W is for Wendy Watson: #AtoZchallenge

Wendy Watson*: aspiring painter. Daughter of a Cuban mother and a father who disappeared under mysterious and unexplained circumstances. Best friend/roomie to  young, photogenic  Lacey Thornfield, controversial spoken word artist. Newly minted employee at the Jolly Fats Wehawkin Temp Agency, but in reality the latest assistant to the Middleman, a hero who defends the world against “threats infra-, extra-, and juxtaterrestrial”.
fightingevil

Her unflappable nature and ability to adapt to the unusual and unexpected make her an ideal sidekick.
WWunflappable

Though her new job demands a great deal of her energy and her time, she still makes time for her friends.

noser

Hi, Noser! #stumptheband

WWLT

Seriously, this friendship will make your heart happy.

For Art Crawl.
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thunderingartcrawl

She finds a true friend, mentor, and father figure in the titular (straight-laced squeaky-clean and still kickass) Middleman.
WWMM

If you’ve not seen the show, do seek it out. There are only 12 episodes, and they’re a great deal of fun. Wendy is but one of an excellent ensemble. There’s tight and smart dialogue, rapid fire pop culture references, and a whole lot of charm.

WWBuffy

 

It’s ridiculously quotable, and offers vampire puppets, flying fish, an alien boy band, and an alternate dimension storyline (spoiler: there are goatees aplenty).
WWjacket

And, not for nothing, Natalie Morales rocks the Emma Peel look.
WWemmapeel

*the 2008 TV version; I’ve yet to read the original graphic novels upon which the show was based.
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V is for Samuel Vimes: #AtoZchallenge

There is no more fascinating, deep, and complex character in my Fictional Favorites theme than that of Samuel Vimes, and there is no way I am going to be able to do him justice within the bounds of this challenge*. Of all the characters in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, this is the one who is the closest representative of the author himself. He’s rough, cranky, even-handed, fierce, grounded. He has no patience for fools and even less for bullies. No matter his social standing, he’s a copper. He’s the law. Conflict is crime. It really is that simple.

Sam Vimes was born into abject poverty, but his mother did her best to give him the best she could offer. Their stoop was scrubbed clean, and his clothes were threadbare but meticulously mended. He was sent to school. He was expected to be more.

“Vimes had never mastered ambition. It was something that happened to other people.”

He joined the City Watch at age sixteen.  There was a free uniform and the chance to make some money, but it came under the auspices of corrupt politicians, war, and the shaping of a city that didn’t care for its poor and forgotten. Vimes battles alcoholism, crippling cynicism, and the Beast, a barely contained soul-deep rage.

“These were dangerous thoughts, he knew. They were the kind that crept up on a Watchman when the chase was over and it was just you and him, facing one another in that breathless little pinch between the crime and the punishment.”

But there is the oath he swore. There is the law. There is his understanding of human nature with all of its darkness, but there is an unshakable belief in justice and in a love for his city. For those who serve under him. For the badge, the symbol that keeps the Beast at bay.

“Only crimes could take place in darkness. Punishment had to be done in the light. That was the job of a good Watchman, Carrot always said. To light a candle in the dark.”

He has a reflexive dislike of the upper class (after all, he’s a descendent of Ol’ Stoneface Vimes, who killed the last king of Ankh-Morpork), which makes things awkward when he falls in love with/marries the supremely amazing Lady Sybil Ramkin. There are trappings and expectations which he very grudgingly adopts.

“He hated being thought of as one of those people that wore stupid ornamental armour. It was gilt by association.”

He deals with violence, cruelty, sexism, stupidity, war, and prejudice.

“That’s blasphemy,” said the vampire.

He gasped as Vimes shot him a glance like sunlight. “That’s what people say when the voiceless speak.”

He navigates his own past, mentors his younger self. He battles an ancient darkness, in no small part because he is expected to be there to read his infant son a bedtime story. He’s brutal and kind. He’s broken and astonishingly steadfast. He’s the conflict within us all, and he’s the assurance that what is just, what is right, what is good will win out.

