‘Wonder Woman’ calls for a reimagining of cinematic feminism

It’s hard to put into words just how much this movie means to me.

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When it comes to superhero movies, I’ve got pretty low standards.

I know it. My friends know it. My mom knows it. And my sister, the self-proclaimed film critic of our family, knows it and talks about it with me at length, often disparaging my taste in films while she preaches down at me with the great knowledge of YouTube’s Cinema Sins and Screen Rant behind her.

But this long overdue silver screen interpretation of the most enduring female superhero of all time surpassed my standards and even those of my sister. It also surpassed everyone else’s expectations of a female-led superhero movie associated with a superhero brand that just can’t get it right (and with a female director at the helm, no less).

Right out of the gate, the movie made cinematic history, earning over 100 million its opening weekend, according to the Associated Press. Gal Gadot’s “Wonder Woman” also has a 93 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of Sunday with close to 250 reviews, higher than any recent DC movie, including “Man of Steel,” “Suicide Squad” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and all Marvel films except the first Iron Man, according to Vox.

But it’s not about the money or the ratings or the number of people who gave it a good score on the “Tomatometer.” It’s about what it represents to me and many other female moviegoers sick of watching the same superhero formula film: hope.

beautiful badass diana
I legitimately swooned every time she burst into action. Source: Comicbookmovie.com.

[READ: Why Wonder Woman Should Have Her Own Video Game]

Don’t know what I mean? Think about this for a minute.

Two little girls sat down next to me in the theater. One was blonde and generically cute while the other, her sister, was dark-headed and clumsy, tripping (adorably) on her feet. In her hand she held a Barbie doll with jet-black hair, a familiar red and blue dress and two silver bands clasped around her thin plastic wrists. A tight coil of rope at her hip swayed back and forth as the girl held it, gesturing wildly in her excitement as her dad settled her and her sister down with some popcorn.

Whether or not those girls were old enough to see the movie is not in question here – but if it was, I would probably say they weren’t, as the very first preview was rated “R” and the movie itself featured an amount of violence that befit it’s World War I subject matter. What’s important to them and to other little girls across the country is that for the first time in recent cinematic history, a woman was able to fight and kick butt on screen in a genre of movies generally reserved for men. And what’s more, she wasn’t overly sexualized, much to my relief.

In fact, none of the Amazons were. Their costumes and weapons were appropriate for their Greco-Roman origins and the slow-motion cinematography used during the fight scenes only further highlighted their athleticism and ability, something that is distressingly lacking in other movies depicting female fighters. It seems, to Hollywood, when we aren’t whimpering weaklings, we’re over-sexualized she-demons with about as much venom and malice as a pair of boobs locked behind a tight corset.

[READ: Why ‘Sexy’ Modding Isn’t Really Sexy At All]

WONDER WOMAN
Not overly sexualized, but perfectly athletic and able, Diana and the other Amazonians are the strong women we need from our superhero action movies. Source: Ew.com.

But “Wonder Woman” proved that women can be tough and sexy and intelligent and witty and funny, all without being hyper-sexualized or put on display for the infamous “male gaze.” Not only was Gadot’s portrayal of Diana as funny and charming as it was youthful and emotional, she was a Grade A badass. I fell in love with the way she moved, the confidence in her fighting and her looks and the way she held herself throughout the movie: like someone royal, some awe-inspiring and, well, like someone wonderful.

I fell in love with “Wonder Woman” and with Gal Gadot’s portrayal of the timeless character. It was so important to me that this movie do well and I’m absolutely relieved that it did. Not only because it would have been a death sentence for all other female-led superhero movies, according to the tone of coverage surrounding the movie before it was even released – and that’s an issue for another blog – but because it showed girls, and Hollywood producers, that women are capable of kicking butt and looking hot. Of being sweet and funny while also being tough and heroic.

Of being an icon for a new generation of girls and feminists, ones who deserve a stronger third-wave, or a newly defined fourth, and who deserve to play with Wonder Woman action figures and baby dolls and Barbies and toys that don’t fit into the strict gender binary our consumer culture often forces them into.

