Friday, January 27, 2006

Feel Like Vomiting

(Sincerest apologies to Kalinara for stealing this rant idea, but I need to vent)

Well, just learned from Chris Sims about Spider-Man/Black Cat #6.

Turns out that its revealed that Black Cat was raped in college.

Lovely, another one for the list.

Yes, there's more to this.

I first read this sort of thing in a comic in my teenage years, when I bought some back issues that included Wonder Woman #1. I was irritated that it was there and chose to ignore it.

I then encountered it in Watchmen. Found it disturbing, but it served the story.

Same with The Killing Joke.

I didn't really mind it in Green Lantern #109, because I didn't care much for Jade to begin with. I just considered it a lackluster issue and moved on.

I thought Mia in Green Arrow having been a hooker was an interesting past for a potential sidekick, and was more bothered by her blonde hair and blue eyes than her traumatic past.

I didn't think the Engineer in the Authority needed this at all.

I honestly didn't care much about it in Identity Crisis. I mean, it was pretty vile, but it was about the only horror that could explain away the irrational actions of the Justice League.

But when you start putting them all together, you get a freaking bad trend. Nearly every female character has sexual trauma in her past.

Someone needs to sit these writers down and tell them to stop. You're not adding emotional resonance to the story anymore, because this ploy is tired and overused. You are not showing the slightest sensitivity to women's issues, so don't consider yourself enlightened for using such an adult subject. And you are not making the female character any deeper and more compelling with this, at all. If anything, they become more superficial because the issue isn't properly explored.

And it really bugs me that these writers find the only way they can emphasize a female character's strength is by giving her a past sexual trauma to overcome. As though this is the only trial fit for a woman.

I blame the guy who rebooted Wonder Woman (not Perez, the guy before him) for taking the Amazon's positive past and attitude and painting them as manhating isolationists with having been raped as justification for their prejudice. And I heard a rumor once that he'd planned on having Diana fend off a rape attempt within the first few issues but was stopped by editorial. I'm sorry, that's just plain stupid. Every crime prevention briefing I've ever attended has emphasized certain behaviors to avoid being a victim. Your standard rapist would not target a six foot Amazon who carries herself like a Queen. Too intimidating, too risky.

But I digress. However it started, it needs to stop. It's not only cheapening the characters, but the depicted trauma which happens to far too many women everyday.

Knock it off.

Or Else.


  1. You mean apart from the rape attempt from Zeus?

    But yeah, a rape attempt against Diana's pretty unlikely. Rape's about power, and even without her very public identity, Diana's a big woman. If the guy has enough backup maybe he'd try it, or if he had rohypnol or one of the other drugs. But honestly, they're more likely to go for someone like Vanessa, who might not have been as beautiful as Diana, but would be much easier to dominate and feel better about themselves doing it.

    It's a little ridiculous. 1 in 4 women have been sexually assaulted in this country, they say. And yeah, I can understand that sometimes it's uplifting to see women who'd survived and overcome rape. (Sue Dibny's rape in IDC actually wasn't that bad in this respect, as having it set so far back in her past that it made it clear that she *had* overcome it and continued to be strong and capable up to her death. And they needed something truly vile to motivate the JLA-ers toward that end.)

    The comic ratio though is closer to 9 out of 10 women. I can think of three women off the top of my head with no rape/attempted rape/sexual assault in their back stories that I know of: Power Girl, Cassandra Sandsmark, Anissa Pierce. (I'm not counting Cassandra Cain because the gratuitousness of other parts of her backstory balance it out).

    And I'm thinking of a list of about 30 heroines.

    It's ridiculous. I read comics for an element of escapism. I don't need to see that.

    Also it cheapens rape as a plot device too. I mean, as I said, I had no problem with Identity Crisis using it, because they had done it to a character already dead (no pointless revisitation of that angst on her part), they'd set it in her past so that she'd positively overcome it, and it needed to be something that vile for the plot. But with every woman almost having the same sort of backstory, well, what's the point? Why is Doctor Light worse than any of the other villains now?!

