we'll be getting in Marvel universe, this week features multiple milestone celebrations, the most prestigious of which we'll get to in just a second. So, without further ado, let's get down to the Week in Geekdom!

Image courtesy of NASA
Science/Technology

45 years ago today Neil Armstrong and Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin descended from the Apollo 11 spacecraft and set their feet on the surface of the moon. The landing was the culmination of thousands of hours of labor by hundreds of NASA staff and embodied the 99.9% probability that the scientists and engineers had assigned to the mission being a success. Of course, NASA had a plan in place for the 0.1% chance that the landing ended in failure. The video below breaks down this plan and include this text of the 'Red Folder' speech that had been prepared for Nixon to deliver to the world in the event of catastrophe.


Fortunately, the intensive planning and quick thinking of Commander Armstrong won out and we are left with still-stunning images like these ones. At least one commemorative round of Kerbal is in order today. The Care and Feeding of Nerds salutes all the men and women who have pushed the limits of our capabilities as a species and dared to reach for the stars.

Speaking of daring to reach for the stars, here's a quick but well compiled slideshow of the history behind five of the most groundbreaking discoveries in astronomy.

Also along this vein, NASA released this, the largest and most detailed map of Mars we have to date.

Friday was the 93rd birthday of Senator John Glenn. This is how the crew members of the International Space Station paid tribute.

Just how likely is a robot uprising? Well, it's tough to gauge since none of the experts in the fields of robotics and/or artificial intelligence get pretty edgy about the topic. Fortunately, we humans have something of a safeguard in these three problems which computers will never be able to solve.

Sniffing out malaria, literally. This is the fascinating account of the unorthodox methods researchers are employing in the fight against the deadly mosquito-borne illness.

A promising first step in the fight against Type II diabetes, scientists at the Salk Institute have created a serum that causes blood sugar levels to normalize in mice in just a single dose.

The parasite Toxoplasmosa gondii is believed to be one of the most widely contracted parasitic infections in the biosphere but scientists now also believe it may play a role in the potential treatment of cancer.

Since they are both adorable and may be the reservoir for cancer treatment, let's see that our kitties are well cared for. Perhaps with the help of facial recognition software.

Think you ended up with your group of friends by serendipity and shared experiences? This study posits that those individuals you surround yourself with may more closely tied to you than you surmised.

The latest edition of Nature Communications contains this study that may help pinpoint where dinosaurs ended and modern birds began.

Throughout the year we've had the chance to bear witness to some astounding experiments and a corresponding number of rebuttals as researchers attempt to duplicate those experiments. More often than not, the discoveries end up with the lion's share of the attention, but this is an excellent decomposition of the latter: a telling of how the DAMA experiment fooled itself into 'detecting' dark matter.

Negative mass has always been physical concept that is widely acknowledged, but believed to be nigh-impossible to prove its existence. Earlier this week Saoussen Mbarek and Manu Paranjape at the Université de Montréal in Canada released their findings that not only is negative mass possible, but that the state does not violate Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

Google is attempting to soften its burgeoning reputation as an evil mega-corporation by relenting on its mandate that users must employ their real names in its apps. Furthermore, Google will be launching the Zero initiative in an effort to combat bugs and other threats to online security.

This may be the future for start menus in Windows operating systems.

Why is it that you always seem to select the slowest line in the supermarket/traffic/shopping mall? Turns out, it's because the math is not in your favor.

Comics

The comic book world was front and center for much of this week. While most of the attention was, understandably, focused on the future, here are some of the weirder trends that have graced the pages of comics past.

Games

We've talked a few times now about the 40th birthday of Dungeons & Dragons and now The New Yorker is adding its voice to the chorus of tributes.

Presumably because he has little else to do in prison, former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega is suing Activision for the manner in which he is portrayed in Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Activision has yet to release a formal statement on the suit.

Ever wondered what your first-person character looks like if they were to be viewed from a third-person vantage? A Reddit user modded Crysis 2 in order to do just that.

TV/Movies

Warner Bros has confirmed that they will continue with the trend of making movies from games by producing Space Invaders, the movie. Neither a timeframe nor an explanation of what the plot could be has been provided so far.

We're mere weeks away from the premiere of season eight of Dr. Who, which promises that it will take us 'back to basics'. Here's what that phrase may mean.

General Awesomeness/Feats of Nerdery

The results are still being tabulated, but Weird Al's new album, Mandatory Fun, is on course to be his first #1 on the Billboard charts.

Move over bitcoin; much walk-taking dogecoin. There's a new virtual currency in town and it's liable to drive you insane.

This is the story of one Swedish physicist who has personally authored 8.5% of the articles on Wikipedia.

That time wherein MIT offered a course on professional wrestling.