It’s hard for me to overstate just how much this movie meant to me, and how much it will mean for a new generation of moviegoers. While it’s easy to say that this movie has finally shattered the impenetrable glass ceiling for women in Hollywood, we can’t get complacent. The same thing was said about movies like “Bridesmaids,” “Thelma and Louise” and “9 to 5,” and here we are, still working towards gender equality in Hollywood and pretty much all other facets of life.

mashup posters
All three of these movies have shattered expectations and cinematic norms, but the glass ceiling has remained firmly intact after each release. Source: Amazon.com and Wikimedia.org.

While I could easily continue to talk about how much I loved this movie and how much more can be done towards making it a truly feminist movie, I think it’s important to remember that these things take time. Yes, “Wonder Woman” is not the magic bullet for female equality in Hollywood some might have wanted it to be, but it can get us there and, if we all work hard enough, we can help it stand for more than just an awesome female superhero movie – which it undeniably is.

We can help it stand representative of a new wave of feminism, or a revisited old one; one that calls attention to the new problems women are facing in our age of social media and technology and one that shakes up the postfeminist narrative that has invaded our media culture.

One last thing. To all those men angry about women-only screenings: Get. Over. It.

Look around a movie theater next time you go to a major action movie like “Fate of the Furious” or “Die Hard” or any Bond movie or the fifth Transformers movie coming out June 21. Those are pretty much all men-only screenings. Besides a brief stint in the silent movie era, almost all of cinematic history has been defined by male movie successes, and even those that flop – “Green Lantern,” “Batman v. Superman” or the Tom Cruise “Mummy” reboot to name a few – are usually given another chance to wow us or, more likely, flop again.

So shut up, sit down, get used to it and let the power of Lara Croft (and Diana of Themyscira) be with you.

Oh and Rocksteady? Don’t think this lets you off the hook. I’m still waiting for a Wonder Woman video game to match your Arkham series.

wonder woman unlocked

 

Stuffed in refrigerators, or why gaming’s number one trope has got to go

It’s a problem common enough to have a name, even if it’s one you’ve probably never heard before.

Even if you’ve never heard of the term “fridging” before, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

Picture this. The main character of your favorite book/movie/video game/what-have-you is a male with a female girlfriend/mom/sister/whatever. Everything seems normal, nothing is out of the ordinary and life continues on in its perfect comic book/movie/video game universe.

Then suddenly, the female friend-with-benefits/sister/girlfriend/mother/etc. is gruesomely slaughtered and left out for the male character to see. Often times, the character is stretched out in a dramatic pose across the bed she shared with her lover, or slumped over the kitchen table where she used to teach her son to make cookies, or dumped in a slummy location with a trail of clues leading the male character to her body where he’ll fall to his knees with grief and vow eternal vengeance on whoever and whatever caused the death of his sweetheart.

This is called fridging and it is one of the more disgusting examples of casual sexism, something that is sickeningly common in pop culture. With the stroke a pen, writers the genre over turn fleshed-out female characters into nothing but a clichéd plot device meant to further the main character’s man-pain.

The term comes from an old-school Green Lantern comic where the one of the lesser members of DC’s Justice League, Hal Jordan, comes home to find his girlfriend literally stuffed in a fridge by one of his enemies.

The term was coined by DC comic writer Gail Simone who read the comic and noticed that the fate of Green Lantern’s girlfriend was only the latest in a long line of dead women used as plot points to motivate male heroes. As a result, she started her own site, Women in Refrigerators, and compiled a list of all the females in comics who had been raped, killed, mistreated or abused in some way to advance the storyline of their male colleagues.

But this problem isn’t limited to comic book heroines with their big boobs and skin-tight costumes. Fridging happens in just about every setting you can imagine from comic books to video games to literary fiction to movies to TV shows and everything in between.

Setting aside the moral and societal implications of this practice of routinely normalizing violence against women, what’s so scary about fridging in video games and beyond is that it happens regularly enough that we often forget it’s there or don’t notice it at all.

And why would we?

We’ve been conditioned to accept women as both a brainless sex object and a simplistic plot device. Starting from games as banal and mindless as “Donkey Kong” and “Super Mario Bros.” women have been used as the carrot on the end of the stick to motivate the player along.

From there, the role of women has snowballed from kidnapping to murder to rape to purposeful, calculated annihilation to leave the male main character vulnerable or incite his vicious rage.

