Oh, really, Mark Millar and Todd McFarlane?

Note: This piece is being written in a drop-kick, in your face manner that I rarely show on this blog. But what follows is extremely my typical AngieAriespissedofftomboy rant. People who've known me for many years (family and friends from elementary through high school) know this side of me quite well. The rest of you...well, don't say I didn't warn you.

My poor mother. She named me Angela in hopes that I would live up to all the angelic virtues that have been linked to that appellation. But the heavens conspired against her; I was born with the planets aligned in the opposite of her peaceful (well, somewhat peaceful), diplomatic and rigorously justice-loving sign, the forever-ladylike Venus-influenced Libra. I came into this world as an Aries, war-like, bossy, extremely impulsive and a natural defender of those who didn't seem to know how to turn their hands into fists (which baffled me for years). Mom didn't know that about me at first, of course. According to her oft-repeated stories, I was the "perfect" baby--I only cried when I was hungry (of course), extremely tired, or wet and/or dirty. Otherwise, I cooed, chortled and laughed as if everything around me reflected some sort of Miltonian utopia, and my sole purpose in living was to announce to everyone around me of the existence of heaven here on Earth.

This stage didn't last long. By the time I was four, I shocked Mom and everyone else around me by mercilessly beating the crap out of a boy named Raymond who made the mistake of pushing my sister Tam off her tricycle. She fell forward hard against the sidewalk, and her front two teeth broke off on impact. I was standing across the street, and I could see blood streaming from her mouth. The sound of my sister's agonizing screams seemed to coincide something monstrous rising up from somewhere inside of me.  I heard air rushing past my ears for one second, and in the next, I was on top of Raymond, pounding on his face with both fists. No one ever showed me how to do that. Looking back, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to do. Make a fist; swing it toward a target with as much force as possible. It was an extraordinarily simple process that I repeated on more than a couple occasions over the next seven years. And yes, I was successful. I had the advantage; I was taller, bigger, stronger and even more importantly, faster than the boys in my age group. No, I never fought girls. It didn't seem like the right thing to do since I knew it would be an unfair fight. I didn't believe in being a bully, unless you consider beating up some guy who had been picking on  a skinny defenseless kid an aspect of bullying behavior. (And I have to say now, as an adult, there is truth in that statement.) Besides, most girls stayed very well clear of me. Looking back, I can say that I don't blame them.

Now, with that kind of personality, do you think I would willingly read comic book like "Little Lulu" or "Millie the Model", which were popular for little girls growing up in the 60s? Yeah, out of consideration of my mother, I did look them at them briefly, but they really didn't do anything for me.  I was very excited about the Fantastic Four, and not because of Reed Richards, Johnny Storm or Ben Grimm (although I LOVED Ben "It's clobberin' time!" Grimm).  It was all about Sue. Finally, a woman who was part of a superhero team and had her own distinct personality, unlike Wonder Woman back in those days! I was pretty easily bored with DC back in the early 60s. Their comics seemed too...corny. I was only six when I got hooked on comics (yes, pun intended), but I could spot cornball like a peregrine falcon targeting a mouse  from six miles away (hyperbole mode on). Now, Sue Storm, as she was known in those days, wasn't very scrappy compared to the way she is now, but I was thrilled that a woman was considered an equal part of a superhero team. More importantly, she did more than stand in a state of terrified helplessness and scream for a man to come rescue her, which is what I saw in the movies and on television back in those days. My stomach lurched every time a woman went scream mode, and I would think, "Why doesn't she just pick up something and hit the guy with it? Why does she stand there screaming? She could've decked the guy and ran!" I realize now that not every woman was a pugilistically inclined tomboy like I was, but come on! Couldn't they have smacked a guy in the face with a high heel at least once?

So, based on what I've written so far, you can predict my reaction to these comments made by Mark Millar and Todd McFarlane about how comics aren't for ladies. All right, first of all, I had been reading comics for almost four years before Millar was born. I knew the stories and characters before he was even weaned. Don't talk to me about comics not being for ladies, Millar. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, while they were still working within society's expectations of women in 60s, and there was a lot of dependency issues going on with their male teammates. But that was a whole lot better than that worn out "stand there and scream" trope, and eventually, characters like Jean Grey and Ororo Munro were portrayed as being just as powerful as the men. I loved that! There weren't a whole lot of us back in the 60s, but trust me, I found a few girls who loved superhero comics just as much as I did.

An aside: I wasn't fantasizing about those big muscular men, either. That didn't happen until adolescence. (The six year old comic fan in me just shuddered and yelled "Eww!")

Now, here's my problem with one of the comments that Millar made in a interview, which was extremely offensive to me and a whole lot of other fans who read comics, as you can see here and here:
“The ultimate [act] that would be the taboo, to show how bad some villain is, was to have somebody being raped, you know?” he told me. “I don't really think it matters. It's the same as, like, a decapitation. It's just a horrible act to show that somebody's a bad guy.”
MYDEARPEABODY, a blogger on Observation Deck, has pretty much dissected Millar's statements. But will add this--the best explanation you can give is that rape, like decapitation, is nothing more that a plot device to show the reader how your character is capable of disgusting horrors, and nothing else? Come on, now! Mark, if a man were to rape you, (and it happens a whole lot more than you have probably ever imagined), you would be dealing with a lot more than a "bad guy". The effect that the act has on a person is devastating, and for you to think otherwise means to me that you have not only sacrificed your character for the sake of the plot, but also you haven't developed the consciousness OUTSIDE OF YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE to even imagine any other possibilities for the story.

