Saturday, August 18, 2007

When is it Gratuitous?

This post over at Blog@Newsrama asks what we think about the controversy re: the women in refrigerators syndrome, which by the way, originated not with The Killing Joke, as I understand it, but with the body of Kyle Rayner's girlfriend being found by him in the fridge.

I've been mostly ignoring this latest "outrage" over an old story, but since a lot of people believe, and rightly so in many cases, that women are still not respected in the DCU, I figured I'd write yet another *insightful* post about it. At any rate, this is my opinion and not intended to be treated as anything other than that.

Aside from crippling a sidekick to a character, Batman, who already had Robin, The Killing Joke helped revitalize Barbara Gordon as she transformed herself into Oracle and went from sidekick/guest star to Major Player. She can literally appear in any story in continuity. She has her own book with her own team. Rather than be the helpless female, Babs fought back. True, that was after the fact, but Babs was stuck down at home, in her civilian life, not as Batgirl. So, no, she wasn't given anything heroic to do in the story, because in that story, she was a supporting character. The story, sorry, wasn't about her. It was about Jim, the Joker, and because he's who he is, it was about Batman and his friendship with Jim. Batman was the frontrunner. He was and is one of the "Big 3." Babs, especially then, was not a headliner.

Which brings us to the issue that she was attacked as a helpless female to get back at a male. So what? Jim Gordon has one person in his life someone wanting to get to him could go after: Babs. And Jim, himself, was nabbed and tortured. And has had to live with the guilt over what happened to his daughter. In some ways, Babs had it easier.

It is a fact, unfortunate perhaps, that the best way to strike at someone indirectly, is to go after a loved one, and if there are mostly females in that person's life, it's the females who get to suffer so the males can suffer emotionally. But sometimes, a male gets it. Jason "Robin II" Todd got to die. Even if we'd voted for him to live (I voted for death), he would've had a rough recovery given his injuries, or at least, he should've. Who knows how DC would've handled it. Probably with him bouncing back next issue, as obnoxious as ever. But the fact remains that Jason was a male character getting blown up.

Suffering is part of drama. Sue Dibny gets raped because that's a horror people can relate to in the real world and because neither DC or comics readers are ready for male rape. It was a horrid act that could logically lead to the mindwipe that led indirectly to Identity Crisis. Sue was one of the very few civilians who could have been in that role. Jean, who turned out to be the killer, was one of the few others, someone with inside info, but not one of the team. And Sue was one of the few characters who could have been in the satellite and been unable to fight off Light. Story-wise, it fit.

I am not disgusted by stories that have women harmed, maimed, tortured, or raped. Nor am I disgusted by stories that have those things done to male characters. I AM disgusted by stories that do any of that to either sex for the sheer fun of doing it without a story reason, without a story to go with it. Without a purpose, without the follow-up. Black Canary was tortured in the original Green Arrow series, but then, so was Ollie. Was it less horrible when it was Ollie hanging from the rafters with blood dripping down his body?

All we need, IMO, is to even things out a bit, balance the suffering between the males and the females. But mostly, we need more books with female leads and vulnerable males in their lives. Now, are they bringing back Kate Spencer, the Manhunter, or not?


  1. Anonymous3:25 PM EDT

    Well said. The only way we can prevent violence against women in comics is to not have female characters. Or just have talking heads. Forever.

  2. I wish they would get on with it. Ive been looking for Manhunter to come back for months now, and dont even see a hint.

  3. Hi Shelly,
    I am not disgusted by stories that have women harmed, maimed, tortured, or raped. Nor am I disgusted by stories that have those things done to male characters. I AM disgusted by stories that do any of that to either sex for the sheer fun of doing it without a story reason, without a story to go with it. Without a purpose, without the follow-up.

    Indeed. You have it Exactly. I've chewed over this for Some Time Now, and have listened in to many opinions about the matter, but honestly, I think that if we hide the very realities of the world in our literatures--sometimes children are orphaned, and sometimes women are hurt, and sometimes men are used--then we have no safe space in which to *talk* about Said Realities.

    I wish we lived in a world in which every woman could walk down every street safely, or every person could stay safe behind a locked door, but that's not the world we live in. Perhaps talking about it will help to end it? I'm Not Sure, but certainly, we can try.

    Thanks, Friend, for a Very Smart Post.

