Sunday, April 30, 2006

Profile: Betty Ross-Banner

Betty Ross-Banner
First appearance: 1962 in the Incredible Hulk #1 (first volume. The second one grew out of Tales to Astonish)

Current status: may have turned up alive and under the influence of Nightmare in 2004, when the Hulk experienced a bizarre adventure on an island in the sea.

Was subjected to the following acts of discrimination: her first husband, Glenn Talbot, had dealt her quite a few beatings when he realized that she loved Bruce Banner, the Hulk, more than she loved Glenn, she was even turned into a creature called Harpy at one point by MODOK, she went through at least one miscarriage, and then, in 1998, to cap it all off, she was secretly poisoned to death by Emil Blonsky, the Abomination.

What’s wrong with how this was done? The Hulk’s own world may be a dark one, I’ll admit to that. But they still went way too far, capped off with the death Peter David put her through in 1998, which may have been done as an act of revenge upon Marvel’s own editorial for some complications they’d caused him earlier. Why couldn’t Betty have some children and at least lead a good enough life, as a wife, mother, and even sidekick to the Hulk, Bruce Banner? It was uncalled for, to have her rubbed out, and this was a real nadir in an otherwise very good run David had on the Hulk for 11 years.

It’s possible that she may have recently returned to the living world (as of this writing, David himself returned to writing the Hulk again in 2004), but they really hammered Betty’s own problems away much too hard, right down to one point where what would seem to be her spirit (?) is seen shouting at the Hulk in the third volume to stay away from the people he cares about, because he always seems to end up hurting them, however unintentional.

Which is just sledge-hammering an already moot point about the green goliath.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Profile: Magenta

Frances Kane, Magenta
First appearance: The New Teen Titans #17, 1982

Current status: all but cured of insanity and villainy

Was subjected to the following acts of discrimination: her magnetic psyche began to affect her sanity, causing it to alternate between positive and negative, and then, in 1993, she was implanted with “Trigon seeds” by Raven, but was eventually cured of that. However, with her sanity still damaged, she attacked her former boyfriend, Wally West, former Kid Flash and now the main Flash, in 1995. In 2001, she fell in with the cult of Cicada in the “Blood Will Run” story arc in The Flash #170-173, attempting to drag Wally to his doom, but the gang of Cicada was thwarted. It was after her stint with a new gathering of the Flash’s Rogues’ Gallery that she began to regain her sanity, and went to get psychiatric therapy.

What’s wrong with how this was done? Well you know what? I think it was that DC threw away some potential to give Fran some real direction as a character, and instead resorted to using her as a semi-villainess who lost her way. And when I think about it now, bringing her back in 2001 just to use her as a folly tool against the hero that can make one’s jaw drop in startlement, was more than a bit forced too.

Fran almost got a good direction to go in when she tried to help rescue the Titans from Brother Blood in 1987, rounding up some other superheroes from such groups as the Justice League to help her and them. But since then, alas, the political correctness of the 1990s seems to have gotten the better of the writers at DC, even if she has turned to the good side again. (In “Rogue War” from 2005, she joins the “good” Rogues in battling the bad ones in Keystone City in the Flash’s book.)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Profile: Captain America

Steve Rogers, Captain America
First appearance: 1940 in his own title

Current status: continuing his career as the Star-Spangled Avenger and swinging his mighty shield.

Was subjected to the following acts of discrimination: in “The Superia Strategem” story arc from 1991, he was turned into a woman, no joke. Then, in 2002, when published in a Marvel Knights-labeled series, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s classic creation became the victim of political bias, depicted as believing that his country was to blame for the attacks upon it during 9-11. The Marvel Knights version only got worse from there, as he went through additional stories that insulted Steve as a patriot or even as a ladies man. It was thankfully cancelled a year and a half later, and since then, Steve Rogers has returned to better form in another volume rightfully set again in the regular Marvel Universe and line, written by Ed Brubaker.

What’s wrong with how this was done? Taking a beloved character and exploiting him for a practically obsessive political bias that succeeds only in alienating the audience, both liberal and conservative, is simply non de-riguerre. And in a time when America is at war with the enemy, it’s also offensive. Not to mention that the way the character was degraded in a storyline written by Chuck Austen, a now ousted hack writer, depicting him as anti-love/sex, was also unbearable.

Thankfully, with the negative reception growing and the book’s sales plummeting, the editors at Marvel had to retract the position they were taking, and returned Steve to a respectable characterization again as well as the regular Marvel universe and line, writing off the Marvel Knights rendition as “alternate universe” (something that seems to have overrun their whole publication line as of recent), and Ed Brubaker’s own writing, I’ll admit, is certainly a lot better than the mess Captain America was put through for at least two years.