I don't know anything about you and how you grew up, but when I saw those skinny, terrified kids being picked on and beat up, I couldn't help myself. I saw the pain and fear in their eyes, and I went into action. It wasn't right, and even though my response was inappropriate, I could AT LEAST see what another person was going through. Have you ever considered what a rape victim has to deal with on a day to day basis when you write a story, or is that type of consideration outside of the superhero genre's acceptable mode of exposition? Sure, I get it--the male superhero gets mad when a significant woman in life is sexually abused, and wants revenge. We all know that's going to happen. But what about the woman? Or his teammate, whose fate is usually death or madness as the seemingly only way comics deals with the issue. Is that the BEST you can do?

Or are you going to wimp out and say it's the publishers fault? Oh, that's just the perfect response, isn't it? Who's playing victim now? Get over yourself and GET outside of tiny little box-like world, dammit! This is how I see it: you're too f**king lazy to do the research and challenge your beliefs and perceptions, and you use comic book genre and its supposed all male audience (which I hope that you can see from my history that it is a fallacious assumption) as an excuse for solidly remaining your comfort zone. Snicker and guffaw all you want while thinking, yeah, whatever. I get paid handsomely for what I do, which means there's a lot of readers who agree with me. You are quite right, there are a lot of a**holes reading comics. But there are also more and more of us ladies reading them these days, too. If there weren't, this malstrom wouldn't have taken place. I'm being considerate here. Take the hint.

Now, for the two comments that has been attributed to Todd McFarlane, which I found on gmanetwork.com :
 “The vast majority of dudes (are) doing this high testosterone sort of storytelling, and so we put our fantasy on the plate on the pages,” said McFarlane regarding the stereotypical portrayal of women in comic books. “As much as we stereotype the women, we do it with the guys. The guys are all good looking, not too many ugly superheroes. They've all got their hair gelled back. They have got perfect pecs on them. They have no hair on their chest. I mean, they are Ryan Gosling on steroids. Right? They are all beautiful. So we actually stereotype and do it to both sexes. We just happen to show a little more skin when we get to the ladies.”
Well, of course, equal opportunity fetishizing of men and women makes everything all peachy-keen! No one likes a really skinny superhero (Reed Richards, Plastic Man and Elastic Man are freaks), or really fat good or bad guy (Who loves the Blob, who, who?), or bald ones (Lex Luther and Kingpin should be ashamed of themselves), or hairy guys (Wait, what about Wolverine?). God help us if there's fat or skinny superheroines with bad skin, stringy hair and breasts that hang down their waists! Hey, I see his point--comic books aren't supposed to be about reality; it's about fantasy. And it's not about everyone's fantasy, either. Only a select group of people get to see their fantasies show up in those panels. You can't please everyone, so why even try? Besides, if you start working to please all of those irritating diversity-screaming pleb's by including more of their type of day-dreamy characters, the stories will get all complicated and convoluted and messy.  Besides, in order to prevent that from happening, the writers have to do something that it is way too time-consuming and taxing to their brains--research, for God's sake!  Give them a break; they don't know anything about those other fantasies, and all that extra time doing research for characters they don't give a damn about in the first place just messes with their deadlines. It's all perfectly understandable, even though I used to be a journalist and I know all about having to do research and dealing with deadlines. And I didn't have a computer at my desk back in Stone Age. But those were different times, and besides, I shouldn't expect the same level committment to writing from a comic creator. It's simply not fair.

And finally there's this gem of a McFarlane quote:
McFarlane went on to claim that if his own daughters were seeking a source of empowerment, he’d direct them away from comic books. “It might not be the right platform,” he said. “I’ve got two daughters, and if I wanted to do something that I thought was emboldened to a female, I probably wouldn’t choose superhero comic books to get that message across. I would do it in either a TV show, a movie, a novel, or a book. It wouldn’t be superheroes because I know that’s heavily testosterone – driven, and it’s a certain kind of group of people. That’s not where I would go get this kind of message, so it might not be the right platform for some of this.”
All I can say is, Todd, other people have daughters, too. If your work can't empower and help your own daughters take charge of their lives by following the stories of female superheroes, why should any encourage their daughters to read your comics? Don't you feel that you have a modicum of responsibilty to show your daughters the absolute unlimited potential they have within them as girls who will soon be women? Or are you a bit concerned about the rape/madness/de-powerment/death trope that you and others have created for female characters within the pages of the comics? I can definitely understand that, I wouldn't want to expose my daughters to those frightening possibilities, either. Especially since there is a statistical possibility of that actually occuring to them or someone they know. It's better to keep them shielded from those nasty facts instead of showing them how a strong female character deals with painful issues and overcomes them, therefore showing them with words and pictures (a very powerful combination for developing brains) that they can overcome anything life can and will throw at them. But again, that gets back into the messiness of research, deadlines and getting outside of your world view. Oh, silly me. Sorry. I should have remembered that writing stories that reflect a diverse world view isn't what comic books are all about.  It's fine (I guess) if your daughters feel motivated into taking charge of their lives by watching "Pretty Little Liars" or "The Kardarshians", or reading the "Twilight" and "True Blood" novels. I mean, what could possibly be wrong with that?

Well, consider this: remember that story I wrote about earlier in this blog? The one about me feeling inspired by Sue Storm (now Richards) of the Fantastic Four? Stan Lee and Jack Kirby couldn't have possibly known this at the time, but seeing her in those comic books most definitely empowered and inspired me. And if that hadn't happened, there would have been a few more nerdy boys getting the crap beat out of them on the playground and on the way home from school.

Just something to think about.
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