Monday, February 27, 2006

Profile: Vesper Fairchild

Vesper Fairchild
First appeared in: Batman #540, March 1997

Current status: deceased

Was subjected to the following act of discrimination: In Batman: The 10-Cent Adventure “special” from 2002, radio talk show host Vesper was murdered by David Cain as part of a contract by Lex Luthor to strike at Bruce Wayne, who’s as much a rival to him as Superman is.

What’s wrong with how this was done? In that particular book, she turned up dead for otherwise just one purpose: to die. Rather than write a story in which she could have some development as a character, she’s turned into little more than a plot device, in the Bruce Wayne: Murderer/Fugitive crossover, just one in a sea of tired X-overs from DC Comics. To make matters worse, another woman in the story, Sasha Bordeaux, was also discriminated against.

Worst thing about this was that Vesper may have guessed that Bruce Wayne was also the Masked Manhunter, implying that anyone who finds out that Bruce and Batman are one and same is destined to end up dead (a notable example during the Bronze Age could be the parents of Jason Todd, who were murdered by Killer Croc in the original Todd premise).

How uncreative.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Profile: Jean Loring

Jean Loring
First appeared in: Showcase #34, 1961

Current status: unknown.

Was subjected to the following acts of discrimination: in The Atom and Hawkman #45, Oct-Nov 1969, the last issue of the Silver Age Atom series, she was brainwashed/tortured into insanity by a subatomic race called the Jimberen, who thought her to be a descendant of an old queen of theirs, after they used a radiation-based device with which to brainwash her (see this page from Darkmark's Comics Indexing Domain for details). She was fully cured of these effects in Justice League of America #81, June 1970, with Hawkman’s help there too, when he took her to Thanagar for treatment to cure her. She later fell prey to a similar situation in Super-Team Family #11, June-July 1977, when there too, she was brainwashed by more alien menaces. In 2004, after an absence of 4-5 years, she was turned into a plot device, just like Sue Dibny, in Identity Crisis: she was first implausibly depicted as the culprit in the murder of Sue in issue #7, and, at the same time, without any clear explanation, she was “revealed” to be crazy. Jean was also forced by the book’s writer into a stereotypical situation when she invites Ray Palmer, her ex-husband, to hit her(!), was then implausibly incarcerated in Arkham Asylum, and a tabloid newspaper headline is later shown saying that she was sexually assaulted in prison. Then, in what must be something like just a few hours in comic book time, was possessed by the Eclipso diamond in the Day of Vengeance miniseries (Columbus Alive reported that the dialect sounded like a woman being sexually harrassed), and turned into an evil entity, later knocked comatose and left rotating in orbit (or something like that). It was later discovered in Infinite Crisis that the Psycho Pirate had what to do with turning her into a new Eclipso. Worse, this whole "Jeanclipso" went on for quite a while, having taken place in the 52 weekly series and even in the #16th issue of the new Blue Beetle. In Countdown to Final Crisis #17 (note that the numbering for this goes backwards), after a clash with Mary Marvel, she was broken free of the diamond and fell to earth. Her current status is unknown.

What’s wrong with how this was done? I don’t know about what Jean went through in the Silver/Bronze Age, what with her being brainwashed into insanity and all that, but what she went through in Identity Crisis, including the near-lynching by a hanging-noose, was the lowest, most obscene of misogynistic stereotypes, providing a picture perfect example of why women end up shunning comic books. The same goes for the demonization she underwent in Day of Vengeance. And it doesn't matter if she's being controlled by the Eclipso diamond, what's being done is really sick.

To make matters worse, not only did the miniseries not give any mention of what past storylines Jean had been through, but much of the press coverage of Identity Crisis did not give any clear indication that she’d been a victim of science-fiction brainwashing years before either. In the case of Wizard magazine, they seemed to be trying to perpetuate a lie that she’d suffered numerous mental/nervous breakdowns* years ago, when that was not the case, and even if it was, she’d only been through such circumstances twice. (Wizard wrote a very ambiguous note that she “had a history” of nervous/mental breakdowns, yet made no more attempt to clear things up than the miniseries itself did.) On Newsarama, there was another vicious lie written that she’d been repeatedly played as a villainess in past years. It’s a filthy lie mainly due to the fact that it didn’t even make it clear in just what way she was played as a villainess.

Why they’d want to go along with that crap is beyond me. But it shows that the media’s loyalties lie with the publishers, not with the audience or the character creators. Gardner Fox could be spinning in his grave.

