Oh, you non-nerds have it so easy. Up there in the mainstream, you only have to deal with the ordinary misogyny, homophobia, and racism which passes off as daily interactions or popular entertainment. Down here in the nerd sub-culture (and, in truth, it is beneath culture) we invent whole new ways to be terrible human beings.
I recently ranted about Batman: Arkham City and its weird, weird, oh-so-weird inability to be women-friendly. There was a game based on a popular franchise that went out of its way to make misogyny fun. But there’s no need to rehash that.
Circulating the various nerd-blogs are two videos by The Escapist video-blogger, Movie Bob, which tries to discuss some of the big problems with Marvel superheroine, Ms Marvel.
The videos aren’t really worth watching (Movie Bob is insufferable and unfunny), but they cover a few issues which are worth discussing at length.
Quickly, here’s a run-down of the videos:
1. Ms Marvel was a superhero in the Marvel Universe (the two big comic publishers are Marvel and DC: DC has all the characters you know — Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, &c. — but Marvel has the better movies — Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man… lots of men).
2. To celebrate a milestone in Marvel’s publishing history, they decided to centre a story around Ms Marvel. Ms Marvel wakes up one day and discovers that she’s pregnant. She doesn’t know how it happened. The foetus undergoes rapid development, is born, then matures to adulthood quickly. The child explains that Ms Marvel was kidnapped by a villain, put under mind control and impregnated. For reasons unexplained, she had her mind wiped and was returned. Due to cosmic woo-woo she gives birth to the guy who kidnapped, brainwashed, and impregnated her. Ms Marvel falls in love with her rapist/child and they go off into the sunset.
3. Nobody in-universe thinks (2) is weird.
4. The video then makes a bunch of funny noises which might be the author trying to make a point.
5. One writer at Marvel, Chris Claremont, thought this treatment of Ms Marvel was rubbish, so wrote a story where Ms Marvel returns and lectures everybody for treating her rape like it was romantic.
6. Video declares Chris Claremont to be a hero (‘Joss Whedon 1.0’).
The broader issue is the portrayal of women in comics. I recently hosted our monthly book club meeting, and set Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta as the book under discussion. I am the only regular comics-reader in our group, and I thought it would be interesting to choose a book from a radically different genre. The feedback from the others was that the format was alienating, and then when you overcame that hurdle, the story had a fundamental problem with women which was further alienating.
There’s a recurring set of storylines for women in comics: they are raped, tortured, or have babies. It’s the only way the characters develop. In V for Vendetta, Evey has to be tortured in order to have her character develop.
The Ms Marvel plot is not incongruous with the pervasive misogyny of comic books. There have been concerted efforts to stop this from happening but, as I discussed in the Batman post, whenever there’s progress, the comic book publishers regress back into their adolescent boy stage.
From the videos, you’d think that Chris Claremont was somehow a revolutionary progressive of the industry. Described as ‘Joss Whedon 1.0’ (and, well, it’s not like Whedon doesn’t have his problematic years when it comes to the portrayal of women), Movie Bob explains how Claremont reclaimed Ms Marvel for womens lib and lovers of non-rapey plotlines everywhere.
Earlier in this post, I mentioned that nerds had found new ways to be terrible human beings. Chief inventor was Chris Claremont who, during the dark times of the late ’80s and early ’90s (long story short: DC and Marvel tanked the industry by running a weird scheme where they thought printing comics was basically the same as printing money…), was given free reign to print story after story dedicated to his women-degrading fetishes.
Whoa. Those are some lawsuit worthy words right there. I better have some good evidence to back them up.
Claremont’s stock plot is: ‘Courageous, empowered woman with large muscles and larger breasts combats a character with some sort of transformation power. Said character uses transformation power on the courageous woman, making her some sort of slave or object. Courageous, empowered woman is either saved or becomes a recurring character as a slave or object.’
Case in point: Spiral. Spiral was originally a woman called Rita who was kidnapped by the interdimensional being Mojo. Despite being brave and courageous and in love with her partner, Mojo performs magical surgery and brainwashes her to become Spiral.
Case in point: Rachel Summers. Rachel Summers was born a super-powered mutant (daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey in a future timeline). She’s kidnapped by the government, brainwashed, tattooed, and forced into some sort of fetish wear. She’s called a ‘hound’ and is used to hunt down other mutants.
Case in point: Spiral and Rachel Summers. Mojo uses Spiral to kidnap Rachel Summers and manipulated her into working for him.
Case in point: Storm. Storm battles Magneto who uses his ability to manipulate metal to encase Storm as a statue.
It’s not just me who thinks Claremont might be on the wrong side of the strong female character debate. TV Tropes handwaves some of his other exciting storylines (all women are bisexual, for example).
If Claremont invented a female character, he’s found a way to tie them up or brainwash them (or both). He’s creative in his misogyny.
Really, the only thing that can save comics is to get women into top jobs in Marvel and DC. In 70 years of Marvel’s publishing history, there’s never been a female editor and only one female editor-in-chief (Bobbie Chase was part of the one-year experiment where there were several editors-in-chief; she headed up Marvel Edge which was basically ‘Tales from the Universe Next Door’). There’s never been a female executive of Marvel. DC fares slightly better. Diane Nelson is the president, but I can’t think of any female editors or editors-in-chief.