Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Dealing From the Bottom of the Deck - " Rape as a Plot Device...or 'Brad Meltzer is a Big Fat Liar'"

I prefer not to regurgitate stuff I wrote in the past, but when I came across this discussion on David Welsh's blog, I felt like writing about the topic and realized that I would just be repeating, practically word for word, what I already said after Identity Crisis #7 came out. And since just posting a link would look pretty weird, I am instead reposting what I wrote after the release of Identity Crisis #7. Here ya go!

Here are a few quotes for you (emphasises mine)...

"We thought long and hard about the issue of rape in a comic book magazine. We make it about power, not sex. We show the devastating consequences." - Brad Meltzer

"Meltzer's wife worked in Washington on the issue of violence against women, it was an issue very close to home." - The writer of the article where the above quote came from

"It's all in the execution. I think it could've been done terribly, but I hope I'll do it well. The worst thing is it's about power, it's not about sex. If I come in and just say, 'Hey, guys, this is what I want to do, I just want to sell some comic books,' then I wouldn't want me to do it. It's about the consequences." - Brad Meltzer

"I'm quite sure he plotted the entire mini-series all at once, and that the rape was critical to the plot from the beginning - that it was a defining moment for the heroes who were present, and will be a crucial element going forward." - A defender of Meltzer's use of rape.

Well, Identity Crisis #7 came out today.

And guess what?

Spoilers, I suppose...but I'm not really gonna get much into the issue.

In any event, guess what?

The rape?




Not only was the rape not important to the story, it was not even MENTIONED in any issue other than #2.

What a bloody joke.

Why does a smart guy like Meltzer just lie like that? Unless...do you folks think that Meltzer actually believes that he DID have consequences to the rape? Do you think that he really, honestly believes that he wasn't just using the rape as a plot device to get the heroes from Point A to Point B?

Do you think he really lacks that much self-awareness?

Here is a link to the original post, as you might be interested in reading the comments.

Read More


Blogger Marionette said...


Oh yes.

With a little distance from the original we see the consequenses.

Consequences like the Doctor Light rape jokes in Plastic Man #20.

Thanks Brad, you are responsible for trivialising rape to the extent where it's a subject for humour in the DCU.

1/31/2006 07:17:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

It beats Kevin Smith's "idea" of consequences, where apparently being raped means you become a supervillain.

1/31/2006 07:33:00 AM  
Blogger Bastarður Víkinga said...


1/31/2006 10:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Mike Loughlin said...

Young Avengers- character gets raped, resolves to protect self, takes self-defense classes, carries mace, etc. While I hate seeing rape as a plot device, at least that character went through a more believable arc. I think including rape in her backstory was unnecessary, and brought the kind of real-world cruelty I don't like to see in super-hero comics, but at least it was handled with sensitivity.

Identity Crisis- Sue is raped, in an ugly series of panels, and this prompts heroes to mindwipe villains. I felt this was an awful real-world crime that prompted an inappropriate fantasy response (mindwipe). I don't want to see comics about a super-hero's wife going through post-traumatic stress, but killing Sue off instead of dealing with consequences was cowardly and insulting.

Spider-Man/ Black Cat- character is raped by family member, becomes super-villain. again, we have a real-world crime dealt with in a fantasy manner. The story was depressing, and I hope we never hear from this new villain again.

1/31/2006 12:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Brian Mac said...

I agree with all the opinions posted that raping Sue was uncalled for, and I was pretty uncomfortable at the reference when I read the preview pages for Plastic Man.

I'd like to look at this from another angle, though -- say you're writing Identity Crisis. You need a plot device that will motivate the JLA to mind-wipe bad guys, and eventually one of their own. What would such a motivation be? It has to be personal -- something so close to home that the villain can't even be permitted to remember it. It has to be serious, something so bad that you want to wipe it from history.

