Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Don't Step in the Meta-Text

She-Hulk #7 Spoilers

I was looking at the racks today, when my eyes fell on the Marvel section. She-Hulk was out. I remember a conversation on one of the Big Moneky Comics forums about the current storyline. Jennifer was defending an accused rapist. I was curious as to how it was handled.

I flipped through the end of the book, and, hands shaking with rage, I picked up that and the previous issue.

Yes, there's more.

It made me think of Angela Spica. You remember back when Mark Millar was writing The Authority? He had a storyline with the Evil Doctor as the villain. He had the same powers as their teammate the Doctor, which is basically Shamanism on a Global level. In the middle of the fight, he tries to scare Angela with gore and violence, and she tells him she's not so easily freaked.

Then he reveals that he can move laterally through time.

And he does, he goes back in time to when she was a schoolgirl.

And changes things.

It was the ickiest thing I'd ever seen a supervillain do. Your life works out one way, you grow and change and gather experiences that make you the person you are, you person you should be, its a forward moving thing with the past set well in stone. In comic books, though, history is fluid and changing, according to the writers whims, and when they write time travel, according to the characters.

When I open a comic book, I slip off my shoes, toss the robe of reality on the lawn chair, and dive right in. When the narrative's done right, it's like swimming underwater, you concentrate on the story and immerse yourself in the little world there. If it's sympathetic, you immerse yourself in the character, in their head. You're swimming in their life. That's how I was Authority when I got to that scene. It was one of the ickiest things I'd ever read, and I dropped the book shortly after this issue.

A villain, going back in time, and changing one thing. Just five minutes in the past that reverberates through Angie's life. She experiences it and she's experienced it years ago and dealt with it and moved past it and experienced it again in the same instant! The same instant that I was swimming in Angie Spica's life.

This never happened with a normal fistfight. I was used to a normal fistfight. It didn't even happened with other sexual abuse stories (though I was sensitive to them then), because I'd read them before and never been this irritated. But this, this was disturbing. This was happening on several layers of the story at once.

What Angie experienced was a sexual abuse retcon like nearly every other female hero on that sad, long list that's been forming in the back of my head -- only Angie's was behind the scenes and in the story itself. This somehow makes the whole thing more powerful.

Metatextually, Angela is every one of those female characters, and the writers who are retconning this -- guess who they are. The supervillain, the Evil Doctor, doing this just to freak them out.

And, by extension, freak us out.

And that's all Mark Millar did it for. Make no mistake. He was trying to get an emotional rise out of the audience, make us squirm in our seats. Beyond that, there was no purpose, and there was absolutely no necessity.

And it's losing its power. It's not stopping me in the reading anymore, it's just making me roll my eyes in disgust and hate the writer. It's becoming like a normal fistfight through its overuse, and that is what is making me angry. I don't want to be desensitized to this. I don't want it to be a normal rite-of-passage for a female character.

I don't want to read this moment anymore.

But I bought it, and I sat down and read it again, closely this time, the whole story.

Starfox has the power to make people do whatever he wants them too, something to do with his voice. He'd been an Avenger and a superhero in the past, but in this story one of the women he woke up with brought him up on rape charges. During the course of the stories, Jennifer reveals that she seduced Starfox back when they were both Avengers together. Later on, as she cross-examines the plaintiff in the courtroom, she realizes that she may not have been the one doing the seducing after all.

She calls him to deny it, and he hangs up on her. Even though it was years ago, she's so enraged that she leaves the courtroom and Hulks out on the staircase.

I will give credit where it is due. The story is well-done. It was clever and respectfully handled. Jennifer was not turned into a victim during this, and the retcon wasn't used to manufacture an audience bond with her. Instead, Slott writes her like a human being.

And it addressed something that's been bugging me about the Marvel Universe for quite some time now -- how it's got fifty billion telepaths, half of them use their powers to "get laid" (*Ahem* Psylocke and Cyclops) and no one calls it as the rape it is.

There's even a point where Dan Slott echoes some of the fan's thoughts about rape in superhero comics (From the voice of Stu of the record's department "I just don't think of superheroes that way. And I sure don't want to see it in my comics") and with the same character's voice let us know why he did this particular story. I can see his point and I can see why Starfox had to be officially villainized because of his past behavior.

But even though it was well-done, and served two purposes,

But still, it bugs me that this, the first time I see a female character in a telepathic rape story, is the first time it finally gets called for what it is.

And it also bugs me that She-Hulk, who to my knowledge was free of sexual assault in her past, now has it retconned in there.

Yes, it does help that she got to beat the crap out of him as soon as she realizes it...

...but not much.

Because for every Dan Slott, there's a Mark Millar and a Kevin Smith.

It's not necessary.

It's not fun.

Stop It.


  1. I hated Mark Millar ever since his run on Swamp Thing. He just piles up the shock factor because he thinks we're all stupid enough to mistake grim-n-gritty for grown-up and profound. There was this one thing about a gore-whore scene that just degraded an existing character in a way I could not stomach. I can read about people who hare being utterly dehumaised and exploited in the crime pages, every morning, thank you. And yea, the whole Marvel strong-women-have-trauma-in-their-past is becoming a disturbingly recurrent plot device. I have a theory about it being a sick way to take male credit for female achievements somehw, but I guess that's reaching a bit?

  2. I had to drop Ultimates because of what he did to Hawkeye's family. You don't get to see them much, but they reminded me of my family, and it just seemed like gratuitous shock factor. Is it done for no other reason than to make readers uncomfortable, then, do you think?

  3. I read The Avengers as a teenager and I just thought that Starfox had the coolest of powers.


    *shiver* As a man, I just glad the bastard's been taken off the field of play.

    BTW, my brother works for this organization,, as a youth advisor. They all do fine and necessary work. Check them out if you have the chance.

  4. *applause*

    Another magnificent post, Ragnall. Thank you.

  5. Actually, I read a review somewhere that panned the issue for making Starfox look bad.

    They didn't think a former Avenger should be portrayed as a possible "date rapist."

    I thought such protests were missing the point, but on the whole I'm not so sure why rape has become such a hot topic for comics.

    The writers and artists never handle it well, and like many other "real-world" comics it comes off like a Lifetime Originals Movie at best.

    Topics like this just don't mix with characters who parade around in long johns - or less.

    Like you said, they should just stop.

    An excellent, thought-provoking post.

  6. That review was over at Comics should be good.

    And I agree with their review. They took starfox, a character who before now was perfectly ok who hadn't used his powers for anything like this, and turned him into a rapist.

    I can't articulate it well enough but

    that does.

    This comic has pissed me off so much. Starfox has essentially Dr. Psychos powers but used them for good. Thats an interesting design for a superhero and one that worked up until now. Now how ever he's got a giant blot on his history and the character is close to ruin.

    Not to mention what actuallyhas happened to She-Hulk. Freakin She-Hulk!!! Thats not something you put in a characters past, especially if the character has been known for her "Wink at the camera, knowing all this is silly" type books.


    I was one of the biggest proponents of this book at both shops I go to. Continually telling people how good the writing is. Now I'm not going to recommend it unless an issue really pulls me back. This is fucking stupid and the first she-hulk book I haven't bought.

    I am god damned enraged about this.

  7. You know, I was calling Starfox "The Creepiest Avenger" all the way back in February when I wrote about how he tried to use his powers to calm down a rampaging Hulk, only to get punched across the street.

    He's a weird character.

  8. "He's a weird character."

    Starfox is weird? How about Professor freaking X? He can mind-control anyone he wants, has a history of mentally manipulating his old girlfriends, used to lust after his teenage student, and once turned into a genocidal villain without warning.

  9. Well said, I don't think I can add to that

  10. ...And since the middle of Grant Morrison's run on New X-Men, he's been treated as such with reasonable regularity. He strangled his twin sister in the womb, enslaved a sentient being to train the X-Men, and brainwashed everyone after sending a group of second-stringers to their deaths. And even going back as far as Claremont's first run, Cyclops told him to stop being an asshole and bossing everyone around.

    Aside from getting coldcocked by the Hulk in Incredible Hulk #300, I've never seen anybody stop and talk about how frigg'n weird Starfox is until Dan Slott.

    PS: Funny story about that time he talked about how he was in love with Jean Grey. Roy Thomas once mentioned that to Stan Lee and asked why nothing ever became of that and why it was never mentioned again, and Stan said something along the lines of:

    "Wow, that's crazy. Did you write that?"

    "No Stan, you did."

    "Oh. Man, that's crazy."

  11. Oh. My point:

    Telepathy, even mind-control, isn't all that weird as far as superpowers go.

    Super-seduction? Used to fight frigg'n Thanos? Yeah, that's weird.

  12. According to Slott (over at the CBR forums) this particular plot isn't over, and there's still a lot of ambiguity about what Starfox has and hasn't done. (He does say "I can explain" just before Shulkie nut-kicks him- coulda been a charm attempt, but who knows?)

    So, it'll be at least a month (the next issue is CIVIL WAR-related) before we see this completely thrashed out.

  13. JP -- I don't think you're reaching at all, actually. There's a tendancy for female characters' lives to revolve around men. Even WW's origin has her coming to Man's World because she followed the first cute male butt out of Paradise.

    Martin -- That's why I dropped it, I really think that writer only wants to make readers uncomfortable. Some people mistake that for skill. "Wow, he can generate this much emotion." Well, yeah, he does it the cheap and easy way!

    Carla -- Thanks for the link.

    Devon -- I thought stuff like that as a teenager too.

    Tell your brother I'm already appreciative of the "Men Can't Stop Rape" organization. They made the sexual assault awareness posters that are posted where I work, and I suspect (because the training was aimed at male bystanders) they put together the training video we show at orientation. It's an amazing campaign.

    Elayne -- *Blush*

    Fortress Keeper -- They're upset for basically the same reason, superheroes and this subject don't belong together, but I'm mad about her being affected while they're mad about him being affected.

    Mallet -- I disagree, I don't think Starfox was perfectly okay. His very concept is questionable. I mean, this page looks pretty damning to me. Over at that thread they're arguing about the art and they're totally ignoring the visual clues that scream "Mind Control" in that sequence.

    Spj and Chris -- Totally right on both Professor X and Starfox. There are too damned many icky telepaths running around at Marvel.

    Evan -- Yeah, it did ahve a "To be continued..." but the nature of the letter column makes me think that Starfox is not getting fully redeemed here (though I can see him getting taught a lesson and getting a change of heart). He's been too creepy all arc.

  14. Slott also claims he's NOT saying in the story that Starfox is a rapist, but that scene with the comic you put up implies pretty heavily that he is. It's also one of those irritatingly metatextual moments that seems to punish the audience for liking the character, but if Slott had so much of an issue with Starfox, he should have taken it up with Roger Stern.

  15. On a completely unrelated note, I think it was funny that the Nintendo game Starfox was playing was Super Mario Bros 3...

    and not, you know, Star Fox.

  16. Ragnell, an important note. In your post you stated:

    "And it also bugs me that She-Hulk, who to my knowledge was free of sexual assault in her past, now has it retconned in there."

    Actually, during Steve Gerber's run of Sensational She-Hulk it was alluded to that Jennifer Walters was sexually assaulted in college.

    In your post you have said:

    "I will give credit where it is due. The story is well-done. It was clever and respectfully handled. Jennifer was not turned into a victim during this, and the retcon wasn't used to manufacture an audience bond with her. Instead, Slott writes her like a human being."

    and you also said:

    "Because for every Dan Slott, there's a Mark Millar and a Kevin Smith."

    And this seems to imply that you think the current issue of She-Hulk was respectful of the subject matter. So why is that such a bad thing?

    According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control: In this country, one in six women report attempted rape at some point in their lives.

    This is quite a common experience in an American woman's life. To try to create an antiseptic world where no female superheroes have this experience would seem to do a greater disservice to the matter at hand. It would be like turning the same blind eye to the problem in that ficticious world that most of us do in the real world.

    Since this is an important part of our culture that should be addressed and NOT ignored, wouldn't it be better that when the issue is broached that it be handled like it was in the pages of the current She-Hulk and NOT like it was in the pages of the Authority or Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil that Men Do?

  17. That was actually the point of my post, Anonymous. Because of the cavalier method that the subject matter has been handled in, I am unable to enjoy a well-written story that covers it.

    The problem is that this is an over-used plot, and it's gotten to the point that there are nearly no superheroines (Superheroines, characters who fulfill our power fantasies) who have not been raped.

  18. Even if this is something common in real-life women's lives, why does it have to be covered in the pages of this run of *She-Hulk*? I just finished reading the first collection of the series and found it to be light-hearted, witty, and pop, like *Harvey Birdman* set in the Marvel universe. Why does that atmosphere need a "realistic" story like this?

  19. I know it's nearly two weeks later, but I was just reading this and got to thinking. I'm not too happy about the above reinterpretation of Starfox, for philosophical as well as fanboy reasons. But...if Bill Everett's character Venus is not open to exactly the same critique for exactly the same reasons, should I assume a double-standard is in effect?

    (For the record, I like both characters and don't want either of them villified, but I wouldn't object to a scene where V takes S aside and they discuss how to avoid potentially unhappy situations in the future...)

  20. Kitty -- It's the only forum Slott had, I suppose.

    RAB -- (Here it is two months later and I'm only now answering) I think Venus is open to the exact same criticism, myself. Although, your scene would help an awful lot actually. Show some responsibility for that skeevy power. All telepaths should be held to a high ethical standard. *Glares at Professor X*

  21. Once more into the breech of a four-year-old post, I must say this:

    The event referred to in that issue isn't what you think.

    Issue 17 explains what really happened (and all sorts of other wackiness that had been going on). Really, I'm pretty sure they do what they do in issue 7 because She-hulk vol. 2 is all about Jen misunderstanding things and messing up her life (at least it seemed that way to me). She suddenly realizes the possibility of Starfox taking advantage of her and freaks out, because She-hulk likes being She-hulk because she feels more in control that way. To me, this seems to be another running theme in her books: her need to take control of her life as Jen Walters and stop using She-hulk as a crutch. So they have her lose control as She-hulk several times in v.2, jumping to conclusions the way a well-trained, amazing lawyer like Jen shouldn't.

    She doesn't like the idea of a sexual abuse ret-con any better than we do.

    If you haven't read an issue of She-hulk since this one specifically because of this issue (I don't know if this is the case, since I'm reading through your Extensive Archives of Ye Olde Rants), I would suggest checking it out again. Maybe starting with issue 17 and deciding She-hulk's fate after that. I'm less fond of vol. 2 because it's about someone's life collapsing, but that's really it.