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Saturday, February 17, 2007 

Awkward story ideas of yore that shouldn't be done today

Some things cannot be just simply featured as plot devices, and they certainly can't be whitewashed either. In this topic, I'm going to look over at least 3 older items from the history of comics, two from circa the "Iron Age" of comics, which was during the late 80s-early 90s, and one from during 2000, that feature some examples of comic scripts that did some really clumsy things from a political perspective, mistakes that shouldn't have to be repeated today.

First up, we have Larry Hama's story from The Avengers #329 from 1991, in which the EMH, at one of their various crossroads in getting a team roster set up, received an offer from the United Nations to give them a charter that would require them to - get this - take on only extraterrestrial threats to the earth, whether from space or even subterranean ones from inside.
Putting aside the fact that in the course of three issues here, they do deal with some extraterrestrial beings, here named the "Tetrarchs of Entropy", I kid you not, what Hama was doing there was really REALLY stupid, because the UN, as most people might know today, is one of the most corrupt organizations in the world they claim to represent. They attack America and Israel with inherent frequency for their supposed violations of human rights, yet have very little to say, if at all, about the human rights violations committed by Islamic countries and dictatorships. The UN also has quite a few crimes to their record as well, not the least being a horrific sex abuse offense committed by some of their own observers, something they didn't even get punished enough for, and even the oil-for-food scandal that Kofi Annan was one of the biggest profiteers from.

Spidey Kicks Butt, when discussing ol' Webhead's team memberships, had this to say about Hama's incredibly dumb part:
What an utter piece of garbage. I can't believe that Captain America, of all people, in good conscience could have sanctioned it. Maim, kill and torture as many people as you want, and the Avengers will sit on their collective super powered fat asses and not do a damn thing to stop you, as long as your U.N. dues are paid up.

Obviously the writer of this story (Larry Hama) didn't intend for it to sound the way I have interpreted it almost 15 years after it was written, but in a world where state sanctioned terrorism is par for the course, it just makes me ill.
And it certainly is embarrassing. The EMH should not have to be held hostage to dictates like those, not by any governing power and most certainly not by the UN. But how could even the other members be so gullible to this offering? A sloppy deal for a new charter is put on the table and nobody thinks to argue with Cap about why it's a bad idea? Something tells me that Black Widow and Black Panther wouldn't have been fooled either. Larry Hama may have only written five issues of the Avengers at the time, then left and another writer, whom I'll have to look up, took over.

Next, from a few years earlier, there's Justice League America #7 from 1987, which almost casually features what may either be a Saudi member of the UN, or a newscaster from Saudi Arabia itself, in one of the pages. First though, let's take a look at the good part of this:
Yep, Supes met with Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office at the time. That's the great part about this issue. But now, here's where the bothersome part comes around:
What strikes me as very troubling about the panel at the end (could that have been intentional in hopes of that nobody would notice?) is that it features a likely delegate or a reporter from the House of Saud, which is no less despicable than any alien invader that outer space could produce, and the way it's so, umm, casually featured there, in pure device-y fashion, is really appalling. Whether or not the Saudis, if that's whom that Muslim in the keffiyeh represents there, are any more dangerous than the next armada of aliens invaders from another planet/dimension, they most certainly aren't any less of an evil than said aliens are. Or, what exactly makes them any less of a serious matter than those pesky Skrulls, Kree, or Qwardians that come about trying to put us Earthlings under the yoke?

If anything, I find it very hard to swallow the sight of a Saudi rep praising the Justice League as "our best, our brightest, our only hope" for even them(!), because, if the Justice League took a stand against Saudi Arabia's human rights violations and support and funding for terrorism, it's pretty obvious that the Saudis would declare them enemies and condemn them to death by the scimitar sword. In the fictional world, they'd probably even be going about building the worst possible sci-fi weapons in hopes of achieving that particular goal. In reality, Iran's Ahmedinejad is already doing something similar.

In fairness, I realize that the writers at the time, Hama and even Keith Giffen, probably didn't intend to insult anyone's intellect. The UN's corruption certainly wasn't as widely understood then as it is today. But even so, when looked upon in today's standards and understandings, that's exactly why these clumsy acts of yore cannot be repeated today, and the UN certainly can't be whitewashed.

Not that there seem to have been any stories lately in which the UN has been featured in a glossed-over manner, but at the same time, there don't seem to have been any taking them on for the corrupt entity that they are either. Which is a shame, of course, because there are a lot of great story possibilities to be found in focusing on the UN's true evil image.

The third item is the JLA Annual from 2000, written by Brian J. Vaughan, in which Wonder Woman, one could say, was forced by the writer to commit an act of dhimmitude. No photos available for this one now, but as far as I know, it was a story set in Turkey, co-starring a local heroine(?) called the Janissary. The JLA joins her to go to a local mosque to confront a villain there, and while WW may not have worn a burka or a chador, that she wore even a hooded robe when entering there was, simply put, dhimmitude to the Religion of Peace.