“He wanted to go home. He wanted it so much that he trembled at the thought. But if the price of that was selling good men to the night, if the price was filling those graves, if the price was not fighting with every trick he knew…then it was too high.”

He’s also wry, funny, unexpectedly charming, and no little bit sexy. Vimes is a great gift from a deft and accomplished storyteller. Thank you, Terry Pratchett. Thank you for  Sam Vimes. I’m honored to know you both.

25th

How do they rise?

 

*keep it concise? There are four solid pages of quotes alone.

U is for Uncle Iroh: #AtoZchallenge

Uncle Iroh, y’all.

Iroh_smiling

                             *******Spoilers for Avatar: The Last Airbender********

When we first meet Uncle Iroh, we see the genial companion to the young, brash Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation. We learn he’s fond of food and tea and Pai Sho*.

calmingtea

As the series progresses, we find out who he was, what changed him, what matters most now, and it’s hard to divorce that from a chronological discussion of character. So. Quick overview. Iroh was the eldest son of Fire Lord Azulon and grandson of Fire Lord Ozai, who initiated the conquest of the Four Kingdoms. A renowned general and exceptionally gifted Firebender, the Dragon of the West was on track to take down the Earth Kingdom stronghold of Ba Sing Se when he received word his only son had been killed in action. Overcome by grief, he abandoned the siege. While he was making his way back to the Fire Nation, his father died, and although Iroh was next in line for the throne, his younger brother Ozai claimed the title. Iroh, no longer interested in power, did not dispute the claim. His once warlike nature gentled; he gained an appreciation for the spiritual and for enjoying life, quite contrary to the Fire Nation’s martial spirit. It’s a testament to his generous nature and decency that he continued respected and well-liked.

When his nephew Zuko was cast out by his father**, given the task of finding the Avatar, Uncle Iroh volunteered to accompany the prince. He viewed him as his own son.

Iroh’s calm is a welcome foil for his nephew’s tempestuousness.
hotspring

He’s chill.
feeltheflow
He loooooves his tea.

“I know you’re not supposed to cry over spilled tea, but… it’s just so sad.”

sickoftea

“Uncle Iroh: Euch! This tea is nothing more than hot leaf juice.

Zuko:  Uncle, that’s what all tea is.

Uncle Iroh: How could a member of my own family say something so horrible!”


secretingredient

But he loves his nephew just as much. More. But also, tea.

“Uncle Iroh: So this is how the great Commander Zhao acts in defeat? Disgraceful. Even in exile, my nephew is more honorable than you. Thanks again for the tea. It was delicious.

Zuko: Did you really mean that, Uncle?

Uncle Iroh: Of course. I told you, ginseng tea is my favorite.”***

Tea jokes aside, Uncle Iroh is a generous and decent soul.
humbled

thieftea

and then encourages him to follow his dream of being a masseuse because IROH BELIEVES IN HIM

helpothers

Let’s not forget that this loving spirit was forged in heartbreak.

talesofbasingse

Brave soldier boy comes marching home.

 

And let’s not forget that he is seriously badass.

“Iroh: Did I ever tell you how I got the nickname, ‘The Dragon of the West?’

Azula: I’m not interested in a lengthy anecdote, Uncle.

Iroh: It’s more of a demonstration, really.”
breathingfire

He can redirect lightning. I repeat, LIGHTNING.

redirectinglightning

By his very nature he’s avuncular. He’s nurturing, understanding, supportive, and full of sage advice.

“Pride is not the opposite of shame, but its source. True humility is the only antidote to shame.”

“You sound like my nephew, always thinking you need to do things on your own without anyone’s support. There is nothing wrong with letting people who love you help you.”

“You must never give into dispair. Allow yourself to slip down that road, and you surrender to your lowest instincts. In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength.”

