Suicide Squad: Deadshot and Morality

Suicide Squad, is perhaps the first movie I’ve ever walked away from saying, “That was not a good movie, but it was worth seeing.”

Without any spoilers, the plot had no structure and we spent time getting to know the characters through useless (and excessive) flashbacks. There were characters who had no purpose in the film, except to haphazardly flesh out the sprinting world of the DC Cinematic Universe. I swear Captain Boomerang was only there for laughable appearance by the Flash.

But what did work?

indexDeadshot. Will Smith’s Deadshot is the moral center of this film. Arguably, as a hit-man, he is the most villainous of the main characters by profession. He has not reformed nor makes any pretenses that he will give up the assassin’s game anytime soon.

Suicide Squad focuses on the character development of only a few characters: Harley Quinn, el Diablo, and Deadshot. Deadshot is the center piece. It is his story and his relationship with his daughter that grounds the character. Deadshot is the one talking about honor among thieves and the importance of the team’s survival.

To make it clear: a movie starring a black man featured said black man as a complicated protagonist and loving father who is the moral center of the film.

And in a media culture that only upholds the stories of white men (straight, cis, able bodied white men), this is huge. Every day people quote the racist (and downright false) argument that “there are more black men in prison than in college” as if there is a moral deficiency in black men naturally. As if black men do not want to be there for their families and for their children.

Yes, Deadshot is a criminal. He is a comic book villain. He kills people for money. But he is also a black character who is a loving father and a moral compass in a movie that desperately needs a moral center. He stands out in a media industry that needs  representations of black men who live to see the ending credits.

 

 

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How Superheroes Can Demonize People of Color

I went to an anti-police brutality rally protesting the death of Mike Brown recently. But it wasn’t just about Mike Brown. It was Trayvon Martin. It was the woman down the street.  It was for everyone who ever suffered under a racist police system.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ari/8460113914/

Anti-police brutality rally, Feb. 2013.

And as I stood in the crowd and chanted and yelled with my voice ringing with a myriad of voices around me, I thought about superheroes. I thought about the Justice League coffee mug I own and how out of all the superheroes depicted everyone is white.

jla

The mug features head shots of Robin, Batman, Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and Wonder Woman. Everyone is white. What this means is that the heroes are white. The good guys are white. The guys who win, the guys who have the power, the moral righteousness that lets them make difficult choices. These heroes are white (and overwhelmingly male). I know not all police officers are white. I know you can be a person of color and still be racist both against your own race and against others. But I also know the message DC sends to its fans when it produces merchandise like this.

Cyborg is now on the Justice League and I’m thrilled that DC has taken this step, but it’s not enough. We need to show comic book readers of all colors  that your race has nothing to do with your morals. We need to show casual fans that in a world where racist police exist, at least in fiction it doesn’t have to. That’s the joy of fiction: it can illuminate the world’s problems and it can also offer solutions to them. And sometimes the solution is depicting a world where it has already been overcome.

Teen Titans Go! Go and Learn Consent

I am a huge Teen Titans fan. It was one of my first introductions to the superhero genre and what I loved the most was that I didn’t get into the show until I was sixteen, but the plots were dark and complicated enough that I was wholeheartedly invested. For anyone who has seen the monstrosity that is Teen Titans Go! (TTG) however, I don’t think I need to make it clearer that this funny take on the original cartoon is an awful desecration of the original genius.

From L to Right: Robin, Cyborg, Beast Boy, Terra, Raven, Starfire

No,Teen Titans didn’t always take itself seriously, but when it did it handled everything from abusive relationships to racism to family issues. A majority of the time it balanced humor and darker plots. It has been an inspiration for me to write children’s cartoons that can appeal to a wider audience and say something worthwhile.

I don’t care that they brought back the old voice actors for TTG. This new show is a minefield and I wanted nothing to do with it.

Then the creators brought Terra into the show  in the episode “Terra-Ized”. If it wasn’t apparent from my previous post about how much I love Terra, she is my favorite fictional female character. I had to watch that episode. So I gritted my teeth and sat down with one of my friends and continued to grit my teeth and by the end of the episode I’m surprised I still had teeth left to grit.

The basic premise of the show is that the Teen Titans had never met Terra before and Beast Boy brings her back to Titans Tower. He gives her all sorts of access codes and secret information thinking she’s in love with him. She (like in the original series) is spying on the team, which TTG makes obvious and derives most of their humor from the blatancy of her “spying”.

