Sunday, April 09, 2006

It's Too Early In The Day For This Much Misogyny

I'm going to cheat today and share with you some e-mail correspondence from last week. Those of you who have a weak stomach for criticizing writers may want to skip this one (Though I did link to those who already had a chance to respond to the Refrigerator list)

Hey Ragnell,

You're way more the Green Lantern fan than I am so I was wondering if you could tell me whether I'm being oversensitive or whether GL is very misogynistic? I knew they'd killed off Katma Tui, Jade, and Alex DeWitt, but I hadn't realised that Arisia had gone too (after having various nasty things happen to her). A couple of months ago I saw the GL episode of Duck Dodgers and there was a female GL I hadn't seen before so I looked her up in the the unnoficial guide to the DC universe website, and guess what? Dead. Add Carol Ferris turning evil and it's beginning to look like the odds are stacked against any female who spends any length of time near one of those rings.

Am I mistaken? Is there just a high mortality rate generally in and around the Corps? Are there any female characters in GL that have lasted long term without becoming vicious murderers? 'Cos right now the whole thing is just depressing me.


Yes, I did answer her.
Actually, I think about this one all the time. I don't think the concept or the franchise itself is misogynistic, but there's so many disposable characters and so few of them visibly female that one misogynsitic writer can do a lot of damage. Carol Ferris, for example, started out a really amiable "villainess" -- She was basically powered by the Zamarons to make a little trouble. She didn't turn evil, I think, until Preist got ahold of her in Action Comics Weekly. He's the same writer who killed Katma Tui, another character who'd been treated respectfully up until then.

I can see a lot of misogyny in Denny O'Neil's run. He played with all sorts of social issues but for some reason couldn't do feminism without making the guest-women evil (Mother Juno, the visiting Amazons, Sinestro's Evil Sister). He crippled Carol (a later writer fixed her legs, haven't seen that yet) and created Kari Limbo (Check out Kalinara's post). Black Canary got alternately moronified and glorified, though I can't get over her first appearance in the run (she gets brainwashed, dammit). Fortunately though, his punching bag was Guy Gardner. Guy was injured so that John could be brought in, then Guy was kidnapped and driven insane to give Hal some angst. Then he put him in a coma for safekeeping for next time he needed to cause Hal angst. This kept the run free of the Fridge Factor.

I haven't read all of Steve Englehart's run. I do have to say the very concept of the Arisia aging story -- where she's the sexual predator artifically aging herself and tricking Hal into bed doesn't look good at all. I also hear this was where the Predator/Carol storyline was introduced, and I've heard bad things about that. Green Lantern #192 made my blood boil from the displayed sexism (Though, as Kalinara pointed out, that was sexism attributed to a character, not stated in the narrative, so I have to read the whole story to see how it turns out). But most of the stuff he wrote with Katma was absolutely beautiful.

I'd say the turning point into misogyny was the Death of Katma Tui. Because Action Comics Weekly #601 featured three awful blows to femininity -- Katma died (on the kitchen floor!), Carol was made into a psychopath (a far cry from the playful rival of Broome and Fox's days), and Arisia was turned from a mixed-up kid who still had the willpower to save a planet, into a bubble-headed model/sex-toy for Hal. Come to think of it, Hal and John didn't do too well in this run either.

Earlier writers like John Broome and Gardner Fox were much better. They created Katma and the Zamarons (who were actually pretty cool and reasonable, if chauvinistic, at the start), and set Hal up with I think the only Silver Age girlfriend who was actually her boyfriend's boss.

Gerald Jones introduced Brik and Boodika, resurrected Katma but kept Carol insane. During his run, we had GLC Quarterly, which while not always written by him introduced some decent female characters. We got the story of Laira, a conflicted daughter; Sheriff Mardin (Her origin is on Scans Daily if anyone's interested), who preferred not to use the ring at all when taking care of her territory; and Donna Parker, an Earthwoman who was offered the chance to be a Green Lantern, but turned it down (she was a 50s mother). I got the indication he had more for them to do, but unfortunately, Emerald Twilight screwed all of them over. Boodika and Laira were cannon fodder for Hal's rampage, and everyone else lost their powers. This abruptedly ended Green Lantern: Mosaic, where they'd resurrected Katma, which led to a retcon of Katma's resurrection.

Ron Marz's run doesn't really bug me so much, even though he is the one who did the infamous Refrigerator Scene. I don't think he's a misogynistic writer, as he writes Sara Pezzini pretty much the same way he writes Kyle (which is what gave me the problem with the sexual harassment storyline. He's done that story setup to Kyle too, handing the Act III victory to a guest-star, but he never handed Kyle that subject matter), though he does have crappy moments he should be called on. The main problem with judging him was that during his run they were doing an All-Lantern Purge. He was building a period of darkness, tearing down every element in the mythos and creating an atmosphere of death and destruction. Minor Lanterns, which was most of the remaining female ones, got killed off or never shown again. Kyle's first girlfriend Alex was created to die, but she treated fairly up to then. Hell, as a hapless girlfriend she made a better showing in her death story than Katma Tui, an experienced hero, did. He got two editorially determined love interests (both of whom were photographers, just like Alex!) that, unfortunately, he wrote in character. Both of them got pulled by the editor. He removed Carol's insanity, but also removed her power (her connection to the Zamarons), in an attempt to remove her from the franchise. Kyle's most formidable (until the next writer got ahold of her) enemy was female. Kyle's mother, Maura Rayner was actually a pretty good character. The real test of Marz and Green Lantern is how he'll handle Kyle's next love interest, the one (hopefully) that he's created himself that's not editorially controlled by another book.