    And I don't think it'd bother me as much if they pulled it on a guy character once in a while. And I'm not talking about the still-awful but less-common more audience-palatable woman-as-rapist storyline. 1 in 4 women may have been raped, but 1 in 10 men have also. And in most of the cases the perpetrator is a man. But comics won't tend to go there because that sort of story would "emasculate" a male character.

    Look at the flack Dick Grayson gets for his experience. (Though some of that comes from, I think, a bit of an uneven-handedness, lack of resolution to that plot...Jack Knight's in Starman was done a bit better, IMO).

    The only character I can think of that's suffered anything like that is Damage. 1 man to at least 80% of the women.

    I mean, hell, let's look at Green Lantern a little. And I usually like Ron Marz. This "uplifting" Christmas story centering on Jade's past experience at an orphanage, where her powers erupted to save her.

    a) It was completely unnecessary
    b) It rewrote her backstory to do it: Jade was supposed to have been adopted by her loving family during infancy
    c) It's not particularly uplifting that she had to be saved by her powers, as opposed to screaming, fighting him off, running...something *actually* proactive.

    And really, if that sort of story really was somehow necessary. Why not do it with Kyle Rayner? Change it a little, as he's not a tragic orphan type. Make it one of Maura's boyfriends, perhaps, who is secretly a sicko. And instead of the power being used, have the kid get lucky enough to scream for help in time (or have fought him off long enough to scream) so that Maura can save the day.

    It's still irritating, but at least it wouldn't have been quite as predictable. And it could be a PSA about "If grownups are acting weird or hurting you, you *can* get help". Or something like that. (It's not like you can tell kids: "If grownups are acting weird or hurting you, you *can* manifest powers and zap them"). And could have ended with some reasonably heartwarming message about family and love and protection and crap like that. (Maura now resolves to look closer at the men she would trust around her child, maintaining that she would always be there for him when he needs her. Something corny like that, maybe)

    See, still irritating, but it could work just as well. If the implication is supposed to be that it could happen to anyone, why *doesn't* it? (Except leave Dick Grayson alone, thanks. He's much too obvious and easy a victim. Same with Todd Rice.)

    Or you know, just don't do it...

    I've got no problem with subtextual stuff. Because I'm largely inobservant. Someone said that it was implied in Crisis that Phantom Lady was raped to death. I didn't get that impression. (For that matter, I never got that Apollo was supposed to have been raped in the Authority until later, when I noticed the kind of taunts the enemy was using before Midnighter got to play). Other times, I do notice implied subtextual sexual abuse. Like in Starfire's past. Or for that matter, I thought the flashbacks to Johnny Sorrow in JSA 18 had some unpleasant child-rape overtones. But hell, if you can ignore it or interpret it like you want, I'm okay with it. I would say that Starfire's past, or the Johnny Sorrow hints, serve as much storyline purpose as they are written as any overt sexual assault-in-the-past storyline. And you can take your own meanings out of it. (Both characters survived a hellish experience to have sorta normal, relatively happy lives. Both characters are strong and powerful regardless about whether it happened or not. And if you're tired of the plotline, well then, it didn't happen that way at all. There's enough trauma in both instances without it.)

    *shrug* But why go for quiet yet effective subtext when you can go for trite, flashy and overdone?

  2. Not to forget the archetypal "rape as motivation" character Red Sonja, who not only set the trend for female comic characters but a whole generation of bad fantasy fiction heroines. And it's not just male writers - I quite liked Mercedes Lackey but she used this plot device one time too many for me.

    What always particularly irritated me about this one was that when she initially appears Sonja is a strong empowered woman who has fun and drinks the guys under the table and wears actual clothes, but then Howard Chakyin and Roy Thomas got their misogynistic grubby hands on her and suddenly she's a sanctimonious screw up motivated by rape to stalk the land in a chainmail bikini.

