Saturday, October 25, 2008

Quien Es Macho? Carol Danvers Es Macho!

In fact, anyone making their way through Ms. Marvel #32 would have to accept that Carol Danvers es muchisima macho.

Two years ago I wrote a post about X-Factor #5, in which the character Siryn is held captive, beaten, and nearly tortured.

I concluded then that:

While it's clear that Peter A. David wants to subvert the sexist trope of the woman who needs a man to deliver her from a dangerous situation, does he succeed?

My answer: yes, just barely. (And I'd have major reservations if this storyline were dragged out into another issue.) Here's my thinking:

I understand that this is a comic book, and that a title gets boring fast if the heroine is constantly kicking people's asses, and never can get her own ass kicked by anyone. I also get that X-Factor is giving off a noirish vibe. Bogart, Robert Mitchum, and Alan Ladd were constantly getting their asses handed to them by minor gunsels and cretinous henchmen in the middle reels of their respective noir movies. And, although the "message" of noir is that the hero can never destroy the interconnected webs of corruption in which he's ensnared, the viewer is at the very least assured that by the final reel the hero will have administered compensatory beat-downs to any of the players who were stupid enough to have laid a hand on him. The comic works then, and doesn't offend, if we accept that Siryn is a noirish or Bogart-ian heroine. Final confirmation of this line of interpretation will come if David actually shows us how Siryn finds and "re-pays" her original assailant in future issues.

Rather than a weak-damsel story, Peter David wants us to read X-Factor #5 as if it were an episode in the comic-book version of the Saturday Night Live gameshow Quien Es Mas Macho? (Who is More Macho?) And I'm pleased to report that, in the match-up of Siryn vs. Dr. Leery, Siryn es mas macho. She proves herself to be, indeed, muy muy macho.

Ms. Marvel #32, is a flashback story, and pits a non-superpowered Carol Danvers, shot down over Afghanistan, against a sadist named Ghazi Rashid.

However, it presents the reader with an entirely different case, for two reasons. One is small, and the other is more crucial:

(1) Rather than a noir vibe, this comic deploys the “captured/tortured soldier/spy” trope that was recently played out in the first Daniel Craig Bond film, Syriana, Ridley Scott’s G.I. Jane (1997), and countless other movies. And given the season, a serious McCain-Hanoi-Hilton vibe is clearly in play.

(2) More importantly, the creative team chose to actually depict the torture of Carol Danvers -- and it’s bad.

Nothing is left to the imagination, here. It’s either depicted, or described. Ghazi is shown preparing to pull out several of Carol’s fingernails, and we learn a few panels later that he has indeed done so; he applies electric shocks; and beats and tries to dehumanize her -- in all of the most difficult scenes, Carol is clothed only in her bra and panties.

And there is this: Carol’s ultimate means of escape is provided due to Ghazi’s ineptitude in wielding the massive sledgehammer which he deploys to shatter her (shackled) fore-arm.

(Since I continue to get referrals to my X-Factor post from people directed to it by their Google-image searches for “captured superheroines,” I’ve decided that this post will be text-only.)

At the end of the issue, Carol uses the damaged manacle on her shattered arm to kick Ghazi’s ass and escape -- she’s got a long journey home.

One more distinction between this comic and X-Factor #5: a prior issue of Ms. Marvel (rather inexplicably) showed Carol beginning to re-kick Ghazi’s ass. So we now see that in addition to the escape beat-down she administered to the bastard, there’s more retributive violence in store. (In this regard, Brian Reed, the book’s writer, does for Carol what Peter David has not, to my knowledge, done for Siryn in X-Factor.)

So where does all this leave me?

I’m disgruntled. Although I know that people are being mis-treated in ‘the real world’ as I type this, I don’t read comics to see how it’s being done.

My considered opinion is this:

If you are a writer and you have made the creative decision to subject a character in your story to torture, I would urge you to err on the side of discretion. Suggest things to me. Let my imagination provide details.

Although extended depictions of righteous ass-kicking and retributive, justified violence are OK with me, the same is just not true for torture.

I’ll close by noting that I wouldn’t want to actually read a comic book in which a thoroughly loathsome character -- someone like the rapist Dr. Light -- were treated in the way that Carol Danvers is treated by her captor in Ms. Marvel #32.

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