Ready for your second excerpt in my upcoming third book in the Of Cinder and Bone series? Here it is! Don't forget, spoilers for Of Cinder and Bone and Of Blood and Ashes ahead.
Here is your first look at the upcoming third novel in the Of Cinder and Bone series, Of Dawn and Embers!
Guess what? Book three of the Of Cinder and Bone dragon-hunting series is now available for pre-order!
The best part? It's a special pre-order price: .99 cents! From now until July 20, 2019, pre-order Of Dawn and Embers for just a buck. Hurry and grab your copy now - it goes up to $4.99 on July 21st.
How do you say goodbye to 1/3rd of your life?
Really. I’ve been asking myself that in the weeks leading up to Avengers: Endgame.
And honestly, I don’t have an answer to that question, because it’s kind of impossible.
So here’s the thing: I read comic books as a kid when I had access to them, but I was never someone who had a massive collection of Marvel comics. I had some of them, so growing up I knew who the Avengers were, but not to any significant degree other than names, powers, and aliases. Like a lot of people, Iron Man was the first time I took notice of Marvel heroes who weren’t Spider-Man or the X-Men, and that movie opened an entire avenue that I don’t think any of us thought would be possible someday.
I had already been fully on board when the announcement that the incredible Robert Downey Jr. would be starring as Tony Stark, and to this day, that is still one of the all-time most perfect casting choices. Fans were dancing in the streets when we heard it, because we all knew if nothing else, Tony Stark would get a first-rate performance. RDJ had gotten himself back on track after his troubled past, and we were so ready to see him return to his former glory.
And he did just that.
To date, I still rank Iron Man in my personal top 10 MCU films, for so many reasons, but for the sake of this retrospective post, let me sum it up by saying it is so fitting that we began this 11-year journey with RDJ and with Tony Stark. Iron Man is about heart. Literally and figuratively. By being put in the danger he found himself in, Tony inadvertently grew a heart and became the man who so many of us will Stan until the end of time. He had nothing but his wits and a faithful friend at his side, and when he was told to bow to his enemies, he instead defied them and saved himself. In doing so, it kicked off the first domino for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and even though it had a steady stream of interest, everything changed when at long last our beloved heroes teamed up for The Avengers.
The Avengers, whether you like it or not, changed history.
There had never been an attempt to combine solo stories of heroes on this kind of scale before, and that was when people realized that this wasn’t just a passing fancy. The Avengers broke box office records for a few reasons, but one that I am quite fond of is the fact that word of mouth was so powerful. All the hardcore fans saw it and sang its praises, but the great thing about the Avengers is it was written in such a way that even if you had missed the previous films, you could still enjoy it, and people did. The non-fans took notice of that killer opening weekend and heard the rave reviews, got curious, and saw it. And then they went home and told everyone how phenomenal it was, and then the process repeated itself. What I have always loved about the Avengers, and what it began when it came out, was its inclusiveness. It had something for everyone in it. And not only was it taken seriously, it was given an excellent script, fantastic visuals, and a kick ass soundtrack that still gets us hype as hell even 7 years later. Most of us fans used to fantasize about a team up movie, never thinking it would be possible considering all the legal and copyright hoops studios had to jump through, but then the day arrived and it was every single thing we dreamt it would be.
What made the Avengers so prolific was the ability to take that many characters and tie them to each other, giving each one time to shine in an extremely well-paced story. Ensemble films are everywhere, but this was the first time that a major film studio took individual heroes from their films and had them interact, and then sent them back out on their own, with the promise of calling them back again. What continues to impress me with the Avengers is that everyone had a stake in the game, and everyone contributed something. (Note: people shit on Hawkeye constantly as the “useless” team member, but I invite you to remember that Hawkeye nearly killed the entire team when he attacked the heli-carrier, so honestly, the haters can shut the hell up.) Too often movies have a group of characters who are supposed to have specific skillsets or traits useful to either the plot or the story, but really, there’s no reason for them to be there. (*cough* Fast and the Furious *cough* *coughs harder* the Justice League movie *coughs harder*) Here, you understood everything, and it all had its own harmony to it. A great story is one in which everyone has both inner and outer conflict, and while they butt heads, they’re together to reach a collective goal, no matter what the cost.
And frankly, The Avengers is when shit got real for everyone.