There's tricking out an expensive supercar and then there's making it the ultimate vehicle for traversing the zombie apocalypse.

I leave you guys with this fun stop-motion Lego film tribute to 50 years of Dr. Who. As always, best wishes for an excellent week ahead!


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Dropping the Hammer

Two posts in one week? What is this sorcery? It’s been a while since there’s been a multi-post week but there has been a lot of good fodder for nerdy conversation in the past few days that’s just too good to not explore. Of course, the subject at hand stems from Marvel’s announcement on Tuesday that, come this fall, the character of Thor will be a woman.
Verily, 'tis a lady
The announcement itself was fairly light on the details. What better way to drum up attention, interest, and excitement ahead of next weekend’s San Diego Comic Con? In the interim, we can parse out what we do know from what’s been stated and what has been going down in the current Thor storyline. While this certainly wouldn’t be the first time the mantle of a given superhero has passed to a new bearer, the phrasing that Marvel used and the complications stemming from the makeup of the character himself potentially puts this transition in a brand new category. So, after mulling this over and reading what the comic book experts had to say, I think the Thor-as-woman concept boils down to the following:

The Good: This news serves as primarily as a declaration of where Marvel, as a company, plans to go in the immediate future; as far as corporate statements of intention go, this is a pretty positive one. Between this and Wednesday's announcement that Falcon (a.k.a. Samuel Wilson) will assuming the duties of Captain America it’s clear that Marvel recognizes that diversity in their ‘varsity’ lineup is a good thing. It demonstrates that the company is at least somewhat aware that the phenomenal success of their extremely well-planned multimedia campaign has expanded their consumer base and, in order to keep this base engaged, their characters and storylines need to have correspondingly broad, modernized appeal. That’s brilliant in its own right but gets the bonus of seeming even more so given how poorly arch-rival DC has been handling similar subject matter as of late. I mean, it doesn’t take much to outshine DC right now, but good on Marvel for taking that opportunity and running with it. Woot for strong characters that aren’t all white dudes!

The Bad: I really, really wish that the whole post could just end with the above, but that would paint a pretty inaccurate picture. My first real quibble with Thor-as-woman are the mechanics that will likely have to be involved in the transition of power. This all stems from series writer Jason Aaron and his declaration that the change will be both permanent and a complete superceding of the existing Thor. While this was ostensibly done to prove just how dedicated Marvel is to its diversity goals, it doesn’t make much sense in the context of the character of Thor. As mentioned above, the plot device of a given super identity or a set of superpowers transitioning from one individual to another is nothing new to the world of comics or even Thor’s canon. There have been at least 14 other instances in which another character has been deemed more ‘worthy’ of Mjolnir than Thor and thus were able to wield it. At no point in any of those situations did the new custodians of the mythic hammer become Thor. They were able to control the power set of the God of Thunder (since that seems to manifest in Mjolnir) for a time, but never supplanted Thor himself. For whatever reason, this mechanic will not apply to the new character.

But those were all temporary transitions. This is a brand new Thor!
The new 'unworthy' Thor

Except Thor is a name, not a title. There can be a new Captain America because the outgoing Cap will presumably re-assume his civilian identity as Steve Rogers or become a new superhero. Marvel has confirmed that Thor isn’t going to die or otherwise vanish; he’s just no longer worthy. There’s no indication as to what this will mean for present-Thor who, if the handful of reference images are anything to do by, may have fallen victim to the ‘must be unblemished’ rules of the Tuatha DeDanann (because these are comic books and can mix mythologies!), but is still very much alive. Somehow both the powers and fundamental identity of Thor will become concentrated in Mjolnir, which, as we’ve discussed, doesn’t make much sense. This in-vivo transition is unprecedented and it’ll be very interesting to see how Marvel handles it.

But this has totally happened before! Loki became a woman!

That’s not really the same though. Loki possessed the bodies of both Lady Sif and Scarlet Witch for a time, then relinquished them when they were no longer useful to him. He’s a shapeshifter; assuming someone else’s form is just one of his many trickster abilities.

Ok, then this is just like Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica. No one wanted that character to be a woman and she turned to be an awesome and integral part of the series!