Kill off a supporting character? No, because you'd have make up a character, insert them retroactively into the JLA's lives, and then kill him or her in the past. No resonance there. So what can you do to a character, in the past, that's personal, horrible, and leaves the character still around?

I think that's the thought process that leads to what happened to Sue. The problem is, the author probably should have stopped at that point, and said, "No, that would be pointless victimization just to serve as a plot point. I'll back up and find another way to motivate the JLA." But he didn't.

The question is: Did another way exist? I think so. He could have done a "betrayal from within" story, although that's been done before. Blackmail is another possibility, but you'd have to work to give it the same emotional punch.

Am I wrong? Was there no other way to provide adequate motivation, strong enough to destroy the League and fuel (in part) the Infinite Crisis?

1/31/2006 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger Derek B. Haas said...

Just for clarity, I'm not the Derek who replied to the post's first incarnation. I want to make that very clear.

1/31/2006 02:02:00 PM  
Blogger Derek B. Haas said...

Know what? While I'm here, I'll try to compile some thoughts from a conversation I'm having with someone, inspired by this post. Some direct copy-pastes involved:

First: What really blows my mind about this is that a group of Strong Heroic Men railroaded an uncertain Zatanna into using the immense power that is her birthright to avenge the wrong they feel was done to one of Their Women by another man. It's some bizarre ritual of territorial domination.
But, uh, I'm not sure I'm comfor--
Er, Ok, I guess...

Second: I think what Meltzer meant by saying that he's treating rape as about power is that he hopes that the reader views it as one, otherwise this all means fuck-all. What the League did is a violation of personal agency and a crime of domination, so it's only in-theme if you read the rape as the same.

It is a violation of agency and personal power, but you have to treat it as such for it to be read as such. A murder is a violation of human trust and of life, but how many potboiler mysteries treat it as that, and not as a trigger for a psychological and/or adventure yarn?

Throwing it out there and expecting it to be read literarily as it's understood sociologically and personally is bad storytelling, I feel.

Third: I also love the JLA tie-in story wherein it's implied via Superman that if some guy my father arrested kills my sister, it's my dad's fault for becoming a cop in the first place. For an extended story about personal agency and responsibility, that's just mindblowing. I understand that they (the writers/editors) were trying to make a statement about being aware of the price of public service and personal actions, but doing it like that, and in a morally reductive environment of standard superhero genre (wherein Eeeevil is treated as almost a force of nature and an irrevocable personality element), just doesn't work for me. It's effectively implying that only people who consistently make Good & Right Decisions are culpable for consequences arising from situations in which they've participated, because it's certainly not holding the actual actors of the retribution responsible for anything--they're Evil Bad People, after all! It's what they do!

It doesn't work, at all, for me. I'm not really familiar with Meltzer's work, so please don't think I'm saying he's a bad writer; I just think that Identity Crisis wasn't constructed especially well (which could, for all I know, highlight some of the many differences between working prose and working panels), and the entire themactic core of it did not match the context in which it was used.

1/31/2006 02:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Matthew Craig said...

Was there no other way to provide adequate motivation?

They could have killed Blue Beetle.

...you all think I'm kidding.

Also: that Young Avengers thing. I've forgotten which blogger said it earlier, but the character in question never reported her assault. Her self-improvement is admirable, of course, but the message it sends is potentially flawed.

Nobody wants to make life worse for victims of crime and sexual assault, but surely it's worth advocating both paths? Perhaps at once? Learning self-defense and reporting the crime?

More or less unrelated: I was mugged, once. Twice, actually, but the first time is the important one, here.

I rang the fuzz. I made a statement. I even looked at mug shots. Nothing ever came of it.

Six or seven years later, I'm in the Warner Brothers store, minding my own business, when who should turn up?

Oh, yus.

"Holy shit," I think. "That's the cunt who stole my wallet. I wonder if he's mad at me for only having one penny in my bank account (technically negative£399.99, but bear with me)."

