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Misogyny and Comics…

April 8, 2009

Well, yesterday was a complete loss. One doesn’t feel terribly motivated while suffering from GERD induced heartburn. Got my meds though, finally, and now I’m feeling better and hoping to make up for the slackage. That and I really need to get better about renewing my prescription.

I’ve been reading a lot of comics compilations lately, as every library branch in Bristol seems to have a metric buttload of them and they’re a pretty quick fix for pleasure reading. However, this has exposed me to the reality of just how misogynistic superhero comics have become in the past few years. Sure, I’ve read the women in refrigerators blog and knew about the vile fate that was written for the female Robin, but I hadn’t actually read any of those comics. Grabbing tons of comics that look interesting off the shelves has taken care of that for me.

Oh, Wally West, the Flash, is married? To an Asian-American woman? OK. Oh, she’s pregnant? They seemed like a nice couple. Oh wait. The writer made her pregnant simply so he could have her attacked and suffer a miscarriage? WTF? Or rather, FUCK YOU.

And I also made the mistake of reading Identity Crisis, which I wish I could unread. Actually, I wish I could unwrite it. Killing off Sue Dibny just so the artist could do “awesome” shots of Ralph Dibny’s face melting as he mourned her in utter agony was reprehensible enough. Tossing in a rape scene just to amp up the drama? Seriously? Fuck you, Brad Meltzer.

I’m starting to wonder if Alan Moore was right in bemoaning the Pandora’s box he opened up with Watchmen. Heck, he threw an attempted rape and some battery into the mix too, and did it in a pretty creepy way with even creepier consequences, although he did treat his female characters as more than just useful tools to make male super-characters suffer like what I’m seeing these days. There’s plenty of ultra-violence in comics in general and besides the misogyny and snuff porn aspects of it, it’s also making sticking to some of the conceits of comics just look really really stupid.

Take, for example, the Joker. Sure, he’s always been a fucked up madman, but in the last 20 years, he’s been amped up in the violence and also in how far reaching his murderous sprees are. It’s one thing for Batman to send him over and over again to Arkham Asylum to just break out again if Batman always stops Joker’s attempts to rob and commit mayhem, but when the consequences of Joker’s escapes are the likes of Barbara Gorden being shot and paralyzed or hundreds of people being killed or Robin getting blown to itty bitty bits… It stops making sense for Batnman not to just kill the Joker and accept the consequences. And I’m saying this as someone who’s thoroughly opposed to the death penalty, but the thing is, in real life, mass murderers that get caught and convicted (Charlie Manson, for example), get put away and don’t have a revolving door on their cells. Whereas in the fictional world of comics, prisons and asylums ALWAYS have that revolving door.

Of course, there’s plenty of comics that go in the other direction with putative heroes (or at least protagonists) that’ll gut you just for jaywalking. A lot of those just end up becoming snuff porn themselves, although some are well written enough that they can be compelling and somewhat consistant. I’m not sure if there really is a good way to write superhero comics these days that can maintain the conceits of the big blue boyscout or big red cheese without going over a cliff…

Well, I think they can, but I’ve seen that mostly from animated versions lately, which don’t embrace the levels of violence and which also shrink down the continuity and the size of the fraternity of superbeings running around. Those are also kept a bit in check in that they’re written with a wider audience in mind, including kids. The whole, “Hey Kids! Comics!” thing is well and thoroughly mooted at this point. I’m still bemused that the libraries here stick the comics section in the children’s part of the library, while having things in stock like The Authority and Identity Crisis. Seriously?

OK, rant over. Time for breakfast.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. smartmemes permalink
    April 8, 2009 9:40 pm

    I’ve never entirely bought the “misogyny” argument behind the WIF syndrome, and I think a lot of the examples people cite really strain to make that point. To me, a lot of it can simply be chalked up to bad writing—certainly starting with the Ur-example, Ron Marz’ treatment of Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend.

    Mostly it just seems like the comics manifestation of the familiar Hollywood shortcut of amping up the villain’s reprehensibility level by having him do something shocking to someone innocent and helpless. And who’s typically innocent and helpless? In comics, more often than not, it’s the nearest non-super-powered woman.

    As to your specific examples… Johns only did the Wally/Linda miscarriage so he could dramatically undo it later through time-twisting plot machinations. It wasn’t a great arc by any means, but it should at least be judged in its entirety; and in general he handled Linda well, if not as well as Waid had.

    As for Identity Crisis, I’ve honestly never bought the notion that Meltzer had it in for Sue in particular, or women in general. Read his novels and you’ll see certain recurring shortcomings, but misogyny isn’t one of them. My take on IC is that Ralph and Sue were simply third-string characters who he was allowed to use as needed for a mystery plot, in contrast to more high-profile characters from League history, and that’s why he chose them. And I think it’s hard to deny that it was the most emotionally evocative use of those characters in many years.

    (Unsatisfying solutions to mysteries IS one of his shortcomings, though, and IMHO that’s the real flaw in IC. Although there is a rumor mill that says he really wanted to have Ray be the perp in the end, and was forced to rewrite it to be Jean.)

  2. Alexa permalink
    April 9, 2009 3:19 pm

    Re: Identity Crisis– It’s worse than you think. The assistant editor who worked on it, Valerie d’Orazio, came forward a few years ago and revealed that the entire story came about when Dan Didio walked into an editorial meeting and declared, “We need a rape.”

    You read that right. An entire miniseries centered around editorially-mandated rape.

  3. phredd permalink*
    April 10, 2009 12:45 am

    That’s pretty much how it read to me, so I can’t say I’m all that surprised.

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