This point has been taken up quite prodigiously, helped along more than little bit by an endorsement from Joss Whedon. Unfortunately, it’s not actually an apt comparison either. The reboot of Battlestar Galactica was exactly that: a reboot. In order for the woman-as-Thor concept to be equivalent, Marvel would have to create an alternate timeline or otherwise start over from the beginning of Thor canon with a new universe in which Thor had always been female. While we haven’t gotten much from Marvel, we do know that the upcoming transition doesn’t involve a whole-hog reboot because the present male Thor is still alive alongside female Thor. The only other way to make the Starbuck argument work is if the reboot had included the original male Starbuck who then trained or otherwise somehow gave his skills to the female Starbuck. Speaking of that…

There’s a distinct risk that the Thor-as-woman concept could be just another example of a female character inheriting or otherwise owing all her power/prestige to a man, which pretty much undermines the whole point. Now we’ve talked at length the futility of getting all worked up over something that, for our purposes as consumers, doesn’t exist yet. There is a very good chance that the new Thor will be a current female character (Maxima and Angela are likely picks) who simply will add Thor’s power set to her own, which would render my earlier fear moot. However, if Marvel chooses to have a non-powered woman take on Thor’s abilities then this exercise would pretty much be for naught. The idea behind embracing gender diversity as it appears in comics is to have a female character who is strong and capable in her own right, not because she has those things given to her by a male character. (Note: I use female in the last sentence only because, to the best of my knowledge, unfortunately no plans exist at this time for a trans or otherwise non-cis gendered character.)

The Ugly: Most of the items in The Bad are there simply because they aren’t logically consistent or because they have the potential to counteract the entire Thor-as-woman endeavor. The things in the Ugly, however, are concrete and definitive in their disappointing qualities.

First up is the costume that the new Thor will be wearing. I’ll admit that I groaned aloud when I saw that it’s yet another set of boob armor. Aside from being needlessly sexual, it’s fundamentally nonfunctional and would probably get the wearer injured or killed.

But don’t you get it? The breastplate is a hammer…THE hammer (or an axe)! See, the little opening in the middle is the handle and the boobs are the head!

That poor, vulnerable sternum
<<blinks>> I didn’t believe that explanation when it first came out, but it’s all too real and now I'm sorry that you can't unsee it. Seriously Marvel? This is the one arena where DC is actually sort of ahead of you. Yes, you still have to cater to your primary demographic, and yes, she might be an alien and thus not constrained by the limits of the human form, but there are plenty of ways to draw armor that is both reasonably utilitarian and attractive…or at least not hypersexualized.

Which brings me to the last, most irksome, point: how the news of woman-as-Thor was broken. Marvel didn’t reach out to any of the quality outlets that are dedicated to comics news nor did it try to utilize a middle ground like MTV (which covers a surprising amount of nerdy content, especially on its website). It chose to make the announcement on the View. Now, this isn’t to besmirch the View or its watchers but, when you think of places to get news about comics or geeky topics in general, you probably wouldn’t think of the View. It’s understandable that Marvel wants to expand its brand and reinforce the idea that comics are mainstream by making the announcement on a popular TV show, but there are a lot of popular TV shows. There are a fair number of very popular TV shows whose primary demographic consists of women that aren’t quite so chock full of controversy and female stereotypes as the View. The selection of the View as the vehicle for this announcement smacked of a decision-making body that wasn’t really in touch with the population they were hoping to reach. It seemed like:

Producer #1: We need to tell this to a bunch of women. How can we reach a bunch of women?
Producer #2: Maybe a TV show! What do women watch on TV?
<<looks around the room full of male producers>>
Producer #3: I think women watch the View. My mom loves that show!

My intent here is not, as Rob Bricken of i09 put it, to devolve into Comic Book Guy or raging fangirl. I deeply appreciate that a major publisher of comics is making the effort to appeal to all its readers and applaud them for that. It’s just that this effort seems kind of cheap, like a set of semi-formed ideas bolted on to an existing character in order to drive up sales and get people into a frenzy before SDCC/the release of Guardians of the Galaxy. I sincerely and truly hope that I’m wrong in that impression.

What would have been excellent is if Marvel created a brand new character or ‘promoted’ an existing female superhero to have new, badass powers. Since that doesn’t seem to be the case, we’ll just have to sit back and see what the new Thor can do. Hopefully she’ll have no problem putting these fears to rest.
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Game "Review": The Lowdown on Castilion

It's no secret that the proliferation of the functions of Kickstarter has allowed all sorts of new games to contend for your hard-earned cash. Given the scope of your choices, it can often be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were. 

Castilion is very much in the former of those two categories. This card-based euro is a strategist's dream: concise, tactical, and bereft of the often-cruel Lady Luck. You, the player, must defend your castle from invading forces (your fellow players) via careful management of your troops, the terrain they navigate, and the resources they utilize or consume. The game is simultaneously appreciable at both the micro and macro scales with beautifully rendered artwork and surprising playable depth. 

A full overview, including introductory videos, can be found on Castilion's Kickstarter page. This extremely well-managed venture also features a production deal with premier card publishing house Cartimundi. It's refreshing and reassuring to see a fundraising campaign be as detailed and thoughtful as the creators are with their game. I had the privilege of exchanging communications with Joe, one of the trio behind Castilion. The below is what he had to say about this offering of mental jousting.