Arisia seemed safe for a while, shuttled over to Guy Gardner: Warrior. Beau Smith had several fun and interesting female characters in the supporting cast (Lady Blackhawk and Fire made appearances; Arisia, Guy's mother Louise, and Verrona were regulars) and if you do searches you'll find rumors that he'd planned to bring Arisia right back, so I don't think misogyny factored into this one.

I'm a bit worried about Geoff Johns right now. In Green Lantern: Rebirth, he brought everyone back but Katma and Arisia, for starters. He shuffled Carol off to married life. He introduced one female supporting cast member, as a rival pilot. On the other hand, he has added an important mother influence to Hal's backstory -- which is important in the father-obsessed DCU -- and he's done a good job with females over in the JSA franchise. Green Lantern #10 put me more at ease in this respect. Yes, OYL he still has no viable love interest. It had a plot point that seriously put me off the story, but on the plus side it brings Cowgirl to prominence, removes the rivalry and effectively saves her from "notch in the bedpost" status by forming a non-sexual basis for their relationship.

Dave Gibbons has two good points for him -- returning Brik and creating Soranik. I personally consider killing Jade a pro-feminist act for reasons of my own, but he the way he did it was pretty damned symbolic and insulting (using a door that was opened by Winick). That's one against him. There's also a severe lack of visibly female background characters. I think I counted only two (An insect lady at the morning briefing and the girl with the hat in my in the recharge scene -- this could be the decision of artist Patrick Gleason) in the entire Green Lantern Corps: Recharge miniseries.

The worst, however, had to be Judd Winick. Because he tricked* us (and possibly himself) into thinking he was pro-feminist. He repowered Jade, right? That's good, returning a "strong" female to the cast, right? Not if she has to depend on Kyle to get her powers back. He outright tells her "You can't do this alone." That set up my warning flag. She can't get her powers, which are her inheritance back unless he gives them to her. It's a backhanded way to empowerment.

Winick then took Maura Rayner and turned her from a realistic looking woman into a Middle-Aged Barbie Doll. (Though, as Kalinara points out in the comments, that may be more the result of Dave Eaglesham's art). He takes a formerly formidable villainess, Fatality, and turns her into a crying little girl who doesn't have the willpower necessary to tame a weapon that matches Kyle's (a weapon used successfully in the next storyline by a male villain who is also a mental patient). He brings back the Guardians as both genders, then shows that the female adult version is strong and formidable by quickly aging one of the little girls, dressing her like Vampirella, sending her on an uncontrollable rampage because her mind is so childlike, weak, and simple that she needs Papa Smurf--err, Ganthet the oldest Guardian to step in and take control. Then he adds insult to insult, insult, insult and insult and brings the Zamarons back, as Nursemaids.

On the whole, I'd say Green Lantern history has been more misogynistic than feminist. I don't think this is an evil inherent in the franchise or even started by the early stories, but that could be my own natural inclination to give it a pass. I love the Green Lantern concept. Instant Manifestation of whatever you imagine in beautiful glowing green light! Such wonder and power in your hands. I hate to think of it as a boy's club. But sometimes, you have to just bite the bullet and open the fridge. And sometimes, it's mighty crowded in there.

*Judd Winick also introduced a gay character specifically to be beaten to a bloody pulp. When he cured John Stewart's paralysis he made sure to add a horrific and unnecessary mistake of causing his younger sister's death to John's already smeared backstory. He introduced Hispanic heritage to the Green Lantern mythos through Kyle's long lost father, Gabriel Vasquez. Gabriel had been successfully posing as an Irishman named Aaron Rayner when he met Kyle's mother, he left shortly thereafter. Thus, the big-name Hispanic hero Winick "snuck in" under the radar (in what smells awfully like an attempt to cheat us out of brand-new quality characters of diverse background) looks white, and was raised in an Irish pride household completely and utterly ignorant of anything other than Irish heritage.


  1. To be fair, with things like Maura suddenly being supermodel-esque, or the lack of women in the crowd scenes...we don't really know how much of that is artist contribution either. It could just be something like "A crowd scene of Green Lanterns, visibly from many alien races" being in the script, and the artist just drawing a lot of men instead of women.

    I'm not trying to push the blame on the artists or anything, but when you're talking something purely visual the question comes up as to who does what.

    (I suppose we'll know for sure if/when more major female characters start showing up in GLC.)

  2. I still think Kyle's mom is dead, but DC chickened out. Now when she shows again, it'll really be that there was a mannikin in the oven.

  3. It's also worth noting that Priest has often said Katma Tui's death was by (O'Neil's) editorial fiat, and as a young writer he really couldn't refuse. Lately he's written some of the stonger characters of both genders I've seen in comics.