Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Dark Phoenix Always Rings Twice

Odd Jack has some nice thoughts on making Mary Marvel evil, but besides being snarky about it, as I was on the Turner JLA cover, he starts to go into the odd thinking that happens when "Good Girls" turn to the Darkseid... er... Side.

Its amazing to see how often the new "Bad Girl" decides to use sex as her weapon of choice, or at the writer will use sex to show how uninhibited the new "Bad Girl" is, as if women with repressed sexuality are still a horrible norm in our society. Perhaps they are, but then why don't we see men expressing the same bad tendencies? Because men are already allowed to screw all the women that they want anyway and called "studs" while women who follow the same path are "sluts"?

If we try to go and rip away the odd victorian morality that we still see in some comics, it becomes obvious how "blah" the usual "Bad Girl" is. She puts on a darker costume (Dark Phoenix), uses her powers more creatively (Sue Storm), starts to use her vagina a little more, throw in a little lesbian kink and, PRESTO! You've got the "Bad Girl".

Perhaps if we didn't have such a stultified view of sexuality we would have far darker "Bad Girls". (Oddly enough, since so many of the comic founders were Jewish, their heroes and heroines were terribly whitebread. There is none of the deep sexual guilt in Judaism that we see associated with many other religions.) When I hear about mothers who lock their kids in the car and push the car in a lake, that is a far darker version of a "mother" than most comics will ever tolerate.

In order to make our characters "dark" we have to first identify with who they really are, not just men and women, but how they interact, what their fears are, and then we start to turn the screws on them and the reader. Repressed sexuality may be a part of the character, and, perhaps for Sue Storm, it makes sense, but I'm far more worried about a writer twisting our usual preceptions of women in interesting ways. Morrison's Zatanna from 7 Soldiers was a far more interesting version of her than we've been allowed to see. but Morrison's a great writer.

At least Dark Phoenix didn't have to die for having premarital sex with Scott. She just shouldn't have killed the damn Broccoli people. Perhaps Lis over at Kid Sis will haul out her thoughts on evil Scarlet Witch. Vacation on Wundargore Mountain anyone?

7 comments:

RAB said...

"There is none of the deep sexual guilt in Judaism that we see associated with many other religions."

I wouldn't go that far. I mean, there's Lilith and Naamah for a start.

Orthodox Jews have very strict rules about avoiding physical contact between genders except under proper conditions. Some people consider this as taking a view of women as "unclean" vessels of sexual temptation, though orthodox men and women would argue that it actually enforces respect for women. Personally, I reckon it means whatever it means to the individual; for some orthodox Jews it's a cover for terror of female sexuality, for others it's respect and deference.

But even for the conservative, reform, and totally nonpracticing atheist Jew, there are all sorts of weird and contradictory sexual messages encoded in the culture. Judaism is the culture that elevated guilt about everything to an artform, and it would be weird if sexuality was somehow exempt from that!

Other than that, I agree totally. There's a rich vein of unexplored material here...

Saoki said...

If you consider that the traditional (as in mythological in western culture) female roles* are daughter/maiden, slut, mother and crone and that super-hero comic books lift heavily from myths, then you could say that Mary Marvel's change is nothing more than expected.

I am not saying that I agree with the slut-zation of a lovely little maiden-girlie, but there are ways of making even a slut-zation be an interesting thing to be read. There are aspects of the "dark maiden" which are usually forgotten but could be nicely put to use in any work of fiction.
Then again, it could all fall on a "femme fatale" wossname and force all of us to roll our eyes and just not buy it.

I guess we will have to wait, see and then fall on them like, I dunno, Morrigan's crow-army?



*male roles: son, warrior/mate, father, dark father. Western myths are as old as the dirt beneath our feet.

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

rab - agreed that the art of guilt has been perfected by jewish mothers across the world, but there is less of the guilt piled onto sex and more onto not calling your grandparents. Its even a mitzvah to have satisfy your wife on shabbat, at least in conservative and reform jewish households. I'm not including orthodoxy in this discussion, of any religion.

So, while I was making a generalization, I still stand by that.

saoki - I agree with the archetypes that you list, and have long since made the case for superheroes as modern mythology. i guess that my problem with the the standard issue "slut" role is simply how often its been used, and used badly. If we really want to dig into the madonna/whore complex we start to delve into the real issues that many men have with the slut: they desire her sexual availability, but fear her sexual power, which is extreme in a number of ways. That would make for an interesting dark Wanda story wouldn't it?

Alan Moore is the one author intelligent/brave enough to deal with this in Promethea. The magician wants to have sex with her in exchange for teaching her magic... and its quite a lesson. Go Alan.

Ami Angelwings said...

Great post :)

And yus, sadly I have to agree with you :( The whole "bad girls being slutty" thing is still a convention that's being used way too much D:

And it's definitely cuz we still have this old fashioned view of sexuality in our society (even tho it's not necessarily overt, and most ppl would pretend it doesn't exist). :\

Elena said...

Great post! I agree completely, with one minor quibble:

If we try to go and rip away the odd victorian morality that we still see in some comics, it becomes obvious how "blah" the usual "Bad Girl" is. She puts on a darker costume (Dark Phoenix)...
Perhaps if we didn't have such a stultified view of sexuality we would have far darker "Bad Girls".


I don't know that I would include Dark Phoenix on the list of Blah Bad Girls, considering that she did destroy an entire planet, kill billions of innocents, and came darn close to killing her own family on a whim. Plus her revenge against Mastermind still gives me shivers. And that was just in her first storyline.

Although what you said about sexuality being slapped on a Bad Girl applies in spades to Dark Phoenix. I agree that the sexual twist makes sense if the character is normally sexually repressed; but Jean Grey never struck me that way. She always seemed open and honest about her relationship with Scott, and the comics (at least in the years leading up to the Dark Phoenix Saga) didn't seem shy about portraying them together. So turning Dark Phoenix into a weird evil sex symbol doesn't make sense. It doesn't say anything about Jean Grey as a character, but it does say a lot about how we associate female sexuality with Evil.

Sleestak said...

"Because men are already allowed to screw all the women that they want anyway and called "studs" while women who follow the same path are "sluts"?"

Men become Dr. Light.

Kid Sis said...

This is great. I'm sorry I was away so long. Will have to give it thought.

And isn't interesting that Master Whedon pulls all this off effortlessly, without offending and still being fresh somehow?

My first thought is that the evil SW of Wundagore was done well, and sexless. Cthon was just plain powerful and ruthless. Whereas the multiple versions of evils SW in WCA and on and on have been, er, nothing worth ripping off for a major motion picture...