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Wednesday, February 18, 2015 

Patrick Zircher defended Identity Crisis, and still upholds Nightwing/Tarantula embarrassment

I found a few tweets by Zircher from back in September where he was defending one of modern comicdom's biggest atrocities, and it looks like he still supports another one he illustrated himself, even though the writer of that other one now regrets the story, something I'll address a bit further down. For now, here's what he wrote about IDC:

So let me get this straight. That makes the forced panels with molestation okay, and also the repulsive rape that's drawn from a nearly 1st-person perspective? He sure is downplaying the shock tactics.

I fail to grasp how this makes it legitimate, or any less crude, nauseating and obnoxious. Zircher's weak defense only alludes to a wider problem with mainstream comics: nudity is seemingly wrong, yet bloody and graphic violence are okay in many instances. The same double-standard exists for heavier profanity. No, it's not like the miniseries had serious nudity or cleavaged costumes. But that doesn't mean it can't still be offensive (remember what Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales depicted Deathstroke doing to Black Canary: putting a leather bag over her head and handcuffing her), and by turning the rape into nothing more than a plot device, to say nothing of the disturbing lack of female viewpoints, that's how it really came across so badly. I hesitate to think what kind of defenses people like him would employ if Sue Dibny were Latina or black.

Yes, but it should also be made clear that it's far more serious an issue than what came afterwards - the "magic lobotomy" of Dr. Light. And the miniseries didn't do that. The writing staff was far more interested in how the heroes supposedly took Dr. Light's mind. Is it any wonder so many people were offended more than need be?

Now, from more recently, here's a picture Zircher posted from Nightwing 93, which he illustrated in 2004:

This is something I may not have paid enough attention to before, and that's why I believe I should take the time to do so now. In this story, where Nightwing met a girl vigilante named Tarantula, she'd gunned down Blockbuster, and then, after Nightwing is sitting on a rooftop in shock about her act, she rapes him in a female-vs-male act, of all things. And we shouldn't be surprised if IDC's apologists would be willing to use that as justification for the one-sided male-vs-female rape atrocity in the notorious 2004 miniseries. The rape in Nightwing may not have been as crass as IDC, but it was still very embarrassingly bad, right down to writer Devin Grayson's sloppy defense of the scene as "non-consensual" sex between the two, and was treated as pretty much a meaningless, throwaway scene with little or no educational value, similar to IDC. It was also a telling example of fanfiction influence run amok.

However, just last year, in an interview with The Bat Universe (via The Outhousers), Grayson admitted she screwed up and said she was sorry, in a rare admittance of error for somebody working in this kind of medium in modern times:
TBU: A major event during your run was the sexual encounter between Nightwing and Tarantula at the conclusion of issue #93. So much has been said about that scene in years since, from the fallout that occurred in the subsequent issues to you being quoted in an interview describing the scene as “[not rape], just non-consensual”. With the story being nearly ten years old, what would you like to say about that scene in terms of original intent, fan reaction and hindsight? Do you feel fans misunderstood what you were going for? Do you feel it’s something you would do again if given the chance?

Devin Grayson: I was wrong. I messed that one up and I apologize. My interview comments were uninformed and ignorant and I’m grateful for the chance to revisit the issue.

Rape culture and the mindboggling stupid and insensitive comments some comic creators have recently made about it have been in the news a lot lately and I reject the assertion—put forth in some of those interviews—that as creators we passively reflect society and have no actual influence over it. But I do admit that it can be difficult to filter through cultural currents with the sensitivity and thoughtfulness they deserve. Our work should never be inattentively influenced by our social prejudices, but we, as humans and creators, often are.