Part of this is the result of early advertising techniques used by game companies to try to entice male customers. But the fact that it has continued into this digital age and is a more ingrained plot device than ever is distinctly worrying.

The examples are nearly endless.

The pointless death of Talia al Ghul towards the end of “Batman: Arkham City.”

dead-4

Dead. Source: Heroes-villians.wikia.com. 

Clara and Nicole described as cliché plot devices and living set-dressing  in a “Watch Dogs” review by Cameron Kunzelman of “Paste” magazine.

dead-5

Also dead. Source: YouTube.com.

Angel’s martyred death in Borderlands 2.

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Very dead. Source: QuotesGram.com. 

The before-game death of Kratos’ wife and child in the “God of War” series.

dead-1

Do you see a pattern here? Source: Paste Magazine. 

Paz’s horrific death via implanted bomb in “Metal Gear Solid,” a death that occurs after the player character has already torn one bomb out of her in one of the most graphic scenes in gaming history.

dead-2

And, what’s that? Oh yeah, she’s dead too. Source: YouTube.com. 

The list goes on and on.

If you think I’m exaggerating or putting too much emphasis on something that isn’t really a big deal, put a man in the role of each of those women and see what happens.

In this context, fridging becomes less of a trope and more of a grisly, but necessary part of the literary life cycle – which it definitely isn’t. Tragedy often forces the hero’s hand, but does it have to be this tragedy? And does it have to happen all. The. Freaking. Time.

There are plenty of other micro tragedies that can inspire a superhero to take up the mask or force the protagonist on an epic quest to hunt down the villain. More than that, there are plenty of ways to motivate a character beyond watching their lover die or coming home from a long day of work to find their girlfriend stuffed in the fridge right next to the leftover takeout.

Most importantly, there are ways of motivating characters that don’t normalize violence against women. Because at the end of the day, that’s what fridging is doing. It’s establishing a routine or a cycle of violence that starts with the death/abuse/rape/etc. of a female character that, in turn, leads to male man-pain, which leads to a burning desire to fight crime/kill the beast or whatever mode of vengeance works the best, which can lead to even more violence against whatever woman in the hero’s life is the most vulnerable, and so on and so forth.

It’s a horrible, horrible cycle that needs to end not only for female pop culture consumers, but for the moral health of the writers and companies who are willing to perpetrate this cycle of violence and death.

Until that point, speak out and avoid refrigerators, my dear gamers, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

ice cream shit cant continue.jpg

The rise of episodic video games

In a world full of endless DLC content, additional game packages, and bonus in-game keepsakes maps, it seems video game companies are having a hard time packaging full games for consumer consumption.

Or, more likely they’re just not giving us full games and are instead keeping us permanently strung out and always looking for that next hit of content.

Nuka World” is a perfect example.

The Bethesda twitter account, which I follow religiously, has been giving us sneak peeks of the new DLC for weeks before finally releasing it on August 30 to a flurry of user downloads.

While I haven’t actually gotten the time to sit down and play the new DLC myself, I can’t help but wonder why extra downloadable content has become such a popular marketing model for AAA consoles and beyond.

Along the same lines, why are there so many episodic games of late?

Episodic games are basically teaser DLC content on steroids and they have become increasingly popular in recent years.

“Life is Strange,” Telltale’s “Batman” and, well, Telltale’s everything, basically.

Telltale Games first rose to prominence in the gaming world with the 2011 release of their “Walking Dead” series. For those who haven’t played, the game’s first season follows the down-on-his-luck convict Lee and how he deals with the fallout of the zombie apocalypse.

brighter holy shit lee

Source: Destructioncraft.com

Everything goes about as well as you might expect, but somewhere in between the gruesome face-gnawing and head-exploding that comes with the zombiefied territory, Telltale managed to hook audiences with their story-rich gameplay.

While the game lacked the point-and-shoot action of comparable AAA games, it had everything else gamers could want: great graphics, developed characters, high-key suspense and dialogue that kept us coming back.

“The Walking Dead” was wildly successful for an episodic game, belaying a rise in popularity for similar games.

The trend was easy to ignore when it was just Telltale.

