Twenty Years Of Teenagers With Attitude

In the summer of 1993, I was ten years old. A lot of my memories of that time have grown fuzzy over the years, but I still remember this pretty vividly: I was watching TV with my family when this commercial came on advertising a brand new show on Saturday mornings on Fox. I don’t think I was really watching Fox at the time. I was hooked on Saturday morning cartoons, of course, but I spent most of my time on the big three networks. This, though…this wasn’t a cartoon. This was a live action show about teenagers (or so they claimed; even then I thought these people looked older than the teens I knew) fighting space aliens, driving giant robots, and transforming themselves into an unprecedented fighting force known as the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and I knew from the moment I saw that first ad that it was going to be pure unleaded awesome.had to see this for myself.

The Dream Team

The Dream Team

So, on Saturday, August 28th, 1993, I tuned in to Fox to see what this was all about. And it was pretty ridiculous, to be honest. I can’t really recall whether or not I thought so at the time. I know it wasn’t long before I realized my obsession with the show was really a little dorky, and the whole franchise was pretty damned silly. But that first episode, regardless of its flaws, was everything I’d been promised and more. It was a flight of fancy that sprawled across genres, touching on everything I was interested in. I was hooked from the moment I heard that pounding theme song. I still think it’s probably one of the best theme songs ever written. It’s just so perfectly suited to the show. Everything that followed – the spandex suits, the superheroic action, the giant goddamned robot/monster fights – was just icing on the cake.

I wasn’t the only one who thought so. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was never intended to be anything more than a stopgap, a stepping stone to bigger and better things for children’s programming on Fox. It could be made on the cheap, using footage imported from Japan’s Super Sentai franchise combined with framing scenes shot in the US, but no one expected it to last. In a matter of weeks, however, its popularity exploded. The companies involved in producing the show (and the toy line) could scarcely keep up with the demand. When the cast made an appearance at Universal Studios, 35,000 people showed up, literally stopping traffic. The ratings would continue to soar until, two years later, this cheap little adaptation was turned into a brand new feature film. The franchise would never quite reach those heights again – Power Rangers has in fact been through several periods of decline, and has nearly been canceled three times – but it’s managed to survive countless cast and format changes, and now, with the twentieth anniversary upon us, the return of a number of adult fans to bolster the ranks of the fans that never left, and Saban and Bandai pulling out at least some of the stops to celebrate the show’s legacy, it’s even enjoying something of a resurgence.

This post isn’t meant to be a comprehensive history of Power Rangers, though. That’s Linkara’s job. Rather, with twenty years of giant robots, morphing sequences, and teenagers with attitude behind us, I want to spend some time reflecting on a question I get every so often: just why do I love this show so much? What, exactly, does it mean to me? I’ve never had a ready answer, really, and I’m not sure I have one now. But I can point to a few things.

I suppose it starts with the fact that the Power Rangers were my first superheroes. That’s probably not the literal truth – I grew up in a geeky family, surrounded by geeky friends, and I’m sure I was at least aware of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and so on. But the Power Rangers are the first superheroes I remember following. Like all the best superheroes, they lived by a moral code. The core of it is spelled out in the first episode, Day of the Dumpster, after the Rangers accept their powers: never use your powers for personal gain, never escalate a battle unless forced to, and never reveal your secret identity. The rest of it emerged over time, and (the secret identity thing aside), it reinforced the lessons my parents were already teaching me. Together, they taught me to treat others with kindness and decency, to keep an open mind and never stop learning (and never, ever be ashamed of my hunger for knowledge), to use whatever power I might possess to help others, and to do these things not because they might benefit me (though I believe they have benefited me, in the long run), but because it’s simply the right thing to do. I don’t really consider myself all that heroic, or all that brave, really, but I’ve had my moments. And every time I’ve stood up for someone who couldn’t, every time I’ve found the courage to speak out, every time I’ve done something to make the world better, it’s because a part of me still looks at the world in front of me and asks what the Power Rangers would do. I have lots of heroes to look to these days, including more than a few actual people, but you never forget your first Doctor, you never forget your first Starfleet crew, and you never forget your first superheroes. With apologies to the Lone Gunmen, you don’t watch twenty years of Power Rangers without learning a little something about courage.

