A More Diverse Universe Blog Tour Reviews: Folklore & Black Panther

So in honor of A More Diverse Universe Blog Tour week, I decided to reread one of my favorite novellas I discovered this summer, Folklore, by my good friend Ankhesen Mie and as a bonus I’m also including my review of the Black Panther animated film that was written by Reginald Hudlin and also based on his run of the popular Marvel comic series. Why? Because I strongly believe that Hudlin’s run and the movie personifies what this Blog Tour is all about.

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So late last year I was chatting with my buddy Ankhesen Mie about her novella Folklore and I mentioned to her that I planned to purchase it. She insisted I wait because she planned to re-release it. I was already even more curious because this novella had already received some serious acclaim—Midwest Book Review, RAWSISTAZ Literary, APOOO Bookclub for starters—so how much more awesome could this book get?

I would soon find out.

Confession time. I was actually very reluctant to write this review. Not because the book isn’t phenomenal, in fact quite the opposite. I was so blown away by Mie’s prose, that expressing my amazement into words simply wouldn’t do this novella justice. Just the same, I’m going to attempt to do so anyway.

“Folklore”

When young Kazuya Kurosaki orders the disposal of a rival’s favorite, beautiful Amisi Ryan shows up with a “‘thank you’…from the dead.” Her priceless gift, an approximately four-thousand-year-old solid gold mask, lures Kazuya into a world of myth and intoxicating fantasy, and with each telling of an ancient tale, he finds himself drawn further and further away from everything – and everyone – he knows.

As a writer, I was floored by Mie’s craftsmanship. We’re actually receiving two juxtaposed stories in one: the myth behind the mask and the fates of Kazuya and Amisi. In fact the myth of the mask plays out in the modern tale with subtlety and nuance; a testament to Mie’s masterful skills as a storyteller.

I had to put down my iPad in sheer amazement of Mie’s story structure and execution. I would be putting down my iPad repeatedly in amazement. In hindsight with the repeatedly placing down of said iPad, no wonder it took me forever to finish this novella.

While I was first introduced to the Hirosawa Klan (which reminds me, I needs to see about them adopting me because they are that badass) in Mie’s novel, The Woman From Cheshire Avenue, they actually make their debut prior to that novel her in Folklore. And per the standard they delivered the awesome. But they weren’t the only ones. Without giving anything away Hirosawa rival Raiya proved herself to be a boss chick and shows why she’s not the woman to cross.

I was gnashing teeth when the story concluded. I wanted more. I had to find out what happened next. Leaving her audience wanting more, Mie had done her job.

While I knew I would enjoy the other two stories, I was certain they wouldn’t be able to hold up to Folklore. How do you follow such a strong piece?

I would soon find out.

“Echo”

Rory Zheng is a young traveler who arrives at Silver Wood Manor, an enchanting residence atop a mountain where he meets an array of characters. Among them are the mischievous old Irishman who designed the buildings and the chatty nine-year-old daughter of the beautiful, somber landlady of Silver Wood, whose husband is often away….

To unlock the mystery and history of the manor and its people, Rory employs some magic of his own: the art of storytelling.

While the action and excitement of Folklore hooked me immediately, Echo’s subtlety slowly, but nonetheless completely, grew on me. In a mythical and surreal world, it still had a small town/village feel to it where the characters were like family.

Silver Wood itself had as much atmosphere and character as the characters and the backdrop leant itself nicely to the story.

Comyna and Subira were a lovely and refreshing lesbian couple. It’s not often I see two queer characters of color anywhere and both characters were handled with respect and class. The Liangs were a riot and Hannigan was a hoot.

While Rory and Lara are the two main characters, I found myself not only being invested in them but becoming just as equally invested in the supporting cast members.

Once again, I was gnashing teeth when the story concluded. I wanted more. I had to find out what happened next. Leaving her audience wanting more, Mie had done her job.

Two separate stories had done this, there was no way she was going to pull off such a feat with the third one.

Or would she?

“The Collection”

The divorce between Jason Rang and his filthy rich, soon-to-be ex-wife Mireille is actually going well. Or at least it does until Jason lets his new fiancée Maribel actually meet Mireille. Invited to Mireille’s newly inherited mansion (fully furnished with all manner of beautiful shirtless young men), Jason and Maribel find themselves lulled into a sensual world where they learn that sometimes – but only sometimes – an entire divorce proceeding can be just another lovers’ quarrel.

Of the three tales, the Collection was most certainly the most experimental. As a writer, I’m usually good about analyzing story structure and anticipating where the narrative is headed. This story, I honestly couldn’t get a read on. There was lot of backstory that was shrouded in mystery. The characters reacted in unexpected (but completely plausible) ways. The conclusion was satisfying, even though the mystery was never fully resolved.

The story ultimately proved to be entertaining, complex, surreal, and more enticing than I’m comfortable admitting. And while I was left wanting more, it was an intense ride and the perfect way to end the book.

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In each of the stories, Mie consistently brings the highest level of quality to her work. Quality that is distinctive. She gives the most detailed description in settings, design, locale, attire, personal style, even the smell and tastes of the meals being served. These are worlds that she’s excited about and clearly in love with and it translates well in her stories. She wants her readers to have the same experience exploring her worlds as she does.

Folklore is also an example of experimentation done right. Mie knows her craft inside and out. She knows the rules and can bend them and break them to do some incredible feats. In fact she seriously needs to consider changing her name to Niobe or Trinity because I witnessed some  jaw-dropping Matrix style maneuvering in her writing.