But now it seems episodic games are popping up everywhere you look. “Life is Strange” from Square Enix, “Heavy Rain” from Sony and others.

heavy rain choice.jpg

Source: Theastronauts.com

Not that I don’t enjoy these games. In fact, the greater the story, the move involvement I can have in the players actions, the more I love a game.

The thing I’m having a hard time coming to terms with is the format of the game themselves.

While the concept is pretty unique (or at least, it was a couple years ago) and the idea of a slow, timed release an admittedly brilliant feat of marketing genius, it is still hard for me to commit myself to this new form of packaged game content.

I’m reluctant to love up on these games too much because I’ve only played the ones that have already been completely released. “Tales from the Borderlands” was absolutely amazing, especially in the way it handled Handsome Jack’s death and his subsequent resurrection. I also really liked being able to play both Rhys, handsome company man, and Fiona, the quick-witted Pandoran con-artist.

in the middle of a choice borderlands.jpg

Source: Gamespot.com

But that game was already completely released by the time I played it. And while they had an opening segment narrated by the game’s gun master Marcus Kincaid that constantly evolved with my in-game choices, I still feel that had I actually waited the designated time between releases I would have either gone crazy or lost interest entirely.

Case in point, episode one “Zero Sum” was released a full four months before the second, “Atlas Mugged,” which was released another three months before the third.

I like to think I’m pretty good at time management and about rewarding myself with video games after a long week, but even I couldn’t bear waiting that long between episodes.

It’s like watching a TV show on Netflix. While I like the periodic breaks between episodes, it’s always better to gasp at the show’s cliffhanger, speculate wildly about what will happen, and then hit next episode.

I don’t know if episodic gaming is here to stay, or if it will still be popular in five years when I stumble upon this blog and cringe at my poor life choices, but I can say it will be interesting to watch.

In the mean time, my wallet will cry with each new installment and I will await the day a video game is finally packaged whole, with no DLC or additional downloads to suffer through.

Until then, game on and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

good enough life is strange

Honest review of “Batman: Arkham Knight”

The 2015 release of Rocksteady’s “Arkham Knight” wasn’t at all what I had hoped for, a tragic disappointment for me and my wallet.

No one was more disappointed in the 2015 release of “Batman: Arkham Knight” than me.

Especially since I had already bought the season pass which amounted to an extra ten minutes of gameplay with characters that refused to be fleshed out in scenarios that would have been so much more fun if they hadn’t been tacked onto the end of “Arkham Knight” like a sad afterthought.

In my driving games article, I talked about the difficult driving controls and the convoluted gameplay mechanics that had been introduced to incorporate the Batmobile into all levels.

For this blog, I was originally going to post a two-minute video of me driving through around Gotham to illustrate my point, but as I mentioned last week, I think it’s more productive to talk about what we do like about video games rather than complaining about what we don’t.

That being said, I have to address the dead Robin in the room.

To all the comic book junkies that may or may not be reading this, I have to say that while Jason Todd wasn’t my favorite Robin – photographer/stalker Tim Drake takes the number one spot over plucky Dick Grayson and homicidal Damian Wayne – he was an interesting character to be sure.

However, I think the best thing DC may have done for his character was kill him off because they allowed him to come back with a vengeance as Red Hood, the scourge of Gotham’s underbelly, a little bit of an anti-hero who’s not afraid to kill to get what he wants.

In “Arkham Knight” the story of Jason Todd is a little different in that he isn’t killed and resurrected via Lazarus Pit. Instead, he’s tortured and fake-killed off by the Joker, before being brought back as the Arkham Knight, a bat-like villain with a grudge the size of Gotham City.

same with him.jpg

Source: Kotaku.com

Part of my problem with this rendition of Jason, is that it left no room for surprises as far as the plot of “Arkham Knight” was concerned. When word got out about the Red Hood DLC, any lingering questions about who the Arkham Knight was and what he wanted with Gotham’s caped crusader vanished in a puff of Batman’s smoke pellets.

Because Rocksteady waited so long to “reveal” the Knight’s identity – almost half a game too long – the impact of his character was left wanting and all his earlier actions came off as bratty and incoherent.

Another thing about the game I really did not like was its treatment of women.

Denny Connolly on Gamerant.com hit the nail on the head when he said that nearly all the women of the game were treated as damsel-in-distress type characters, something that sets Rocksteady apart following the revival of Lara Croft, and not at all in a good way.