In my lifetime, I’ve only seen a handful of films more than twice in theaters. I saw The Avengers in theaters four times. The only other viewing at the time that came close was the Dark Knight, which I also saw four times. That is just an idea of how damn much I enjoyed that film, and what a legacy I think it left in its wake. Even back with 2012 ticket prices, I had such a great time that I happily bought multiple showings just to see it again.
So after 2012 when we all found out it was possible for something this awesome to exist, Marvel figured out that the winning formula was not in some of the paltry tricks that Hollywood likes to sell us, but in having a strong story with its roots in the proper place—the comics—and in trusting the vision of their actors and directors. In 2014, we were blessed with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which is arguably the best Marvel movie period, to say nothing of one of the best comic book movies of all time. Winter Soldier is one of the highest praised MCU films for a tight spy-espionage story, interesting characters, a razor-sharp script, and some of the most stunning fight choreography in film history. It blew our minds that anything could be as good, or maybe even better than The Avengers, and it didn’t rely on simply having an orgy of superheroes. It was just a damn good experience in every aspect.
Then, after the MCU films had a few unsteady steps like Age of Ultron (which I still think is great, but is a troubled film) and Doctor Strange, they surprised us by going all in with two films that arguably innovated their franchise yet again: Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok.
Black Panther told the world what us nerds already knew: that black people are just as interested in science-fiction and comic books as other people, and they came out in force. It was the most liberating experience to see a mature, well-written, well-acted, flat-out gorgeous big budget film that was 90% black both in front of and behind the camera. Ryan Coogler went out of his way to create an unforgettable experience that delighted and amazed everyone in a way most people had never considered. Black creatives have been here forever, but this was one of the first times we were able to see it on a massive scale and for a massive audience. Finally, we were given a voice and got to tell an excellent story that wasn’t watered down or apologetic or riddled with stereotypes. And with it breaking box office records, it became indisputable proof that diversity does not lose money and it is not only welcomed, but encouraged by the world, and I cannot thank the MCU enough for that fact alone.
Thor: Ragnarok is living proof that you can dust off something that was fairly good, but just needed a new angle and make something absolutely outstanding. Remember how I said I saw The Avengers in theaters four times? Yep. Did the same for Thor: Ragnarok. And don’t ask me how many times I have watched it since I got it for home release. It’s got to be 50 times by now, honestly.
Ragnarok showed that sometimes a great, radical idea is exactly what you need, and that if you put your trust in the right creative mind, you can take a middle-grade character and elevate him to a level no one thought possible. Truth be told, I liked both of the previous Thor movies (and again, the haters can just exit stage left, because The Dark World is nowhere near as bad as people keep saying it is) but this pumped entirely new blood into Thor’s veins as well as our own. One of my favorite things about Ragnarok is that it shows the trust between the director, the cast, and Marvel Studios. It took serious balls to pitch some of the things that went down in Ragnarok, but thanks to the miles and miles of talent from the movie’s cast and crew, it became a top tier MCU film, and can easily stand next to not only some of the best comic book movies, but some of the best comedies.
And then, while we were still reeling from the amazing combination of Ragnarok and Black Panther…along came Infinity War.
Infinity War once again broke the mold.
I’m fairly certain almost none of you read my college essay-length review of Infinity War, but the main gist of it is that there is no other film like Infinity War. Period. And I don’t mean that in some kiss-ass way because I happen to be a fan of the MCU. No, really, I mean it as a writer and as a creator and as a moviegoer in general. I’ve watched hundreds of films in my 30 years of living, and I cannot name another movie that had an impact on me the way that Infinity War did, and what’s more is that I am not alone.
Infinity War, for me, stands on its own category simply for the emotional depth that it was able to achieve. It’s not just the suckerpunch ending—it’s that the film is not only funny and action packed, but it’s a story where it took one of the largest cast of characters in film history and still managed to make a story for each of them, and gave each of them stakes and a role to serve. Think about that. I mean, do you understand how much talent it took in order for the sheer number of characters to not only interact, but contribute to the overall plot and story in a manner that was personal to them? In case you forgot, count them up: the five of the six original Avengers (Steve, Tony, Bruce, Nat, Thor), the expanded team (Sam, Rhodey, Vision, Wanda, T’Challa, Okoye, Shuri, Bucky, Parker), and then the Guardians (Peter, Gamora, Rocket, Drax, Groot, Nebula, Mantis), and then the villain Thanos, not to mention introducing a few new characters like the Nidavellir Dwarf or the Children of Thanos. Yet they were able to combine these 22 people into one story that actually made sense and was excellently paced as it rotated between the POVs of what each of them were doing as the events of Thanos’ terrible mission unfolded. I just don’t think people sit down and take the time to appreciate that sort of coordination. Not only did you have 22 people being relevant and involved with a story, but you pulled former motivations and personal relationships into it all to a point where there was not a dry eye in the house at the end.
