Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Record: Devin Grayson

Grayson, who'd been a writer on several DC/Marvel titles from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, is an interesting case, based on her writing for Nightwing and its 93rd issue circa 2004. It was noted at the time that the story involved Nightwing becoming a male victim of a rape by ways of a villainess called Tarantula (the character she featured may not even be the first character to bear that codename). The run was already notorious for getting rid of a few adversaries Chuck Dixon developed as regulars, but the whole Tarantula affair is where it really went overboard.

What made it dreadful and insulting was that the whole scene otherwise made light of a serious issue, much like Brad Meltzer did when he wrote Identity Crisis. And this time, it was a female-vs-male form of sexual assault, taking place on a rooftop where Dick Grayson was sitting in shock at the sight of Tarantula gunning down Blockbuster in issue 93, and then, she basically raped him. It may not have been as visually obnoxious and offensive as the anal rape of Sue Dibny seen in Identity Crisis, but it was still quite disgustingly terrible. It's a prime example of the bad influences of badly written fanfiction encroaching upon superhero comics.

But, most remarkably enough, a decade after the story was published, Grayson, who originally defended the scene as "non-consensual sex", gave an interview to the Bat Universe in 2014 where she turned around and admitted her approach was poor. She said:
I was wrong. I messed that one up and I apologize. My interview comments were uninformed and ignorant and I’m grateful for the chance to revisit the issue.

Rape culture and the mindboggling stupid and insensitive comments some comic creators have recently made about it have been in the news a lot lately and I reject the assertion—put forth in some of those interviews—that as creators we passively reflect society and have no actual influence over it. But I do admit that it can be difficult to filter through cultural currents with the sensitivity and thoughtfulness they deserve. Our work should never be inattentively influenced by our social prejudices, but we, as humans and creators, often are.

I used a literal rape as a metaphorical nadir, and I know better. Or, at least, I should have known better and certainly do now. I was concentrating so hard on other elements of that scene which felt so much more narratively significant to me (Blockbuster’s murder, primarily) that I totally lost sight of the power and non-symbolic consequence of the gesture I was using. By the time I realized the severity of the mistake and how harmful it might have been to actual survivors of sexual abuse and assault (myself included), I had run out of time to make it right. I’m not sure I could have made it right, mind you, but I did at least have the intention of bringing the story back around to it so that the act didn’t exist completely devoid of consequence or analysis. But it does, and I regret that more deeply than I can say. So many factors went into that debacle—including an avalanche of increasingly arbitrary and bizarre crossover demands from upper editorial and the company’s failure to honor previously approved story outlines—but the responsibility for the ineffectiveness and potential harmfulness of that scene lies solely with me.

I would not shy away from tackling the subject of rape again but I would work with it only if I could approach it head on. It’s too charged of an issue to be used to reflect something else. If I could do it over again, I would make very different choices.

While this was written years after she'd stopped working for DC, it's amazing to learn that there's a writer out there who made a mistake but was willing to own up for it. That's a very admirable show of courage to take responsibility for making light of serious issues.

It's also saying a lot more than can be said for Meltzer, who, unlike Grayson, has never admitted his approach in Identity Crisis was distasteful and belittling to victims of sexual abuse. It's had me wondering why a woman can admit to failure, but a man will not.

For now, it's certainly amazing that somebody in comicdom, mainstream or otherwise, is willing to show the courage to admit to error in storytelling development. Grayson's show of guts is something to appreciate.


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