Saturday, January 09, 2010

This is getting old.

Dear David,

I believe I aptly explained why I feel that Rucka has merely copied the Indigos with his rationalization, and that Diana was clearly placed in Violet due to the combination of her prominence and her gender and not because of any suitability in her modern age character. (Aside to the spectators, supposed pre-Crisis know-it-alls should RTFP and RTFC before piping up--DC's made a conscious effort to remove Aphrodite's influence as of the reboot, and it was quite successful.) As such, I figured you should understand just why I find the situation unacceptable.

Then I read your statement regarding love:
I think you could have as easily made the argument that Superman loves all creation and is willing to fight for it, and thus could have easily been a Sapphire. But perhaps Johns has a story reason for wanting Supes to remain undead a bit longer... or (more likely) no one ever thought Superman could rock the pink outfit. And at the same time, I try to see the positives here, in that we're talking about Love, dammit, and I actually LIKE the idea of super-heroes filled with love for humanity, love for the world, as the M.O. for doing what they do. In a world of vengeance-driven characters like Batman, I WANT someone to say "love must triumph," so I admit -- I can't get too outraged at the continuity/treatment/event/momentary-lapse-that-won't-affect-her-solo-title-four-months-from-now.


Before I get into the sweeping problem here, let me note that not wanting to put Superman in a pink costume but being willing to change Wonder Woman--who has the same hair/eye/skin color and costume color scheme--to a pink costume is homophobic and sexist and therefore wrong. So it's not a good excuse for using Diana rather than Clark for this particular twist.

But that's not where we get screwed up. You seem to find the idea that Love is what saved Wonder Woman from Death to be unequivocably positive, but even without the promblematic setup of the Star Sapphires Love is quite a loaded word, and there is definitely a gender disparity here. For male characters, Love is a positive addition to an already heroic character. It makes a powerful character more powerful. It adds to their supporting cast and gives them inspiration to achieve greater heights. They tend to be the hero first and the brother/father/husband/son/lover afterwards.

Female characters more often than not from conception have their LIVES revolve around Love and relationships. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, lovers (even as bad guys, they are often potential lovers) to male characters first of all. They live, sleep, and breathe love and romance. Most of them are introduced as love interests and many that begin as heroes in their own right find themselves quickly paired off with the writer's and fan's favorite guys. Precious few gain and keep satellite male love interests that enhance their stories. Most female characters are used to enhance a male character's story, to teach them the power of love and the ways of the heart.

And outside the superhero genre? Men get to be reluctant romantic leads and learn to open their hearts, but they are also action and adventure and dramatic leads as well.

Women are overwhelmingly romantic leads and workers of love with hearts that yearn to be open. They are sometimes dramatic leads, but that's usually folded in with romance. They are RARELY solo action and adventure leads who explore their problems with wit and courage. Even when they get action and adventure roles, they tend to be romantic and emotional in nature, or learning the value of love for family, for men, or for strangers.

See, it may be an amazing and special thing for you to read a male hero learning to open up himself to love and it making him stronger. And it may be fun for you in the same way to read a woman tap into love to draw strength. That's because to you, it's not the same old theme to every story about you. You get a variety of themes about human nature.

We get love conquers all. In the large and the small, in the personal and the global. Love conquers all. All the time.

That's why for many of us the amazing and beautiful thing is watching a woman be independent and confident and hopeful without attaching herself as a helper to a man. The special thing is watching a woman reach wholeness by opening herself to other emotions--emotions like righteous anger (that we're often urged to repress) and enduring hope that aren't the theme behind every story we've ever read

And for a lot of women, there is nothing special in watching a woman tap into a reservoir of love so that she can draw strength from that because that's what 99.9% of female characters do when they're strong anyway. And though a lot of women still greatly enjoy it, it's as common as dirt and they can find it anywhere. And everyone enjoys variety. Even those of us who adore apples like to eat a pear once in a while and don't like when that pear we were in the mood for suddenly turns out to be another apple.

To clarify, I'm going to have to discuss spoilers for Green Lantern Corps #42-43 here.