  3. I can't shake the feeling that the whole point of raping female characters is to somehow say that the source of a woman's strength came from something a man did.

    It's been a very weird experience for me the past ten years when a friend of mine told me about a rape she suffered. When she tried to tell our other friends, they just sort of shut down and couldn't even imagine the situation. It was something they felt you shouldn't talk about or even bring up. I was appalled by their attitudes.

    Now we have TV shows where almost every night you can find one show with rape. Comicbooks have turned into a race to rape female characters. Maybe it's my skewed view, but it feels like rape has turned from a forbidden subject (which was bad( to something that's almost in vogue. I don't know what to think anymore.

    Sorry for the rant but crap like Black cat's raoe is what makes me want to quit comics.

  4. "The comic ratio though is closer to 9 out of 10 women. I can think of three women off the top of my head with no rape/attempted rape/sexual assault in their back stories that I know of: Power Girl, Cassandra Sandsmark, Anissa Pierce."

    Well, how about May Parker? Or Martha Kent? These characters made it to motherhood (or adopted motherhood) without being raped, so they're safe. Any comic woman who is young and single ... look out ...

  5. "Sorry for the rant but crap like Black cat's raoe is what makes me want to quit comics."

    Isn't this comic written by Kevin Smith? There's your answer ... as long as fanboys buy his crap and line up for his autograph at Wizard, we'll never get rid of him. He "contributes" as much to quality comics these days as Frank Miller.

  6. Sorry for the sudden barrage of comments, but I just read this on View Askew's website. I am assuming that this is Kevin Smith speaking, on his own website, but here it is:

    "As with most comic book covers, the image up front doesn't really tell the story inside. These covers aren't spoilers at all; they reveal nothing about the plot. As with the covers of issues 1, 2, and 3, they're just striking, iconic images of the titular (pun intended) character. So for those who speculated, based on the cover of ish 5, that Nightcrawler 'saves' Felicia from the events at the end of ish 3, all I can say is 'You're not even close.'"

    He's such a funny guy. Titular, indeed. And check out that Terry Dodson/Rachael cover to #5. It looks like Nightcrawler is humping her. Rather than saving her, perhaps he perpetrated the act? BAMF!

  7. I wish I could find a scan of MY VERY FIRST PUBLISHED ARTICLE ANYWHERE EVER IN THE WORLD. It was a review of Marada the She-Wolf in The Comics Journal c. 1982, and I talked about Marada's motivation being revenge for rape, and I wondered why


    Wow. Nothing changes. Really.

    I am seeing so many things go full circle these's like the Widewinder ride at Coney ISland when all of a sudden it stops and goes in the opposite direction.

  8. And what have I been saying since I nailed my 95 theses on the door of comics this month?
    Nothing's changed for women in comics in twenty years.
    More women working in positions other than editor or colorist, yes. More women over all. More MEN over all.

    But a difference towards the female professionals and the female characters?

    Not so much.

  9. Oh yeah:

    I had a conversation with Gerard Jones in 1990 about how female characters in comics seemed to have to be raped to be actualized.

    15 years ago.

    New Batgirl? Cassandra? Sexually abused, at the very least.
    Oracle? Gut shot, likely raped.

    Why do I like the original Batgirl, even though that makes me an old fart? Because she wanted to make something of herself with her degree (summa cum laude), not because someone raped her to get revenge on her dad.


  10. Rapists must be the smartest men on earth, or the luckiest. How the Hell else do you explain their neigh-infallible ability to catch the most powerful, clever and self-sufficient characters in comics at precisely their weakest point in order to exploit, it every single time?

    Sweet baby Jeebus, I have to wonder why we even bother asking if a female character in "mainstream" comics has been raped or not. It’s pretty much become a given anymore that at some point, sometime, somewhere every one of them has been, or will be. I’m beginning to think that a female character can’t get a union card without proving her horrific-past street cred. Really, we could save ourselves a lot of time and energy if we stopped asking if and just start asking when, were, how and by how many. Hell, why stop there? We can organize a betting pool! Oo! I’ll put $50 on Aunt May, during her heady youth, at clown camp, by a teeny tiny car load of midget wrestlers! Think of the money we could make!

