So here we are, embarking on a Xena-watch for the second time (though reposting my reviews from the first time around, with a few additions). I only watched it sporadically when it first aired back in the Nineties, though that was mainly seasons two and three, and by the time I settled down for a full beginning-to-end watch I had forgotten most of the details.
I've decided on a new series of blogposts (to go with the dozen or so I'm already juggling) and it's one that delves into some of my absolute favourite stories from childhood and beyond. Let's call it: From My Favourites Shelf.
Some of these are going to be a bit obscure (more than a few are long out of print) but they're essentially the formative books of my youth, which have managed to stay with me across the years and which I'm now re-reading as an adult to see if they've held up.
First up is Monica Dickens's The Messenger quartet...
Back in the Nineties I was going through my "supernatural detective" phase. The Slayer was slaying, the Charmed Ones were charming, and in a point-and-click adventure game released in 1993, the Schattenjäger (German for Shadow Hunter) was hunting.
I first glimpsed pictures of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers in computer magazines, and of all the images that intrigued me, it was this one that really captured my imagination:
The mausoleums, the angel statue, the strange lettering on the crypt, the trench-coat wearing hero... I wanted nothing more than to escape into the sheer atmosphere of that place. Then for one of my birthdays, I received the game as part of a special collector's edition (which also included a novelization of the story) and could finally delve into the mystery first-hand.
Before even seeing the film I knew I was going to showcase one of the Black Panther women in March, but ended up totally spoiled for choice. Nakia, Oyoko, Ramonda – all so regal, so intelligent, so fierce. Any one of them could have easily filled this space. Even Ayo, whose brief appearance here and in Civil War nearly stole the show.
But having watched the movie, my heart was stolen by Shuri, the spunky princess and tech-genius who equips her brother with all the gadgets he needs to be the Black Panther.
Perhaps her most important line is: "just because something works doesn't mean it can't be improved", as it easily doubles as a motto for all of Wakanda. It's perfect as it is: a beautiful, self-sufficient, culturally rich utopia, but there's room for improvement. And it's Shuri, in her youth, curiosity, intellect and enthusiasm, that embodies the opportunity for Wakanda to share its advancements with the countries beyond its borders, in pursuit of a better world for everyone.
It's a theme that follows her right to the post-credits scene: as she stands by the lakeside with Bucky he tells her he feels "good", but her response is that he still has much more to learn. Like Wakanda, Shuri is always growing, her mind expanding, her ideas multiplying, her reach furthering. What a great character.
(And let's not forget how she tricks her brother into attacking a kinetically-charged suit so she can record him flying across the room).
It's been a busy month, though a lot of what I got through were recommendations from my work colleagues. And it's not that I didn't enjoy what they suggested, but my own personal To Be Read pile certainly isn't getting any smaller.
And there's absolutely no singular theme to this month's reading/watching log: a fairy tale picture book, a graphic sci-fi space opera, a London-based crime novel, a psychological thriller, a bunch of murders set in 1920s Sydney, a couple of superheroes...
Speaking of which, these two Marvel superheroes sit on opposite ends of audience response: one was lauded and the other heavily criticized. I'm naturally talking about Black Panther and Iron Fist, one of which left me feeling pumped, and the other... well, at least I can watch The Defenders now.
I realize this blog has been a little dead lately; work is keeping me very busy and when I do get some time to myself, it's usually spent catching up with my TV shows and my ever-growing To Be Read pile. So in a bid to keep up a regular flow of posts, I've delved back into my now-defunct LiveJournal and other message-boards to pull out some of my older reviews and metas.
Between 2011 and 2017 I watched all six seasons of Xena Warrior Princess and reviewed each of the one hundred and thirty-four episodes on the BBC Robin Hood Fan Community boards with other long-time fans of the show (one of whom supplied me with the DVDs).
It was a ground-breaking show in so many ways, made all the more interesting by how it first began. Xena started as a recurring character on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, a show that stands as one of the quintessential Nineties fantasies: hokey plots, all-American hero, and extremely dated FX.
But Xena Warrior Princess was a little different; tackling more serious themes of violence and redemption, with a main character that constantly fought her dark past and tried to make amends for the crimes she committed in her youth. Oh, and she was an unbeatable warrior woman who became a feminist and lesbian icon.
It's a fascinating story, one that grew and evolved and changed in unexpected ways, with plenty of highpoints and pitfalls along the way. For the sake of posterity, I've decided to shift my personal Xena journey to this blog, so as to track her development and archive her story.
I'll post these episode reviews three-at-a-time, starting with her guest-starring stint on Hercules, the trilogy that led directly to her own spin-off. Just keep in mind that I originally wrote this after viewing all but the final two episodes of Xena. This time around, I'm posting in chronological order.
I find it fascinating when female characters that otherwise tick a lot (if not all) of the Mary Sue boxes are completely beloved by audiences. It only happens occasionally: Nausicaa from The Valley of the Wind, Sara Crewe from A Little Princess, Sybil from Downton Abbey, maybe even Lagertha from Vikings (at least in the early seasons).
Phryne Fisher is another such character, and her list of skills and achievements rival Xena's: she shimmies up drainpipes in high heels, is a perfect shot with a custom made pistol, can pilot an aircraft, speaks multiple languages, and wins the hearts and minds of all who know her. She's witty, wealthy, charming and beautiful, and enjoys complete sexual freedom despite living in the early 1920s.
What is it that protects her from the usual criticism? Perhaps it's simply that she's so much fun. She's practically the embodiment of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," and it's more out of her love of adventure than the pursuit of justice that she opens her mystery-solving business.
And really, who doesn't want to see a 1920s flapper flout society's expectations and embroil herself in a life of solving murders? It's the ultimate in wish-fulfilment, and between her fabulous wardrobe, ride-or-die entourage and beautiful townhouse, the show leans also heavily into themes of female empowerment and solidarity. Among Phryne's inner circle are a lesbian doctor, a shy Catholic maid and her pompous (but good-hearted) society aunt, and more than one case involves one or more of them coming to the rescue of vulnerable women from all walks of life.
That Phryne is an older woman (played by an actress who is currently forty-eight) is another bonus, reminding women everywhere that the fun doesn't stop after a certain age – and neither does romance. Phryne's ongoing flirtation with Detective Jack Robinson is truly one of the show's highlights.
Ultimately, Phryne reminds me of Stella Gibson from The Fall – not because the two have anything in common (besides solving crimes), but because they tap into a specific kind of power-fantasy for women. Whereas Stella was totally fearless and self-assured, Phryne enjoys absolute freedom from the world's judgments and expectations; a free spirit in the truest sense of the world. In the last episode I watched, she was wandering around her garden in a white mink shawl. Why? Cos she wanted to.