Now, I have said in the past that I absolutely adore Miri, and I have blogged in the past that I was surprised at how well the Kyle and Soranik relationship worked out. Soranik is a very clinical, willful woman. She's never allowed herself to be in love because she's specifically been afraid of being hurt. And she has a superstitious streak (she insisted back in her first appearance her ring was cursed because Sinestro went bad and Katma died), so she must have been afraid of Kyle's fucking amazing bad streak. Not only that, she's from Korugar where Green Lanterns are despised and Kyle is The Green Lantern, the Torchbearer, the reason we all HAVE Green Lanterns right now. It's a beautiful blend of complementary personalities. He's artistic and neurotic. She's logical and hot-tempered. He's from a chaotic and diverse world and she's from a very well-ordered world that hasn't had freedom long enough to be accustomed to it. (We can infer the difference in natural states from how Sinestro reacted to Earth in the Secret Origin storyline, suggesting that Korugar was never so wild even before he took over.)

So opening herself up to love was a multifold experience. She was overcoming a number of fears and exposing herself to a completely different culture and mindset. It worked beautifully, and wonderfully. It wasn't innovative, but it was well-crafted.

Then Blackest Night started. And Kyle and Soranik's relationship was tested by Black Lantern Jade. It came out ahead. Then Kyle sacrificed his life, blowing up in the middle of telling Soranik he loved her.

It was heartbreakingly beautiful.

It was clearly not the end.

Kyle's sweetheart, after all, is a neurosurgeon, and the best medical professional on Oa. so one of the expected solutions is that she would be able to work through her panic, desperation, and grief to revive him from the dead. That she would, through her skill be able to save her love.

There are times when you expect a plot to continue in the obvious direction along a well-worn path, only to have the writer pull the rug out from under you. Before you know it you see the tips of your shoes cross the backdrop of a beautiful summer sky, but it doesn't hurt. You landed on soft grass and you can feel the warm sunlight on your face, so you laugh because you got surprised and you loved it and it was part of this wonderful game!

Kyle's death was one of those times.

Kyle's resurrection was not.

The plot had been marching down an obvious direction (though there were still many forks available that weren't cliched) but it was not a well-worn or unwelcome path. It was an unusual path because the Doctor with the material skills and logical mind was a female character and the one who'd sacrificed himself for love was a male character. This may not be as unusual as it used to be, but it was still a riveting departure from the typical setup and the romantic fairy tales of our youth. Tomasi pulled Miri--thus far the best of the Star Sapphires so I credit him with creating her--into the mix. Soranik finds herself without the skill to save Kyle, and is unable to balance her emotions in the center of the battle. Miri creates a link between the two lovers and uses Soranik's love to resurrect Kyle.

An inspiring example that love conquers even death, no? I'm sure Tomasi thought as much. He was thematically incorrect, though. Since it was Miri swooping in as a Deus Ex Machina, this was solely Love conquering death while Will sat on the sidelines. But if Soranik had done so using her measured skill with or without the quasimystical help of Miri, it would have been an example of will mixing with love to conquer death, and a better echo of the overall theme of Blackest Night--that these forces cannot prevail alone. You neglect in your argument that "Love Must Triumph" is most certainly not the only thematic alternative to vengeance-obsessed protagonists. I enjoy reading about people who achieve their goals through strength and intelligence and just plain never giving up. I enjoy watching a protagonist who wishes to preserve the thing they care for above all else, but I also like a protagonist who has a strong sense of what is fair and just and acts in order to correct injustice and balance. I like heroes like Green Lanterns, who apply their skill and their wits and their courage to make sense of the universe. Love's a wonderful experience, but it is not the prime motivating factor for everyone who does something altruistic or even just good, and stories where love alone doesn't get the job done can be incredibly uplifting.

More importantly, the sour taste I found in my mouth came from this: A woman's love can conquer anything is a theme that reverberates across fiction. You can find it anywhere if you want to look for it. But here Tomasi had a storyline that was different and exciting, and he threw it away for the sort of cliched climax that can be found in a 13-year-old's Mary Sue fanfic.

(I will give him that the potential fallout from this impromptu battlefield marriage is juicy as all hell, so I'll continue reading, but the resurrection sorely disappointed me. Also, Miri is a fairy godmother, but she's also fairly awesome--the first genuinely positive example of a Star Sapphire so far. This is a misstep that hasn't soured me on his using her.)

But I'll even give you that Miri's solution could have been quite ingenius if Kyle had been the one standing helplessly at Soranik's side (this wouldn't have sent Guy into a rage, but they could have placed it afterwards--like she got hit while reviving him), and Miri had linked hearts to bring her back to life. Why is it so different? Because a man's love in stories tends to be expressed by the physical deeds he does for it, and doesn't need to manifest as a mystical quality.

