Mermaids, Prophets, and Other Heroes

Carolyn Janecek

There is a niche genre of “Mercreature Romance Drama” that caught the public’s eye when The Shape of Water won Best Picture in 2018. After watching all of the The Little Mermaid spin-offs and graduating to the Freeform original series Siren, I consider myself a connoisseur of the genre. The series follows the return of mermaids to Bristol Cove––a small town with a tourist industry that profits off the legend of a mermaid massacre that happened generations ago. It has everything a contemporary sci-fi show needs—including unethical military operations, ecoterrorism, and a cult of mermaid worshippers.

I wouldn’t call Siren an objectively “good” show, but the 94% Fresh Rotten Tomatoes rating proves how damn addicting it is to watch the characters make terrible decisions. Ben Pownall, a marine conservationist, rescues a mermaid who has been forced to the shore by corporate overfishing. With a handsome protagonist who spends a lot of time in a wetsuit, you would think that there would be an awful love triangle between Ben, his girlfriend Maddie, and this somewhat-bloodthirsty mermaid named Ryn. You would be correct––except for one small detail. This overly-dramatic series completely embraces the human-mermaid polyamorous relationship. As Guillermo del Toro taught us two years ago, nothing is taboo as long as there’s a fish-person involved.

Rebecca Hannigan

Three WomenThree WomenThree Women! I can’t say it enough. It’s all I’ve been talking about, or alluding to, since I finished it—and I finished it quickly because it’s that good. Every woman should read it, or anyone who wants to look more closely at sexual desire and how it plays out for women. Lisa Taddeo spent years getting to know the three females whose stories she tells in the book, and it’s incredible how much she learned. (It gets fairly explicit in the middle though, so be aware of that.) You’ll reconsider your notions of who is responsible emotionally and what is acceptable socially in large and small communities, what we do when we have needs that aren’t being met, and the lengths we’ll go to meet them. One need you might not know you have is reading this book.

Helen Maimaris

In my quest to spend as much of my free time as humanly possible consuming comics, I’m currently reading an absolute classic—Watchmen (written by Alan Moore, art by Dave Gibbons, coloring by John Higgins).

Written and set in the 1980s, Watchmen is still considered one of the best novels of all time. Its 12-issue arc follows a bizarre team of retired superheroes as they navigate a world on the brink of nuclear disaster. The plot shifts between the present day and the origin stories of each of the characters, weaving a complex narrative that delves into topics such as psychological trauma, sexual assault, redemption, and ambition.

Though it is overwritten in some places and the flat-style coloring may not appeal to everyone, the storytelling and characters are absolutely knockout. Plus, there’s nothing quite like an apocalyptic work of psychological realism to while away the summer evenings. 

Zoe Nepolello

If you don’t know who Mindy McGinnis is, you’re really missing out. The Female of the Species was a brutal feminist masterpiece that forces every emotion upon you. I won’t say more about this one, because it’s so much better to go in completely blind.

McGinnis came back again this year with another emotionally draining, uncomfortable, but important and life-changing novel in Heroine. I’d first like to say that this book does come with a trigger warning for recovering addicts, and I encourage those who fall under that category to heed it.

“When I wake up, all my friends are dead,” is the very first sentence of Heroine. After that first chapter, McGinnis goes back in time, and what you get is a build-up to the horror that you already know is coming. It’s a novel that’ll open up your own mind, allow you to see things from a different perspective, and have you panicking for the main character. It’s a novel that’s heartbreaking, raw, brutal, sad…and also surprisingly hopeful. It’s one that’ll stick with you for days, months, years to come. And it’s a novel that’ll make you empathetic—something we all seem to need right about now.

What’s so great about McGinnis’s writing is that she doesn’t pull punches or sugarcoat for her audience. I highly recommend Heroine (and of course The Female of the Species) to anyone who is in a good place mentally and needs a new perspective.

Giancarlo Riccobon

Ever wonder what you get when you cross poetry and animation? Well, you’ll get Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. This little-known film is an adaptation of Kahlil Gibran’s book of poems by the same name. Eight poems were selected and each was turned into an animation by a different animator from around the world. The whole thing is strung together beautifully with a frame story that is directed by Roger Allers (The Lion King). The poet Mustafa is placed under house arrest for writing dissentious poetry. When he hears that he is released, Mustafa travels to the harbor, meeting the many people who have been inspired by his poetry. But one bright young girl, who hasn’t spoken since her father’s death, worries that Mustafa’s release is too good to be true.

Some of the poems are adapted very literally, while others show scenes that capture the overall ambience of the poem. One even conceives the brilliant metaphor of a walking birdcage. Each animated poem has its own distinctive art style. “On Eating and Drinking” is made from crayon drawings. The characters in “On Children” resemble Indonesian shadow-puppets, while “On Good and Evil” was done in the style of Japanese ink paintings. “On Work” was finger-painted by Joan C. Gratz using a single finger.

If you watch this visual treat, I promise you won’t be able to tear your eyes away.