There were also characters I identified with very strongly. First and foremost was Billy Cranston, the resident nerd. I was a geeky kid. Scrawny, lanky, weak, withdrawn and bookish. I wore my heart on my sleeve, I wasn’t afraid to cry (or wasn’t strong enough to keep from crying, at least), and I preferred the company of girls. As I’ve said before, I was frequently bullied. So it meant a lot to me to see someone like Billy – someone like me – rise to the occasion and become a hero. He was loved, respected, and defended by his friends, and while he did learn to fight over time, to defend himself and others, his intelligence was still his true strength. Time after time, he applied his intellect to the Rangers’ latest problems, saving the day with a clever solution or a new invention. His love of science, of knowledge in general, was not just tolerated but admired. Of course, David Yost, who played Billy, wasn’t treated nearly so well – he’s spoken openly about the homophobic bullying he faced on set – but, as an adult, that just makes his story resonate on a personal level. Knowing that the man behind the Ranger I identified with most strongly was going through similar struggles with his identity and the reactions of those around him means more to me than I can say. I admire his strength and courage in building a life outside of Power Rangers, in finally breaking his silence and speaking out about the problems he faced, in embracing the fan community even after everything he went through, and in joining the ongoing fight for equality.

Then there was Kimberly Ann Hart. Kimberly never got the best lines or stunts; in TV Tropes parlance, she was most definitely The Chick. But she was everything I wished I could be. Outgoing, popular, graceful, friendly…and, though it took me a long time to put it into words, feminine. She was the girl I yearned to be. Maybe she needed to be rescued a little too often. Maybe she never really got to play the hero the way the other Rangers did. But she was still heroic, and at the same time, she was comfortable with herself and her feelings. Like me, she wore her heart on her sleeve. It wasn’t treated as a weakness. It was treated as a strength. Her compassion, her sensitivity, her love for her friends made her fight all the harder. Maybe she wasn’t the best fighter, but she was committed to the fight. And, like Billy, she was loved and respected by her friends for who she was. She didn’t have to pretend to be something else. In those days, though I didn’t yet realize it, I was spending all my time pretending, and I was honestly awful at it. Twenty years later – ten years since I began my transition – I’ve found my own style. I’m not Kimberly, and I never will be. I’m not much of a fighter, but I’m not that graceful or that girly, either. Even so, just as the Power Rangers were my first superheroes, Kimberly was my first heroine. My first role model.

My shrine to the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Still a work in progress.

My shrine to the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Still a work in progress.

Above all else, though, I love the Power Rangers because they represent hope. They don’t give up, even in the face of insurmountable odds. Even if they lose their powers, they’ll keep fighting. And they inspire the people around them to do the same. Linkara has spoken eloquently of the character arcs of Bulk and Skull, two characters who start out as cardboard bullies and comic relief and ultimately stand up as heroes in their own right. The Power Rangers and their friends represent a shining ideal: the radical idea that, with determination, compassion, unity and hope, we really can overcome anything. I’ve struggled my whole life with depression and despair, and I live in a world that is far from what I’d like it to be. But I maintain hope that we can solve our problems, that we can learn to live in peace and mutual respect, that we can face any dangers that may loom ahead of us. That comes from being a Trekkie, in part. It comes from all the science fiction I’ve read and some things friends and family have shown me. It comes from stories of real people committing acts of extraordinary kindness, compassion and courage. But it also comes, at least a little, from the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.

Twenty years later, my beloved franchise is still, by and large, a dorky kids’ show. The quality varies widely from season to season. But I still find myself drawn in to every new episode of Power Rangers Megaforce, even if the dialogue and acting make me cringe now and then. I’m going to Power Morphicon next summer, and I absolutely cannot wait to spend a whole weekend surrounded by my fellow Rangers. One of my most treasured possessions is my Pink Mighty Morphin’ Power Ranger costume, and I plan to add the Yellow Megaforce Ranger as soon as I can. I still love the Power Rangers, and I suspect I always will, no matter how silly I look with my communicator replica and my Power Rangers ringtone when I’m old and gray.

So happy birthday, Power Rangers, and many happy returns. May the Power protect you. Always.

Media Mondays: The PAX East Edition

I’m still recovering from PAX, and as I started a new job (yay!) and got some nasty financial surprises (boo!) all in the same day, well…this is going to be a quick one. So, rather than start the conversation I’ve been meaning to have about GCB, or go into depth on some other show or movie or book or what have you, I thought I’d offer up a few quick thoughts on some games I saw and loved at the show.

