I’d like to write about something…anything…other than what I’m going to write about this week. I’d like to write about my love for the much-maligned Chronicles of Riddick, or the newest episodes of Breaking Bad, or even how wrong people are to complain about the last season of LOST.
But, sadly, all of those topics are going to have to wait. Why? Because this past week, three major figures in the world of comics made a valiant effort to alienate girl geeks by collectively shoving their feet into their gaping mouth-holes. The picture these three jackholes painted is nothing new, but that doesn’t make it any less infuriating.
Let’s start with the least ridiculous. During a panel discussion promoting an upcoming PBS documentary, Punisher writer Gerry Conway had the following to say about diversity in comics.
“I think it’s a mistake to sort of, like, pigeonhole superheroes, or to add so much to superheroes that you’re missing the fact it’s a genre within itself… It’s an inherent limitation of that particular genre, superheroes.”
In effect, Conway is saying that there should not be diversity in comics now because there wasn’t diversity in comics eighty years ago. That has got to be the stupidest, most pathetic excuse I have ever heard. Genre is not a set of unbreakable rules, genre is a set of tendencies that exist to greater or lesser degrees in a work of art. Even if it were a set of inflexible rules, WHO FUCKING CARES? If creating a world inhospitable to women is a rule then that rule deserves to be broken.
The fact of the matter is that there are no rules. Contemporary writers aren’t bound by the limitations established in the early days of the genre. If they were, then Conway himself would be violating those limitations by writing stories about vicious, murderous anti-heroes like the Punisher. It seems to me that Conway is being a touch selective in his interpretation of the limits of genre, and using that interpretation to excuse his shameful reluctance to make more diverse comics.
On that same panel, Conway and uber-douche Todd McFarlane also made the case that superhero comics were no place for positive depictions of women because girls don’t like comics. McFarlane elaborated that comics are too “testosterone driven” and therefore wouldn’t be an appropriate venue for “do something that I [McFarlane] thought was emboldened to a female” (sic).
The problem with this statement is that it is bullshit.
Women have always read comics and genre literature and they have always done so in spite of the fact that the industry has always ignored (or even denied, as McFarlane and Conway are doing) that fact that they do. By denying that these fans exist the industry is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy which is exactly what comic writer (and life-long woman) Gail Simone had to say on twitter, before going on to say that she will “go back to writing those sold out Red Sonja and Batgirl comics that there is no audience for”.
Finally, during a recent interview for the New Republic, Kick-Ass writer Mark Millar had this to say about the unnerving amount of sexual violence in his work.
“I don’t really think it matters. It’s the same as, like, a decapitation. It’s just a horrible act to show that somebody’s a bad guy.”
Setting aside the fact that this is either willfully obtuse or completely ignorant, what Millar is here admitting is the laziness of his own writing. The only limit to the ways in which a writer can show that a character is evil is that writer’s imagination. It can be done in any number of ways and, frankly, almost all of them work better than just showing a villain raping someone. We know Darth Vader is evil when we see him leading an army of faceless soldiers against a tiny band of outgunned humans (with faces) in goofy hats. When the Joker kills off his own gang in the commission of a crime, we know that the Joker is not the kind of man with whom one fucks. Voldemort drank fucking unicorn blood. In all of these cases (and bazillions more) actual effort went in to finding ways to show that the character is evil while also showing something about their character. Vader is a totalitarian despot; the Joker is unpredictable and a danger to anyone around him; Voldemort will do anything to stay alive. Using rape the way Millar is suggesting does nothing for characterization, It’s just laziness.
At the same time, treating rape in such a blazé way speaks volumes about the way Millar understands the world. Real women living in the real world really do face the threat of rape, and not from “evil” people, but from friends, colleagues, and family members. What’s more, women often find themselves blamed for their own assaults. Rape culture is really real and trivializing rape, as Millar does, is part of how rape culture operates.
I’ve written before about the laziness of using rape as a convenient way of making evil characters evil, just as I’ve written about the lack of diversity in comics and the incredible sexism that plagues the industry and how it is actively alienating a huge segment of fandom. I’ve written about it before because it is nothing new. But, for all of that, people still want to act as if this isn’t happening, that it is all just P.C. whining.
Fuck that. These guys and their outdated and disgusting attitudes are insulting and hurtful.
Instead of a hopeful sign I got three jackholes doing their best to alienate women comic fans at a time when women are already being treated like second-class citizens in fandom.