I found this thread on the Capt. Comics board that, naive as it is, tells a little bit about the goings-on, and should actually make for a good item to rebut:
...the Wonder Woman question was looked at in a recent JLA story: JLA Annual 4, which was part of the Planet DC theme and was published in 2000. In that story, the JLA travel to Turkey and meet a local hero, The Janissary. They accompany the Janissary into a local mosque in order to confront the villain. Wonder Woman, however, is delayed as she finds a robe to wear before entering the mosque. Wonder Woman, did not, repeat did not, wear a burkha or a chador. She wore a hooded robe, not unlike Raven's standard costume. She specifically did this because she "did not wish to disrespect this sacred ground with [her] usual garb."
Of course, this spectacularly foolish reply to the thread ignores some major issues: why exactly should she be so concerned about "disrespecting" this "sacred ground" or a structure whose followers believe in even her enslavement, more so than even Heracles did before he reformed? Not to mention that if there's mayhem on the horizon, then it's ridiculous for Diana to waste time looking for a hooded robe to wear if the villain is going to burst out with violence.

And why exactly would WW want to respect a religion whose book of worship, the Koran, features such quotes as:
“Forbidden to you are ... married women, except those whom you own as slaves” (Sura 4:23-24)
And even:
"Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among people of the Scripture until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued" (Koran, Sura 9, verse 29)
The infidels the above speaks of would include just about every superhero in the DCU and MCU.

The commentor at the Capt. Comics board went on to say:
I remember there was a bit of a hubbub at the time. A number of fans were upset. They said that WonderWoman was kowtowing to chauvinism, which is something she would never do. I disagreed with that assessment then, and I do now. Wonder Woman is a feminist, yes, but she is also a diplomat and an ambassador. She has been shown on many occasions to be sensitive to the beliefs and cultural preferences of others. And she has also been shown to wear different costumes depending on the occasion, including more formal wear at the UN, informal dress on Paradise Island and full armor such as during Our Worlds At War. Wonder Woman did not wear the burkha or the chador, but neither did she enter the mosque in her bathing suit. She showed herself to be modest and respectful by wearing the robe. It's like removing your shoes when entering a Japanese Shinto temple. It should be noted that she did not wear the robe outside of the mosque. And if anyone thinks that Brian K. Vaughan (the story's writer) was striking a blow for chauvinism, it should also be noted that the native hero, the Janissary, is a woman and that she wore pantaloons, not a skirt, dress or chador.
Wrong. She showed herself to be kowtowing to the Religion of Peace by wearing even the robe. She was kowtowing to chauvinism, but worst of all, to the RoP. To a religion started by Muhammed, a so-called "prophet" who violated a 9-year-old girl named Ayisha. Something tells me that even Raven, certainly when written well, wouldn't be so stupid as to do that.

When it comes to attending a church or a synagogue, I can believe WW as deciding to take along a more respectable suit (though if there's danger around that needs to be stopped, I can't see anyone there complaining if she didn't, and they certainly wouldn't resort to violence the way any invading criminal would). But a structure of worship for the RoP? No way. As a lady who comes from a group of deities who were violated by violent men in ancient times, for WW to show any respect for a movement whose contempt is even worse than Heracles' would be a complete slap in the face after what her Amazon sisters had been through.

And as for the Janissary wearing a pantaloon outfit, forget it, I'm not taken in by that either. I find it galling that Vaughan would depict WW, of all the superheroines possible, taking up a robe in a case like this, since it's kowtowing to Muslim extremists. Sami al-Arian must be laughing his head off even in exile.

My belief is that - WW, certainly when written well, would not kowtow to the beliefs of any religion or ideology that believed in violence, murder, enslavement and submission, and would probably rather commit suicide than take an action that betrays those who look up to her. And she would not be naive in her understanding of any religion or ideology either. This is someone who fought the nazis during WW2, and just like she wouldn't tolerate fascists like those, she wouldn't tolerate Islamic fascism either. Brian Vaughan should be ashamed of himself for using Islam as but a superficial plot device, and implying that WW would tolerate the intolerant. As Thomas Mann once said, "tolerance becomes a crime when applied to evil."

The above are some things that, even if they weren't intentional, should still serve as lessons why there are some things you simply can't just feature without doing proper research on. And if you can't depict them honestly, then it's better not to do it at all. It makes no difference whether the audience is child or adult, nobody should have to have thier intellect insulted by being fed the whole notion of "I'm okay, you're okay." Nor should bad entities have to be done any favors. This is what ruins entertainment, because when you depict sinister real life entities poorly, then you're only doing the audience a disservice. And for movies, television, and even comics to survive, that's exactly why featuring bad organizations and ideologies in superficial terms is something that simply can't be done anymore.

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  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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