Last week I got into it on twitter with former Spider-Man artist Ryan Stegman. The day before I messaged him, he and a number of other comic book writers and artists had been making jokes about the #FireRemender movement. While they weren’t directly hostile to fans, they were dismissive of it in a way that made me deeply uncomfortable, completely ignoring the issue that caused the movement. When I pointed this out his response was that because the movement was directed at an individual there couldn’t be a larger discussion. Soon after that comic book editor Janelle Asselin who’d recently critiqued DC’s cover for its new Teen Titans book made a post essentially saying the same thing. In their minds any criticism that focused on the creators would kill the conversation.
I understand why they think that way. As I saw someone put it during this conversation, the comic book community has an outrage problem. While both Marvel and DC are guilty of feeding into it for sales, there’s no excuse for a culture that leads to things like Dan Slott and Brian Bendis getting death threats for “killing” Peter or for replacing Peter with Miles Morales. When faced with outrage like that, so vitriolic and directed almost exclusively at the writers rather than any meaningful critique of the story the only response can be to dismiss the outrage. But that way of thinking can’t be used with this. As much as the toxic environment in comics needs to be addressed so the stories can shine and be critiqued on their own merit, creators and those covering comics have to be recognize that outrage over rape and representation in comics don’t come from the same place. It cannot be judged by the same standards.
I didn’t read this story when it was released. I’m a die hard Captain America fan. You’re talking to the guy won a Cap costume in a contest on a comic blog for giving the most impassioned explanation of why my favorite arc was the best. After such an accomplished run the switch from Brubaker to anyone was going to be tough for everyone, not just me. Dimension Z failed to pull me in for more than that though. Steve Rogers can be a tough character to write and really works well when his values can play against something, as happened in Brubaker’s run with Winter Soldier and Bravo. Dimension Z instead took Captain America into a bleak, dystopian multiverse. Captain America can definitely be inspiring outside of the confines of Earth, as Jonathan Hickman showed in Infinity, but because of poor world building and a strange emphasis on telling the reader things rather than showing I could never connect. Add to that John Romita’s ill suited art and you had a book that didn’t connect on any level. I dropped it after issue nine, the penultimate issue of Dimension Z.
The scene that caused all of the outrage has already been dissected better than I can ever hope to, but that’s not gonna keep me from talking about it. While my reading of Jet Black never led me to believe she was underage I can see why some fans might. Clearly the editors or Remender himself thought there was a possibility that it might be interpreted that way and had the character say that she was 23. And there’s more than just JRJR’s ambiguous are to make them think she was younger. In the flashback of the night before Jet Black’s speech patterns reminded me of Starfire’s during New Teen Titans. It was trying to demonstrate that she was naive, that she came from a different world, but was more infantilizing than Wolfman ever wrote Kory. And whereas Starfire was developed into a well rounded and empowered whose femininity rightfully never detracted from her strength, the pages that followed in Captain America #22 read more like a man grasping at something he can’t understand. The casual detachment from sex that, given the context and the role of alcohol, tries to empower Jet Black, but only serves to fetishize it for male readers. And all of this while Falcon, the character so recently brought to life by Anthony Mackie, someone who has spoken so vehemently about representation, says “No, no, no” in the background.
Fun times, huh? It’s a pretty terrible scene. In fact I’m angry I had to read it so that I could better write about it and I hope you all feel bad for making me do it. And my anger should feel pretty familiar to you. A lot of DC and Marvel’s marketing is based around making fans angry. Remember the solicit for Superior Spider-Man #9. “The hottest comic in comics comes to a turning point that will get you angrier than you were after Spidey #700!” It’s even got an exclamation point. And Tom Brevoort himself said that angry fans were better than apathetic ones. It’s been part of Marvel’s marketing strategy for over a decade. Every comic book fan has seen the fruits of this strategy. It permeates the community.
But this is different. A group of predominantly female fans outraged over something like this can’t be judged the same way we judge the rest of the community. The fans angry about this scene aren’t just the product of a marketing strategy that treats them like crap. They’re not even just the product of an industry that’s barely given them a thought and allowed sexism ro run wild for decades. Rape culture surrounds them outside of comics. It’s inescapable. They can’t close Captain America and decide to ignore it. Remender does a pretty crap job by not even acknowledging the role of alcohol in consent, but to those female fans who read it and were outraged? Most of them between 15-25? They’re gonna go to parties where it’s more than just poor writing. They’re going to parties with guys who would read that page and laughed, thinking that the only consequence of being drunk when you have sex is a few sitcomy no’s.
Their anger is real. And more than that it can’t be policed the same way we’ve been forced to police fan outrage. A long time ago I used to think that the only way to talk about things like this was civilly. My teenage mind thought issues were solved through Sorkin-esque debates where you were passionate but always measured. And I had the flawed thought that if I was wrong and someone else was right then they should tell me in a “productive” way. “Teach me then,” I thought.
That way of thinking is wrong. It borders on sociopathic. I’m privileged. To me those were just issues, little more than mental exercise. To women sexism and rape culture are more than that. It’s the background noise to their lives. And while they were fighting against it there I was policing how they could react to it. Only aware of how their anger affected me and never mindful of their experiences. They were under no obligation to teach me anything, it was my obligation to teach myself. To recognize the world around me regardless of how they expressed their outrage.
And that needs to be applied to #FireRemender. Kieron Gillen and Janelle Asselin talk about how if fans care about having a discussion about the role of alcohol in consent in both this scene and in life then they should’ve been mindful of how it would be received by comic book professionals. Janelle said it was about “the approach and the context of the commentary” that was the problem. She makes light of how she once wrote in review that someone should consider a new career. “I’d suggested this real, human man’s livelihood be taken away… because of superheroes.” But this isn’t just superheroes. This isn’t me being upset that Bendis does a crap job writing Emma Frost(Although he does and Brian if you read this you should feel bad about yourself). It’s women once again seeing rape culture in every facet of their lives, even in something they go to to escape it. Even in a book about a hero that’s supposed to represent the best of what we can be as people.