    I fucking hate this industry.

    -Lisa Jonté

  11. Argh... that's supposed to be, NIGH-infallible. *grumble*

    -Lisa Jonté

  12. Scarlett -- I hate Law and Order the worst for that. A woman gets raped so a man can feel really conflicted about how terrible it was that it happened.

    Message: Women's suffering lends authenticity to men's emotional judgements.

    That's some fucking disgusting bullshit, and I don't understand it.

    By the way, I'm a man.

  13. "I hate Law and Order the worst for that."

    The television series? Which episode was this? It may have happened on a few, but usually a rapist -- on these shows -- are protrayed as evil guys.

  14. "And it really bugs me that these writers find the only way they can emphasize a female character's strength is by giving her a past sexual trauma to overcome. As though this is the only trial fit for a woman."

    Yes, yes, and yes. I see this in all kinds of media and it makes me want to scream. I swaer the next SF/F book that contains this bullcrap will be publicly burned by me.

  15. No, Rich, I know they're portrayed as evil guys. But in these shows it's the emotional impact on the detectives that matters, and the victim's suffering is just a plot device that serves their bogues self-reflective "outrage". And for "detective" read "man", and for "victim" read "woman."

    You're going to tell me that there are women detectives on these shows, too, and you're right. (Although my God, what tough-talking women they are!) But in any case it's the dynamic that's important: the victim is objectified so that a policeman can act as a mouthpiece for "society" and its norms. It's a cruel trick.

  16. Not for nothin', and not to detract from the point here, which--as Ragnell will attest--I think is a very valid one, but I've never read a comic that gave me the idea that Cassandra Cain was sexually abused, and I've read nearly all of her appearances.

    Certainly being denied speech and being shot by David Cain during her childhood "training" qualifies as abuse, but I don't see where any of it could be construed as sexual. Especially since that would run utterly counter to Cain's goals of creating a detatched killing machine.

    Of course, it could've happened in one of those Justice League Elite issues. I wouldn't touch those with a ten-foot pole.

    ...And I swear, my verification code is "xrgsm." Frigg'n weirdos.

  17. "[On Law & Order] the victim is objectified so that a policeman can act as a mouthpiece for 'society' and its norms. It's a cruel trick."

    No ... I don't think the victim is objectified any more than the criminal. There's only so much you can cover in a 1 hour episode. The detectives are knowledgable about rape and crisis counseling, and most television viewers are not, so some of their dialogue is carefully contrived explanation for the viewer. At least on Special Victims Unit.

    Meanwhile, on the original LAW & ORDER series, the detectives and the attorneys bicker about everything ... from miranda, to victim's rights, gun control, illegal immigrants, and the death penalty. I don't think those topics are onjectified any more than rape victims.

  18. I don't usually get enought time to comment on most other blogs, but you are quite right, it's disgusting. Last month, I read about the increase of rape crimes in Sweden, many of which were committed by Islamofascists. And when you see just how bad real life is, that's why it's all the more repulsive...and inappropriate for entertainment.

    What really offends me about the rape in Identity Crisis is that it was being used solely as a plot device, and no female viewpoint was ever featured in it. By contrast, just take a look at Avengers Annual #10 from 1981, where Claremont wrote a very good argument for Ms. Marvel, that puts the whole approach used in Identity Crisis to shame.

    Thanks for mentioning Law & Order being a biased series with no real feeling for the women who were victims of rape crimes. I stopped watching L&O at least a decade ago, and never looked back. It's all just moonbat propaganda, and we don't need it.

  19. Rich: you are defending, not listening. I will rip it up for you if you like, but if you could bend an ear that would be better.

    Avi: thank you for hating the soulless crap of Law and Order as much as I do. The show is disgraceful. I, however, still watch the goddamn thing.