What I remember so clearly about the premiere of Infinity War was the universal reactions from the audience, both hardcore fans and regular viewers alike. Sometimes in movies, you get annoyances like people or kids talking, people checking their cell phones, etc.
Not so with Infinity War.
Everyone was absolutely enraptured.
As far as I can recall, that’s only ever happened three other times at a movie premiere for me: The Dark Knight and Interstellar (Note: that makes total sense to me, because Christopher Nolan is an absolute master of storytelling and his suspenseful scenes leave you clutching your arm rests), and I Am Legend.
And that ending to Infinity War?
The absolute stunned silence when those credits rolled after our heroes lost the war was devastating.
All I could hear was the sound of people everywhere crying, myself included.
It’s not about movies that make you cry. Plenty of movies have the ability to do that.
It’s about the fact that this same phenomenon happened in damn near every theater in every state and every country during their premieres.
We’re talking a universal experience.
How fucking cool is that?
Am I alone in thinking that it’s so amazing that they could dig so deep into our hearts that all of us from all walks of life sat there with tears streaming down our faces, feeling like Thanos personally walked up and walloped us in the gut with that gauntlet? No matter who you are, you probably have at least one favorite MCU character, and what’s so prolific about Infinity War is that in the end, it’s about every character’s nightmare coming true.
Think about it.
Steve’s fear was of losing his friends, especially his best friends Bucky and Sam.
Peter’s fear was of losing Gamora.
Tony’s fear was of losing the war and being a survivor of the devastation.
Gamora’s fear was of being helpless in Thanos’ control again.
Rocket’s fear was of losing his family.
Wanda’s fear was of having to kill the love of her life in order to save everyone.
Vision’s fear was of his possession of the Mind Stone allowing Thanos’ mission to be completed.
Thor’s fear was of being unable to avenge his brother, his best friend, and all of Asgard.
I could go on and on like that, but the sheer weight of this disaster brought all of us to our knees at once, and as much as it hurts me (ask my friends; I was sobbing so hard I had to put my hand over my mouth to keep from disturbing everyone else) I have to commend them for being able to make us feel something so powerful for what are fictional characters. It’s an amazing achievement that it felt as if we were the ones losing loved ones when we watched Infinity War. It’s one of the reasons we go to the movies in the first place—to feel something and experience something we never have before, and I really think that is what Infinity War delivered. It was an entirely unique movie-going experience that still reverberates with us a year later.
And it’s why Avengers: Endgame might be yet another first for us.
Many of us have experienced something similar with the end of a long running TV show. I personally am old enough to have seen the live endings to Will & Grace, Castle, Friends, Frasier, 30 Rock, The Sopranos, and various cartoons. I believe the closest equivalent in the film world might be the Star Trek movies, but even then, it’s different because they have always been an ensemble cast and don’t have individual-centric stories. It’s going to be the ending of an 11 year journey, and even though we know several heroes are going to survive and continue on with solo sequels (Black Panther, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange, Ant Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Black Widow are confirmed) or with the upcoming mini-series on the Disney Plus channel (Falcon and Winter Soldier, Loki, and Vision & Wanda are confirmed), this is still possibly the ending of the original Avengers lineup. All we know for sure is that Endgame is Robert Downey Jr and Chris Evans’ final solo performances of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. If we’re really fortunate, their stories end in such a way that we could see future cameos from them (ex. Steve Rogers in the Spider-Man: Homecoming end credits) but for all we know, it’s the end for them and we have to say goodbye.
And I’m not sure that I know how.
The closest equivalent for me is Logan (2017). Goodness gracious. Talk about gross sobbing. I was an absolute wreck saying goodbye to Hugh Jackman in his final scene of Logan. However, now that it’s been two years, and Hugh Jackman is running around still being utterly adorable and fun in every way, I have been able to come to grips without my grumpy Canadian badass. Still, though, Endgame is going to be rough for me because while I adore Logan to no end, I wasn’t a fan to the degree that I would actively participate in fandom things related to him, like say fanfiction or Tumblr.