When his nephew seems to be following the darkest path, when Zuko allows his uncle to be imprisoned, Iroh’s only concern is for the boy.
irohtear

Doesn’t stop him from honing that roast-duck loving body into a MACHINE and breaking out of prison with his bare hands, but still… his first thought is Zuko. Always. And when Zuko arrives at his own decision, forges his own way, Iroh is there. So proud of his boy.

zuko iroh embrace

‘When gifs Make You Cry: The SaucyDryad Story’

The dialogue in this scene guts me, every single time.

Maybe I love Uncle Iroh so much because he’s the kind of person I want to be. He makes me believe I can shape my life, tragedy and depression and everyday crap bedamned. You can be strong and sweet, badass and kind, and you can always find some manner of delight in a cup of tea with a stranger. Still working on it, but I aim to live my life in a way that would make Uncle Iroh proud.

* which turns out is super important to his character, because this is the AvatarVerse and the smallest details matter.
**more on that on Day Z
***later on it’s jasmine. I only mention this because jasmine is MY favorite, and that connects me to Iroh in a way I will defend as Important and Real

 

 

T is for Toothless: #AtoZchallenge

I had little interest upon the initial release of 2010’s How To Train Your Dragon. I was familiar with, though not particularly enamored of, the book series. My enjoyment of previous Dreamworks projects was hit-or-miss. When I finally got around to seeing HTTYD, I was floored. Excellent storytelling, a protagonist who made a difference through kindness and engineering, lovely animation, and dragons. Well, one dragon in particular.

But first, a quick bit of human-character backstory. Hiccup isn’t like the rest of his Viking clan. He’s small and prone to dreaming. He solves problems with his mind rather than an axe or sword.  Still, he’s determined to prove his dragon-slaying warrior worth, and manages (with a device of his own design) to fell one of the creatures. When he tracks it, he finds that 1. it’s a fabled Night Fury and 2. it’s still alive. With what he deems as weakness, what we know is compassion, Hiccup frees the dragon.

He later realizes the Night Fury is injured (half of it’s tail fin gone) and unable to fly. Owning his responsibility for the creature’s situation, he approaches and ultimately befriends the dragon he names Toothless.
nomnom

Toothless is a clever one. Watching Hiccup use a stick to make a drawing (of the dragon) in the dirt, he rips up a tree and shares his own.

drawing

treedrawing

If you look closely, you can see it’s an approximation of Hiccup’s face.

He ably conveys his feelings when Hiccup is about to step on his drawing, and when he withdraws.

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With a small, tentative movement, he offers his trust.
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(trust-building scene, complete with glorious score, in its entirety here. You’re welcome.)

Toothless is remarkably expressive overall. Note his textbook-perfect skepticism.
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The dopey grin.
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He’s basically an enormous, black, scaled kitty.
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HT2

Night Fury! Get down! (hi, Handsome Tom)

While the second movie didn’t have the same effortless charm of the first, the visuals were absolutely gorgeous, especially when showing Toothless in flight.
waterflight
forestflight
Toothless-become-Alpha is fierce and beautiful.
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The best, the most important, part of both movies is the bond between Toothless and Hiccup.
flyingdetermined
They support one another.

supporthiccup
They are partners. Best friends. Brothers.

HT2a

ht2b
One would be lucky to have a Night Fury as a friend. One would be beyond blessed for that dragon to be Toothless.

I live in hope. 🙂

S is for Suki: #AtoZchallenge

I have a type.

There is a very specific sort of person I admire, and whom I aspire to be: determined, caring, focused, kind, and capable of kicking butt when necessary. My type is the Cheerful Badass. The best possible example can be found in yet another character from Avatar: the Last Airbender.

*****SPOILERS FOR AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER******

Suki is leader of the Kyoshi Warriors, a band of female warriors protecting an isolated island in the Earth Kingdom. Their stylized make-up, armor, and dress mimic that of Avatar Kyoshi.