From Poison Ivy to Catwoman, nearly all the women of the game were thrown in various distressed situations with Batman acting as the white dark knight in shining armor.

What makes this so sad is that there was so much potential for bad-ass female representation. Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Catwoman, Barbara Gordon, all of them had the potential for greatness, but instead of the royal treatment they deserved, we were given a few cut scenes and some DLC content that amounted to poor character and female representation.

The worst, by far, was the game’s treatment of Barbara Gordon as Oracle. In reviving the controversial comic arc in which the Joker shoots her and relegates her from Batgirl to wheelchair-bound paraplegic, Rocksteady did not do their game any favors.

the POTENTIAL tho.jpg

Source: Youtube.com

In the comics, Oracle is a member of the elite female team Birds of Prey, an extension of the Bat-family and a set of awesome crime-fighters in their own right.

But in “Arkham Knight,” Oracle is merely a tool to further male angst, something I think we could all do without.

She spends nearly the entire game captured by the Knight and her supposed “death” by suicide only increases Bruce’s man-pain to near staggering levels.

However, I have to give credit where credit is due. The Batman/Joker dynamic really came to fruition in this game with the Clown Prince’s death in “City” and the merging of his consciousness with Batman’s at the beginning of “Knight.”

no more words.jpg

Source: Dualpixels.com

His deliberately crazy dialogue, interjecting conversations and general hanging-about was probably the most compelling part of “Arkham Knight” and playing from his perspective towards the end was the most fun I had in the entire game.

So while I could say a lot more about what was wrong with “Arkham Knight,” I’d rather end this post on something Rocksteady did right, a positive note that gamers can point to when we talk about what else we might want from future video games.

Next week, I finish off my own Arkham trilogy with an open letter to Rocksteady and a proposal for a Wonder Woman video game.

For a more comprehensive look at what “Arkham Knight” did wrong, read Paul Tamburro’s post on Craveonline.com.

So game on, caped crusaders, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

A tribute to ‘Batman: Arkham Origins’

The beauty of “Arkham Origins” was not its graphics or gameplay, its design or combat mechanics. The heart of the Arkham prequel was in its unparalleled storytelling, something that can make or break a video game.

Following the crazy success of “Batman: Arkham City” was no easy task for Warner Bros. Games.

Why exactly the series branched into a prequel after the company’s subsidiary Rocksteady Studios released “Arkham City” in 2011, the world may never know.

But I can say I think the Batman video game canon is a lot better for it.

For what it’s worth (read: not much), I was pleasantly surprised by “Batman: Arkham Origins.” I definitely had some issues with the gameplay – it took me almost two years to unlock the Point Counter Point achievement in the Deathstroke combat – and the graphics, if only because the environmental proportions were way off scale.

But these minor issues aside, I really enjoyed “Arkham Origins” as a prequel to the Rocksteady trilogy.

What really made the game for me was the humanization of Bruce Wayne.

Just saying his name can give hardcore fans the hero-worship willies, but at the end of the day, Batman is a person. He is Bruce Wayne and even if he has entirely devoted himself to the cause, to his mission, to the pursuit of justice and the persecution of criminals, he is just a man.

And I think it’s really important to remember that if you’re playing the video game or watching the movie or even reading the comics.

One aspect of “Origins” that really sold the humanizing angle for me was the change in Batman’s voice actor.

To anyone in the know, Kevin Conroy has voiced Batman in nearly all his incarnations, from the famous animated show to the past two games in the series. He is Batman for many fans.

However, there is something about his voice that sounds oddly flat to me.

In opting for a younger Bruce Wayne, and therefore a younger Batman, WB Games went with Roger Craig Smith as their voice actor. In his dialogue delivery, he managed to convey a powerful animation that was conspicuously absent from Conroy’s performances.

I’m not saying Conroy was a bad Batman. He just wasn’t a good Bruce Wayne.

And I think that’s an important distinction.

