Sunday, January 14, 2007

On the Subject of Rape

I wrote this as a comment to a post by Loren, but wanted to preserve it, so I'm reposting it here, with minor editing. The topic is the rape of Sue Dibny in Identity Crisis. I can't speak from any personal experience on the topic, just that of a reader and writer.
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The rape isn't what the story was about. Rape was a device to show how despicable Light was and he had to do something that despicable to get the heroes to do what they did so the storyline could be set into motion, the whole vengeance thing from the villains and it also explained why a nasty like Light and some others became caricatures of themselves. I thought some aspects of the story could have been handled better, but overall, I thought it worked. If Sue or any other character had been horribly killed by Light, THAT would have screwed up continuity far more than Sue not acting like a character who had been raped. It's far easier to assume she got counseling between published stories featuring her and Ralph.

Rape or any other aspect of the human condition is, IMO, a fair subject for writers and as long as a comic isn't being targeted for children, I have no problem with such a story being in a comic. Adults read comics, too. Back in the '70s, comics took a realistic turn after the campy '60s, and a lot of people bitched and moaned that comics were supposed to be fun. Well, there's room for all sorts of comics I like to read a variety, in comics and in books.

I suppose someday, when people are less squeamish, ie the men in charge and who do most of the writing, we might see the scales balanced with male rape storylines. We've already had Grant (Damage) confess to Roy (Arsenal) on an outing with him and Lian that he'd been abused growing up in the Titans book that preceded the new Outsiders. It was a powerful scene and has as much a place in comics as seeing how a group of heroes reacted to a loved one's assault. That there was a division, an argument, over what to do to Light, showed how real and individual those heroes are.

There's always a danger in retroactively changing a character's history, but in this case, it worked for me. More than ever, I can admire Sue. I am far more upset with her death than I was with the rape. And yet, her death propelled Ralph into a major, powerful role in the DCU in 52. Much as I wish Sue hadn't been killed, I can appreciate it from a writing standpiont for what it's let the writers do with Ralph. And maybe someday, a female hero will lose her significant other, preferably male, so we can see this in reverse. But good writing is good writing and and some point, we have to move away from looking at everything that happens to a female character as showing a writer's bias or misogyny.

What would the reaction have been if it had been.... Well, it is hard to find the opposite couple, isn't it? The female heroes aren't as plentiful and their significant others, if they exist, aren't civilians. Dinah had Ollie, a fellow JLAer. Diana had no one at that point, nor did Zatanna. That's where things need to change. More female heroes so we can have as many story opportunities for them to show all aspects of their personalities.

15 comments:

  1. Rape was a device to show how despicable Light was and he had to do something that despicable to get the heroes to do what they did so the storyline could be set into motion, the whole vengeance thing from the villains and it also explained why a nasty like Light and some others became caricatures of themselves.

    I feel the same way. This was truly a despicable act...one that we want nobody to go through. But, for me, the story was about an ethical debate about what to do when somebody as psychotic as Dr. Light was does something that horrible to a loved one. Hence the title IDENTITY Crisis. For me, this was the most horrible thing somebody could have done to a loved one (well...outside of killing them...which did happen...but, by somebody else). And, something that I think would spark that debate.

    What would the reaction have been if it had been.... Well, it is hard to find the opposite couple, isn't it? The female heroes aren't as plentiful and their significant others, if they exist, aren't civilians.

    To me, that's the bigger issue. If we are going to play the "dangerous world" story card, we need to make it equitable for a woman hero to feel that kind of pain...er...not that I necessarily want any hero to feel that kind of pain. But, I think you get where I'm coming from.

    This is a storyline that I'd like to see where a woman hero needed to protect her civilian husband from something completely dangerous.

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  2. I never thought Identity Crisis was about rape. I was surprised when I read that on various blogs. To me, it was about the ethics of what the heroes did, the consequences of what they did, and how they come to terms with it. And I saw the title as referring more to the fact that having secret identities wasn't enough to protect loved ones.

    And yes, I do agree about the women heroes needing to feel that kind of pain. And yet, it was Wonder Woman who executed Max Lord, which should have been in the follow-up Infinite Crisis, not her own book, for better story flow. It wasn't Batman or Superman who did it. And it's given Diana a powerful arc that is still carrying on, including how the other heroes treated her. But we need more of this, more female characters facing the same depth of horrors and decisions to be made as their male counterparts. Only BoP does this with any regularity now.

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  3. I should add that Catwoman, too, comes close, especially now that she's a mother, but then, that's such a woman's thing, isn't it?

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  4. I should add that Catwoman, too, comes close, especially now that she's a mother, but then, that's such a woman's thing, isn't it?

    Actually, this is an EXCELLENT example and, interestingly enough, the mind-wiping story device was used again. I can only imagine what a mother would actually do to protect her child. And, what's even more interesting is that Selina was actually one of the mind-wiped...yet, she made the decision she made to get Zatanna involved. I thought that was really interesting.

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  5. Yes, and that's why Catwoman is one of my fav comics. Selina is faced with moral decisions all the time and yes, I loved how the mind wipe and Zatanna was revisited. That was the best reference to Identity Crisis I've read in a later book. And Selina is forced to make decisions re: her loved ones: Helena, Holly, Slam, Sam (poor Sam)...