The most devastating thing about this is the obvious contempt for the Atom, implying that the knee-jerkers who supported this demonization of Jean and the Atom don’t have any love for the characters. There was an assumption 3 years ago that the Mighty Mite was going to get a return to the spotlight in a new series or miniseries, and maybe even be reunited with Jean, which would’ve been a very inspiring move, but the discrimination against them in Identity Crisis seems to imply otherwise. And the most scary thing about the part where Jean is forced into the stereotypical scene of inviting Ray to hit her is that it seems almost as if the writer was subtly insulting Janet Van Dyne, the Winsome, Wonderous Wasp, who'd been struck by her own husband, Hank Pym/Yellowjacket in The Avengers in 1981. It's like a distorted reflection of what had happened in Marvel Comics back in the Bronze Age. And whether or not Jean may have been a pawn of any villains, that just doesn't counteract the bad taste left behind by the tasteless "event" books that exploited her so badly.

* On WIR, the term “nervous breakdown” is shown in between quotation marks, which seems to indicate that Gail also knew that this wasn’t so, and also may suggest that the falsehood of mental breakdowns may have been contrived several years ago too, I don’t know.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Profile: The Wasp

Janet Van Dyne, The Wasp
First appearance: Tales to Astonish #44

Current status: last time I checked, on leave from the Avengers

Was subjected to the following acts of discrimination: in 1977, in “Bride of Ultron!” written by Jim Shooter, during the time he’d become EIC at Marvel, she was strapped naked (not in direct view, but you get the idea) on an operating table where Ultron hoped to trick Dr. Henry (Hank) Pym, then her husband for a decade and a half, into draining out her brain for the purpose of giving life to Jocasta, whom he wanted to make his robotic bride (the plot was foiled, Jan was saved, and Jocasta became her own, er...machine). In the Avengers Annual from 1978, she was possessed by a diamond containing the essence of Doctor Spectrum, in another story also written by Shooter, then, in 1981, there came that now notorious storyline in which, struck her down during an argument over his intention of using a robot with a secret weak point to regain his credibility with the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (should I note that she was in her nightgown when they were having a spat, even if it was in the home laboratory?). Hank struck her again a few issues later, and that led to her beating the crap out of him, and their divorce. (Note: this may have been the result of some of Hank’s Frankenstein creation, Ultron’s, mental manipulations of his creator’s brain, but even so, it was still very overwrought.) In 1990, in West Coast Avengers, when John Byrne was the writer, her talents were trivialized as she was made to look like little more than window dressing.

What’s wrong with how this was done? Simply put, the smacking Hank gave to Jan was forced, much more so than the first issue in The Kree-Skrull War storyline in 1971, when Hank was hypnotized into knocking her senseless and sending her back to their research boat, out of range of Ronan’s menace. It’s known that Jim Shooter, at the time he was both writing and editing titles like Avengers in his early days as EIC of Marvel, had apparently manipulated some of the scriptwriting during the time that David Michelinie was working on the title, and it appears that this too was the result of Shooter’s own meddling. Though Shooter made an even better editor than he did a writer years ago, this was incredibly awkward. Things did improve the year after, during which time Michelinie helped set the tongue-in-cheek direction the She-Hulk is usually known for today, but what led to the Wasp’s and Yellowjacket’s breakup has still stuck in some ways, disturbingly enough, mainly because of how bad writing efforts have allowed it to boomerang in reminiscience, if not in brand new depictions.

Did anything good come out of this? Well, It’d probably be more appropriate to say after, but anyway, during the time that Roger Stern took over the writing, that’s when Janet Van Dyne really came into her own as a character, and not only that, Stern as a writer treated her with much more respect than some other writers of yore did. And Kurt Busiek handled a discussion about that past storyline Jan was having with Scarlet Witch with sincerity (in Ultron Unlimited, 1999). But that still doesn’t excuse what was basically an overwrought storyline to begin with, and which, even if Jan and Hank have come back together in past years and reconciled, was still totally uncalled for.

And, most unfortunately, John Byrne made a mess out of what Stern was trying to build so carefully during the time he was writing West Coast Avengers (which, IIRC, was also the time when Jan and Hank began to reconcile), and Chuck Austen and even Brian Bendis were no better when they began insulting the intellect by either undoing or embarrassing what writers of yore were trying so hard to fix in the past two years.

And that’s something that people in the comics medium are going to have cut out.

See also this article by Albe Shiloh.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Profile: Sue Dibny

Susan Dearborn-Dibny
First appearance: 1961 in The Flash.