And that’s not the case with the Avengers.
I’m a straight up MCU fangirl. I reblog photosets and engage in silly theories and headcanons and read and write fics on a weekly basis. The Avengers are an active part of my life because watching the MCU films is a full blown hobby of mine. I have never been asked to let go of something that is a part of my daily life, not since Castle at least, and even then Castle ended so badly that I had let go of the show two whole seasons before it actually ended.
So that’s the hardest part of all with Endgame on its way.
How do you say goodbye?
I don’t know. I just don’t bloody know.
No matter what ending they choose for my Avengers, I’m going to be in tears, but I hope and pray that the Russos continue with their trend of being excellent storytellers and that they give us a worthy ending for those of the Avengers who will not continue past Endgame. I cannot control what happens and I will either make peace with it or reject it for a headcanon so that I can get to sleep at night (here’s looking at you, Loki; you’re still alive in my mind, you beautiful trashlord). However, I do feel encouraged to believe they will give them the endings they deserved based on what Chris Evans has been allowed to say about his final day of filming. Chris Evans basically is Captain America. He is Steve Rogers. And if he felt that Steve was given a great finish to his run in the MCU, then it’s possible I will be able to let him go to a certain degree and appreciate the time and care the character has been given since his introduction.
It's such a bittersweet place to be, isn’t it?
If nothing else, I just want to thank the original Avengers actors for portraying such vibrant, fun, deep, relatable characters for a whole decade. I mean, that’s so much dedication, and all of them went above and beyond trying to do the characters justice. People can debate left and right about the accuracy or the mythos, but in the end, what I love about the MCU is that for the most part, every last one of them gives a shit. It should be a no brainer, but it isn’t in Hollywood. I can name so many movies or franchises that shit something out just to make money and have no passion or interest in the product. The people who work on these films have given them their all and they have left behind something no one can touch for as long as time exists.
In the end, I suppose that old saying is the best way to try and prepare for the end: “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.”
You’re damn right I’m gonna cry, but my hope for Endgame is that I’ll be smiling through my tears.
See you guys on the other side.
It's finally here!
Of Dawn and Embers, Book Three in the Of Cinder and Bone series, has a cover, blurb, and release date. See below.
It's been six months since Dr. Rhett "Jack" Jackson and Dr. Kamala Anjali had their dragon cloning project shut down by the government. Just when they think they've gotten their lives back together, an agency within the government hits them with another suckerpunch: a criminal organization has cloned dozens of dragons in order to hold vicious dragon fighting rings. The government recruits Jack and Kamala to help them track down the organization. Jack and Kamala set out to put a stop to the illegal fights before any more dragons die…or worse, escape.
Release date: July 20, 2019
Add it to your Goodreads shelf and stay tuned for pre-order info, excerpts, and more!
It's almost time...
At long last, in just two weeks, I'm going to reveal the cover of my third novel in the ongoing Of Cinder and Bone series, Of Dawn and Embers! Join me on Facebook April 13, 2019 at 10am EST for your first look at the cover and the plot synopsis! Why should you? Because the first five people to comment on the announcement post get an Advanced Reader's ebook copy! So be there or be square!
I have done it, ladies and gentlemen. I have held the ever-coveted Tom Hiddleston in my arms.
And it was as glorious as it looks.
So funny story.
In August, I’d gotten bored at work and out of pure thirst curiosity, I Googled to see Tom Hiddleston’s remaining con appearances in 2018. Lo and behold, he was attending Ace Comic Con in Chicago, IL in October. I’d never been to Chicago and I have a friend who lives here and it was JUST enough time for me to save up some money to fly out for a three day weekend to meet the man I’ve been enamored with as of the last three or so years. And that’s exactly what I did. I bought a Saturday only ticket for my only 2018 “official” vacation to meet the utterly wonderful Tom Hiddleston.
Unfortunately, since I only found the con roughly two months out, all the autograph sessions were sold out, leaving only the photo op, but it’s not a huge deal and I love having photos snuggling awesome famous people anyway, as my followers know. I might be able to see him again someday in which I can say more than two things. As it stands, I probably would’ve ended up just giggling incessantly anyway if I’d have gotten an autograph from him today.
Anyone who is a veteran congoer knows that photo ops at MOST are ten seconds long. It’s simply because hundreds of fans show up and in order to cram all those photos within the time frame, it has to be that short. Therefore, I had to practice staying calm in the face of one of the most handsome bloody men I’ve ever met.