I can forgive TTG! that they ruined all continuity by having no one know who Terra is. I can forgive them for completely ruining a fantastic female character who had deep emotional issues and a legitimate story arc over the course of Season 2 in the original Teen Titans. I can forgive them for making her a character who openly hates the team as opposed to a covert spy and traitor.

What I can’t forgive is that this show perpetuates rape culture by blatantly ignoring consent. Watch this clip of the episode and focus specifically on the pictures Beast Boy has of him and Terra at the end of the clip.

It is not funny when a character who clearly says “no” to another character’s advances is brushed aside as a joke. What’s worse is that this is a major and recurring joke throughout the episode. Terra continuously rebuffs Beast Boy’s advances and the writers rebuff her complaints. She’s just a female character, after all. She doesn’t have autonomy over her own body or anything. No one wants to see the boat rocked by addressing issues of consent. It’s not as if consent is a real issue men and women have to deal with in real life or anything!

It’s a kids show yes, but before anyone tells me I’m over reacting, where do kids learn their behaviors if not from the media they’re exposed to? If no one questions this blatant disregard of Terra’s voice ignoring the woman becomes another piece of ordinary life to be glossed over as natural.

When Terra rejects Beast Boy’s advances, he has no right to continue to pursue her and Cyborg has no right to advise Beast Boy to press after her. It is even worse when Cyborg gets involved because that normalizes the behavior even more. Beast Boy can no longer be viewed as anomaly who acts in a way we are not supposed to approve of. No, his choices are validated by Cyborg’s advice. It is the men of the series conferring over and rejecting a woman’s decision. This suddenly doesn’t sound like a kid’s show, but rather a sexist insertion driving the plot as a running joke.

The episode relied on sexism and misogyny to make children laugh. This is wrong. This is wrong on every level because children won’t see the systems of oppression that make these jokes possible. But we who see them need to speak out because no one else will.

I don’t want young children to be indoctrinated into believing that “no” is a joke to be laughed off. “No” is definitive. It is always taken seriously. And Teen Titans Go! needs to learn about consent.

 

Gender Bent Cross-Plays

I had always wanted to cosplay ever since I found out that dressing up as a character could be more than just a Halloween costume or an obsessive hobby.

And while I have still never been to a con or cosplayed “for real”, a  few years ago I put together a costume of Terra from Teen Titans, may favorite female character. Because I was not going to cut up my under-armour shirt I didn’t do the midriff shirt, but I had the blonde wig and the yellow shorts and some rocking boots.

I wore the costume to a Purim service at my synagogue (Purim is a Jewish holiday where everyone dresses up in costume). When I walking around passing out programs one of the older men of my synagogue was giving me a look like I was suddenly sexy and that because I was wearing boots and shorts that he could comment on my body and my appearance. I knew nothing of feminism then and was just embarrassed and hurt, wondering what I had done wrong to deserve this attention. I didn’t do anything: I had the right to dress as I pleased and looking back on it, that was sexual harassment.

But despite my debut in cosplaying being less than satisfactory, my Terra costume was (and still is) a staple in my life. It’s the friendly clothes I go back to when I need a boost, comfortable in the way only a second skin can be.

And for a while this was my only attempt to cosplay because there weren’t any other characters I so wholeheartedly identified with or struggled to become not just in appearance but personality as well. I dressed up as Captain Hook once,. Another time I went with a group as the Three Musketeers, but it didn’t have the same emotional impact that Terra did.

Then the movie The Avengers came out and I was quickly introduced to the beauty that can only be known to the world as Science Bros. This wonderful friendship between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner was the highlight of the film for me and even a year later I am still so deeply invested in that friendship that it is more than just actors on a screen.

It feels as real to me as Terra does because there is so much to unpack from their interactions.

I am lucky enough to have a friend who is legitimately Tony Stark as a woman. And because I’m the quieter one, the one who responds to her snark and keeps her in check, I am Bruce Banner in this relationship. Together we are: Gender Swapped Science Bros.