Female heroes don't often get to express love through feats of strength or skill. Love wells up from the bottom of their soul and springs forth as inspiration or magic, and puts things right on a spiritual level. (And at DC, love wells up from the bottom of a crystal cocoon and springs forth in a neat little pink package that shows lots of cleavage!) It would have been a hell of a thing to see Soranik Natu save her lover through her skill, and then be saved by the pure power of his love because that would be her love-driven skills and his pure emotion rather than the usual trope of emphasizing the woman's pure emotions and the man's skills.

Love stories may be an undiscovered country for men, but this is far from a new frontier for women. It's always been our playground. It's where we're assumed to have our greatest power, and it's the place we're relegated to in story and song.

Love is the kitchen of genre fiction.

So to a lot of us? Yes, this is a negative.

And the fact that in DC, love is overwhelmingly personal (Wally and Linda, Kyle and Soranik, Miri and her late husband are all examples of when the power of love has manifested supernaturally, and it has ALWAYS been personal), sexual and seems to be exclusively the domain of women--to the point that even a character like Diana who is established as downright virginal and much better suits another established realm is STILL rationalized into that domain (with the description of the other established realm, which went to a male character... which had a history that even suited the established description of what makes a Star Sapphire)--is an incredible negative.

I will say this much... I do want a love story. But not the one we've been getting. I want the undiscovered country.

I want something starring a male Star Sapphire.

11 comments:

  1. "I want something starring a male Star Sapphire."

    Agreed. In fact, give it to Kyle. The man's been a hopeless romantic his entire existence. And he's exactly the sort of guy who wouldn't mind wearing pink in the slightest, no matter how much Guy might tease him.

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  2. Alright, now we're talking. Unfortunately, there's a LOT here that has been ascribed to me that was never intended. So, let's set a few things straight:

    - I NEVER indicated that not putting Superman in the pink outfit was not sexist. Please do not ascribe that trait to me, as it was NOT intended anywhere in my discourse. I AGREE with you 100% that Superman should be EQUAL consideration as a Star Sapphire, and frankly, I wish he had been. That was actually an AGREEMENT with with you, NOT an argument. I'm frankly a little shocked you took it that way. The only VALID argument would have been the first part, which would have been a literary reason (if Johns had plans that involved Superman remaining a zombie longer). That I could accept because I am about story above all things.

    - What we talk about when we talk about love. Look, I understand that female roles in literature have too often revolved around romantic love. I realize that. However, I do NOT think that what was written into Blackest Night thus far plays into that. Maybe I'm just an optimist, but I think that readers can discern the difference between an adventurer whose acts of heroism stem from a love of creation and a woman who seeks love or looks to be saved by love or what-have-you.

    I DID NOT suggest that the love that saved Wonder Woman was romantic love. Or even familial love. I think it was clear in the text. When I said it was nice to see heroes fighting out of love, I was clearly talking about that grander love, that includes more than compassion, but an aching love for LIFE itself. Yes, perhaps you think compassion is more accurate. Maybe it is. But me, I'm not into the whole semantics game. I think it's possible to love a spouse, a dog, a brother, an old chair, a bar of chocolate. To love life. To love the ideals of humanity. So for me, it fits and it is not denigrating, and I apply it EQUALLY to both Superman and Wonder Woman. Let me note that again for the record: I apply that to BOTH Superman and Wonder Woman EQUALLY -- I am not making this a gender issue.

    I think that, as it was written in BN:WW, this is the love we're talking about. I believe the point here is that Wonder Woman's heroism is driven by a LOVE for the whole world. After all, she's not just an adventurer, is she? She's not Indiana Jones, trying to save things for a museum. She's actually setting OUT to spread the word of the Amazons and to save people from Evil. To nourish the best in humanity. I see that motivation stemming from a deep abiding love.

    I see that in people all the time. I see teachers and social workers who care so much that it crushes them when they fail to help someone. I see Wonder Woman and Superman as their patron saints. Is it compassion? Sure. But f*** it, let's call it love for now. It's more fun that way.

    - Further, you are also ascribing a previous Sapphire definition of love to the situation, which is clearly where you and I differ. I ONLY refer to the definition laid out in BN:WW. If you only read Wonder Woman, and then you read this issue, this would not be out of line with the modern age Wonder Woman, and I have read MUCH of the modern run (Perez-Rucka).

    - I would DEARLY love to see a male Star Sapphire, and I have NEVER argued otherwise.
    =

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  3. Love is the kitchen of genre fiction.

    Fuck yes. Well said, the entire post.