So here’s how it went down:
Me: *walks over to him and he puts one arm around me* Hi! Is it okay if we do a hug!
**photo is taken**
Hiddles: That’s a beautiful dress, by the way!
Me: ^///////////////////////////////^ Thank you so much! You are phenomenal! Thank you! *scurries off*
Doesn’t that sound easy to say to him? Trust me, it wasn’t.
First off, Tom is tall af. I’m 5′8′’ and I was wearing 2 inch heels and he still sort of dwarfs me in this photo and I have A Whole Thing about tall men. They butter my egg roll something fierce.
Second off, he has the biggest, sunniest smile and it’s like staring into an eclipse. I was almost blindsided but his compliment of my dress–keep in mind, I BOUGHT THIS DRESS SPECIFICALLY FOR HIM AND HE COMPLIMENTED IT AND OMFG THIS IS EVERYTHING TO ME YOU GUYS–is actually what helped kick my dazed little brain into remembering to speak to him. My Chris Evans photo op was heavenly, but he was so goddamn handsome and that hug was so goddamn good (he rubbed the small of my back before he let me go and I almost fainted dead away in his arms) that I got tongue-tied and didn’t get to tell him anything aside from “thank you” as I wobbled away on weak knees. Tom, however, unknowingly helped me out by complimenting me and that’s so wonderful I can’t even express it.
Third off, wow, hearing his voice up close is…hnnnnngh. There are no words. It’s like silk. It’s like velvet. Hiddleston’s voice is just plain powerful, and I don’t know how anyone is able to act opposite the man. He said two things to me in just a normal tone of voice and I wanted to just melt.
Lastly, the hug was so light and gentle. He’s a good hugger. He was very comfortable next to me and I loved that big friendly grin. Generally, I don’t photograph well and his grin was so infectious that I think it’s why it turned out so great.
I’m on cloud fucking nine. I really am. 2018 has been a hard, miserable year for me and this was finally a lump sum of good karma. I’m going to be high off of this Chicago trip for months and I can mark the incomparable Mr. Hiddleston off my Bucket List. (Although I do have very loose plans to try to catch him again for an autograph; I really do think he is an incredible actor and I’d love to tell him in detail, but we’ll see what 2019 has in store for me.)
And yes, it’ll be weeks before I wipe this idiotic fucking grin off my face.
It was difficult to describe the way it felt when I changed. It didn’t hurt…but it didn’t not hurt. I’d once told a friend that it was like peeling off a fingernail where most of the skin wasn’t attached and so you didn’t bleed. My muscles shifted around. My bones popped and cracked as they rearranged into the lithe, streamlined form of a wolf that stood perhaps half a foot taller and several pounds heavier than a real one. When I was within the city limits, I always went with my full wolf form. I could switch to a form between the two that was bipedal—the kind that normal people wrote into movies like Van Helsing or the Benicio del Toro remake—but if anyone caught sight of me, that would be that. Supernatural folks stayed under the radar, if only because humans are ruled by fear and panic, and to know that a cute black girl could turn into something that could tear them apart in just the blink of an eye would induce instantly genocide on our kind.
My fur was dark-brown, matching the color of my skin, and my mane had black streaks running through it and along my spine, ending in a tuft at my tail. A shudder spilled through me once the transformation was done and I shook out my fur, getting used to the change in senses. I could smell who had been in this alley within the last four days. I could hear the kids playing basketball four blocks away. I could taste the vile air coming off the dumpster nearby. I could see through the veil of darkness draped over the city as if it were broad daylight.
Being a wolf is where it’s at, man.
Vlad turned around and smiled warmly at me. “Such a pretty thing. I’d forgotten.”
I rolled my-now-golden eyes and he chuckled before following my lead. He turned away and rid himself of the boxer shorts.
Vlad’s transformation was smoother and faster than my own. He just sort of…melted into a puddle of dark mass and then reformed into a black-furred wolf slightly taller than me, but not as bulky with muscle, with startling arctic blue eyes. He walked over and sniffed me a bit, then nuzzled me, his shoulder bumping mine playfully. I heard his voice in my head as clear as day even though his fanged jaws never moved.
Where are we off to, my dear?
Follow me, I replied. Stay close. People are jumpy around this area and you don’t want someone to pop a cap in your furry ass.