I watch the guy out of the corner of my eye, while sidling my way round to the exit. He's staring at me, eyes narrowed. He looks the same, and so do I, but I have the advantage of a nerd-mongous memory.

I take pleasure in the thought that he's going to be racking his brain for the next few hours as to whether he knows me from school, from prison, or from the telly (don't ask me why, but it happens), and I leave.

I'm man enough to admit that I may have adopted a brisk pace, shortly thereafter.


1/31/2006 02:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess Watchmen is a piece of shit too?
Identity Crisis was a crime drama with superheroes. Not a rape fantasy hentai manga.
If you are too timid to allow comics to grow up and deal with material that bothers you, perhaps you need to go read Archie.

1/31/2006 07:00:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Hensel said...

It is true that the Watchmen rape scene was similar, but the context is incredibly different. Also, the big complaint by everyone isn't the fact that there's rape IN a story, but the fact that there's a rape in a story that didn't properly deal with consequences, utilizing it for cheap shock value and a plotting shortcut instead of a central theme. One more thing, when you post vitriolic comments like that, use your real name instead of anonymous, okay? It's kinda disconcerting that someone clamoring for maturity in a medium doesn't have the maturity to state his qualms and argue them face to face instead of in a trollish fashion

1/31/2006 08:15:00 PM  
Blogger Apodaca said...

Dead horse complaints don't fly as long as the story's still going on.

1/31/2006 08:47:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

Identity Crisis is, quite possibly, the dumbest comic ever made by anyone ever. Especially #7. It might sound like I'm being hyperbolic, but I'm pretty sure I'm not. It is immature mindless drivel that never properly concludes and raped the DCU right up the ass. A few months later, it finished it off with a bullet to Blue Beetle's brain.

Also, Meltzer is a shit novelist.

1/31/2006 09:04:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

"If you are too timid to allow comics to grow up and deal with material that bothers you, perhaps you need to go read Archie."

You gotta love a guy that thinks a genre dealing with men who wear colorful spandex with underwear on the outside and bat-ears needs to "grow up" and address rape. Maybe those Archie comics you mention need to grow up and deal with teen pregnancy and AIDS while we're at it. And hey, why does Bluto keep kidnapping Olive Oyl and never raping her? That's not realistic either! It's time Popeye grew up with us as well!!

1/31/2006 09:17:00 PM  
Anonymous van der walls said...

"Thanks Brad, you are responsible for trivialising rape to the extent where it's a subject for humour in the DCU."

Whereas the 374,276 rape gags made by comics bloggers whilst complaining about Identity Crisis? *They* were all perfectly okay!

1/31/2006 09:41:00 PM  
Blogger Marionette said...

"Whereas the 374,276 rape gags made by comics bloggers whilst complaining about Identity Crisis? *They* were all perfectly okay!

Oh look, sarcasm and hyperbole in the same sentence; you must be so proud.

Of course your implication that I have double standards for not equally condemning bloggers who made tasteless rape jokes about IC assumes that I have actually seen any. I can assure you that if I had, my response would be equally vitriolic.

2/01/2006 04:48:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

In all disclosure, I do think it would be hilarious if someone did a staging of Identity Crisis 2 in the style of a Benny Hill sketch, complete with music.

2/01/2006 07:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Rose said...

If I'd said anything earlier, I'd just have reiterated the comments I made to Brian's post last year. Now, though, I can add that I don't think van der walls is too far off-track. I eventually wrote a fairly graphic response post in April 2005, ages after Identity Crisis #2 came out because I was sick of still feeling like I couldn't read two sentences about DC without the word "assrape" being in at least one of them.

To my mind, yes, absolutely there were rape jokes and mostly from people who were trying to make it a "never forget" rallying point about the crassness of the miniseries, as far as I could tell, but I found it monumentally annoying. And because of that, I didn't want to take 374,276 opportunities to chide them all about the inappropriateness of their expressions, regardless of intent, because I was spending a big enough chunk of life rolling my eyes at them and didn't want to use even more defending my position all the time. I eventually took that one try and assume it had little impact, but at least I did something. So that's my personal answer to you.

