I’m no prude. But it’s not a question of prudishness. Tentacle porn covers make me laugh. They make me shake my head; but they make me laugh. Bad writing and childhood character rape annoy me, silly-ass creator posturing piques me…that’s all true. However, a Werthemite I ain’t. I like a bit of apposite grue every now and then. Sex doesn’t scare me. “Mature themes”…bring ’em on. Why, I’ve even kinda-sorta defended The Rolling Head Of Pantha, in a moment of idleness. So you can see where I’m coming from.
I think this is genuinely cheap, though.
It’s obvious to me that the confrontation between Tigra and Jigsaw, and subsequent confrontation between Tigra and the Hood, was designed with something really specific in mind. Jigsaw is humiliated by Tigra, thus enabling the Hood to tie Jigsaw to him in his recruitment drive by “correcting” the humiliation. And if you don’t see that this dynamic wouldn’t have the same punch if Tigra was a man, I submit you’re pretty out of touch: since at least Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, this stuff has all been way out in the open. But, even forgetting about the comics, as our old pal The Fortress Keeper notes, they actually make whole movies out of it: “woman in jeopardy”, and all that.
It’s well-understood: you can arouse powerful and violent emotions in your audience by employing these methods. I might use them myself, if the situation called for it.
However. There’s no creator so blessed with the Divine Right of Talent, that he or she has no need to justify shocking excesses. And the key to this justification lies in being able to show that those excesses were not gratuitous. It has nothing to do with whether the job gets done (in this case, the job revolved around the “need” to prove the Hood’s badassery — and it did, in fact, get done), but whether the way it was done was textually warranted. Take Cape Fear: great movie, in which Max Cady revisits injustice on his prosecutor. Take the Ultimates: delightful series in which all the superheroes are hilariously, transgressively twisted and depraved…and that’s the point.
Now take New Avengers #35, a shallow story about yet another of Bendis’ villainous Mary Sues du jour, and consider all the thousands of ways one can establish a character as a badass in a mainstream Marvel comic…
And reconcile that, if you can, with the authorial choice to have a vicious, brutal, bloody, rape-flavoured beatdown of an established character go on for four pages, until she’s broken.
The word, my friends, is gratuitous.
Meaning not justified.
Meaning cheap, indefensible crap. And should we consider that this is a mainstream Marvel book, too?
Oh, we shouldn’t?
No. I’m afraid that’s incorrect, because we should. This isn’t moral outrage, and I’m not asking “who will think of the children?”…that shit’s not my responsibility…but if you don’t think it ever matters if a book is a mainstream book or not, if you honestly see no reason to draw any distinctions between Miracleman or Judge Dredd, and the Avengers…well, my goodness, you’re more out of touch than I thought you were. A story is a pretty simple thing, after all: you introduce tension, and then you pay it off. Easy. Hey, and if you’re off by yourself and doing your own thing, both tension and payoff can be arbitrarily ramped up to wherever you want them to be.
But let me ask you: having read New Avengers #35, do you not want the Hood to be brutally slain?
Yeah. Well, that’s a problem.
Because in mainstream superhero comics, vengeance is typically deferred, turned over to (for want of a better word) God — and I’m not talking about Superman. A skilled writer can make this work beautifully: revenge comes indirect, as poetic justice, boomerang comeuppance, or what-have-you. The reader, begging for the villain’s blood one second before, is satisfied by the tremendous last-minute moral save of the creator…and usually, even has their heroic illusions left somewhat undisturbed into the bargain. The world turns; characters develop.
But I don’t see any way Bendis can pay this off in the future. Not respectably if satisfying; not satisfyingly if respectable. As far as I can see, he’s painted himself into a corner, and there’s no way out.
Well, good. Wake me after the little bastard’s starved to death, because the cheap leg-pulling and arm-twisting of this comic actually offended me a little, and therefore that’s about all the time I’ll be having for that. Cheap, tawdry, and vulgar, without redeeming qualities. Well, I guess that’s the modern Marvel for you.
Really quite shamefully done. Everyone should stop buying.