I used a literal rape as a metaphorical nadir, and I know better. Or, at least, I should have known better and certainly do now. I was concentrating so hard on other elements of that scene which felt so much more narratively significant to me (Blockbuster’s murder, primarily) that I totally lost sight of the power and non-symbolic consequence of the gesture I was using. By the time I realized the severity of the mistake and how harmful it might have been to actual survivors of sexual abuse and assault (myself included), I had run out of time to make it right. I’m not sure I could have made it right, mind you, but I did at least have the intention of bringing the story back around to it so that the act didn’t exist completely devoid of consequence or analysis. But it does, and I regret that more deeply than I can say. So many factors went into that debacle—including an avalanche of increasingly arbitrary and bizarre crossover demands from upper editorial and the company’s failure to honor previously approved story outlines—but the responsibility for the ineffectiveness and potential harmfulness of that scene lies solely with me.

I would not shy away from tackling the subject of rape again but I would work with it only if I could approach it head on. It’s too charged of an issue to be used to reflect something else. If I could do it over again, I would make very different choices.
This is incredible. She did what very few others working in the biz have shown the guts to do. I realize this is probably because she no longer works for the company, and isn't worried about being blacklisted; she has been washed up for nearly a decade now. But her willingness to admit to failure is admirable, and that's why I could respect her a lot more than some of the people who came after her. Something tells me even Gail Simone wouldn't have what it takes to apologize for making light of serious issues either.

Grayson's statements also make the same point I've wanted to make, that if rape is presented only as a throwaway plot device with no educational value on why rape is wrong, then it only ends up insulting the plight of sexual abuse victims.

But if Zircher's tweet says anything, he's still upholding this story, which may be ironic, since he was drawing it out of Grayson's script. I don't think he's ever commented on her volte-face either, so we have to wonder if he's got contempt for the writer who drafted the cruddy story in the first place.

And this has me wondering: why is it that a woman can apologize for a poorly written story with a female-on-male rape, but a man cannot apologize for a poorly written story with a male-on-female rape? Grayson's statements about how the rape scene - or more specifically, trivializing the issue - can be hurtful to victims of sexual assault are exactly what we should be hearing Meltzer, Morales, Michael Bair, Dan DiDio admitting, and, if Michael Turner were still around, we should probably be hearing him apologize for drawing the covers, even if they're the least of the mini's problems. But here we are, over a decade later, and not a single apology a la Mrs. Grayson's has been forthcoming from those responsible for IDC. Meltzer continues to promote IDC like nothing ever happened, and so do his colleagues and apologists.

As saddening as it is to see Zircher defending IDC, it could explain why, unlike Grayson, he's still standing by the Nightwing story, posting a picture from it like nobody cares about the galling scene it featured at the end.

Since we're on the subject, the Nightwing story was written at a time when Chuck Dixon may have complained how DC was killing off several characters he'd created (Grayson is also responsible for offing at least two in her run), and not just in Nightwing's solo. There was also at least one more character in Robin's title who got slaughtered soon after Jack Drake was in IDC: therapist Dana Winters, Jack's second wife and Tim's stepmother, who perished during Infinite Crisis. So after Dixon left, the modern editors accomplished what the ingrates before them hadn't: they threw out much of the recurring cast he used in the Batbooks, turning Tim into an orphan for real, and all without a single clue what to do next. That's something else you don't hear many current comics writers arguing about, proving they've never cared for all the hard work somebody did to make Robin into a 3rd-tier hero we can appreciate.

Update: following this post, Zircher added these two tweets:

Well, I guess we should've figured this would be all he had to say. He minimizes the surrounding issues, and it doesn't take much to guess he's not happy Grayson's not backing this Nightwing story any longer, yet he's too callous to say so. Well, if that's the way you want it, Zircher, so be, but it won't make things any better, and just enforces the perception a man can't bring himself to do what a woman's proven herself able to. It's not whether the characters were sexless that matters, it's how they interact that does. And the way Grayson wrote Tarantula taking advantage of Nightwing was ludicrous and degrading. I'm glad she now admits it, which is far more than you're willing to do.

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Very insightful article.
I see they are on the usual twitter rant as well.

If they found this booring they clearly have no ability to read and comprehend.

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