Let’s start with my absolute favorite game of the show. Go Home Dinosaurs! is the upcoming offering from Boston-based Fire Hose Games, and it is freaking adorable. The basic play reminds me a lot of Fieldrunners (a mobile game from another local company, Subatomic Studios), and, well…at its core, Dinosaurs is a tower defense game, so the basic mechanics are bound to resemble just about every other entry in the genre. You control a small crew of gophers attempting to protect their barbecue from a steadily advancing army of hungry dinosaurs. The dinos follow a specific path, and it’s up to you to deploy weapons along that route to slow, stop and finally destroy them. Along the way, you gather coconuts which you can use to pay for additional weapons.

Sounds simple, right? Well, there are some additional layers to it: first, each weapon covers a different area. It’s not all about size, either – the freeze ray you can get around the second round occupies an L-shaped space; the meteor magnet you get later on occupies a sort of fat-headed T…a 2 square by 3 square rectangle with one square sticking out of the longer side. In between rounds, you get coins (based upon your kills, the resources left on the board, the number of coconuts you still have in your bank, etc.) to spend on new devices and power-ups; this works very much like a trading card game, actually. You build a ‘deck’ of weapons which are then available to you in the quantities you have purchased – provided you have enough coconuts.

I’m making the game sound more complicated than it is. Honestly, it’s very intuitive and elegant in its simplicity. It’s very, very, very cute and a hell of a lot of fun. It should be hitting the Chrome Web Store this summer, and I’ll almost certainly be buying it.

Next we have Star Command, a Star Trek-inspired game for iOS and Android devices. I got to try it briefly in the Kickstarter Lounge, and it reminded me a great deal of the classic Dungeon Keeper, in a good way. You control a starship drifting through deep space, marshaling your crew to fend off invading aliens and other menaces. Your crew members have different powers depending on their divisions: the people in red shirts are tactical officers, skilled in offense but quick to die if you’re not careful; blue shirts are medical, able to heal their crewmates; gold shirts are engineering, able to repair and upgrade the ship itself. Sadly I only had a few minutes with the game before I had to head off with my friend Ross to practice for our second Omegathon round, but I can see how it could get quite addicted. I’m pleased to note that the game has been fully funded on Kickstarter and it should be hitting the market later this year.

Speaking of the Omegathon, while Zip-It was the harbinger of our destruction, it’s also an incredibly fun game that I cannot recommend highly enough. It’s quick, easy to learn, tricky to master, and an absolute blast – and it easily fits in a purse or messenger bag, so you can bust it out any time you have a few minutes to spare. It’s a worthy addition to Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice in my collection of line games.

Last but far from least, there were a couple of really fun additions to the Apples to Apples genre of subjective card-matching games. Cards Against Humanity scarcely needs an introduction at this point, but I hadn’t actually seen the game up close before visiting the Kickstarter Lounge at PAX East, so it was new to me. It’s probably best described as “Apples to Apples for horrible people,” and given my somewhat twisted sense of humor, it seems to be right up my alley. Sadly, they were sold out forever at the con, but you can download the game for free on their site and they should have more physical sets available for sale soon.

The Metagame was funded on Kickstarter a year ago, so it’s not exactly new either, but once again, it was new to me. I got to play it in line with Mattie Brice, Amanda Cosmos and a whole mess of others, and it was a lot of fun. Essentially, as with Apples to Apples, you have one set of ‘question’ cards and one set of ‘answer’ cards – except each of the ‘answer’ cards lists a different game, with basic details like the publisher and the year of release, and the ‘question’ cards ask things like ‘Which game feels more like first love?’ or ‘Which game is more culturally insensitive?’. While most of the cards list video games, there are exceptions to the rule…most notably, and amusingly, the Metagame itself gets a card, meaning that the game is a set that includes itself. (…the math nerds got that one.) It’s probably one of the geekiest games I’ve ever played, and you probably won’t fully appreciate it unless you’re a serious gamer or a game developer, but personally, I loved it.

Those were hardly the only games I saw at PAX, of course, but they’re the easiest to sum up and they were definitely favorites. I’ll probably have more complicated thoughts on the others at some future point – particularly Rock Band Blitz, once I’ve had a chance to play it outside of a demo environment. In the meantime, I definitely recommend checking out all of the above. They’re all pretty much winners.

Media Mondays: Comic Book Men

Behold the original boys' club.

