June 04, 2007

More On The Heroes For Hire #13 Cover

You know, part of me thinks I should just complete the registration process for the Newarama boards so I can post these posts in the relevant topics, but hey, not doing so keeps me posting things here and as a bonus I don't have to deal with a million fanboys that just don't get or care about why something in their books could be offensive.

Anyway, in the recent "New Joe Fridays" Joe Quesada addressed the Heroes for Hire #13 cover for a second time. This time he does go out of his way to appologize to the people who were offended by the image, which I suppose is a nice thing to do. I'm suspicious of the contention that he had no idea that the concept of "tentacle rape" existed, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt there.

Then he launches into an explanation of why a publisher shouldn't bow to pressure from offended fans to change something offensive because it's a slippery slope. As much as I like Joe, his argument really doesn't apply here and almost makes the apology feel like a non-apology apology. Ok, so he's sorry that people were offended, but this is what happens when you let women become leading heroes. Whaaa?

He lists as three examples the death of Freedom Ring, a gay character, in Marvel Teamup, the death of Bill Foster ("Black Goliath") in Civil War, and the torture of some gay characters in the Runaways/Young Avengers crossover. The only story of those that I've read is the death of Bill Foster, though I've read Freedom Ring's Wikipedia page, so I have an idea what happened there. Joe's argument is that if you have more inclusion of minority characters in superheroing books those heroes are going to be placed in dangerous circumstances.

Ok, that's fine. Give me a gay Spiderman guest star and I'm willing to accept that he might get punched by The Vulture or something. Fair enough. And indeed the death of Bill Foster, and as far as I know the death of Freedom Ring, were just perilous situations that come with the trade. Clor coulda zapped anybody with a big ass lighting bolt and it just so happened Mr. Foster was thirty feet tall at the time. Bill Foster's death had nothing to do with his race and his death was an important part of the story. Hell, you could have done a death where his race was a central factor and still have the death be and important part of the story you were telling. Of course, if the story was all about how Marvel thinks the Klan is right or something, people would be rightly offended and rightly so.

The Heroes for Hire cover is different. This isn't a depiction of "heroes in danger." This is a depiction of *women* in danger. I challenge anyone to find a picture from either a cover or an interior of a comic that shows a male character being attacked by the Brood in this manner. Ultimately, while I may think more people know about the concept of "tentacle rape" in hentei than might admit to it, knowledge of the micro-niche genre is really unnecessary. These characters are shown in a position of fear and weakness because they're female characters and *that's* what's offensive about the picture. I actually wouldn't even be surprised if someone didn't recognize off the top of their head all of the standard rape iconography present in the image. What I do hope for, if not expect, is for people to be able to see them when they're pointed out, apologize, and then admit that this sort of depiction of women should be avoided in the future.

They would never have done this to the male Avengers, and that's that ballgame.


Noumena said...

Nice post. I have a comment I want to make, but it's complex and I'm having a productive day today, so I don't want to stop my writing just to work out my comment.

But I did want to say thanks for not just posting this on the Newarama boards. With GRC on vacation, I wouldn't have heard about any of this otherwise. (I don't follow any boards/blogs devoted to comics other than GRC and the occasional link you post here.)

MosBen said...

Man, I can't begrudge her the vacation, but I do wish GRC would come back already.

Noumena said...

Okay, my comment.

As I said, this is a good post, and I think you're on the right track. But there's a complexity (rightly) introduced when you say `Hell, you could have done a death where his race was a central factor and still have the death be an important part of the story you were telling.' That is, we can have good, valuable, and interesting plotlines that involve bad things happening to heroes (and other characters) as portrayals of racism, sexism, etc. In particular, we can have good, valuable, and interesting plotlines that involve female heroes being subjected to sexual violence, for example, as a way of commenting on and decrying the epidemic rates of sexual violence in our society.

So the problem with the HfH 13 cover isn't the portrayal of sexual violence per se.[1] The problem is the aesthetic purpose behind the portrayal: tittilation. The reader isn't supposed to react with disgust and sympathetic horror at the violence these women are being threatened with. The reader is supposed to get turned on by the idea of these women being raped. This cover isn't a piece of feminist social commentary. It's a `kinky' piece of cheesecake.

That's what's offensive here: the portrayal of rape as erotic. The `you just want us to treat female superheroes with kid gloves!' objection is a distraction (and a strawfeminist argument). So is arguing over whether or not it's appropriate for Marvel to have erotic cover art on general-audience books. Even if it is appropriate for Marvel to have erotic cover art, this cover is still offensive.

[1] At least, the problem wouldn't be the sexual violence per se if the cover was an accurate portrayal of the events that transpired within the issue. I believe I read somewhere -- though I'm not going to track it down now -- that this cover had almost nothing to do with what actually happens inside. So it can't even masquerade as a portrayal of sexual violence to comment on sexual violence, making it even more egregiously offensive.

MosBen said...

Have you read DC's "Identity Crisis"? Sexual violence plays a significant role in the story and I'd be interested in hearing your take on it.

Noumena said...

The title and Wikipedia summary sound familiar, but I don't seem to have a copy.