It didn’t take long for us to come up with a cosplay for this and it was the first time I had felt truly comfortable in a costume since Terra. What I loved the most is that we weren’t playing male attributes. We didn’t go into this idea thinking that Tony and Bruce are inherently  male characters and that even if we change their gender they’d still act like men. We were able to embrace the aspects of their personalities we already had and work to push ourselves for what we did not, but we were never forgoing our femininity in favor of popular maleness.

Our female versions of these characters were not marked or othered because of the gender we played them as. It was such an excellent experience to wear a skirt and carry a purse, but feel that my version of a female Bruce would still use the name Bruce  maybe as a nickname. So I was still Bruce Banner. My partner in crime wore a Pink Floyd Shirt, jeans and sneakers, jazzed up with a headband and sunglasses. Though she was technically Antonia Stark, Toni was every bit the Tony Stark we know and love from the films and comics just gender bent.

It was a brilliant experience to feel at once wonderfully androgynous and at the same time so aware that I was playing a woman and doing her justice.

I love gender bent cross-plays because they challenge gender and sexuality in ways few other things can. They’re messy and complicated, but that’s the best part. It would feel so easy to bind my breasts and put on a man’s clothes and cosplay as a male character, but then I’m ignoring my own sense of being a woman. I’m disregarding female characters that way. And this is why I love gender bending fandoms: you’re not doing disservice to women, but expanding what a woman can be.

Because I had such a great time being Bruce, I’ve been drawing up doodle comic strips of my adventures with Tony. Take a look below: we’re women in all but name and proud to express our gender in this expanding medium of cross-plays.

doodle comics I drew of my friend and myself.

 

Marvel’s Romance Comics

I mentioned in my post, Queering Wolverine that I hadn’t been keeping up with the X-Men recently. Truth be told though, I haven’t been keeping up Marvel recently. Comic books are expensive and my philosophy has been that I’ll buy it if I know it’s influential to the Marvel universe or a must-read of some caliber.

If something happens with Marvel comics I’ll know even if I’m not perfectly keeping up with their publishing. And, unfortunately, something has happened at Marvel comics.

Marvel has made the decision to team up with Hyperion and publish two romance comics based on Rogue, from the X-Men, and She-Hulk. The comics are titled Rogue Touch and The She-Hulk Diaries.

The Editor-in-Chief of Hyperion said, “It’s a great time to explore what happens to super-heroines when they are dropped into traditional women’s novels.”

Traditional Women’s Novels? What does this even mean? This is such bigotry. This is literature grounded in women’s difference and in the separation of the sexes. This is based on ridiculous gender roles that hold no bearing on what a woman is. By creating these comic books, Marvel and Hyperion are saying they have found a set definition of the elusive term “woman” and that guess what? What a “woman” is has been in front of us all along because this is a “traditional” idea.

Since when do women need books that are written for some unfounded idea of their identity?

These are two established female superheroes, not some unknown romance heroins Marvel hasn’t written since the 1950s. The ’50s were when Romance comics sold because comic book companies were under constant fire that comics were too violent and were corrupting the youth. Everything but superheroes sold in the 1950s. There are no traditional women’s novels and certainly no grounds to force ideas of womanhood into the comic book genre. Comic books are just starting to break free from heteronormativity, but as a whole the industry is incredibly sexist. The last thing Marvel needs is to isolate a chunk of their fan base by deciding they suddenly know what women want in their reading material.

I think Marvel needs to learn that these “women’s novels” were only women’s novels because up until the early 20th century, women writers were few and far between. Their work was never taken seriously because it was written for women and there were limited subjects available to them to write about because writing might put a strain on the female mind.

Marvel already has a female audience! Adding romance will not expand their audience, but isolate those who want more well developed female characters. It’s time Marvel learned that femininity and womanhood are not characteristics that define a person. Woman does not equal reads romance novels.

Terra: Radical Rocker of Teen Titans

I’ve noticed a trend in my favorite fictional characters: at least 90% of them are male. What surprised me the most about this realization was that I have way more female friends than male friends. There was no way I couldn’t brush aside this point and say that maybe I just “don’t connect with women”.

I have heard women talk about how women are annoying, petty, and more difficult to be around because of their tendency to be overly emotional. This seems to be less about how women actually are and far more about how they are portrayed in fiction, especially in relationship to how their male counterparts are portrayed. In short, the men (even men who are evil) are almost guaranteed to be people in their own right and therefore more likeable. Rarely are male characters designed to benefit a female character. Chances are it’s the other way around.

