Sunday, January 29, 2006

Corruption of the Innocent

You know, I like a good SVU episode as much as the next guy, but I'm really getting tired of every character and their sister and brother ending up with sexual dysfunction in their past to add cheap gravitas to a story. "Spider-Man/Black Cat" is only the most recent offender because Kevin Smith is way too slow, but it comes on the heels of "Sins Remembered," "Identity Crisis" and the subsequent fallout, and whatnot. I mean, I'm all for dark, mature stories in comics, but there's nothing mature about the sudden revelation of a long-repressed memory of sexual abuse.

Confusing "sex" with "mature" has long been a problem. I'd say that "Batman: TAS" is a more mature series than "Baywatch," because "Batman" had depth of plot and character, and it employed violence and story to evoke emotional reactions and make allegorical points about the actual world; "Baywatch" had bouncing breasts.

Sexual abuse is no different from T&A in this regard. It's easy; it's like printing your own emotional impact. After all, it's a terrible adversity to overcome (makes hero seem stronger), it's universally evil (eventual triumph of good over evil), it's humanizing (makes character relatable, vulnerable), and it's often repressed or unmentioned (easily inserted into continuity and never referenced again). It's a writer's emotional wet dream.

Unfortunately, writers finally realized this in an era where talking about sexual indiscretion wasn't taboo for comics, and now it has spilled all over. There was a time when it was shocking that Tim Drake's girlfriend was assaulted (though I don't recall the details of that story); it was stomach-turning when Barbara Drake was shot and then photographed provocatively in "The Killing Joke." When Sue Dibny's rape was revealed, hot on the heels of her brutal death, it felt like nothing so much as adding insult to (fatal) injury. When Felicia Hardy let her black cat out of the bag, my reaction was "oh no, not another one."

Sidebar: I realize that relationship problems are part and parcel of the Spider-Man mythos, but must every person he knows be affected by this? Mary Jane had an abusive father, and she was being consistently sexually harrassed when I started reading Spider-Man comics; Gwen Stacy had her affair with Norman Osborn, there's the Felicia Hardy thing, Aunt May almost ended up marrying Doctor Octopus, even Pete himself was molested as a kid, if we're to believe the Spider-Man/Power Pack special on Sexual Abuse. New York may be a worse town than previously thought.

So, here's my open message to comic writers: stop it. Cut it out. Not every origin or backstory in comics, particularly the female ones, needs to be fleshed out with a dash of rape. It's not mature, it's cheap. It's insulting, both to the character and to the reader's intellect. We know you can all do better than that. Prove to us that you know how to add emotional significance to characters without resorting to sexual trauma. We know that rape is your new toy, since restrictions and standards have loosened up so significantly, but it's time to remember all the other toys, and to realize that everything is best in moderation. We can handle the occasional Sally Jupiter or Terra, just remember that sexual assault isn't an everyday plot device; save it for those really gut-wrenching stories, and not just the ones you want to seem artificially emotional.

Remember how to touch us without "touching" them. You did it before, it's time to do it again.

1 comment:

Ragnell said...

That closing line is a perfect solution to the entire problem.