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Smugglivus 2015 Guest Author: Catherine F. King – The Art of the Story

Welcome to Smugglivus 2015! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2015, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2016, and more.

Who: Our very own regular contributor Catherine Faris King, author of the novellete The Ninety-Ninth Bride, a wonderful retelling of Arabian Nights.

Catherine F. King The Ninety-Ninth Bride

Give a warm welcome to Catherine, folks!

And so this is Smugglivus! 2015 is winding to a close, and it’s time to look back.

Just let me clear away the mountains of spiced cookies and peppermint bark that I have barricaded myself with… Ah, yes, 2015. The year of Tigana, of The Last Unicorn, The Haunting Of Hill House, and The Odyssey. The year of Decoding the Newbery, right here at The Book Smugglers! The year of my great Terry Pratchett reread (GNU). I read many books this year, but for this year’s Smugglivus I’d like to focus on other forms of media. So I’ll look at three television shows and one webcomic, each at different points of their development, and give each a shoutout for how well it’s doing (or, in the one case, has done).

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Supergirl, on CBS, just started this fall. It tells of an alien, Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist), saving the day and learning the ropes of superheroing in National City. While the cinematic juggernauts of Dawn of Justice and Civil War loom on the horizon, Supergirl flies in like a gale of fresh air. After all these years of cinematic adaptations, it’s refreshing to see that television is, in many ways, the best medium for superheroes. Freed from the constraints of a three-act structure, there’s plenty of time for development and growth.

But that’s just fancy justification for the fact that I really dig this show. I love the characters and I care about their relationships; I love how it’s unabashedly feminist and romantic. I love how this show takes its own perspective on the unexpected toll superheroing can take – on the heroes, on their sidekicks, on their family. Even at such an early stage, it’s shaping up to be a delightful addition to the DC ‘verse.

Now, after you’ve laid the groundwork of a strong beginning, what should your second act do? It should lend depth to the characters we already know, and test their group dynamic. It should complexify the world around them. Now’s a great chance for the hero to begin to doubt, for the villain to work for redemption, and for us, the viewers, to really understand what the stakes are. All this and more is accomplished with aplomb by Rebecca Sugar in Steven Universe.

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Steven Universe is a little boy with a big heart, growing up in quiet Beach City and fighting evil from outer space… you know, like you do. Season one introduced us to Steven and his peculiar but loving family. Season two has doled out more backstory, and revealed a threat that could spell the end of the world, but Sugar’s real focus is on the characters. Every episode is clever, enthralling, and handles its complex characters with respect. And the way that Sugar and her team manage to pull this off in eleven minute installments is a wonder to behold. Season 1 takes a while to get going, but Season 2 has definitely hit its stride.

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The Order of the Stick, a fantasy webcomic based on Dungeons and Dragons, is entering into its final act. Creator Rich Burlew, has, at the time of writing, had 42 updates this year, including a jaw-dropping one thousandth update. Forty-two may be the answer to life, the universe, and everything, but as a number of updates, it’s also pretty scant pickings. But despite the slow pace, it’s still one of my favorite webcomics out there now.

Burlew is a masterful storyteller. In his typical funny and garrulous style, Burlew is setting the stage for the final act: his characters acknowledge the growth they’ve made – or their hindering failures. Burlew shakes up his story’s status quo by getting the Gods themselves involved in the crisis. Past continuity is seamlessly integrated, character is central, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. The story has been building steadily for over a decade, and it’s reached a scope that is truly epic. I’m hanging on to the edge of my seat… and at this rate I will probably continue to hang on for the next three years. Awesome!

Burlew’s biggest challenge lies ahead of him, however. A great series can be ruined by a bad ending. But what does a great ending look like? I direct you to Avatar: The Legend of Korra, season 4.

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Yes, this aired last year, in December. I had actually sworn off the series after the mess that was season 2, but when I learned that the former crack ship Korrasami had sailed triumphantly into the sunset, I was too intrigued. I gave it another shot.
Season 4 wraps things up in thirteen episodes, but there was easily enough material for double the time. With limited space, the creators, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, made damn near perfect choices as to what to show and develop. Korra’s long road to recovery is fantastic, richly developing and maturing her character. Kuvira is one of the franchise’s best ever villains, charismatic and merciless, with enough humanity to make her heartbreaking. And while Korra and Asami don’t have as much direct interaction as I would prefer (well, nothing’s perfect) it was a much better choice to give Asami her own, complete arc, so that she and Korra come to one another as equals, ready to share their lives.

But, um, enough about my One True Pairing. The point is, this is a great comeback story. After floundering around for two seasons, Avatar: The Legend of Korra hits the ground running in season 3 and does not stop. Its series finale is a gripping action setpiece, the completion of Korra’s recovery arc, and a personality clash between Korra and Kuvira that is finished with compassion. It’s the greatest embodiment yet of the pacifism and empathy that underwrote Avatar: the Last Airbender so beautifully. Is the Avatar saga over for good? Maybe, maybe not. But if this were the ending of the entire series, it would be a good way to go out.

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