They’re asking fans to make this a teaching moment. To make it palatable for comic book creators. Because, as Janelle says, “…the next hashtag could be for them!” Another exclamation point. Well to them I say too bad. If you’re going to chastise fans for not expressing their outrage over someone in your industry helping to perpetuate rape culture, even on accident, in a more pleasing way then you’re part of the problem. If you call yourself an ally, as Kieron Gillen does, but refuse to parse through fan outrage to discuss something important like alcohol and consent for fear that you might be called out on something potentially problematic in your work, then you need to reconsider calling yourself that.
Comics do have an outrage problem. They help create it, but it’s a problem the community has fed into. They will troll and bait fans at every turn to boost sales. It’s a toxic culture and in it it could be easy to write off #FireRemender as just another product of it. But it’s not. It’s outrage over something larger and infinitely more harmful. We, as a community, cannot dismiss it because it doesn’t come in the form we’d like it to.
I really do love Hickman sometimes
As iffy as All New, Superior, and Defenders were, this was a great week. Cataclysm was a nice wrap up. I loved loved loved loved Coffin Hill. Umbral was solid if a little erratic with its pacing.
Thor God of Thunder and Batman are still the best comics being written. I guess that’s everything unless maybe….
Captain Marvel made me cry. When the little girl said her mom taught her the word ‘intrepid’ I fucking lost it. I don’t want to wait 4 months to have Captain and Ms.
I was not a fan of Ed McGuinness on Hulk. At all. In fact I think his work on Hulk was atrocious. I don’t care that he’s well respected it was garbage. That being said I loved his work in Amazing X-Men. He did a great job with Kurt teleporting everywhere and incorporating it into the fighting. He’s also really restrained when it comes to body proportions in this.
Mighty Avengers would be perfect if not for Greg Land. Greg Land is terrible.
East of West is great. I love the world Hickman’s building.
I think I need to drop Iron Man. I’ve been hanging on because Gillen but it’s really bad. I hated the adoption thing and this city of the future thing ignores so much of Fraction’s run. Also I think the art is bland. I’ve gotta ask if I can drop it even though I’ve already ordered it for December
Really Reed? This was your best plan? REALLY?!
Mara, Lazarus, and Witching Hour were all great. Mars to Stay was my favorite part of Witching Hour, although Legs by DeConnick and Doyle was solid too. Mara really handled the isolation and disdain for humanity well, although I wasn’t crazy about explorer part.
I want a book about the future world in All New X-Men. Seriously I need that. All New Special was okay. Loved Anka’s art, the story does nothing for me though.
Iron Man and Mighty both had real problems with pacing. They jump around a lot and it just makes it hard to dive in. Also Greg Land is terrible.
Fantomex Max was the atrocious. I’ve never read the Max line before. If you can’t tell a mature story without heads popping off you’re a shitty writer. No surprise the writing is shit. The art is really bad, from how they draw women to fingers looking more like tentacles. It’s just really bad. I’m glad I only ordered the first book and not the next two.
I haven’t put my comics away in a while. Like a month and a half while. Like I had 70 books to put away and I had to do it because the pile was so tall it kept falling over. I didn’t put my old Ms. Marvel away though. Not sure if I want to get #1 framed or not. I mean I want to but I need to order one and I’m lazy
Everything today was good for the most part. Still really liking Infinity. I need to talk about Uncanny X-Men though. This book is both amazing and terrible at the same time.
First let me say that the coloring in it is phenomenal. I’ve been reading books with Bachalo’s art in it since something like 1996, but this is the best coloring for his art I can remember. It’s a little more digital-y but it really works well with his pencils.
At the same time there are so many inconsistencies. And not like over the book but sometimes on the same page. There was a double page spread where Magneto’s helmet goes from on to off to back on to back off to back on. So either Magneto has developed an odd form of OCD or the art was rushed.
I both love and hate how Bendis writes Emma in this. I’m so glad Emma calls out Scott for wanting to help them because it’s Jean Grey, but holy shit the dialogue. I am sort of a Bendis fan but it’s just not the same character. It’s just not.
I’m a huge X-Men fan. Almost half of the books I buy are X-Men titles. But Bendis’ inability to alter his style in the least to suit the characters is just atrocious in these books.
So I’m really glad I’m only getting the Poison Ivy and Riddler issues of Forever Evil because it feels like they’re all really insubstantial stories with some retconned origins mixed in.
Infinity is really bleak and depressing but I do admire the way it establishes the mood. And more than any of the other apocalyptic Marvel events(Age of Ultron, AvX, Fear Itself), it really feels like this is a universe spanning event.
Battle of the Atom is solid. I’m really excited for the Jason Aaron and Brian Wood issues because I feel like they’ll do a better job with the dialogue than Bendis, but the first two are good.
Iron Man is a thing that’s happening.
Superior Spider-Man was very good and it feels like this series is back on track after the lull from issues 12-15. That being said the book had a very foreboding feel to it. And when you have stretch like that in a book about a villain impersonating a hero, it’s noticeable
Comics from today and then the two that didn’t come in 2 weeks ago.
There was a lot of great stuff this week. Captain Marvel was great and Brian Wood’s X-Men continues to blow my mind. FF is fucking amazing and adorable and I want to post things from it now but won’t spoil them.
But there is a message I’d like to share with all comic writers and really writers in general: The next time you want to make an Uncle Tom reference, don’t. Odds are you probably aren’t skilled enough to pull it off tastefully.