Now, when I first began to be interested in superheroes I fell in love with the Cartoon Network series Teen Titans. While I do have a few complaints about the female characters in the show I was floored by one character. I fell in love with Terra.

She was the first female character I had a genuine connection with. She was a young girl trying to be a hero with her powers of earth manipulation, but because she could not control these powers she would inevitably cause more harm than good. When she is introduced in Season 2 she was a live-life-to-the-fullest go-getter hiding her massive insecurities about her powers, her past, and her ability to have normal relationships. Her backstory is never fully explained in the cartoon, but watching the series and seeing how she interacts with main cast of Robin, Starfire, Beast Boy, Cyborg, and Raven, it is easy to see she is a rounded character.

Terra reacts out of fear, love and pain, just to name a few of the emotions she goes through. Her character arc is treated with respect and even though she is paired with Beast Boy she was not created to be his love interest. She is her own person no matter that her arc is bound up with the male characters of the series, Robin, Beastboy and Slade.

I feel the most interesting thing about Terra though, is that she is not a feminist character. For all that I could rave about her being a rounded character, that does not mean that she is a feminist or that the creators of the show wanted her to be one. And that’s alright.

I love her because I connect with her on the basis that I could meet someone like her on the street. She doesn’t fit into the women-are-either-angels-or-monsters paradigm.

The irony to all this is that her comic book version created in the 1980s (read “Terra Incognito” and “The Judas Contract” for her comic book arc) was designed for her to be a loud mouthed jack ass who hates the Teen Titans for no other reason than that they are good. She is sexually involved with Slade Wilson, a man at least 40 years her elder and it is only to prove that she is psychotic. She is a “monster” in the comics, but the cartoon made a different call. The cartoon wanted a female character who was well developed and wasn’t created to further the story of the male heroes. Although she isn’t a feminist character this doesn’t mean she doesn’t do radical things for how female characters are perceived and written.

Queering Wolverine

It’s difficult to find feminism in comic books. The women are generally drawn as sex objects and a majority of them are characters either to be the token woman on the team or to serve as a love interest for the main character. But don’t worry, I don’t plan on rehashing old arguments about comic book women.

I’d given up on the X-men for a while-though this was less of a decision for feminist reasons and more because to keep up with the X-men you need to be reading 4 or 5 different series. Still, I hadn’t read any recent X-men at all until my mom got me X-Treme X-men #6 for no other reason than that she thought I would find the cover amusing.

I found it very amusing actually. I’m always ready to laugh at Spiderman lunch boxes, especially when they’re held by other, much cooler, Marvel heroes like Nightcrawler.

I was expecting to read this and be more than a little confused. It’s in the middle of a series run, it’s an alternate universe I know nothing about, and I’m reading only 15 pages out of a more complex story.

From what I gathered from the plot, Wolverine and Dazzler are traveling across different universes to stop versions of Charles Xavier  from destroying worlds. The comic was nothing special until I came to a conversation between Wolverine and Dazzler that did more for feminism than I’ve seen in almost any comic. In this alternate universe, Wolverine is queer.

Take a look at the conversation:

As I mentioned in my post regarding the Doctrine of Labyrinths series, it is a big step for feminism when writers craft queer characters because it works against the notion that gay is feminine and feminine is what you don’t want to be. The author of the comic, Greg Pak, however does more for feminism than if he had just created a character who is gay.

This is Wolverine. He is a recognizable symbol of masculinity and his feelings for Hercules  are treated with respect. Look at the panel focused on Wolverine’s face when he talks about “any man…loving another” and see how his feelings for another man are not sensationalized or played for laughs, but are genuine and treated as such. Queering Wolverine is such a bold move not only in the fact that it makes readers rethink sexuality, but that Wolverine is an established character; it is not possible for this Wolverine’s personality to be stripped down to the word gay.

Hercules is bisexual in the canon Marvel universe, adding another layer of feminism to promote the fact that sexuality is not a gay-straight binary.  Masculinity is not the clearly marked ideal people wish to believe in.

It is such a relief to know there are authors out there who are willing to make their readers understand that being queer is not about being masculine or feminine and it’s not a person’s only attribute either. I don’t think I’ll continue to read X-Treme X-Men, but I am glad I got a hold of the issue that I’m sharing with you.