Said experimentation also lent itself nicely to the plausible deniability of the supernatural bent in the stories. Each story possesses a hint of speculative elements but it’s rooted in enough ambiguity that it allows the reader to interpret the text how they see fit.

But more than anything I thank Mie for the escapism. It was refreshing to read a book where the main characters were people of color. Three dimensional, complex complicated people of color.

It was a joy to see a same sex loving couple (possibly two and if you’ve read Echo, then you know what I’m talking about) who were portrayed with respect.

It was refreshing to see a diverse set of strong powerful women whether it was Lara, Raiya, Mrs. Liang, or Mierelle.

I especially enjoyed reading these worlds where POCs are wealthy and privileged and accomplished. Silver Wood had a Latino mayor, a world renowned Asian photographer, and a rich young academic. It’s a tragic reminder that more stories like these aren’t being told and yet it’s refreshing and hopeful to be reminded that someone is.

Of course now Mie has made the worst mistake possible by allowing me to read Folklore. Now more than ever I’m a huge fanboy of hers and if she thinks I’ve been pestering her before about when her next books are going to be released, she hasn’t seen anything yet.

If this review is any indication, Folklore receives five stars. This book is what the kids would call  FLAWLESS VICTORY.

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Deep in the heart of Africa lies Wakanda, an advanced and unconquerable civilization. A family of warrior-kings possessing superior speed, strength and agility has governed this mysterious nation as long as time itself. The latest in this famed line is young King T’Challa, the great hero known worldwide as the Black Panther.

Now outsiders once again threaten to invade and plunder Wakanda. Leading this brutal assault is Klaw, a deadly assassin with the blood of T’Challa’s murdered father on his hands, who brings with him a strong army of superpowered mercenaries. Even with Wakanda’s might and his own superhuman skills, can the Black Panther prevail against this deadly invading force?
How this film rocked, let me count the ways.

Before I go any further, I should state that apologies are in order. Years ago, there was a trailer for this series and I was less than impressed to put it mildly. It was a motion comic that was being pushed as an animated film and I was outraged that the film featuring the black superhero got the short end of the stick.

What I didn’t know was that the trailer was actually originally done by one animator who presented it to film executive producer Reginald Hudlin who penned the series and the film is based on his story arc. Hudlin presented it to Marvel and they greenlit it.

But you wouldn’t know that though the way Marvel threw this film/six part animated minseries under the bus. While lesser films such as Ultimate Avengers, Iron Man and Doctor Strange were pushed and heavily promoted, Black Panther was on iTunes and then removed and the DVD has to be ordered through Amazon and its primary advertising has been through word of mouth.

The most twisted part, this was some of Marvel’s finest work.

First and foremost, the star power alone should’ve made this a fully funded feature film in theaters or at the very least on DVD: We’re talking Djimon Hounsou as the titular protagonist, Alfre Woodard, Kerry Washington, Jill Scott, and Stan Lee.

The lack of support this film has gotten is proof how the Black Panther is one of the most overlooked superheroes ever. A gifted prodigy, a world class warrior whose skills are second to none, T’Challa is arguably Marvel’s answer to Batman as Bruce Wayne and T’Challa share more than a few parallels.

The film also reminded me why I sorely miss Hudlin’s writing on the Black Panther series. He has the perfect blend of escapism, social commentary, political intrigue, satire, and fantasy escapism that is second to none. This is a story that has political intrigue, explores the bonds of family, is part revenge saga, and is action packed with more than a few laughs. Not surprising considering this is the man that gave us Birth of A Nation along with Aaron McGruder. Hudlin’s writing of the Black Panther came under fire. The primary reason, in his world, black folks don’t play second string to white characters. They are just as accomplished as their caucasian peers and for a lot of white comic book fans, that’s far more far-fetched than super-powered beings. But for those of us who have been waiting for a film that features a black superhero with RESPECT, this film has been long overdue.

While the film sticks pretty faithfully to the graphic novel, Who Is The Black Panther, there are a few changes and in my opinion for the better. Most notably, a cameo from the X-Men and Storm is brought in as a major player. While I wasn’t a fan of the execution of the Storm/T’Challa relationship, I’m always happy to see the Goddess in any series. After all, she is the First Lady of Marvel as far as I’m concerned. Mad props to Jill Scott who flawlessly delivers a beautiful African accent in her portrayal of Storm.


And if you’re not a comic book person, that’s totally okay too. This film is very self-contained and you’ll get the full story without feeling lost.

What I was really happy to hear is that the film has done immensely well. Last I heard, the Black Panther has outsold comparable X-Men and Iron Man films, both of which have had the backings of live-action films.

Of course I’m left with only one question to Marvel: WHAT THE FRAK IS WRONG WITH YOU? WHY AREN’T YOU PUSHING MORE FILMS LIKE THIS? DON’T YOU WANNA MAKE MONEY? I LIKES TO MAKE MONEY. I WANNA HELP YOU MAKE MONEY!!!!!!

Minority superheroes when handled with respect do equal financial success: Cassandra Cain run on Batgirl, Kevin Keller, Batwoman, this film here.

I implore you to check out Counting Colored Cash for further proof.

In the meantime, I’ll be Waiting For Wakanda.

And if this video here doesn’t get you hyped enough to go buy the DVD off of Amazon or get the episodes off of Youtube, I don’t know what you’re doing with your life. I really don’t.

Black Panther is available now on Youtube, Amazon and wherever DVDs of AWESOME are sold.

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By Dennis R. Upkins