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Monday, March 17, 2014 

15 controversial stories, some involving sexual assaults

What Culture listed 15 past stories that were controversial in their time, or came to be thought of that way years later. Some of the most notable examples featured here are the stories involving sexual violations. The first page is dedicated to the reversal of Cyclops's marriage to Madelyne Pryor:
...Jean Grey reappeared in the pages of Fantastic Four, which led to the debut of X-Factor #1, starring the original team of X-Men, including Cyclops. But wait, didn’t he just retire to spend his life with his loving family? Turns out that in a monumental shift of character that completely invalidated his role as a hero/decent human being, Scott Summers abandoned his new family to return to the side of Jean Grey. This blatant disregard of not only the character’s own values, but the happy ending set up by Claremont resulted in Madelyne Pryor turning evil and attempting to sacrifice her son to open the gates of hell during the Inferno storyline, where she was then killed off, with the majority of the blame resting on Scott’s uncharacteristic actions.

This storyline caused a huge outrage among fans and creators alike, who were disgusted at the ease with which Cyclops abandoned all of his personal morals and family simply to help sell a new X-book. [...]
I've thought about this story over the years, and yes, it is outrageous how Scott can be depicted throwing away everything for the sake of reuniting with Jean, no matter what we think of the retcon to the Phoenix story. All it did was show that she wasn't being brought back as her own protagonist, only as Scott's girlfriend. (She couldn't have led X-Factor without him?) It's symbolic in a way of how various superhero team comics have a serious problem of pairing the superpowered with one another, yet no "civilian" paramours are ever thought of. But how accurate is the claim creators were put off by the disregard for Madelyne Pryor? There's so little morale or decency in today's mainstream writers, I'm skeptical they ever cared.

The next example given is Dan Slott's She-Hulk story where Starfox was put on trial for mental rape. But, it begins with this line:
Eros of Titan AKA Starfox is a fairly lame member of the Avengers and brother to the mad god Thanos.
Here we go again with the dismissal of a fictional character as "lame" instead of a critique of the previous writers for failing to make him enjoyable. Very poor approach, I'm afraid. The following, however, is something to be alarmed about:
[...] The trial eventually ends on Titan with Starfox’s powers being removed, due to his manipulation of Thanos when they were children that resulted in thousands of lives lost.

So while Starfox is punished for the improper use of his abilities in space, it isn’t because of his highly questionable behavior on Earth. It is never really clarified whether or not he used his powers on the women who alleged he did, making Starfox a potential serial rapist still wanted for those crimes on Earth.
Well this is very disturbing, an early example of what's wrong with Slott's MO. He retcons Thanos's background so it sounds more like Starfox was guilty of corrupting the Mad Titan, leaves a plot thread hanging so the reader wonders if Eros is a sex offender, and desecrates some past storylines from the Avengers to boot. I'm glad I never read those early Slott atrocities.

Identity Crisis is brought up, but I'm not sure they fully understand why that vulgar story was so offensive. They say:
[...] Not content with simply sending him [Dr. Light] to jail, the League and Zatanna neuter his mind as punishment for his actions.

The decisions made by this specific team of the Justice League casts a dark light on that era of heroes, with the violation of the sweet and defenseless Sue Dibny offending a number of fans and writers who considered the story to be another poor example of strong female characters getting “fridged” or killed off as a plot device.
While it's true that turning Sue into a mere plot device was an offending element, it's still not the whole picture. Maybe they don't get it, but the worst thing about Identity Crisis was the almost exclusively masculine viewpoint and how the heroines were depicted as abysmally incompetent, except in cases like where Zatanna wiped Dr. Light's mind, and Batman's. And "neutering" his brain is akin to a slap on the wrist. If they really wanted to punish a rapist, they would've shattered his legs and let him pay for his own wheelchair. How does performing a "magic lobotomy", as some called it at the time, amount to sound punishment for a sex offender? And how does covering up the crime and not reporting it to the authorities and the press/public solve anything? I thought I was supposed to be rooting for the Justice League, and this shoddy substitute for excrement makes them look like childish cowards who let the villain go without even letting the world know what he did? Why didn't they mention that? If they had, people outside comics would better understand the beef sensible people have with the miniseries.

They also bring up at least two examples of men who were violated by women (Green Arrow by Shado, Nightwing by Tarantula), but surprisingly, they didn't mention James Robinson's Starman story where Nash rapes Jack Knight. If that wasn't a controversial story, I'm surprised. Even Robinson's early stories have what to raise red flags about, including the 1998 story where Nash killed 3 members of the Justice League. A pity that tale wasn't on the list. The article does have interesting examples of past eyebrow raisers, but it still has flaws.

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The superhero genre is inherently an adolescent male power fantasy, so, not surprisingly, female characters are often portrayed badly. It has only gotten worse since the end of the Bronze Age, as standards have been relaxed and graphic sex and violence have become common.

Women are usually foils for the male characters; someone else's sidekick or girlfriend, not an independent individual with her own personality. That's why Jean Grey could not lead X-Factor without Scott. She exists only to be his love interest.

Similarly, most super-heroines (especially in Marvel comics) were sidekicks or team members, not solo characters, and, even then, they were more like helpless damsels than helpful partners (Wasp, Invisible Girl, Scarlet Witch). Until and unless they turned evil, which seems to be an increasingly common plot device. In fact, most strong, intelligent women in comics seem to be villains.

Actually, DC had some reasonably competent female characters in the Silver Age. Wonder Woman had her own solo series, and was treated as a teammate (not a flunky) in the Justice League. Hawkgirl was also (usually) treated as an equal partner.