He laughed in my head as I broke into a sprint further down the alley.
Midtown Atlanta’s nightlife was delightful. I loved it. Music pounded through the buildings, whether just a private citizen jamming in their little studio apartment or a live band a local dive bar getting it in for the night. I could smell every dish from fine dining restaurants wafting out through their front doors as new customers walked in. I could hear people on their first dates walking towards their cars, laughing nervously and flirting. I could see the cars rushing back and forth over the pot-holes, honking and screeching and filling the air with noise.
Life. That was what I liked about Atlanta. Life happened. It never slept.
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Love, Passion and Desire.
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As someone who watches very little television these days for various reasons, it’s always a relief when a show I enjoy makes its return. Personally, I consider Luke Cage second only to Daredevil in the Marvel Netflix show lineup. It’s got vibrant characters, a unique perspective, and some of the best friggin’ music short of a Tarantino movie.
So far, it seems that the second season has had a mixed reception. I understand why. Like last season, Misty made me want to slam her beautiful head into a wall into she got some gorram common sense, and there were just too many moments of characters doing needlessly stupid things. However, one thing I feel that Luke Cage’s 2nd season absolutely nailed was Mariah. I had already passively liked her in the first season where she was a background villain whose actions nudge her into the evil spotlight, so to speak. While I certainly missed Cornell, I feel that Mariah did a far better job as the Arc Villain than Diamondback. Plus, she presented a rather rare role: a black, older woman in a position of power in the middle of a sci-fi/superhero setting. Older black women are often pigeonholed as wise, grandmotherly caretakers in these settings, but Mariah pretty much busted most of the stereotypes related to women before her. She was (mostly) competent, motivated, and surprisingly threatening. Absolutely no one is surprised Alfre Woodard did a phenomenal job—she has long been hailed as one of the best actresses out there, and it was an absolute thrill to see her play a villain. I think in honor of her taking a spot in the pantheon of comic book villains, I should take a moment to explain why I love to hate this bad bitch.
Naturally, spoilers for both seasons of Luke Cage ahead.
In the first season, it’s clear that Mariah wants to achieve her goals by any means necessary, but by keeping her hands clean and letting Cornell do the dirty work. Unlike other villains in the same genre, like say freaking Thanos, I actually believe her when she says she wants to help Harlem. Now, granted, I do think her “help” for the community is just her helping herself. Mariah has quite the ego and she loves being seen. She loves being the all-powerful matron, not unlike Mama Mabel Stokes, ironically. Mariah makes it clear that she is high horse enough to side eye Cornell’s methods, but she certainly doesn’t mind profiting off what he does. I especially like that Shades recognizes the slumbering predator in her shortly after he continues observing their interactions. Was it some heavy foreshadowing? Yeah, sure, but it shows off how perceptive Shades happens to be, since almost everyone had been underestimating Mariah right from the get go.
Cornell’s death sequence is honestly pretty incredible. It’s well-shot and most people admit it caught them right off guard. We all pretty much knew Cornell’s hair-trigger temper would likely be the cause of his death, but for it to be delivered by the often overlooked Mariah definitely sealed it as an excellent turn of events. What’s more is Shades’ reaction to Cornell’s death, and how Mariah in spite of her shock is able to function afterward with his guidance. You can practically see the eager glee in Shades when he sees the natural affinity for violence and power after she kills Cornell. He knows she’s something special and if anyone is going to be able to both defeat Luke Cage and get him out from under Diamondback’s control, it’s her. He hitches his wagon to her and they both go on to set themselves atop the hill at Harlem’s Paradise.
I remember watching the final moments of season one of Luke Cage when Mariah stalked on over to Shades and kissed him. I remember my eyebrows going up and saying, “Ohohoho! What’s all this then?” It was an unlikely development that I ended up weirdly interested in. First off, it’s not often an older black woman, especially not in a comic book setting, shows interest in a Hispanic man more than ten years younger than her. Second off, Shades’ reaction to the kiss pretty much solidified that they were going to become my new evil OTP. He was positively giddy that she kissed him. He was shooting heart eyes at her as she walked out and it was bizarrely compelling to me. I remember hoping that this wasn’t just a one-off grateful kiss and that the two of them would become their own version of Bonnie and Clyde.