“The Superia Stratagem” storyline, conceived by Mark Gruenwald, was a big misfire in an otherwise respectable run that he had on Capt. America’s solo books in his time as writer/editor as well, and was embarrassingly bad. Thank goodness that too was done away with.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Profile: Scarlet Witch

Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch
First appearance: X-Men #4, 1964

Current status: self-depowered

Was subjected to the following acts of discrimination: the children she bore at the time she was married to the Vision turned out to be figments of her imagination, conceived via her magical skills, and dissolved, then, she went crazy in West Coast Avengers and turned to the bad side again, cutting her hair short and rejoining her biological father, Magneto, along with her twin brother Quicksilver, before coming back to her senses again. Then, in Avengers: Disassembled in 2004, she – or, more precisely, her bad clone, it turned out, was acting in revenge for “hiding the truth” from her by not telling her what her children really were, and tried killing off some of the Avengers and making others like She-Hulk go insane. And the only person who could subdue the doppelganger, it turned out, was Doctor Strange, who then told everyone the “truth” about what caused Wanda’s double to go off the edge. It was in the House of M crossover that this was revealed to have been a clone, and that the real one was apparently being controlled by Quicksilver (I wonder what Crystal of Attilan thinks about that?), and upon emerging from under his influence, the real Wanda then exacted a payback lesson against both Pietro and her father Magneto by depowering many mutants on the planet, including herself.

What’s wrong with how this was done? In the aftermath of discovering that her two children were just products of her own mind and magic, John Byrne, who was responsible for the “development” that took place at the time, turned her into a really laughable stereotype. Her devolving into a vixenish villainess teetered on the brink of Cartoonland, right down to the character design (while it took place off-panel in WCA #56, her scratching of Wonder Man across his chest was sickening). Worst, she was depicted as a lunatic just for the sake of making Magneto look good and the wiser – he was shown acting honorably, whereas Wanda by contrast was perfectly one-dimensional in the evil personality Byrne wrote her in, meaning that Magneto was in the position of arguing – very weakly at that – that she was screwing up.

It got worse. In 2004, in the aforementioned crossover, this very same storyline Byrne wrote up in 1990 was dredged up again, regardless of the fact that it made very little sense to begin with, and Wanda was again disgraced as a character, in a script by Brian Bendis that was virtually unchallenging, because, rather than to set up something involving a really challenging plot, we instead get a cliched plot rife with derivative stereotypes. That Wanda did turn out – unsurprisingly – to be just a pawn in a plot by her brother, doesn’t counteract the bad taste the crossover House of M leaves behind.

As far as I know, Quicksilver himself, in the aftermath of House of M, seems to have restored the mutant powers of a lot of those who’d lost them, perhaps including his sister's. But even that doesn’t redeem the fact that it was simply a bad idea to begin with.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Profile: Tigra

Greer Nelson, Tigra
First appearance: 1972

Current status: not so active as an Avenger, but still pretty active as a California police officer.

Was subjected to the following act of discrimination: in late 1989-early 1990, when John Byrne was writing West Coast Avengers, where Greer was a regular, she went insane, devolving into…well, a cat-like, animal state, and Hank Pym had to shrink and incubate her (yes, he did). In the 19th issue of Ms. Marvel's second series, the Puppet Master makes her into one of his subjects. And then, in "New Avengers" she's beaten up by a minion of Jigsaw's in revenge for stopping his boss.

What’s wrong with how this was done? It was fairly reflective of the problems that littered the WCA during Byrne’s run on it for about a year – the women were almost all ineffective or unconvincing in their roles, reduced to mere window-dressing, as in the case of Janet Van Dyne, or, as in Tigra’s case, rendered trivial and insane, and needing to be locked up. Ugh.

Thank goodness that Byrne was soon taken off the title (before it happened, he wrote a joke panel in one WCA issue where he explained a continuity glitch), and Roy and Dann Thomas, who’d returned to do some more work at Marvel, did their best to repair all the damage Byrne had done that year.

Unfortunately, Greer was not done any favors when she became one of the pawns in Civil War, and then a marionette of the Puppet Master's, which almost seems out of character for Phil Masters, and certainly wasn't being done any favors when she was assaulted by one of Jigsaw's enforcers who used a pair of levity boots and an invisibility cloak. Mainly because Tigra would surely have been able to detect his arrival with her heightened senses, and thus the invisibility wouldn't have been that effective.