However, they rely on martial training rather than the bending arts. In particular, they use fighting fan technique.
sukifans

They easily capture Team Avatar, believing them to be the enemy. While that issue is readily resolved, Sokka (protector of his own tribe, for all that he’s barely more than a boy) expresses disbelief they were taken down by a bunch of girls. Suki delivers a repeat performance of her abilities.
sokka-meets-suki
A chastened and impressed Sokka asks that she train him. She agrees, on the condition that he follow all of their rules, make-up and dress included. He does so with humility and respect.
sokka kyoshi

He later apologies for thinking of her only as a girl, not a warrior. Her reply: “I’m a warrior, but I’m a girl too.”
Sokka_and_Suki_kiss
Inspired by Team Avatar, the Kyoshi Warriors leave their isolated stronghold to help others in the war-torn Earth Kingdom. Suki and Sokka do meet again, and though they fully have their own character arcs, they are an excellent complement to one another.
Suki_reunites_with_Sokka

Her team readily defends those in need (oh hai, Appa!).
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Suki continues to fight despite capture by the Fire Nation. Imprisoned in an inescapable jail, she handily takes down the Warden.

sukiavoidsguard

suki-captures-the-warden

 

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Hey there, Sokka.
Sokka_and_Suki_kiss_in_prison
Free from the Fire Nation, Suki becomes a fully fledged member of The Gaang. She and Sokka might not be benders, but they are FAN AND SWORD*!
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All manner of adorableness follows:  Aang’s training, the Ember Island Players, sand sculptures, beach parties; it’s a delightful respite. Then the real world asserts itself. The Fire Lord, the final battle, await. There’s a moment, though, in the final battle – Sozin’s comet is blazing toward the world, empowering the fire benders. The Gaang is divided, fighting multiple enemies. The Fire Nations armored air ships are scorching the earth. Sokka and Toph have done all they can; their ship is going down and they are making their peace…

…and in comes Suki.
Suki_steers_the_airship
Swinging off a freaking air ship in the middle of a literal fire-fight. Strong. Assured. Beaming.
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Cheerful badass.

Best.

 

*the name of my tumblr, because I am a dork.

 

R is for Rey: #AtoZchallenge

Let’s take a moment to consider Rey.

Abandoned as a child on the harsh planet of Jakku, she could have fallen to anger and despair. She embraced resilience, learning to scavenge, to build, to teach herself.
Rey_Jakkuscavenging

 

She embraced hope that one day her family would return despite the crushing press of passing years. She learned to stand up for herself, but never lost her sense of kindness and decency.
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She’s not immune to frustration…

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*ugh!*

…but her compassion runs deep.

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She’s determined.

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This gif is my new visual mantra.

Resourceful, and adorably giddy at her own victories.
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She makes an impression on living legends, however grumpy they might be.

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She’s not had much experience with friendship, but knows a kindred spirit at once.

peanuts

Note: this is behind the scenes, a moment between the actors. Sharing because their friendship is super adorable; they call each other ‘peanut.’ CUTEST!

She’s impatient.

She is, at last, the one someone returned for.

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All of her scavenging and tinkering and getting her hands dirty didn’t prepare her for the realization that she is so very much more, and so very powerful. When she is hit with the visions from Luke’s lightsaber, she flat out bolts. She wants nothing to do with something so vast and unknown.

It’s seeing her friends in trouble that leads her to return, and even though it results in her own capture, that power has been awakened. Rey is able to manipulate it, maybe through childhood memories of training or maybe through her Jakku-born tenacity.
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lightsaberrey

Perfect moment. I never fail to well up.

Rey-in-snow
There is no going back, nor any reason to. As scary as forward can be, Rey takes those steps (so, so many steps).

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A moment of appreciation for Daisy Ridley’s face. Good gracious, she says seventeen things in a single frame without uttering a word.