    What can I say, it's compelling. Not good, but compelling.

    But I have not seen detectives bicker about Miranda on it. Bicker about Miranda?!?


    Wrong on so many levels. But very Law and Order, come to think of it. Gruh.

  20. The response to this Black Cat "revelation" has been so negative that I'm sure it'll be buried and never referred to again. Of course, that doesn't make the fact that Marvel deemed it worthy of publication any less sick, but it's a start.

  21. The true test of the negative reactions to the revelation- which smacks of Smith once again only being able to understand and comprehend women through pain- will be if Smith decides to address it on his website or at conventions.

    And if he chooses to do so, he'll probably do it by, as Seanbaby once said, "hysterically overreacting."

    In any case... a guy who scores points off of nerds not getting any as much as he does shouldn't reduce all the women in his stories to bitches or walking wounded.

  22. I'm listening. "I will rip it up for you if you like, but if you could bend an ear that would be better." I suppose you're implying that I'm stupid, because I don't agree with you? I'm actually a pretty smart guy, and I don't agree you.

    "Wrong on so many levels. But very Law and Order, come to think of it. Gruh." Or right. And good television drama.

  23. Blame bad writers who only have about three options when it comes creating shocks or revelations in a story. It seems that everyone in the comic book universe, male and female, have tormented pasts. Whatever happen to someone growing up with a nice family? Was that just Superman? No one else?

    I read somewhere that Judge Anderson (from the Judge Dredd series) had some abusive past. What a bunch of crap. And then there was some throw away issue with Hal and Green Arrow where Hal remembers that his father abused him.

    It's just a lame way of creating controversary, and Kevin Smith's a lame writer anyway. So why bother talking about him? Ditto for television.

  24. Rich:

    The last thing I'm implying is that you're stupid. What I meant was: I'd be glad to break down why I think the way I do in detail for you, because I think you're missing what I'm saying, but then again you could also probably get it without my explanation anyway because it isn't that complicated. Basically it's a point of view, not rocket science. If you decide to take a look at it, you'll probably see it, and then you'll know what I'm getting at, and then we could talk, and maybe find out whether I do have my head stuck up my ass, or I don't.

    But you know what? Now this smells a bit like a fight, so forget it. I'm not interested in trying to prove I wasn't calling you stupid when I already know I wasn't; if you can't take my word for that, then we're already not communicating, and I can do other things. No harm, no foul.

    I'd point out, though, that policemen should not be bickering about Miranda rights, on TV or anywhere else. Policeman have nothing to say about Miranda rights. Miranda is the law, full stop, which means there's nothing discretionary about it. And just for a capper, how does two people (or three, or four) agreeing that the death penalty is just fine and dandy constitute them bickering about it?

    Sorry, that was snotty. It's just that Law and Order has a pretty darn clear political agenda, in my opinion, and I see it as trivializing. The expositional dialogue smacks of propaganda, and the ruthless objectification of, yes, EVERY character goes far beyond what I think the needs of economy are, even in a show only one hour long. Feel free to disagree with that.

  25. The main thing I disagree with was that I was trying to start a fight.

  26. Then I withdraw the implication.

  27. Here's what I want to see--A MALE superhero with sexual abuse in his past. As a victim, of course, not as a perpetrator. I think it would be an interesting angle.

    What do y'all think?

  28. Well, if you believe this educational comic , Spidey got fiddled as a kid. This may no longer be canon, though.

  29. the truffle: Here's what I want to see--A MALE superhero with sexual abuse in his past. As a victim, of course, not as a perpetrator. I think it would be an interesting angle.

    I think that a sexually abused male superhero in cannon is about as likely as an openly gay male superhero couple.