Image via the Castilion Kickstarter page


It’s very clear that you and your team have a passion for gaming, but what prompted you to want to become developers?  Once you decided to put on the developer’s hat, what made you choose a card-based format (beyond just minimizing the element of chance)?

It was in September of 2012 when my business partner came to me and suggested that we should work on a trading card game. I grew up playing one of the biggest trading card games ever and I thought that it would be really interesting and fun to develop one of our own. Castilion did start as a trading card game but it wasn’t until early 2013 when I decided that a board game would be more attractive because of the vast community that surrounds board games and RPG games too. Immediately after that we started developing the game mechanics. We had ideas before which included adding luck elements to the game, but we both thought that a euro-style strategy game would be more interesting and engaging for the average gamer.

Our mechanic has received praise for being unique and intelligent and we didn’t want to take anything away from the game by introducing luck. We wanted the game to be easy to play but also thought-provoking so making it purely card based meant that we could achieve both goals.

Castilion has defined roots in the medieval era. Are you history buffs or did that particular epoch just mesh well with your concept for the game?

The original game included actual facts. The castle cards were based on real ones; of course copyright excluded that idea so we steered clear from solid facts about castles and made up some history of our own. All of the items and formation cards used in the game are true to real life and were weapons and tactics that armies used.

We aren’t history buffs per say and we didn’t want fantasy to take the lead with this game, we wanted most of the game to be as real as possible. The only aspects which aren’t historically correct are the names of the Castles and Generals. Every other character shares their name with names that were used during the medieval times.

The game is touted as being extremely easy to learn, but a highly satisfying overall play experience. How long would you say it takes people to pick up Castilion and what demographics do you think would most enjoy the game?

Many people don’t really grasp the overall size of Castilion. It is a massive game with many different aspects, however, once players have understood the different card types and how the game reacts by using them, the game can be set up in 5 minutes and you’re off fighting for your castles honour! 

We wanted the game to be aimed at children of 11 and over. We thought that kids would really engage and learn about the history involved, especially English children, after all medieval history runs very deep in the English. We took the game to a primary school so the kids could have a play and they loved it! They were very excited to interact with the characters and the castles. We didn’t realise the vast community that is the board gaming community! People love playing board games so demographically speaking, everyone can enjoy Castilion.

It has taken you nearly two years to get to where you are right now with Castilion. What would you say were the most enjoyable or most enlightening parts of the development process and what were some of the biggest challenges you faced?

Developing a new board game is always going to be challenging and we didn’t really know what to expect. The best part about the process was designing the game mechanics and play testing. The game didn’t come overnight and we had many a game that would run for hours because we were inventing new rules and regulations every minute. I really enjoyed creating something that is new and fresh.

The most challenging part of the process was finding an artist; we had everything in place with no art! We really didn’t think the game looked very good without the artwork. We got the game printed with no art, close to where we operate and the printer was very interested in what he was printing so he asked us about it. We told him it was board game and we needed an artist to finish the cards. It just so happened that he knew someone that lived right around the corner. We spoke to her and after 2 years of hard work she ended up painting all the artwork (barring the castles) for Castilion.

Balancing out the strengths, weaknesses, and abilities of the individual cards obviously has an enormous role in ensuring that that Castilion is an enjoyable playing experience. Was striking that balance difficult?

At first, yes, but after hundreds of game testing we finally came up with the magic numbers that make the game as fair as it is fun! We knew what we had to do to make the game enjoyable and the only difficult aspect about it was the time it took to do it. We based the abilities on the looks of the cards at first and came on from that. The balance is perfectly equal; no one can really win back to back games often.

Well thought-out strategy is very clearly the foundation of Castilion. What was the inspiration for this and what do you feel differentiates Castilion from other strategy/tactical games?

We didn’t want the game to be a boring luck-based game that people wouldn’t get sustained and increased joy from, so the inspiration was giving people something different and intelligent, gamers appreciate games much more when they are extremely skilled. The game is short enough so that players won’t get bored by the endless thinking but it is clever enough that players can strategize quickly and efficiently just by looking at their hand.

The game is solely based around cards and your head; it is like chess but with so much more interaction. We wanted Castilion to be a premium product that gamers can appreciate. I don’t think many pure card based games can offer that experience. 

Is there anything else that you think potential backers and players should know about Castilion?

Castilion is extremely FUN! We want to get across that we are making this game for everyone who enjoys playing board games. We love the seriousness of the gameplay and some of the characters but we want people to know that playing the game is so fun and once you are fully engaged can be more exciting than a roller coaster ride! We really want to bring this game to the market because we have some amazing and unique ideas for expansions.

Intrigued? You have 17 days to check out the Castilion fundraising page or read more at the official Castilion website! A special thanks to Joe and the rest of the Castilion team!
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