That said, I get a big laugh out of the idea expressed in the article Brian read (and trotted out by a lot of fans at the time) that feminism and sensitivity are somehow sexually transmitted and therefore when it comes to women Brad Meltzer can do no wrong.

2/01/2006 08:09:00 AM  
Blogger Eli said...

Wait - how exactly did Watchmen "deal with the consequences" of rape? Are the consequences of rape falling in love, so next time, no harm, no foul?

2/01/2006 12:16:00 PM  
Anonymous van der walls said...

"Of course your implication that I have double standards for not equally condemning bloggers who made tasteless rape jokes about IC assumes that I have actually seen any."

If you actually followed the internet debate about IC without noticing that every other post on the subject contained supposedly clever remarks about "fin-headed assrape", you're either a fucking idiot or blind.

Take your pick.

2/01/2006 02:03:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

"Wait - how exactly did Watchmen "deal with the consequences" of rape? Are the consequences of rape falling in love, so next time, no harm, no foul?"

I think Watchmen used rape to show the difference between the two characters, the mother and daughter, and how their respective generations treated rape. The daughter is a modern woman who's shocked to find out that her mother not only didn't report a rape but also shrugged it off and fell in love with the rapist.

It highlights the differences between the daughter's "enlighted" modern feminist personality and the mother's old-school less enlightened, low-class personality. In the mother's generation, you'd be more likely to see a woman shrug off a rape as something shameful to be concealed and swept under the carpet and not be dealt with. There were no rape support groups then and there was a therapy stigma.

Look at the man the mother is attracted to compared to the daughter: the mother loves the Comedian, a brash, loud chauvinist boor, a stereotypical man's man from back in the day, a cigar-chomping two-fisted red-meat eating All-American John Wayne throwback. The daughter loves a modern sensitive man, a little emasculated, brainy, nerdy, probably digs foreign flicks, a little nebbish and definitely in touch with his feelings. Mom is an old-school woman who defines herself by a man and is willing to be subservient to one. Daughter is a modern woman who prides herself on being an independent self-defined woman that doesn't need a man to define her.

Their different reactions to the attempted rape highlights these generational and personality differences. The daughter sees her mom's willingness to forgive such an act as the ultimate sin a woman can commit, and sees men like the Comedian as a disgusting relic and a spit in the face of everything she stands for.

Mind you, I think Watchmen in particular and Alan Moore in general are grossly overrated, and I can understand if you disagree with what Moore was trying to put across, but I'd never insult his writing by putting it anywhere near the shallow level of mindless shitty hackwork. That was below fanfiction.

2/01/2006 10:44:00 PM  
Blogger Bryan-Mitchell said...

I'll go out on a limb and say that Meltzer has series issues with women. Not only do we have the rape, which, remember, the whole mind wipe thing was totally unrelated to the actual murder and so was just part of a red herring, but we also have the oldest cliche in the world that Sue was pregnant when she was killed. Then we have the fact that the person responsible for the mind wipe, Zatana, barely says a word in the entire series. Then we have Wonder WOman who not only has her breasts made into one of her powers, but also doesn't say very much. Then the fact that the real murderer is another woman whose motivation is so that she can get her ex-husband to lover her again. Moreoever, she isn't even competent enough to kill someone on purpose. No she does it acidentally and then isn't even sound enough to deal with it, but goes crazy because of it. The only other woman in the series is Black Canary who I'll be honest I don't remember much about (there was a scene with her arguing with Green Arrow about participating, but I don't remember how it turned out. I've sold my issues so I can't look it up).