    I fear that the abundance of sexually assaulted female superheroes are there solely for the titilation of the comic's male fanbase. I fear it is rape culture, plain and simple. I think the reason why female superheroes get raped (not in all cases, but perhaps a majority?) is to satisfy the dark, violent sexual fantasies of the authors and male fans. Some fans and authors probably want to put these powerful women back in their place, or to have their power originally come from the actions of men (as suggested abovr), or simply to see a sexual fantasy played out with the sexy female heroine (in which case a consentual sex scene may be skirting to close to a graphic porn novel, while a rape scene gives the comic both sex and keeps it dramatic). It's like the new lesbian Batwoman. She's not a lesbian to advance understanding between the straight and LGBT community, she's a lesbian because guys find lesbianism to be hot.

    BTW, I don't speak from personal feelings on this matter, but I do speak from my own exposure to men like that. I have seen literally HUNDREDS of posts on various sci-fi and fantasy forums where guys talk about how they would like to have violent sex with various fantasy female characters.

    It has gotten so that you can't be a fan of any sci-fi/fantasy comic book, TV show, movie, or novel without rubbing elbows with guys who should be locked up or on a sexual offender watch list. Some of you may hate the comic book industry...myself, I'm starting to hate the whole sci-fi/fantasy genre... :-(

  30. Cassandra "Batgirl II" Cain was never raped/sexually abused. I've read every appearance up until ROBIN: BOY WANTED (and I don't think there have been any others since...?) and that never came up. She was brutally psychologically and physically abused (being shot) by her "father" to teach her to be "the ultimate killer," but there was nothing sexual about it.

    It still fits the abuse of women motif in mainstream superhero comics and it's probably splitting hairs, but just wanted to throw that out there, as I've thought that Cassandra Cain was one of the most positive female superheroes this side of Storm, Wonder Woman, ORacle and Street Angel.

    At least, she WAS, until DC turned her into a streotypical Dragon Lady in Adam Beechen's Robin...



  31. I think that a sexually abused male superhero in cannon is about as likely as an openly gay male superhero couple.

    There is an openly gay male superhero couple in the Young Avengers.

  32. At the risk of sounding somewhat curt, if you don't like the state of comic writing then, become a comic writer and begin to change it.

    Yes, it's annoying that comic writing isn't more mature, but the only way to change it is if people with more mature sensibilities get in there and get to work.

  33. Baleful darling, its not that you sound curt -- its that you sound idiotic.

    Your comment runs on a few assumptions: a) That I'm not trying just that, b) that my current lifestyle supports such a venture, c) that I'm talented/skilled enough at writing to do so, d) that these problems are not editorially driven, and e) that it is just that easy to break into the comics industry and be handed the reigns of the most popular superheroes in comicdom.

    To answer your assumptions: (a) I am but (b) it really doesn't and (c) I might be but (d) probably not enough so to override the editor and (e) it sure as hell isn't.

    That's not even getting into the absurd idea that a paying customer should answer shoddy work not by complaining but by trying to do it better themselves. Try that principle on your car, see how far you go.

  34. "I don't usually get enought time to comment on most other blogs, but you are quite right, it's disgusting. Last month, I read about the increase of rape crimes in Sweden, many of which were committed by Islamofascists. And when you see just how bad real life is, that's why it's all the more repulsive...and inappropriate for entertainment"

    For the love of god, please check out the sources a blogger uses before accepting things blindly!

  35. Gnarl... We don't try to reason with Avi. Its a waste of energy. We just kind of smile and nod and continue our conversations.

  36. I think there are a lot of valid points here and I know I'm being stupid even mentioning this in a 2 year old post... but, my understanding is that Barbara wasn't supposed to have been raped in Killing Joke. The implication is there, and if that's what you got I'm not going to start a fight about it... but I read somewhere that "officially" (i.e. according to the writer) that she wasn't raped, undressing her was more of a shock/power move by the Joker. I thought I'd throw that out there.

  37. Angela -- A lot of people bring that up for both Barbara and Dinah.

    Thing is, both women were undressed specifically to invoke the spectre of rape. Brought as close to being raped as the publishers had guts to do. It's still infuriating, because its still introducing sexualized assault as a source of trauma. Still pisses me the fuck off.