  4. Thanks, Amy,

    I've given it a lot of thought over the years, since I was a kid and realized I liked violent TV even though I hate violence in reality.

    Violence, including sexual violence, has been part of literature probably since there was literature. It's human nature and literature reflects that.

  5. Alan Moore didn't revitalise Babs Gordon. John Ostrander did in SUICIDE SQUAD.

    When Moore wrote THE KILLING JOKE he felt that Barbara Gordon was expendable and obviously the editor agreed. It was John Ostrander who brought her back from comics limbo.

  6. I never read Suicide Squad. I wasn't reading comics back then (during my boycott). However, I don't think my post says who revitalized her. I said Killing Joke helped do it, because without Killing Joke, there is no reason for anyone to change her into Oracle.

    Sometimes, intent doesn't matter. It's what's on the page. So if someone is offended by something and the author says he didn't mean it, that doesn't change the offense. If only one person is offended, perhaps it's that person. If 90 per cent of readers are offended, perhaps the writer should reconsider how he or she writes something.

    But when we read a story, while we might be interested in the story behind the story, knowing the author didn't like a character, etc, doesn't change what he or she does with that character.

    Killing Joke left things open for someone to make Babs into Oracle. If not for that, I doubt anyone would've made Batgirl into Oracle.

  7. Ok, let me do this right this time. Despite the name, the "Women in Refrigerators" trend is not something that started with Green Lantern's girlfriend being stuffed in a fridge. It actually includes that character whose death caused you to boycott DC.

    If you haven't been pointed to it already, please go read

    Also, it seems to me that both Barbara & Jim were Batman's supporting cast rather than Babs being Jim's supporting character. And now that Barbara is Oracle, Jim gets put even more in the supporting role.

    In fact, on reflection, it's impressive how little the Gordons are actually used as each others' supporting cast.

    And, Shelly, I now get that you're not that person, & I went off on you without even looking at the context of your previous bloggings. Sorry.

  8. Hi, Philip,

    My boycott of DC had nothing to do with the whole women in refrigerators thing, nor with the death of a female character. It had to do with the death of one particular character, Kara Supergirl, one of my childhood favorites. I grew up with her and it just hurt too much. If they'd killed Roy Harper, I would have boycotted, too.

    However, they could have killed a lot of other female characters and I would not have boycotted. In fact, I think I had a list of the ones I wouldn't mind them offing.

    And I had no idea Flash had been killed until I started reading comics again because I never did finish reading Crisis on Infinite Earths.

    I don't think killing female characters is the women in refrigerators thing, which couldn't exist as a descriptor til a dead female got stuffed in the fridge. I'm a big believer in timing and getting the order right. If people choose to extend that to mean other things, they lose me, cuz I'm also a rather literal person.

    In any case, Kara's death to me was personal and had nothing to do with her being female. It had to do with losing a character I loved like family.

    BTW, I never did see the last episode of the next to last season of The Highlander and the following season. I'd heard they had killed off Richie and that was it for me. I'd lost the reason to watch the show. I was away at the time, the tape was waiting for me when I got home, and I simply recorded over it. And Richie was no female, just a death that served a plot point the show's writers wanted. If they'd killed Methos, I would have had no problem with continuing to watch.

    As for those articles you posted links to, I'm not sure what point would be served by my reading them. The wording of your links tell me enough. It doesn't matter who is or isn't a SUPPORTING character. My point is that Joker wanted to do something to Jim so he went after his supposedly civilian daughter. I would think if Jim had had a son, the son would've been shot. If not, then that's where I have a problem, but since Jim had a daughter, that's all we have to go by. As a plot device, and I have no trouble with genre tropes, it worked.

  9. Okay, I had to look at that link. And found the article I'd read a long time ago. Maybe a year ago? I lose track of time. It was interesting. But it doesn't apply to my feelings re: Supergirl's death.

    She had been created, like Superboy, to, as I recall having read, keep alive DC's control over those names, as well as being well, lesser Kryptonians. Superboy was safe because he was a younger Superman and killing him would mean Superman wouldn't exist. So Supergirl was always fair game that way. She had redundancy and expendability built into her.

    And Kara's death seemed heroic to me. So, for that matter, did the more recent death of Jade. Maybe I have a different definition of heroism, too.