Current status: presumed dead.

Was subjected to the following acts of discrimination: In the Identity Crisis miniseries, she was first shown being murdered by a strike to the brain, supposedly by Jean Loring, the ex-wife of the Silver Age Atom, then, she was shown being raped in flashback by Dr. Arthur Light (who didn’t actually use any of his own sci-fi powers until the Justice League showed up to deal with him). If she was shown in a happy state, it was only within the mind of people like her husband, Elongated Man Ralph Dibny, as a male-projected version of an idealized woman. Other than that, whenever shown, it was in nigh-nauseating scenes of being violated, fatally wounded or in misery, such as one part where Dr. Light himself shows a flashback projection of his own to the League.

What’s wrong with how this was done? It’s notorious by now. She was depicted as unable to defend herself against a male attacker, but the really corrosive death knell to the script is that there was no female viewpoint in the Identity Crisis miniseries, not even her own. She was not a character in her own right, and was there for otherwise just one purpose – to die. And worst of all, her death and violation were trivialized and made irrelevant. She vanished from the proceedings almost immediately after being shown in a heap of misery upon the floor, and beyond that, there was nothing to let the audience know how she felt about being violated. These were but a few things not even mentioned in many of the reviews of the miniseries.

Do I need to point out just how sad and offensive this is when here, after all these years, when one would think that there’d been plenty of advancements for female characters in development and as players in the stories being told, we get something most incredibly backwards? Nope, didn’t think so. And regardless of whether the damage to Sue gets repaired in time, it will not erase the fact that she too has joined the doubtlessly long line of female characters who’ve been exploited by the companies that own them to use as nothing more than one-dimensional plot-devices.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Profile: Elasti-Girl

Rita Farr, Elasti-Girl
Status: deceased

Life span: 1963-1968

Cause of death: she and her Doom Patrol teammates sacrificed their lives to prevent the Doom Patrol’s archnemesis, General Zahl, from murdering the residents of a small island fishing town (Zahl blew up their own island HQ in an explosion). Her two other teammates and mentor, Robotman, Negative Man, and Niles Caulder, survived (at least for awhile).

What’s wrong with how this was done? Well, at the time it was done, not much, really. Rita sacrificed her life out of noble causes, to save innocent lives from being murdered. Where things took a turn for the appalling and in fact, insulting, was when the other members of the Doom Patrol, the male ones at that, started coming back from the dead, and she, by sharp contrast, didn’t!

Now in fairness, I could certainly buy Cliff Steele/Robotman’s coming back, since he did, after all, get a new lease on his life as a cybernetic machine with a human brain (and there was a very good New Teen Titans story he co-starred in during 1981). Where DC Comics fumbled the ball was when they wrote Negative Man and particularly Niles Caulder returning from the grave. It was exactly that step that angered me, because, if Rita was left behind, then that’s why I find DC’s bringing back Negative Man and Caulder to be insulting to Rita’s own status, because if they can return, shouldn’t she be able to as well?

What’s good about how this was done? It’s that she’s served as a motivation for Beast Boy/Gar Logan, whom she’d been a custodian of when she married inventor Steve Dayton, who’d first tried to impress upon her by becoming Mento, a de-facto superhero, but on occasion went off the deep end, descending into madness, becoming a de-facto villain as well (which also made for some good storylines in its day). But it would’ve been a lot more effective if it hadn’t been for the astounding way that they gave the male team members of Doom Patrol a full green light, while keeping her in the grave.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Why The Comic Book Discrimination Dossiers?
Well, if this is to be considered satirical, then to put it in the words of a webmaster of another website who wrote me a nasty e-mail when I expressed my anger at an unfair attack he launched against Gail Simone, it’s because “you simply don’t put up a website implicating a trend that isn’t there and claiming there is some sexist plot behind it.” Well in that case, despoiler of the First Amendment, how about a blog instead then?

And that’s what I’d been thinking of doing for some time already, to put together a blog with a purpose similar to that of the website humorist and comics writer Gail Simone launched in 1998, where I could write profilings of various characters, ladies, and even some gents, who’d been misused in bad ways in comic books both past and present. Because maybe, just maybe, it could help in eventually solving the problem.

How often will this blog be updated? Probably not that often, but I most certainly will be doing my best to work out the best possible profilings and explanations (probably IMO, but you get the idea) of what wrongs were/are being done with them.

So now, here goes with the project. For the sake of good storytelling sans gruesome discrimination, let’s hope this can help make a difference.