Though my interest has flagged a bit in recent years, I still consider myself a Kevin Smith fan. Chasing Amy, despite a few problems, remains one of my favorite films. Dogma gets gross in parts, but I still think it’s a great commentary on religion as opposed to faith. Clerks and Mallrats are of course pretty damn great. And while I admit one viewing of Clerks 2 was enough for a lifetime, and Red State wasn’t quite the movie I was hoping for, I still like Kevin. I like what he’s doing. I think he’s the kind of guy I’d like to hang with. And though, as a lifelong Bostonian, I consider New Jersey the Eighth Circle of Hell*, I admit I’d given some thought to heading down to Red Bank one of these days to hit up the Secret Stash.

Comic Book Men, which finished its first season last night, has pretty much destroyed that dream.

In retrospect, I probably should have known what I was getting into the moment I heard the title. The show is aptly named. In fact, if I were a Cosmo-sipping, condescending Carrie Bradshaw type, I would probably say it should have been titled Comic Book BOYS, because these immature louts can hardly call themselves men, but I like to think I’m above that kind of clichéd rhetoric. My criticism of this show begins and ends with the fact that there is a serious lack of any kind of female influence in the world of the Secret Stash. Women are never-seen wives and girlfriends, or the poor ladies who wander into the shop seeking gifts for significant others, or the folks who periodically come in to sell off old comics and paraphernalia, or (and I can literally count these on one hand) that vanishingly rare and oh-so-prized beast, the female comic book fan. If there is even one woman employed at the shop, we never see her. Women are not the target market of the Stash in any way, shape or form. It is no surprise, then, that actual female customers are so rarely seen. I can only imagine they’ve found other, more welcoming shops far more deserving of their custom.

But we’ll get back to that.

This is Bryan. His duties apparently include acting like a total asshole and looking a bit like Alan Moore. HE IS VERY GOOD AT HIS JOB.

I knew right away that something was wrong with this show. Actually, for the first few episodes, that something had a distinct name and face: Bryan Johnson. From the first episode, he acted like a sarcastic, obnoxious douche. He clearly thought he was funnier than he actually was, and his treatment of his fellow employees sometimes bordered on the abusive. When he and the rest of the guys were sent out to a flea market to sell excess merchandise, he actually went so far as to take collectible plates off of fellow employee Ming Chen’s table and smash them just because he could. He finally gave Ming cash for the plates after being told off by a really awesome older gentleman…but then, as soon as said gentleman left, he tried to get that money back.

The only thing that kept me from completely hating Bryan – and for a long time, I did – was his behavior in last night’s episode. See, it turns out Bryan has a five-year-old niece, whom he obviously loves very, very much. In last night’s episode, we not only saw him buying superhero Barbies for her (I’ll be getting back to the Barbies, too), but we also saw him get a tattoo in her honor: a zombified portrait of his niece on her bike, right on his forearm where the whole world could see it. When he showed the tattoo design to his co-workers, they obviously thought he was insane, that everyone would be extremely creeped out by the undead little girl on his arm and his niece would not like it at all. But it turns out that his niece LOVES zombies – that it’s something they bond over – and when she came into the shop at the end and he showed her his tattoo, it was hands down the most heartwarming scene I’ve seen on television all week. The man I’d seen as the outright villain (or at least assholish anti-hero) of the show turned out to be a human being. I still think he’s kind of an asshole, but I have a little more sympathy for him now.

That doesn’t really change the fact that the Stash seems to be a really, really awful place to work, particularly if your name is Ming. See, Ming is kind of the Meg Griffin of the shop, as near as I can tell. He’s there to take constant shit from his co-workers. And, okay, look. He’s kind of a dork. He’s a little awkward, he doesn’t know nearly as much about comics as his co-workers, and sometimes he has really awful ideas. But you know what? I used to be like that. I had my ugly duckling phase. And I’m still awkward and shy and kind of a dork at times. And that’s no excuse – NO excuse – to treat someone like crap. It’s hard to tell if Ming’s in on the joke. Sometimes I think, yeah, he totally is, but all too often I’m convinced they’re laughing at him, not with him. And I have to say, if I were in his shoes, I would be done with that shop by now. No job is worth that level of abuse.