In “Origins” we are given a look at the younger, more vulnerable side of Batman. From the opening scene when Bruce Wayne descends into the Batcave as hundreds of bats swoop in and around him, from when Alfred comes up behind him and places a silver tray on his desk which reflects a small Wayne family portrait, from when Vicki Vale is interviewing Bruce asking him about his years away and he brusquely brushes her off, players can tell this game is meant to be more about Bruce Wayne than about Batman.

bruce bat

Source: Nerdreactor.com

And there’s something commendable in crafting the game with that attitude in mind, with the focus less on Batman and more on the man behind the feared Dark Knight mask.

Another thing I liked about Origins was the way it introduced us to various characters in the Batman canon. Some of these introductions were incomplete, but they did give us a taste of what the characters were like in their infancy and what kind of early reactions they had to Gotham’s protector.

Bane is a perfect example of a fascinating character whose introduction was interesting in the context of the game but somewhat incomplete. While the ending in which Bane, driven mad by his own drugs, forgets Batman’s identity and everything but his hatred of the caped crusader was oddly poetic and certainly did set things up for his involvement in the later games, I found his introduction somewhat lacking.

Mostly because Bruce seemed surprised to see Bane in Gotham, and acted almost as if he knew him from somewhere else. Now, if this was because he had actually met the buff junkie before or because he had heard of him through his various crime-fighting sources, I don’t know. But it’s something that I think merits further inquiry – not that I’m likely to get it.

Another character I wished the game had talked about more was Barbara Gordon. How exactly did the plucky teen hacking Batman’s comms and asking him to destroy stolen weapons go from behind a computer screen to on the streets fighting crime?

We know how she ended up back behind that screen – “Arkham Knight” did an okay job of taking us back to guilt old Brucie at the cost of actual character development – but “Origins” did little to explain how she took the giant step forward into becoming Batgirl, a kick ass superhero in her own right and one of Bruce Wayne’s (many) protégée children.

For that matter, where is Robin? He was available to play in the game’s multiplayer mode – not something I ever wanted out of a story-heavy game like “Origins” – but conspicuously absent from the streets of Gotham and all of the game’s DLCs.

Give me a DLC that further humanizes Bruce Wayne by making him care for and train little Dick Grayson and I’d happily give you my soul and all my future game money.

“Origins” also did a really good job of setting up the future Batman and Joker conflict.

Not only was this game’s Joker both creepily compelling and interestingly dynamic, Troy Baker’s performance, while nothing like Mark Hamill’s iconic interpretation, managed to woo and wow me in turns.

What I particularly loved was the brief snippet of dialogue Joker shared with a cop as he was arrested after Batman saved him from plummeting to his death.

As he shoved him in the cop car, one of Gotham’s finest asked the Joker if he had any clue where “his partner” was headed. The Joker told him Batman was not his partner, to which the cop responded, “who else would save your crazy ass?”

wtf is wrong with you man.jpg

Source: Conceptart.org.

The Joker’s reaction – a slow smile and a sinister echo of the cop’s question – sets the stage for their entire relationship, one that matured beautifully in “Arkham Knight.”

But that’s a topic for another blog.

If you haven’t already noticed, I could talk for hours about the gameplay and mechanics, but I think the heart and soul of a game lies in its storytelling.

Without a good story, there is no game – I’m looking at you, “Call of Duty” 89 or whatever version is out right now – I don’t care how awesome your graphics are, or how engaging the combat.

To that end, I think “Arkham Origins” had a compelling story in the characters it introduced, its handling of Troy Baker as the Joker and Roger Craig Smith as Batman, and its focus on Bruce Wayne as Batman instead of the other way around.

While I could write another blog entry about all the things the game did wrong beginning with crazy graphic scales and ending with Firefly’s disastrous cameo as a major villain – he burns stuff, big deal – I think it’s better to talk about what we, as players, like in video games so we can get more of that in future games rather than just complain and complain about what we don’t like without giving any constructive feedback.

This tribute to “Batman: Arkham Origins” is the first in my three part Arkham series, so keep a look out for next week’s unkind honest review of Rocksteady’s “Arkahm Knight.”

Talk video games to me on twitter (@lydmcinnes) or email (lydiajm96@gmail.com).

Game on, my feared vigilante warriors, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

take it down a notch bruce

For a good read on the comparative differences between the art style of “City” and “Origins” read part 4 of Shamus Young’s “Batman Arkham Origins: Over-Analysis” on Twentysidedtale.com.

Source: Shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale