Monday, July 03, 2006

So We Only Get One Question

The night before Kalinara left for HeroesCon, she asked me if I wanted her to ask Dan Didio anything for me. I had three questions, and told her one was infinitely more important than the other two.

Why was this particular question so important?

Because I was absolutely convinced that no one at DC had even had the idea to do this.

See, I'm a big believer in ingrained cultural sexism. I think empathy and respect, these need to be taught. Our culture simply isn't set up to teach empathy to women. Everything is masculine, everything is for boys. That's why "sissy" and "throw like a girl" and such as insults. When we're raised, we're taught to identify with the masculine. That's where the traditional values of society are placed. You need to teach yourself to identify with the feminine. You need to teach yourself to value the feminine viewpoint.

That's why I stories are set up that way. Male heroes, the story revolves around them.

And I really don't understand why having this viewpoint shaken puts people on the defense. I mean, that's what Feminism's for, to shake the narrow viewpoint that centers on the male. To focus on the female for a change. It's not considered a revolutionary philosophy anymore, but really it is. The point is to change the basic wiring of society. To make Women the Norm. It's not anything against men. It's just to introduce another way to view things, a way that doesn't center on men.

So, when I see the unconcious cultural sexism, I like to call it out. I like to single out cluelessness and make people think about it. Because if you're dealing with a good hearted person, I really think they'll go "Wait, I didn't think about it from that point of view," and think differently from that point on. It's revolutionary in a little way. Sometimes it puts someone on the defense, sometimes I get caught up in my point of view, sometimes we lose our tempers, but sometimes.. Sometimes it works.

And I don't think comic book writers are bad people. I just don't think they've looked at it from the other angle. We all get stuck in our boxed stories, our rotes, our formulas, our viewpoints. Rather than be defensive, we should welcome a fresh idea!

But I digress. My point was, I really don't think that Dan Didio or his massive creative writing factory are bad people. Not at all.

I really honestly figured that they'd just never thought of what I had. And I figured, if we got it out there, it might just happen because no one had thought of it before.

So, being unable to go myself, I asked Kalinara to prove it for me. And, like the wonderful friend she is, she used her one chance to ask my question:
"Will we ever see Major Force beaten by a woman?"
It's not that there's anything wrong with the concept of Major Force as a psychotic misogynistic villain. It's a fair idea, and it works.

Nor do I have a problem with Alex DeWitt's death, or the Green Lanterns being angry and white-knight about it -- because that rings true. Men react that way. Especially heroes.

It's not even that we have this horrifically misogynistic villain who specifically seeks out female characters and hurts them, not because he wants to get at them personally but because he thinks that is the best way to hurt their male relations, and he's not a Wonder Woman villain.

Because that's a kickass concept for a Wonder Woman villain.

And to be honest, while he's just too perfect as a Wonder Woman villain, he does work elsewhere. He can be a Green Lantern villain fine without bothering me.

No, the problem, is that every time I have seen him up against a female character -- He Has Won.

I saw him fight Wonder Girl in Battle for Bludhaven, and he beat the crap out of her.

He fought a depowered Arisia in Guy Gardner: Warrior and killed her.

He fought Alex DeWitt in what is possible the most one-sided fight in Green Lantern history, and, while she put up a fight (a better fight than Cassie Sandsmark did), she had no chance at all.

To be fair, as far as I know, he's never been up against Wonder Woman, Queen Hippolyta, Artemis, Supergirl, Black Canary, Huntress, Batgirl, Power Girl, Manhunter, Donna Troy, Lady Shiva, a live Katma Tui, Brik, Boodika, Soranik Natu, or even Jade. He's never to my knowledge fought a fully-powered, fully-grown, non-civilian woman.

Because he's Kyle's villain. He's Guy's villain. He's a generic Green Lantern villain and there are no female Green Lanterns on Earth. This I understand.

But here we get back to the proper structure of the story, and the payoff. The sexist jerk who offends/hurts/threatens a female character in Act I needs to have his ass handed to him by the same female character in Act III. Not by her boyfriend, or her brother, because that's the male protector fantasy. No, it has to be by her.

And if she should die in Act I, well, if the villain's actions are based on misogyny he still needs to have his ass kicked by a woman.

I've got no problem if a writer decides to write his characters equal, treat his female character the same as his male characters and not make a distinction -- as Ron Marz seemed to be doing in Witchblade when he wrote Sara as Kyle. Kyle's has his victory, when he was personally insulted, taken by the guest star. No problem.

But when you introduce a villain that is marked as evil because he is sexist, a sexual predator of some degree (the sexual harassment in Witchblade #89), you've just brought the inequality of gender into it. And to complete a satisfying story to a female viewpoint, that inequality needs to be refuted.

The Sexist Asshole in Act I Must Have His Ass Handed to Him By a Woman in Act III.

Because if it's just a man, then it's the fulfillment of the male fantasy alone -- the WhiteKnight Protector and the injured female becomes a prop.

Even women, though, get raised with the male viewpoint and need this shaking up sometimes. I was truly surprised when I first realized it, but it fell into place and explained some of my vague disappointment with some stories.

So, I didn't figure that by not understanding this little rule I've outlined, and by being used to the typical White Knight Protector cycle, that the writers were bad people. I figured they genuinely had never considered this. So, a simple, innocent question might change things.

How did they react? According to Kalinara:
Well, I asked during the lightning round, so it was kind of funny because it was all "Yes! No! Ehhhhnnn! (buzzer noise)" then I asked and there was a very obvious stall.

Like in the old cartoons...the record getting pulled off?

And there was a sort of group stutter and Rucka says something like "Uh...sure...why not? Just...might have to wait a few years..."

And Didio recovers and quips something like "beaten by a woman? Sure! He can be just like the rest of us!"

It's sad, but I get a vain, self-centered pleasure out of being right -- even about things like this.

Besides, this is Greg Rucka who answered. He probably started plotting it in the back of his head with Sasha or Renee or Kathy right there because we know he lives vicarously through them. And I just have to wait and I'll get to finally see this jerk get beaten to a bloody pulp by a superheroine for all his stupid sexist little comments. And it will be immensely satisfying.

I am a bit disappointed, as this does mean that Kalinara's hypothesis that Phantom Lady will get to hurt him in Battle for Bludhaven #6 is wrong.

Oh well, it'll come. Maybe it'll be a resurrected Katma Tui or Arisia. That would be downright awesome. Or Soranik cutting her teeth on him. Or Brik -- Hehehe, I'd like to see him just try and hurt Brik.

(Of course, this is no excuse not to keep calling out the little things like this. If anything, it tells us it works.)

In the meantime, we get to see him piss off Hal Jordan.


  1. I still think the best woman to defeat Major Force would be a resurrected Tora Olafsdotter.

    She's the most traditionally feminine heroine of the DCU. She's quiet, compassionate, sensitive, usually-not-as-violent, all that stuff, but while having her own hidden strength as well.

    Given the character's complete and obvious contempt for women, having him beaten by a woman like Ice would be *infinitely* satisfying.

    ...especially if she got to do it saving Guy or something. :-)

  2. You know it never occured to me that this wasn't the most obvious thing in the world. I'm staggered that it even needs saying.

    Are these writers so male-centric that it doesn't occur to them that bad villain who habitually attacks [minority group 1] should not be defeated by a representative of [minority group 1] if [minority group 1] happens to be women? I mean, it's storytelling 101.

    I'm still hoping to see Kimiyo Hoshi kick the crap out of Dr. Light.

  3. Kalinara -- Anything that means resurrected Ice sounds fine to me.

    Marionette -- Well, that would be the point of the post and the little experimental question. Society really is that male-centric. It's how we're raised from birth, and more often than not it takes an external influence to knock you out of it.

    That's how we get such fights over this, people assuming that it's particularly idiotic or malicious that someone hasn't considered their viewpoint. It's not, it's a cultural issue.

    You can go in viewing the people you need to convince as antagonists before they've had a chance to even hear you, or you can go in thinking of them as those people trapped in the cave who've only seen shadows on the wall.

    A lot of people just haven't considered the outside. They're not raised to, it's never occured to them. Human beings are not imaginative by nature. That's why it's so damned important to have diversity in pop culture. So that that other viewpoint is potentially out there.

    The majority doesn't understand that the minority knows their viewpoint by heart by virture of cultural default, and the minority is upset and impatient that majority refuses to listen.

    Meanwhile, many members of the minority get closed off because they can't see any viewpoint besides their own either. It's understandable. They're sick of chipping away at the complacent majority mentality, they're sick of being the sole dissenting voice in a sea of conformity. I retreat too when it's jsut me against a billion.

    I need to go back, though. It's important to get the thought out there, and start out with the benefit of the doubt. When we spend too much time in our own little communities, where only similar viewpoints are prevalent, and we become afraid to venture to the wide majority spaces where ignorance breeds and our input is desperately needed.

    We close off, it becomes us and a few regular debating partners who disagree just to be contrary -- then we get endless cyclical arguments where both sides are so used to dismissing each other that no one ever hears the other.

    It's irritating as hell to get an opponent who refuses to see your side of things, after you've tried ad nauseum to explain it, but it's even worse to find such a person on your own side. Because they encounter each other, they see each other. They use each other.

    We reach a stalemate in argument when what we really need is something to shake up everybody. Something neutral on its own, enticing, inviting, innocent -- but subversive. We need a good mindfuck.

    Sometimes, we need it on both sides.

  4. Interesting post, your question looks like it worked a bit like a zen koan, a question to break someone out of fixed views. Well done.

    I have a slightly different take on well done women characters in comics. I like and respect your take on feminism in comics, but my view is from a greedier place. I like good stories. Good characters, male and female, help to build good stories. The over use of abused females as character motivator means that an author really has to handle it well for that story trick to work now. Tying little Nell to the railroad track stopped working in the 1950s, having Nell become a kick ass fighter because she was abused stopped working more recently, but it has stopped working as an easy cheat.

    As for why it is Nell on the tracks rather than Ned, that is back to basic feminism and part of a bigger fight, but for me, I just want good stories when I buy my comics. Thanks as ever for a great blog.

  5. My choice of who should beat Major Force is... I guess... Plastique? He is after all a Captain Atom villain, really, and if this happened it would mean that they were finally using Captain Atom and his supporting cast the way they were meant to be used, like in his comic back in the '80s/'90s.

  6. Brett -- I'm with you, I'm for good stories too (I despise social issues stories with no skill behind them). A good variety of them.

    And Ned on the tracks worked so well with Steve Trevor in the 40s and Xander Harris in the 90s.

    Matthew -- Never heard of Plastique. And I'm afraid he's not a Captain Atom villain anymore. Green Lantern stole him. Just like Starman stole the Shade from Flash, and JSA the Ultra-Humanite from Superman.

  7. (Oh, and Brett -- I appreciate the kind words)

  8. Good point on Steve Trevor and Zander. I would add Robin to that list but I am not touching the whole 'ward' thing with a ten foot pole.

  9. Ragnell, I'm not entirely sure how your response fits my comment. I just meant to say I was surprised that I hadn't realised many writers had this blind spot, but it explained some stuff that I had found puzzling and frustrating.

  10. Quick history on Plastique: she was a Firestorm villain originally, a French-Canadian terrorist who used a lot of explosives. Later she entered Captain Atom's supporting cast, had her powers 'internalized', reformed to a certain extent, and married Captain Atom. She was also mixed up with Suicide Squad for a while there.

  11. Count me impressed that you fit your entire argument, the through line of the damned list and, into a ten word question.

    Since I've sat through argumentative dorks taking three minutes to ask Quesada why X-2 didn't have Gambit (yes, really), I'm amazed that you managed to land a stunning blow in the fight to tell stories about women, rather than stories that merely use women, in a question that was short, surprising, and apparently inspirational.


    Oh, and if not Wonder Woman, Power Girl.

    Just cause everyone loves Power Girl.

  12. While it makes some sort of sense to switch the focus from male to female, that's not what I want. I don't want there to be a focus on one over the other. I realy wouldn't mind skipping that step and going right to equality. I don't think I'm young enough anymore to wait for that focus on the female and have it run its course so we can have the focus on whichever character is the main one and not having it matter one way or the other. That's what feminism has meant for me for the past 35 years.

  13. "And Didio recovers and quips something like "beaten by a woman? Sure! He can be just like the rest of us!""

    *snort* Really? What woman beat DiDio?

  14. Wow, that was awesome.

  15. "And I really don't understand why having this viewpoint shaken puts people on the defense."

    Surely this question answers itself. :)

    Sorry, didn't mean to call you Shirley.

    It's very unpleasant for many (if not most) people to have their worldview shaken. It's a major reason why so many fundamentalists can't deal with reality, facts, etc. Every time I've encountered an "Everything You Know Is Wrong" moment, I've fought against it tooth and nail until I could let go of enough of my ego to accept it. Surrendering ego has great rewards in the long run, as you learn and grow from it, but in the short run it's painful and frightening, particularly in a public venue like a convention panel.

  16. (Let me try this again, please. Better link, and a bit more of an explanation.)

    I vote to have Vera Black smack him around, because when she does it it's not only a woman doing it, but a "disabled" woman at that. (Not to say a woman with arms couldn't do it, but I like Vera because she's one of the few heroines that I know of who doesn't shirk prosthetics, and I just think that makes her cool.)

    Well, and, you know, she did coldclock Superman once, so if anyone could do it, it'd be Vera.

  17. Wow. Every time Didio opens his mouth I like him less. And I'm not tracking his comments, I've just never heard him say anything that I could react to positively.

    Yeah, VP of a major company, executive editor, formerly a mere producer, you've been beat down by a lot of people.

  18. Wow, it's funny how so many people can read/hear things different.

    I thought Didio's quip was funny. It was a joke.

    And besides, the reaction struck me as a promising sign. It means that the reason Major Force hasn't yet been beaten by a woman isn't because of some subconscious support of a women-as-weaker position. It's simply because they hadn't thought of it. Now that it's out, there's a good chance that it will end up happening.

    :-) I'm happy.

  19. Kalinara - I think it could go either way. I suppose it would have been easier for me to judge if I had been there to hear his tone. One of the major problems of the internet is it is often hard to judge whether or not someone is joking, or hostile, or just making an off-hand comment.

    As for your assertion, that he hasn't been beaten by a woman " isn't because of some subconscious support of a women-as-weaker position" from the post (which I know you didn't write) that's exactly what it seems like to me. I know that occasionally the bad guys get away, but in superhero comics, it's common that the bad guy gets his ass handed to him in a way that has a nod in it to his major vice or prejudice. If a character again and again victimizes women (Major Force, Dr. Light), makes speeches about how he hates women and enjoys humiliating them, and gets away with it or only gets caught by a male hero, because the writers never even THOUGHT of having a woman take him down - that points to a subconscious support of the idea of women-as-weaker, or women-as-victims.

    Once again, I think you make a good point, and I guess, since you were there you would be the better judge of whether Didio was just making a joke or engaging in an Erik-Larsen-type poor-me session. Still - I think it DOES expose some subconscious attitudes. Hopefully that will change now that they've had it pointed out to them.

  20. Seriously impressive. A simple ten word question gets what seems to be the best response ever. A moment of silence.

    Yor right though. This has to happen to Major Force. It give closure on his actions. When he finally has his ass handed to him, it HAS to be by a female character.

    Reading thourgh all this just reminded me of the great scene ta the end of Alias. Purple Man is back, monologing to Jessica, Avengers arrive to stop him and what happens? Jessica clocks him one. Perfect.

  21. My first reaction to that question was: "You mean he HASN'T?" I thought for sure that Power Girl or Diana or one of the various Supergirls had done it.

    The people you want to alert to this are: Alan Heinberg (WW), Marc Andreyko(Manhunter), Geoff Johns (JSA), Rucka (Checkmate), Brad Meltzer (JLA), Joe Kelly (Supergirl), and Gail Simone (Birds of Prey). They are among the writers on present or future DC books either starring or featuring female heroes. Hopefully some of them were in attendance.

    The trick with having a woman beat Major Force is that he's at least at Captain Atom's power and invulnerability levels. The harasser in Witchblade seemed to be an ordinary human, and sans his mind control powers, so is Purple Man. Force, on the other hand, has given Captain Atom, Green Lantern, Warrior, and even Superman a hard time individually. So if Jason Todd takes him down unaided, it would be a cheat. WW,SG or PG taking him down head-to-head alone makes perfect sense. Someone like Huntress or Catwoman....not so much. Unless that someone had some serious protocols like Batman or that Emil Burbank guy in SUPREME POWER (I'm picturing Canary here). My point is: Make sure it's plausible. Other than that, bring it on.

    (I say the best choice is Power Girl.)

    However, I still think male heroes should get to beat up misogynistic villains,too. We have to vindicate our gender sometimes.

  22. Ragnell,

    Just to be clear, I'm not implying only PG,WW, or SG could beat him. You mentioned several other heroines I think could (and left several more off). Unfortunately, I'm not sure Phantom Lady is one of them, but then again, I've got no creative control at DC, so who knows?

  23. notintheface -- I've got no problem with males beating up misogynists too, I loved watching that Hal-Mjr Force fight.

    But yeah, he's got to be taken down by one of the ladies you listed. Power Girl or Wonder Woman would be perfect. Most likely, Soranik Natu or Brik, the only active female Lanterns (until the end of this storyline) since he's a Lantern villain. Maybe the next Star Sapphire could hand him his ass.

    Phantom Lady's too low-end, but they were building up a rivalry in B4B.

    If I were writing it myself, as much as WW or PG would fit, I'd got with a female Lantern and keep him in the GL Rogue's gallery that he's been in since he killed Alex.

    If it were up to me, I'd bring Katma back to life specifically to beat him up, because she's one of a select group of Lanterns on Hal's skill and power-level.

  24. That was Greg Rucka's response?! I'm so disappointed! And he's a Vassar graduate!