And the fact of the matter is that Ming is one of the most dedicated employees the Stash has. He puts up with EVERYTHING. He seems to do a hell of a lot more work than, say, Bryan. And he’s a lot more on the ball than any of them. In one episode, for example, he came up with a zombie-themed ad campaign (and sale day) for the shop. It ended up flopping, and I think his ideas were a little flawed, but he got one thing absolutely right: on the day of the sale, he was busting his ass out on the sidewalk trying to get customers in the shop, and he was talking to EVERYONE. Men, women, older folks, younger folks, all of them. And time and again, his boss and his co-workers kept yelling at him to target more typical customers, but Ming kept plugging away.

You know what? Ming was right. Zombie fans – geeks in general – come in all shapes and sizes. Men, women, old, young, gay, straight, professional, blue-collar, mime. You can’t always judge a book by its cover. The fact that it’s still news that women like comics, sci-fi movies, fantasy, zombie flicks – the fact that this is a controversial assertion – confuses and infuriates me.

This is a recurring problem with the Secret Stash as portrayed on Comic Book Men. Women are ignored, dismissed, tolerated at best. The products made for women and girls are denigrated – such as the aforementioned superhero Barbies. In last night’s episode, a couple of women came into the shop to sell some Barbies dressed and packaged as various superheroines: Batgirl, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, etc. These were official Mattel products from a few years back, and honestly, they looked great. I have not been into Barbies since I was ten, but I would totally buy them, and I bet I’m not the only one. And Walt Flanagan, manager of the store, flat-out refused to buy them. He refused to believe that any of his customers would possibly be interested in them. Bryan, as I said, ended up buying a couple of them for his niece, but Walt made it very clear – on the show itself and in the podcast studio afterward – that he could not conceive of a world in which he would carry Barbie or Ken dolls, superhero-themed or otherwise, in his shop.

Okay. That’s his right. But this shop sells all kinds of action figures and toys. I’m willing to bet they’ve sold some premium figures that are fashion dolls in all but name. These Barbies were official products, they looked cool, they seemed like they were well made, and they were in excellent condition. I’m willing to bet they would have sold. But Walt rejected them because they were girl toys. That’s what it comes down to. They were dolls, and this shop is for comic book MEN.

To be fair…for certain values of fair…it really, really is. Actual female customers are a rare breed in the shop, and given the sheer amount of testosterone wafting out the door, I can’t say I’m surprised. Especially when you consider the incident that truly infuriated me, the event that once and for all destroyed any interest I might have had in visiting the Secret Stash.

In the fourth episode, a woman came into the shop with her significant other – I’m assuming that’s who the guy walking around with her was, anyway – and it was very clear from the outset that they were both comic book fans and she was shopping for herself. She ended up spending a pretty big chunk of cash on some valuable old comics. The transaction itself went fine – the guys were personable and polite, they rang her up and saw her out the door. But afterward, while discussing the sale on their podcast, they made a bunch of sexual jokes about how “she knew what she wanted” and Ming (who rang her up) “gave it to her”.

Guys, this is a line. It’s a pretty clear line. It’s bright and shiny and painted right in the middle of the road. We used reflective glow-in-the-dark Day-Glo orange. And you just JUMPED right on over it.

Let me be clear: if I were that woman, if I had spent a bunch of money only to find out on national television that the staff who helped me had gone on to make a bunch of sexual jokes about me behind my back, I would be done with that store forever. I would tell all my friends to steer clear. I would do my level best to ensure that they never got any new business. That is not okay. That is not acceptable behavior in polite society. You treat your customers with respect before, during and after the transaction. You treat women as people, not magical unicorns here for your pleasure, not aliens who only rarely deign to descend to Earth. Women don’t shop in the Stash, Walt? Women aren’t your target audience? Gee. I wonder why.

I wanted to like this show. I really did. And there are parts of it I have enjoyed. I actually do enjoy seeing the staff haggle with the people who come into the shop to sell stuff or buy rare items. I like seeing the amazing memorabilia that comes in and the cadre of experts they call upon to assess it. Seeing the staff in full zombie makeup for Ming’s campaign was pretty cool. Watching them film a TV commercial full of all kinds of crazy crap was fun. And, again, Bryan and his niece were the most adorable thing ever. But all things considered, I’m not sure I’ll be back for Season 2. They’d have to make some serious changes to the show and the store. They have some serious, heartfelt apologies to hand out. And I really don’t think any of that is going to happen.

All things considered, I’d rather watch a show about New England Comics. They actually employ women there. And, more importantly, I’ve always been treated with respect. Something tells me that wouldn’t happen at the Stash.