    @David Accampo:
    But me, I'm not into the whole semantics game. I think it's possible to love a spouse, a dog, a brother, an old chair, a bar of chocolate. To love life. To love the ideals of humanity. So for me, it fits and it is not denigrating, and I apply it EQUALLY to both Superman and Wonder Woman. Let me note that again for the record: I apply that to BOTH Superman and Wonder Woman EQUALLY -- I am not making this a gender issue. (bolded emphasis mine)

    No, you're merely ignoring the issue of gender here. Ragnell has clearly pointed out that for the women who are reading, those kinds of stories are often old, tired clichés.

    You're just turning around and saying "yes, okay, I see that, but for ME, a man, here is my ENTIRELY NEW PERSPECTIVE for rationalizing those gendered clichés into not being gendered clichés." Which is really missing the point.

    Is it compassion? Sure. But f*** it, let's call it love for now. It's more fun that way.

    Again, as Ragnell said, maybe for you it is, but for others, it's boring and tiresome and frequently borders on insulting.

    Compassion and hope can overlap, love and compassion can overlap, hope and willpower can overlap, greed and fear can overlap. Of course they can. But it seems your definition of love is stretching the Star Sapphires' manifestations of love (which I assume generally pertains to specific people, not chocolate bars or armchairs or whole planets) to fit Wonder Woman's love, when Wonder Woman's compassion is probably a better fit, requiring less stretching of definitions.

    If you only read Wonder Woman, and then you read this issue, this would not be out of line with the modern age Wonder Woman

    Okay, I've only been reading WW for a little over a year, but even in that short space of time, I've seen WW court a guy but not because she loved him, and show compassion toward an evil god-type entity, choosing not to destroy it because she felt sorry for it, even though it would have been far better for her and others if she did destroy it. So I don't really get your argument.

    I'm not an expert on the character and her mythos, but WW strikes me more often as someone who's so very much loved by her people/family and others, that she takes love for granted more than most people do.

    For her, love is a given, it's not something to dress in pink and parade around the galaxy about.

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  4. "...At DC,love wells up from the bottom of a crystal cocoon and springs forth in a neat little pink package that shows lots of cleavage..."

    Heh.

    The perfect description of a Star Sapphire. I actually didn't hate this book this week, although the inclusion of Batman confused the hell out of me. But I certainly do understand where you're coming from. And as muc as I love Miri, having Soranik be able to restore Kyle would have been so much better.

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  5. Wow, David, you're STILL talking? I'd give it up, man. Unless you want her to verbally bitchslap you some more. Which granted, is really fun to watch, so okay, keep talking.

    -

    I love the post, Ragnell, as you know. :-) The one thing I disagree with though is the idea that it would have been better with Soranik resurrected by Kyle's love.

    To me that'd be pretty much the same idea as in Sleeping Beauty or Snow White (Disney versions) with "true love's kiss breaking the spell" or some such nonsense.

    Bah.

    Now what REALLY would have worked for me is if they'd let SORANIK be the one to flip out, and have Miri resurrect Kyle with GUY's best-friend/partner type bro-mantic love. THAT would have been an interesting twist on the dynamic/gender expectations. :-)

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  6. Definitely an interesting twist. But it would scare all the guys, so they would never do that. Still, I think that Guy would make a GREAT Star Sapphire.

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  7. @Kalinara:
    This was a good back and forth. I think both people made interesting points, but I agree that Ragnell's argument prevails. But no one was outwardly rude in this back and forth until you chimed in.

    @SallyP:
    Wouldn't scare me a bit.

    @Ragnell:
    Good post. Long but good. Wonder Woman craps more power than there is in that ring. Ridiculous. Also, the love resurrection is extremely bad writing. Disappointing plot twists abound.

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  8. I see what David was saying, but I think he missed the bigger issue which I think you respectfully outlined here very well. I agree with those thoughts and just wanted to share some of my own.

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    When the rings started jumping out at other heroes, I had no idea who would get the Star Sapphire (though at the time, I didn't realize that Black Lanterns were eligible). Really, of everyone who was either present or previously given screen time in BN, there was no one I could single out as exemplifying "love" as had been previously defined by the Star Sapphires. For that matter, I couldn't \think of nearly ANYONE in the DCU that fit the mold. CAROL doesn't really belong even (I'm guessing she got the gig because of her previous experiences).