If one or two of these happened, I could discount them and say they weren't signifigant. However, taken together as a whole, the series is one of the most disturbing things I've seen one of the big two publish. While I certainly won't be buying it, I will keep an eye on Meltzer's upcoming work with the hope that somehow, somewhere there will be some women who aren't passive, victims, or incompetent,insane killers.

2/02/2006 09:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Dan Coyle said...

Bryan: you're also forgetting that Jean did what she did because Ray was honest with her. He shared his superhero life with her.

In other words, he didn't keep secrets from her. that was bad. Boys should always keep secrets from girls, the series says, 'cause girls can't handle it.

You know, for all the lameass jokes guys like Brian Bendis, JMS, Kevin Smith, Evan goddamn Dorkin, and Good ol' unca Warren have made about fanboys' inability to get laid, it would be nice to take a look at the men around them for once. But who would DARE criticize their "brothers"?

2/02/2006 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger Ed Cunard said...

If you are too timid to allow comics to grow up and deal with material that bothers you, perhaps you need to go read Archie.

Ooh, ooh, ooh--can I play the snobby elitist card again and remind everyone that some comics fans read comics written by and for grown-ups, illustrated by and for grown-ups, dealing with real grown-up themes and not guys in tights beating each other up because that's how it's been for years and years?

Even Watchmen (which, like T., I feel is overrated--but probably for different reasons than T. does, and that's another thing entirely), when it dealt with adult issues, did it in an adult, mature way, not in an "adult," "mature" way.

Seriously, love Identity Crisis if you want to--no one can take that away from you. It's big, dumb, explodey and--depending on how one feels about it--fun. What it wasn't--a serious exploration of adult situations. Pretending like it's an actualized, mature work is like pretending there's a deep, meaningful discussion of gender politics in Rob Schneider's The Hot Chick.

2/02/2006 11:07:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

Last sentence in my post was supposed to read:

"I can understand if you disagree with what Moore was trying to put across, but I'd never insult his writing by putting it anywhere near the shallow level of mindless shitty hackwork that Meltzer did in Identity Crisis. That was below fanfiction.

And good post, Ed.

2/02/2006 11:37:00 PM  
Blogger MacQuarrie said...

If you are too timid to allow comics to grow up and deal with material that bothers you, perhaps you need to go read Archie.

Sure, comics should "grow up and deal with material" of a more mature nature... but not ALL comics need to do so. Silly stories about people who put on tights and fly around punching bad guys should remain the territory of children. There is no need to reinvent the Silver Age.

I'm sorry, but I find this mindset offensive. You might as well demand that Dr Suess become dark and edgy to suit your more mature tastes. But in so doing, you deprive the next generation of the same joy that you had in discovering these characters when you were eight. How can you pass it on if you destroy it rather than let it go when you outgrow it?

If you want more mature and substantial stories, you (and Mr Meltzer) would do well to stop looking for them in children's literature.

2/04/2006 03:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, I thought this was the "Comics should be good" blog, not the "Comics should be for kids" blog. I have to say, MacQuarrie, your opinion offends me. Don't get me wrong, I think IC is crap, but, I've never understood this "Superheroes are meant for kids!" stuff. I've never thought of superheroes in the same way I think of children's icons, as they've already gone through changes and been written for adults.

The idea that the incredible potential of the brilliant superhero genre should be limited, just because we can't risk offending some puritan parents, is ridiculous, to me. As is the idea that, since superheroes involve some unreal elements, they can't be intelligent. "They wear costumes, stop trying to apply logic to it!" Um, no, that's just stupid. Applying intelligence to the unreal is what creates the best stories, IMHO. What, is all sci-fi and fantasy for kids, too? Should Lord of the Rings have had some singing animals in it?

Nobody has a monopoly on the superhero genre, and nobody ever should. Trying to say, "This kind of superhero story shouldn't be allowed!" is just immature.

2/04/2006 05:38:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

"The rape?





Can we have comics reviewed by people who've actually read the fucking things in future?

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