In case you’re wondering, New York is the Ninth Circle, with Satan himself dwelling in the frozen waste of Yankee Stadium, his three mouths forever gnawing on Harry Frazee, Jonathan Papelbon and Johnny Damon. I barely need to mention that Connecticut is the Seventh.

Linkspam: Friends and Family

I have thoughts and opinions about last night’s Supernatural, but I think I’m going to give them some time to settle – I may blog about it tomorrow or Monday. But rest assured that it’s coming. Oh, boy, is it coming.

So, in the meantime, I’m going to spend a few paragraphs talking about things my friends and family are up to. You’ve probably seen some of these links before – hell, in at least one case, you might have found this blog through the site I’m linking to – but hopefully you’ll discover something new nonetheless.

The face of a white woman with medium-length red hair, wearing a black cloak over her shoulders and a brass tiara ornamented with spirals and leaves upon her brow. Black branches and leaves in red, orange and yellow are painted on her cheeks, and she has yellow and black contact lenses in her eyes. She's wearing pointed ears made of copper wire and ornamented with black feathers.

My costume for Halloween 2011: Queen of the Autumn Fairies. Ears by Alanya Divine. Photo by Katie Hallahan.

In yesterday’s Fangirl Fridays post, I mentioned my sister, Alanya Divine. Alanya’s an incredibly talented jewelry-maker who makes a number of unique, intricate pieces out of copper, silver and assorted stones. She also specializes in ornamental “elf” ears accented with stones, clock parts, feathers…you name it. She made a pair of truly lovely copper ears ornamented with black feathers for my Halloween costume last year (I’m afraid they don’t fit perfectly in the photo; she’s since adjusted them to a much better fit) and I can’t wait to find another use for them. You can find her Etsy shop at www.etsy.com/shop/belethil; while she does have her own dedicated site, it’s not quite finished yet. Alanya is absolutely dedicated to her craft, and I’m so, so thrilled and proud to see her enjoying such success.

I’ve mentioned my friend Katie a few times (unsurprisingly, since we’re in the same writing group, we both go to Women in Games Boston, and we’re gaming buddies and occasional creative partners), and I’ve linked to her blog each time, but in case you missed it, here it is again. Katie’s an incredibly bright, funny, snarky lady, and I always enjoy working with her. She’s also a vital part of Phoenix Online Studios, which recently produced The Silver Lining, a fan-made sequel to the King’s Quest series, and she and her colleagues are currently hard at work on an original game called Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller. I’ve been privy to some of her other creative work, and while it’s not really my place to talk about it, I’m sure you’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the years to come.

While I haven’t met many of them personally, I’m Internet buddies with a number of the bloggers on The Border House, which focuses on the perspectives of marginalized communities in gaming. While I wouldn’t call The Border House a totally safe space (some of the comments on various articles can be quite vicious, and there have been scattered incidents of harassment during some Border House-connected events, which the writers and staff have been quick to recognize), the writers there are always insightful, and I highly recommend the blog at large. (They also did me a good turn by promoting the GLBTQA Gamer Meetup I’m organizing, so it’s only fair to send what traffic I can back their way!)

I also want to give a quick shout out to a couple other Internet buddies: Maverynthia and I have been following each other on Twitter for a while now, and most recently, she was kind enough to write a loose companion and counterpoint to my own piece on the used product market. (I say “loose” because I would not describe it solely as a companion to my piece – it’s her own article, offering her own unique perspective, and she was gracious enough to link it with mine.) Then there’s Kate Cox, an independent blogger and guest poster on The Border House who has recently joined the staff of Kotaku. Once again, we’ve been following each other on Twitter for some time, and she’s an awesome lady and a great writer, and I’m looking forward to reading her future work.

Maddy Myers is also mainly a Twitter/Facebook friend, though we did finally meet in person at this year’s Arisia (where she sat on the Women in Gaming panel and wore an awesome Gargoyles shirt that made me kinda jealous – oh, Elisa Maza, you are so getting a Fangirl Fridays post of your very own). She’s a writer for the Phoenix, specializing in games and gaming culture, and I cannot recommend her highly enough.

Last but far from least, Amanda Cosmos is a friend and former colleague of mine, currently working at Irrational Games. I have to admit that I am really really terrible about following what she’s up to, but I keep tabs on her on (say it with me) Twitter and see her every so often at Women in Games Boston, and she’s also very cool.