    (I guess Ellen Baker might work, but I see her more as a "will" person)

    The problem from the very start of this Star Sapphire concept reboot was that it had such a weak starting motivation (because you LOVE so-&-so so much, would you be willing to give yourself over completely to LOVE in our quest to spread and defend LOVE?) that it practically REQUIRED you to create new two dimensional characters to fulfill this role. Pre-existing characters given the title (e.g., Carol, Fatality) don't fit in with their peers. Add to this that you've limited SSs to women (which frankly NO sense to me whatsoever) by both precedent and that ridiculous new outfit (would the male version be a pink thong and matching biker boots/gloves?) and you've made it damn near impossible to make a compelling argument for (again nearly... I'm getting to it) any existing DCU character to become a SS.

    All of the other colors have a simpler concept. "You have the ability to overcome fear." "You have great compassion." "You inspire hope." You could easily name scores of existing superheroes who fit those descriptions.

    I previously mentioned that I wasn't even considering Black Lanterns when the rings when a flyin'. If I HAD, then the choice would have been easy. And it sure wouldn't have been Wonder Woman.

    It's Superman, of course.

    Okay, maybe we will buy into Johns' argument that no one loves the Earth more than Wonder Woman (which really doesn't flow with his previously explained prerequisite for becoming a SS), but no one LOVES as much as Superman. In his personal and professional lives, Superman loves pretty damn near everyone. This bleeds a lot into compassion, but a truism that will always remain so is that Superman will always love Lois Lane and would do anything for her. Wasn't that a major theme in Infinite Crisis? (And WHO wrote that book?) THAT sounds a lot more like the idea that has been put forth for what makes a proper SS.

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  9. There are many stupid stories that continue to prevail today. Avatar is another "great white hope" tale. Monster gets awards for making an attractive person ugly. Romcoms all have the same plot of "mismatched couple distantly attracted, disliking one another, giving it a go, miscommunication, disdain, guy makes it up, all it good" while rolling the credits before "and they come to their senses and break up because they could never truly live together". Indy 4 sees GL throwing up on thousands of digital screens worldwide. Family sitcoms are made up of a fat idiot married to smart, sassy, attractive woman.

    And LOVE is central to EVERY woman's story. Whether she's the main character or not. Unless she's a bitch, a whore, a gold digger, a tease, a nun, hates men, ice-cold, an old bag, a little girl, possessed, obsessed, deranged, or really the devil.

    It's a horrible story and we need a LOT less of it.

    It's sad and I while story-telling has gotten smarter in some regard in the past decade (especially in mainstream comics and TV), this is one story we can't seem to escape.

    I think professional writers are lazy. If they write a story about a woman, they tie her down to her "love" in one sense or another. If they write a story about a man, they find some way to wedge a "romantic lead" into the tale; a character written from the start to only serve as a "love" character (though they often give them some secondary purpose such as exposition, providing a critical plot point that comes out of no where, or being in peril).

    As a man, it's insulting. I can't even imagine what it's like for a woman.

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    Last comment...

    Before BN, I didn't know anything about Mera. But I liked what I saw of her until the second half of BN #6.

    Maybe I'm missing some history here, but where did this rage against Wonder Woman come from? In fact, where did her rage in GENERAL come from? Sure, she has a personal beef against the BLs, but don't all the heroes? She's attacked them viciously, but no more viciously than a number of others.

    More to my point, did Johns make her "AnGrY" JUST to make her a Red Lantern?

    I get it that he's taking the position of "revitalizing" this character in BN and as such her starring role makes sense that she would become one of the Color Guard, but why rage?

    We've been talking about Wonder Woman and her induction into the SSs, but this was just as troublesome for me. Remember what I said earlier about women who do not have love as the center of their story? Mera's one of them here. She seemed like a woman of strength of mind and power until she clashed with WW. Then she became the "cat". The bitch. And I don't like it.

    I'm not going to rant on it, but as much as I love GL, Johns' run, and in general BN, these choices left me feeling quite sour. Don't get me wrong... I'll pick up the remaining issues because on the whole I've enjoyed what I've seen, but I see where it could have been better and would've liked a few changes.

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    PS - I also thought Kyle's resurrection was played out poorly. Either Soranik should've save him or he should've died.

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    PSS - If DC and/or Johns REALLY wanted to have a jaw-dropping moment, it would've been Supes in a two page spread of him wearing the before mentioned SS pink thong and matching biker boots/gloves.

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  10. I really want to see some Superman-as-a-Star-Sapphire fanart. Anyone got it in them?

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  11. I put a request out for someone to draw Star Sapphire Superman for me, and got this wonderful drawing in return.
    http://img35.imageshack.us/img35/7265/superstarsapphire.jpg

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