It is no shock to anyone who knows me that I am into comics. I have been a reader and collector for 27 years and have spent over a fifth of that time directly involved in the industry, mostly in distribution, flanked by two stints in retail. I enjoy comics for all that they offer, despite their occasional journeys into not exactly uplifting areas.
They are getting better, in some ways. Batwoman was a big step forward, as was the new Ultimate Spider-man, but they still lag behind in some areas.
This past week, I bought a comic called Avengers 1959 #3. It is the third issue (duh) of a five issue miniseries. The premise is that Nick Fury gathered a team of ‘heroes’ at the end of the 50′s to deal with a few threats. (The ‘real’ Avengers book was started in 1963, so this would predate that.)
It started as a feature in one of the modern Avengers books, written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Howard Chaykin. This mini is both written and drawn by Chaykin.
There were already problems in this series. A character called the Blonde Phantom is a female spy whose normal purpose appears to be to sleep with enemies to get information. This sterotype is not new and, as I said, comics are not always at the forefront of enlightenment. I didn’t like that, but I didn’t make a fuss either.
In issue #3, things got worse. Blonde Phantom needed to incapacitate two guards. She did so in the cliche fashion – acting flirty and then, when they dropped their guard, knocking them out. The issue here is that the guards discussed (in German, if memory serves) what they were going to do as she approached.
Guard 1: I’ll hold her down.
Guard 2: No, I had firsts last time.
The next panel they were knocked out, never to appear in the comic again.
What just happened there? The writer (Chaykin) used multiple rapes as a joke.
Now, because I have been over this with some people who think there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, let me explain. I understand fiction. I understand characterization. I understand the value of a nasty antagonist. If there is a major villain who they are trying to set up as a particularily nasty piece of work, I can understand why they would make him a rapist. Heck, make him a child murderer and a violator of puppies, if that is what you need to do to make the story work.
That is NOT what happened here. We are talking about two throw away characters that only appeared on two panels. They did not need to give us a reason for B.P. to knock them out. She was already going to do that. No. This was added for ZERO narrative advantage. It existed only so they could make a joke.
A joke about rape.
I have more that I would say but I would be repeating myself. Here is a letter I sent to Marvel Comics, letting them know what I thought about this little comic ‘joke’.
Everything in this letter is true.
I read Avengers 1959 #3 and I feel compelled to do something I rarely do, which is write in to express my disappointment.
I want to give you a little background so that you can understand where I am coming from.
I rediscovered comics at the age of 16 back in 1984. The book that hooked me and turned me into a comics fan was the Avengers. Since that time I made comics my career for a while, working in both retail and distribution. During that time Avengers turned into a quest of mine, as I tracked down every issue, all the way back to #1 in 1963. I now have every Avengers comic ever printed.
That will change next month when Avengers 1959 #4 is released as I will not be buying it (or #5).
What could convince me to stop now? Can you guess what is that comic that would anger me enough to make this decision?
I would HOPE that it would be obvious.
There were already some supect things about the series. I am not thrilled that the Blonde Phantom’s secret power appears to be the ability to have sex with people. That annoyance is hardly new in the industry, so it was not going to be any more than that.
But this issue, you fell to a new low.
A rape joke.
A rape JOKE.
This was not character development. There was absolutely zero reason to have these two guards making jokes about raping women. ZERO. This was not a method to show how heinous they were as their only purpose was to be knocked out one panel later.
Comments about holding a woman down while the other one has his way with her? Stated in a ‘humorous’ fashion mixing the image of sexual assault with an overly-polite ‘no please, after YOU’ comment.
There are IGNORANT people who DO make jokes like this. There are also people who make homophobic comments. There are also people who are racist. There is no shortage of ignorant people in the world… but that does not mean you should publish this sort of bile.
I am NOT saying you can never have a rapist in a comic. I strongly believe that comics can serve as any other sort of art: they can display many different things to get many different responses. If you do a story that includes a rapist, and he is portrayed as a horrible person committing heinous acts and he pays for his crimes… that is part of comics and part of all (crime-based) fiction.
That isn’t what you did here.
You made a JOKE.
If you can explain to me, in rational terms, what was added to this story by having these two THROW-AWAY CHARACTERS make light of such a terrible crime, I will acknowledge it… but you can’t.
How could anyone think that this was okay?
Someone should be fired over this.
Ottawa, ON, Canada
No response yet.
Interested in letting Marvel know what you think of that issue?
Sometimes you have to draw a line. Does it seem like intentionally leaving a hole in your collection is a small thing? Well I suppose it is, but not to a collector. (I have already been accused of lying on a comic forum where I stated I would be doing this.)
It isn’t much, but it is what I can do.