The truth is that I am blessed with a whole lot of amazing friends and there’s no way I can keep track of them all – so if I’ve passed you over, I’m sorry! I’ll try to get to you next time, and please feel free to call me out in the comments. As for the rest of my readers, I hope you follow up on these folks – they’re all incredible in their own unique ways, and I’m sure you’ll find something you like among their work.

Fangirl Fridays: Claudia Donovan, Warehouse 13

A vaguely cartoonish statue of a slender (though slightly busty) young white woman with short brown hair, dressed in blue sneakers, jeans, a blue top, and a belted, cropped dark gray jacket. She has gray gloves on both hands, and her right hand is resting on her hip, while her left hand is resting on a pair of brass goggles set on top of her head.

My new best friend, animated Claudia Donovan.

I should begin this post by saying that my little sister, Alanya Divine, is basically the best sister ever. Though we fought like cats and dogs when we were kids, we’ve become genuine friends in the last decade or so, and she’s bailed me out of a few real messes. She’s an incredibly talented jewelry maker, she’s painted some amazing pieces (two of which occupy places of honor on my bedroom walls), and of course she’s given me my favorite niece, Elizabeth, who is pretty much perfect in every way, though she needs to hug her freaking aunt more often. I love her dearly, and I owe her a great deal.

You may be wondering why I’m talking about my sister in a Fangirl Fridays post. Well, I am a big fan of my sister, but I’m actually here to talk about one of my favorite female characters on television right now. The two are just somewhat related. See, late last year, I found out about the Claudia Donovan Animated Maquette from Quantum Mechanix. I’m an enormous fan of Warehouse 13, and of Claudia Donovan in particular, so when I saw that little statue, I pretty much had the classic geek reaction: IT MUST BE MINE!

But money’s been tight lately (so, by the way, if anyone’s looking to employ a geeky, snarky redhead with three years of game QA experience and a small talent for writing, I’m free), and there was no way I was going to scrape together the spare cash for that statue before the preorders closed. Luckily, I mentioned it to my sister, and probably went a little overboard in my gushing over the character, and as it happened, she had wanted to know what I wanted for Christmas anyway, so…

Needless to say, it arrived on Tuesday.

Claudia’s taken up residence on my TV shelf, directly opposite Tali (who is herself worthy of a Fangirl Fridays post at some point), and in honor of her arrival, I thought I’d talk a bit about why I love her so very much.

I was a pretty big fan of Warehouse 13 from the moment it started airing on (sigh) Syfy. Though there were some initial complaints that the concept strayed too close to Steve Jackson Games’ Warehouse 23, I think the show moved quickly to distinguish itself from the SJG-created game setting/meme, and both owe as much to the warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark and the conspiracy theories surrounding Roswell and Area 51 as anything. The cast, including veteran TV character actor Saul Rubinek, was full of intriguing and delightfully quirky characters, and the premise – that figures throughout history had invested their creations with strange and often dangerous powers, and it fell to the small team affiliated with Warehouse 13 (itself the heir to a dozen previous Warehouses around the world, going all the way back to ancient Egypt) to collect, neutralize and preserve them: to “snag, bag, and tag ’em,” as the show’s most prominent catchphrase goes.

But while I enjoyed the show immensely, something seemed to be missing. Artie Nielsen, Saul Rubinek’s character, was wrapped in mystery and often distant from the main characters, former Secret Service agents Myka Bering and Peter Lattimer. The recurring characters of Leena the psychic innkeeper and the eternally enigmatic Mrs. Frederic, director of Warehouse 13 (played by the unforgettable C.C.H. Pounder), were little better. As for Myka and Pete, they soon became a dynamic duo, and their explorations of the bizarre world of Warehouse 13 mirrored the viewer’s own journey, but there seemed to be little tying them to the rest of the cast.

And then, just a few episodes in, it all began to change. WARNING: spoilers for the first season follow.

An LED lightboard spelling out two words in red letters: KNOCK KNOCK.

Knock knock, Artie.

The first few episodes of the series included a tantalizing subplot revolving around an unseen hacker who was trying to infiltrate the Warehouse’s computer systems. At the end of the third episode, these attacks culminated in a terrifying all-out assault in which the hacker briefly assumed control of the mainframe. As Artie scrambled to lock the intruder out, the mainframe abruptly lit up with a simple yet enigmatic message, repeated over and over again: KNOCK KNOCK.