Lo and behold, season two kicked off with Shades and Mariah in an actively sexual, romantic relationship. Like everyone else, I cringed when that poor, foolish waiter called him her nephew. Yikes. Talk about disproportionate retribution. That being said, Alfre Woodard said in an interview that she was supposed to do something else in the script, but she had the sudden idea to suck Theo Rossi’s thumb and I couldn’t have cackled louder at the end result. It was flawless. The amount of evil sass in that one gesture, and the fact that Alfre is the one who thought it up, and the fact that the showrunners loved it so much they kept it, is just the best. To bring the point home, I think Shades and Mariah’s symbiotic relationship was honestly the strongest, most human aspect of the 2nd season. I know, that’s odd to say, but I mean it. The two of them seem as if on paper they wouldn’t work, and while the relationship did have a ticking time bomb on it, I like that what ends it isn’t one of them killing the other. It’s Mariah’s derailment from a cold, distant matron into the vicious nature of a gangster, one so cold-blooded that it’s arguable if even Cornell would have gone as far as she did against Bushmaster.
Now, I get why other people wouldn’t be on the ship like I am because it is pretty strange, but that’s perhaps why I ended up liking it so damn much. It’s quite rare that older black women are treated as still sexually desirable at sixty, or hell, even as early in life as their forties. I love that Mariah macked on Shades with zero shame, and vice versa. I like even more that she wasn’t doing it to manipulating him into doing what she wanted—she genuinely reciprocated the attraction and seemed to be having a damn good time as his paramour. It’s a beautiful statement not to completely write women off because of their age. Mariah, for the most part, remained classy with how she brought it to Shades, and he was crazy about her up until things fell apart. The two of them weren’t courting just to find a place to stab each other back. They got along. They trusted each other. But once Mariah went into a full tilt ruthless gangster, Shades couldn’t handle that level of cruelty after having to shoot Comanche and almost losing Mariah to Bushmaster on top of that. Their priorities naturally shifted. He realized there was still some shred of a soul left in him, and losing Comanche as well as the remaining heart of Mariah pushed him too far.
A lot of fans are apparently crying OOC for Shades breaking up with Mariah and I disagree. I felt it was the natural progression. Shades did explain what the difference between him killing Candace and Mariah slaughtering Bushmaster’s entire family: that Candace willingly accepting the bribe made her guilty and made her subject to the same rules of all criminals, man and woman alike. She made a conscious decision to accept the bribe and lie on Luke Cage, and to Shades, that meant she was open season. In his opinion, Mariah murdering Bushmaster’s family, and the method in which she did it, was just too inhuman. She saw it as retaliation for what she lost, but hell, Bushmaster (foolishly) gave her a small window of a chance to survive instead of burning alive and spared her daughter. Mariah didn’t hesitate to kill those people, and even though they were by no means completely innocent, it still was an incredibly messed up thing to do. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He’d already put too many shackles on his soul and he couldn’t bear another link, especially not from the woman he loved.
The reason I find Mariah so interesting is her will power. I think that she has strength to just survive the worst sorts of things anyone ever could. Even with her being a selfish, evil gangster, I find myself admiring how she made it as far as she did before the end. What’s more is that she wasn’t implacable or perfect or one dimensional. I consider the scene of her in the wreckage of her brownstone with Shades to be the best acted scene of the entire season, and possibly in the show’s entire run. I really loved how Alfre and Theo played off each other here. I love how their conversation starts out accusatory and then gets heated, and then Shades pulls her out of that downward spiral. It felt natural, effortless, and moving, in a messed up sort of way, mind you. Shades built her up in a moment of weakness and reminded her of who she was so that she could continue on as the badass he knew her to be.
I think what Mariah represents is something I hope that other comic book properties and fiction at large take into consideration. Marvel has recently been tapping into the true power of black women, to my utter delight, and I like that we’re seeing representation in the realm of evil as well as good. Same with Ghost in the recent Ant Man sequel, it’s very satisfying for me as a geeky black girl to see my sisters out there in popular media kicking ass and not just being stereotyped as baby mamas or “exotic” love interests. It’s about damn time, if you ask me. The image that will always stick in my mind for Mariah is Shades holding her face in his hands and emphatically telling her, “You are a queen.” For as short of a reign that she had, I certainly enjoyed the hell out of Mariah’s dark influence over Harlem. She had a sharp tongue and a sense of purpose that I will certainly miss next season.
Here’s to you, evil queen.
Kyoko M is the Amazon bestselling author of The Black Parade series.