Even the civilian women were often portrayed as competent adults, with jobs and careers. Lois Lane, Vicki Vale, and Iris West were journalists, Jean Loring was a lawyer, and Carol Ferris was CEO of an aerospace company. Unfortunately, most of that has been wiped out by retcons and reboots. Now, women in comics are almost always either villains or victims.

I wouldn't say most women in comics are inherently helpless. Super hero comics have largely been a sausage party, yes, but as the second poster said, DC has surprisingly decent female characters (only if you don't count Batwoman, of course). Sure, they're largely sexy, buxom, and clad in skintight outfits, but sex sells.

I would argue that rape is something that really has no place in comics, though. Rape is a real-world issue, and I don't want to read about things that I dislike about real life in my comics. I wanna read about people in funny outfits punching villains in funnier outfits. Escapism should be the primary hook, which is why sometimes Marvel's insistence that they're more "realistic" is ridiculous. But we don't need political crap in comics, at least not when they're presented in a "beat you over the head with the message" manner.

I agree with John; I don't want rape in comics, either. One of the reasons I do not read modern comics is because of all the real-world stuff that has crept into what is supposed to be escapist fiction. That, and the injection of liberal politics into the stories.

The superhero genre is inherently unrealistic, and it makes sense only as escapist entertainment. It just isn't well suited to serious subjects (rape, child abuse, domestic violence). Conversely, it would be inappropriate to have the cops on "Law & Order: SVU" wearing colorful spandex costumes and chasing Mister Mxyzptlk.

Indeed. While rape is a very serious matter, I can't disagree with the rest of you, as it's an intrusion of reality that unfairly unsettles the reader into what is normally escapist fare. But then, you feel guilty if you don't think about such things, which is the bind comic readers occasionally find themselves in. This is why I'm actually not bothered with DC undoing Raven's "child of rape" backstory for New 52, even though, I've always considered the rape issue for her in every posting I've done about her comic self since I got into Teen Titans, 10 years (via, yes, the Cartoon Network series). And yet, I feel a little guilty about being "unburdened" from that past thinking, so the overt cognitive dissonance continues.

As for the sexuality aspect, one thing I've noticed with DC women is that they are at least allowed to channel that, whereas, Marvel women really don't, for the most part. Which I think gives DC women more of an edge, regardless how DC applies said sexuality.

And ironically, as I've learned from the latest outrageous outrage over Starfire and June's Outlaws cover by Ed Benes, there's an interesting disconnect. As, apparently, if a real life woman carried herself like Star, we'd hear cries of "slut-shaming," yet these activists and leftists within the comic fansites or fandoms criticize to death over fictional characters over the same treatment. Look at Beyonce, and how celebrated she is with her sexuality, yet if Starfire or Power Girl ends up doing the exact same thing, that's bad? Think about it.

I'd pay good money to see that episode of SVU.

1. I just don't think rape and other real-world things I dislike should be in comics, which are supposed to be escapist fare. For that same reason I don't want political crap in comics, either, especially if it's only from a far-left perspective.

2. Agreed. DC was actually ahead of the curve when it came to placing their women in non-traditional roles, at least back during the Silver Age. Lois, Vicki and Iris were reporters. Jean Loring was a lawyer, Carol Ferris was a CEO of a major aerospace company (the DCU equivalent of Lockheed-Martin, basically) and the Silver Age Hawkwoman was a museum curator/(alien) cop.

3. What are the fandom feminists whining about now? I'm no fan of Scott Lobdell's Outlaws work, his portrayal of Starfire or his work in general, but I too find it odd how these online "activists" get their panties in a bunch about this, too. Like you said, Moth, Beyonce is celebrated for her sexuality and considered a "feminist icon" (i wish I was kidding) but if a fictional heroine like Starfire or Power Girl or any superheroine is portrayed as such, that's considered bad?

This is what I mean, Carl:

http://www.theouthousers.com/index.php/news/126715-youll-come-when-you-see-the-mangos-on-this-red-hood-and-the-outlaws-cover.html

Admittedly and ironically, I do read Outlaws for both Starfire and the sheer controversy (and it's rather readable, here and there -- would love a Kory/Roy/Jade love triangle, if DC would go there). And I go tired of the endless bitching about Starfire and the fanservice, in light of this apparent double standard. And then I have to feel guilty about enjoying said fanservice, because current culture regards that to be shameful. Even though, it is a valid biological response to certain, uh, stimuli. And yet, when applied to real-life figures, they get a pass from the same people. Or usually, until Miley Cyrus exposed that, last year, and then they acted outraged for a few seconds, and then back to promoting it, the rest of the time.

And, no, Carl, I never understood Beyonce's popularity as a feminist "icon", either. But I have a few theories for next time.

I haven't read any of the new 52 titles (I have paged through a few hardcovers and trade paperbacks while at the bookstore, but wasn't impressed) and I don't really plan on to anytime soon.

That said, I get tired of all the endless whining from feminists in the fandom, especially that Hawkeye Initiative nonsense from a couple years ago where they replaced images of sexy superheroines with Hawkeye to make some kind of "statement" about the treatment of women in comics. I don't deny that there is some oversexualization in comics, and some artists overdo it, but their complaints are just ridiculous half the time.

"And then I have to feel guilty about enjoying said fanservice, because current culture regards that to be shameful. Even though, it is a valid biological response to certain, uh, stimuli."

Exactly. As a guy, I like seeing strong, sexy and intelligent women kick ass, in comics, movies, etc. And it's just plain common sense that since the audience is composed of mostly straight guys, it's going to cater to their interests.

I'll never understand what makes Beyonce a "feminist icon," either. Or talented, for that matter.


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