It didn’t take long for the hacker to reveal herself. In the very next episode, Claudia Donovan, a figure from Artie’s shrouded past, managed to get inside the Warehouse itself – and, worse, she managed to abduct Artie himself. As Myka and Pete tried to track her down and save their boss, Claudia confronted Artie over his role in the disappearance of her older brother several years ago. Forced to face his guilt and shame over the whole affair, Artie soon agreed to help Claudia with a seemingly far-fetched plan to rescue her brother from his predicament. Once Myka and Pete were on the same page, he and Claudia managed to use an array of artifacts from the Warehouse to locate and retrieve her lost brother – and while Joshua Donovan eased his way back into the world around him, Claudia fearlessly accepted the consequences of her crimes against the Warehouse and stepped forward to face the music.

It was clear from the start that those consequences could very well be dire: Mrs. Frederic herself made it very clear that Artie could either hire Claudia or dispose of her. Artie chose the former, and offered Claudia a job as his assistant. Though initially tasked with cataloging artifacts, organizing files and beefing up the mainframe’s security, her boredom with these tasks soon led her to pursue various side projects, with and without Artie’s blessing. Though she was already clearly a bright young woman, the true scope of her intelligence was revealed only in later episodes, as she showed a distinct talent for her own unique brand of superscience, redesigning artifacts to serve a variety of esoteric purposes. We are talking about a girl who not only understood the principles behind a holographic projector built by Alexander Graham Bell, but successfully transformed it into a 3D imaging device capable of creating a composite hologram out of disparate 2D digital images. And a girl who literally invented a suit to transform the wearer into a superhero. Claudia has some truly insane skills.

That’s far from the only reason why I love her, though it’s a start.

A young white woman with short brown hair, photographed from the chest up, wearing a battered dark gray denim jacket. There is a chain holding two interlocking rings around her neck, and an AV Club button on her label. Her right arm is raised and rests upon the drawer of a large old-fashioned card catalog.

Claudia Donovan, Badass Scientist

The fact of the matter is that Claudia is a tremendously fun character. She’s snarky, funny, cheerful, genuinely enthusiastic about her job, and openly affectionate with her friends. In the last few seasons, she has rapidly become the glue that holds Warehouse 13 together – a surrogate daughter to Artie, a surrogate little sister to Myka, an occasional partner in crime to Pete, and one of the few people to truly stand up to Mrs. Frederic’s machinations. When a new agent joined the team, she was the first person to welcome him with open arms, and soon formed a close friendship with him as well. Her brief fling with Douglas Fargo in the course of a crossover with Eureka was adorable, hilarious and authentic (and made for a nice change from her previous romantic subplot, which was a bit dull and overly convoluted). As an unabashed geek, she’s the perfect avatar for the show’s core audience. Brave, loving, brilliant and fierce, she is one of the best female characters on (sigh) Syfy right now, and possibly one of the best female characters on TV, period (along with Leslie Knope and the late lamented Veronica Mars, of course). She’s not perfect. She certainly makes her share of mistakes. But she is nevertheless a wonderful role model. I would be thrilled if my niece, upon her inevitable discovery of Warehouse 13, decided she wanted to be Claudia Donovan grew up. Hell, I want to be Claudia Donovan when I grow up.

Of course, it helps that Claudia is brought to life by Allison Scagliotti, an adorable and all-around awesome young actress who has stood up with numerous other celebrities in support of the NOH8 Campaign. She’s a comic book fan, she loves Joan Jett (which demonstrates her exquisite taste), and she’s got some serious pipes of her own, as demonstrated by her memorable cover of The PixiesWhere Is My Mind? on a recent episode of Warehouse 13. I admit that I know her mainly as Claudia Donovan (though I did see her guest appearance as Jayna of the Wonder Twins on Smallville), but I was swift to follow her on Twitter and I’ve been very impressed by what I’ve seen of her work outside the show.

If you’re not watching Warehouse 13, you should be. It’s a fun show with some truly terrific characters (and I could write a whole other post on the relationship between Myka and recurring character H.G. Wells – yes, THE H.G. Wells, but not quite the one you expect), some epic plotlines and some brilliant ideas. There are a lot of reasons to tune in. But it’s really worth watching for Claudia Donovan alone. I can hardly wait to see her adventures continue – but at least I have a truly awesome little Claudia statue to keep me company in the meantime.

(Seriously. I have the best sister.)