Sporadic Sequential
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Come for the Controversy, Stay for the Commentary

Some thoughts on others' thoughts on the whole Mary Jane zombie thing.

I was surprised that Heidi MacDonald wasn't at all bothered by the cover. Sure, she might not find the idea of a half-eaten, rotting female corpse still trying to seduce the viewer with a come-hither look troubling, but I would have thought that she'd be a little annoyed by the fact that Marvel was once again mixing its signals about how this popular female character is being marketed. After all, the original cover was the image Heidi used to open her "Night of the Feminazis!!! Part ii" piece where she wrote:
Mary Jane is one of the main characters in the most successful movie serial of all times. While I can’t see MJ being used as a role model for kids, there have been not even one, but SEVERAL attempts to market her as a YA character: The mini series SPIDER-MAN LOVES MARY JANE, as mentioned here being one.
I think that was the main point Chris was getting at in his post (and one that Dorian and Dirk both picked up on as well): It's creepy and unprofessional for Marvel to be taking a character aimed at YA readers here from a cover of a series featuring that character specifically geared for YA readers and warping her like this. (Then again, I think the whole Marvel Zombies concept is warped.)

(If I were conspiracy-minded, I might suggest that Marvel decided to zombify that image because Heidi featured it in her post. But I don't think Marvel is that organized. Then again, I'm really at a loss for why they picked that cover, since it features a version of the character different from the one in the Zombie-verse and it's not at all a classic cover, so maybe Marvel did crank this out because they thought it would be funny.)

UPDATE: Heidi goes into greater detail about why she doesn't think this cover rates offsense or controversy.

Back in the comments at Chris Butcher's original post, Ed Brubaker stopped in to touch on another problematic image that has received its own amount of attention in the blogosphere recently:
I would just like to point out that the Falcon having his costume lit on fire on a cover is not inherently racially insensitive. If he was hanging from a tree while a cross burned, then yeah, I could see your point. But the burning of people isn’t an iconic racist image, it’s iconic for witches and religious heretics.

I didn’t even think of him as a “black man” when I suggested the image to Steve, I thought of him as a superhero whose costume we wanted to get rid of.

I generally like your posts and agree with a lot of what you have to say, but I resent the idea that I’m somehow a racist for treating The Falcon the same as I would treat any other superhero in one of my books. To me, treating different races and genders and sexual orientations differently than I would a white male character is the definition of racism.
A couple thoughts on this:
  • No one ever came close to suggesting that Brubaker is a racist, holds any racist views, or writes racist work. The only thing Chris had written was that the image of "lighting a black man on fire" was one of the recent problematic images to come out of Marvel lately. (Myself, I rather enjoyed several of Brubaker's books, including Scene of the Crime, Sleeper, and even Gotham Central; and I keep meaning to check out Criminal now that it's out in TPB, so this is nothing personal.)

  • I think the image of a black man burning is always going to be problematic, even if there are no trees or crosses involved.

  • Treating all races and genders and sexual orientations exactly the same may not be the fairest or best thing to do since different races and genders and sexual orientations face different circumstances in our society. And speaking specifically about comic books, not all races and genders and sexual orientations have been depicted with equal respect throughout the decades, so attempting to be idealistically colorblind may lead to situations where racially insensitive images or stereotypes are the result.

  • The only way to get rid of the Falcon's costume is to burn it off of him while he's still wearing it?

Over at Metamorphostuff, James Meeley shows up to complain about all the people complaining about this cover, in the process comparing comic book bloggers to CSI because comic bloggers want to be taken seriously or something. James' characterization of most bloggers strikes me as odd. James seems to see everyone as storming the gates of the publishers with pitchforks and a list of their demands. Me, I see most bloggers as involved in conversation, even when they're fiercely complaining. I think most bloggers realize that they're not going to have much effect on comic companies (at least not through simply blogging, which is why I advocate that people stop buying material form Marvel and DC if they really have a problem with their policies, practices, or attitudes) but they still want to share their opinions with each other (and if creators or companies happen to hear the message as well, bonus!) I'm not sure why James thinks fans should be precluded from sharing their opinions from each other. They've purchased the product (or been subjected to the hype); haven't they earned the right to express their opinions?

James also mischaracterizes others' description of the problem. According to James, other bloggers believe in some vast conspiracy willfully orchestrated by the powers-that-be. While this might at first seem like something fans raised on decades of Dr. Doom's dastardly plots would buy into, most bloggers will readily admit that the sexism of the comic book industry is more a habitually ingrained thing than an intentionally malevolent effort -- which is why there's potential value in bloggers continuing to speak out about these issues: Hopefully consciousnesses can and will be raised.

James' distortion of positions he disagrees with is ultimately unproductive: He's not even talking past people; instead, he's talking past imagined positions that no one actually holds. And he continues to move the goalposts when people actually take him up on his challenges. When James demands proof of sexism in the industry, several people ask him what he would accept as proof, and one thing he offers is "Maybe an artist's page of art with liner notes from an editor saying a female character needs more 'enhancment' to be seen as sexy." But when Andrea Rubenstein responds with the example of Frank Miller calling for an "ASS SHOT" of Vicki Vale in All-Star Batman and Robin because "she's got one fine ass," James refuses to accept this, changing his standards in midstream. (James balks because Miller's remarks are only directed at a fictional character, saying it doesn't prove Miller himself is sexist, but (1) no one ever claimed Miller was, so James is again debating a strawman; and (2) it's not what James himself earlier said he would accept as an example of sexism in the comic industry.) [I think this would have been a better example, since it involves an actual editor's instructions to an artist, but the Miller example is pretty darned close to what James was originally asking for.]

Also: It's interesting that someone whose advice on how to handle something you don't like is to ignore it quietly ends up posting (as of this writing) over four thousand words on a topic he dislikes.

Finally: I wonder if James thinks posts like these are part of the problem?