 

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A moment of appreciation for these arm coverings. I need them in my life, and on my arms.

I’m so very thankful for Rey, for her part in the the unfolding story of the final trilogy.  I’m delighted to search ‘Rey Cosplay’ and see all the children who implored their parents to make them a costume. I’m enjoying the speculation about her parentage, even though I personally hope she has no connections to any of the Big Names – let her be a ‘nobody’ like the rest of us. Most of all, I’m happy to share in the journey of a well written, beautifully acted character that has resonated with me from her first onscreen moment. Well done, Star Wars franchise, and well done scavenger.

Bonus: Regency Rey. Check out the artist’s other SW:TFA portraits; they are all excellent.

 

Q is for Queen of Attolia: #AtoZchallenge

I’m not normally precious about spoilers for books that are several years old, but the rules are a bit different for the Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series*. The character work is so rich, the plot so deliberately mapped, the intrigue so delightfully interwoven that I want first time readers to enjoy it to the fullest.

So, fair warning:                     *****SPOILERS AHEAD*****

Irene was once but a princess of her patriarchal land. When her brother died (read: was assassinated), her hand was given to the son of a Baron. Thrust into a position of potential power and considerable danger, she hid behind a facade of shy disingenuousness, all the while observing. Learning. Honing a keen mind. When her father was killed, she made her move: she married her betrothed, poisoned him with a quickness, and took the name of Attolia, Queen of her country.

attoliafakecover

looking for source to credit

“She was the stone-faced queen, then and ever after. She had needed the mask to rule, and she had been glad to have it.”

She inherited a conflict with Sounis, an uneasy peace with Eddis, and tenuous negations with the ambitious, acquisitive Mede Empire. This was thrown onto the shoulders of a teenage girl who never expected to be in a position of rule, who was never trained to this sort of negotiation, but who cared deeply about her country and her people.

“She thought of the hardness and the coldness she had cultivated over those years and wondered if they were the mask she wore or if the mask had become her self. If the longing inside her for kindness, for warmth, for compassion, was the last seed of hope for her, she didn’t know how to nurture it or if it could live.”

Attolia was willing to give over the things that might diminish her power, her capacity to protect. She denied compassion. Pretended she did not care, could not love. Her actions were subtle and often cruel.

“I inherited this country when I was only a child, Nahuseresh. I have held it. I have fought down rebellious barons. I’ve fought Sounis to keep the land on this side of the mountains. I have killed men and watched them hang. I’ve seen them tortured to keep this country safe and mine. How did you think I did this if I was a fool with cow eyes for any handsome man with gold in his purse?”

Her shields were strong, but not without weakness.
attoliacover

“He looked at her and tilted his head very slightly in wonder. He had forgotten, as he always forgot, how beautiful she was. Her hair was held away from her face by the ruby and gold headband that crossed her dark brows. Her skin was flawless and so fair as to be translucent. She dressed as always in an imitation of Hephestia, but it was far easier to imagine the impersonal cruelty of the Great Goddess than to see cruelty in the face in the Queen of Attolia. Looking at her, Eugenides smiled. Attolia saw his smile, without any hint of self-effacement or flattery or opportunism, a smile wholly unlike that of any member of her court, and she hit him across the face with her hand.”

Only the most deft of liars could see through this, and, beyond all reason, love her the more for it.
“Damn him, damn him, damn him.”

 

 

If you’ve read and enjoyed the series, you know. If not, give them a go. They hold up to compulsive re-reading (she said, speaking from experience/having to tape the bindings of her paperbacks together) and some serious character swooning. #Costis2016
The Thief
The Queen of Attolia
The King of Attolia
A Conspiracy of Kings

*note: the titular Queen’s Thief, Gen (Eugenides) was the very reason I wanted to explore Fictional Favorites in this April challenge. Alas, I couldn’t keep my love for him to a reasonable, concise blog entry. Hopefully you’ll find out for yourself if/when you read the books.