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  6. I suppose someday, when people are less squeamish, ie the men in charge and who do most of the writing, we might see the scales balanced with male rape storylines.
    Actually, this was addressed, where a male villain rapes a defeated male hero, in "The Authority" comic. It was during the story arc where The Authority were trying to find the new "Baby Sparks" after the turn of the millenia. It was a fairly graphic event, though we don't see the actual rape scene... we see the villain unbuckling his pants, taunting the gay hero about how he'll get to know what a real man feels like, and then the follow up scene with the hero's husband finding him beaten and raped, and holding his body and crying. (yes, the first gay-hero-couple)

    I don't have the comic in front of me so I can't get the names and events quoted exactly... sorry.

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  7. Oh. I probably should have been reading The Authority. ;) Not that it makes it different, but to have a straight male character raped and have to deal with it and how it would affect his relationship with the woman in his life... The only media that I've seen seriously deal with this outside of books, or fanfic, has been tv, especially Oz, but the prison scenario has people not at their best.

    People abuse each other in all sorts of horrid ways, from incest to raping strangers to emotional and physical torture. They are fair game for writers and I think exploring all aspects of the human condition makes for good stories, just not all not necessarily in the same story.

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  8. Oh. I probably should have been reading The Authority. ;)

    I was pointed to the series by a friend of mine who always seems to have an answer about odd question I ask... like "why don't they ever have masculine, gay, coupled heroes in a mainstream comic?" and he said "uhm, actually..." and pointed me to The Authority.

    I know that story arc was compiled into a graphic novel (how I read it). I think that particular story arc is in The Authority vol.2 but I'm not sure.

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  9. Thanks for the info. I guess I'll add it to my graphic novels shopping list.

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  10. Actually, this was addressed, where a male villain rapes a defeated male hero, in "The Authority" comic.

    Oh, interesting. I've read The Authority on and off and know about Apollo and Midnighter, but I had no idea bout this storyline. Now, I must track down back issues. Thanks for the heads up on that, Jay.

    I think that Shelly brings up the point that it would be interesting to see how a straight female character has to deal with something as horrible as rape with their civilian male counterpart.

    Actually, I just thought of something. It's not really about rape, but I just thought of another example where a female character has just embarked to protect her male friend -- Renee Montoya risking going back to the Himalayas to bring Charlie (The Question) back to health. It may not have the same impact, but, this is an instance where we see a female hero who has to carry the burden to protect somebody she loves. And, I love the fact that she's a lesbian and he's a straight man.

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  11. Oh, yeah. Renee has been wonderful, really showing character growth not often seen in female characters in comics. And what she's doing for Charlie is great and similar enough to be relevant here.

    Just to keep my thoughts together, from my comments on your blog, Loren, I want to add here that I agreed with a comment there that rape is more immediate and faster/easier to write than something like psychological torture. Which still means it was a device, not the plot or theme, per se, of Identity Crisis. It affects loved ones in a way even a murder doesn't. With death, the survivor can move on. With rape, they both have to deal with it and often the couple splits up.

    Also, rape is something more likely to happen in real life, to anyone at any time, and therefore, readers can identify more than with psychological torture.

    To be honest, until this discussion popped up, it had never occurred to me to think rape was the theme.

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  12. As I read your last two sentences, Shelley, they reminded me that I just found out that Manhunter is being cancelled. Please allow me a moment to vent.

    DAMMIT!DAMMIT!DAMMIT!DAMMIT DAMMIT!

    DAAAAAAAAAMMMMMMMMIIIIIIITTT!!!!!!

    tHANK YOU.

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  13. Ah, hell. Not again?!

    Frak.

    What do we have to do to keep good comics starring females? Do I have to buy every copy Forbidden Planet gets?

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  14. A long ago example of superheroine and normal guy partner: Donna Troy and Terry Long. Of course, I have no idea what became of Terry -- lost touch with the Donna Troy storyline a long time ago.

    With that thing in the Authority, I wouldn't bother buying those issues or that graphic novel -- the writing was terrible, the art worse, and the depiction of Midnighter and Apollo is more than over-the-top and completely dreadful. I find it fascinating, though, that it was, of course, the feminized partner being raped.

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  15. Oh, geez, I forgot about Donna and Terry. And I should remember, since someone I know was drawn into their wedding issue as a guest. Terry was such a wimp, very insecure. Gee, just like so many female supporting characters. Terry and his and Donna's little boy were killed in a car accident, during my hiatus from reading comics. I think he and Donna had split up before that, but I'm not sure.

    Interesting you mention a feminized character being raped in Authority, Jude. Aside from hating the term feminized, because it implies females are weaker and wimpy, etc, I always found fanfic slash odd because the writers would take 2 estabished male characters (also females but I'm gonna stick with male slash here, not femme slash), put them into a homosexual relationship, and almost always make one much weaker than the other. Yes, they "feminize" one of them and we need a better, more generic word for it. Can't both partners be strong emotionally, equals?

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