Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Adrian Alphona
In which we get into G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel. Tackling questions like: who could possibly have a problem with a Muslim superhero? Is this stuff just for kids? Stuff. Stuff. Age of Trump.
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Ok. Fair forewarning – I started writing stuff and it got a little out of hand….
What kind of person could have a problem with Ms. Marvel?
I mean: just look at all the lovely things everyone says about her:
What Makes the Muslim Ms. Marvel Awesome: She’s Just Like Everyone
Why Kamala Khan Is The Most Important Superhero In The World
The ‘Ms. Marvel’ Tumblr: An Inside Look At One Of The Most Important Books Of The Year
There was a thing that I think I saw on facebook (sadly I can’t find it now) which told a story about a young 10 year old girl breaking down in tears the first time she saw the book or said something like: “finally – a book with someone just like me.” And you read it and get a warm feeling on the inside and tears form in your eyes and we all feel like we’re on small step closer to making the world a fair and just and beautiful place.
So yes. Of course I have a problem with Ms. Marvel.
I think someone first mentioned it at the Barbican Comic Forum about a year ago. And when they did there were lots of approving murmurs around the table. It was the hot, cool, fun book that was on a lot of people’s “must read” list. But I kinda figured that it wasn’t for me.
Metaphor alert 1 /// for me Ms. Marvel is an aspirin when you’re not actually sick.
I mean yeah: on the one hand I’m a straight white male so I’ve had all the representation I’ll ever need (on the other hand: I’m so much of an ethnic mix that the only other people I’ve ever met who share the same background as me are my sisters. Which I guess is part of the reason why I like to nod my head to stuff like this: “The way that we talk about race today is just incoherent”).
Of course representation and all that ain’t just so people can see themselves being represented it’s also for those people who live in places where everyone looks the same as them: to show them that the “other” isn’t so other at all.
You can call me conceited if you want: but I’d like to think that I’m already aware that Muslims are people too.
And well also:
Metaphor alert 2 /// Ms. Marvel is an aspirin when what you really need is antibiotics.
Yes. Our world is sick. It feels like we’re slowly drowning in a rising tide of bigotry and intolerance. I’m writing this the day after Chelsea Cain left twitter thanks to misogynistic abuse and next week I’ll sure there will be another crappy thing. I could list all of the other ugly shit that’s happened this year but yeah – it’d be a depressingly long list and would probably manage to do nothing more than make you feel a mix of sad and angry.
And I’ll put my hands up and admit that it’s possible that I’m a part of the problem. From the looks of it most of Comics Twitter are retweeting their support of Chelsea Cain and hashtagging “#standwithchelseacain” and you know yeah – that’s a good thing. If we’re standing against misogynistic trolls then count me in. Fuck racism. Fuck sexism. Fuck homophobia. Fuck transphobia. Fuck all the things that divide us and keep us apart. Because – obviously.
I just get a little itchy when it comes to comes to simple solutions. Solutions that say: let’s do a tweet to raise awareness. Or: let’s all just buy the Mockingbird comic or whatever. Because there’s a big part of me that says: that stuff doesn’t really work. Tweets and status updates don’t really do all that much to change people’s minds. I mean: if someone is following you then they’re agreeing to drink your particular brand of Cool Aid. And if they don’t like what you’re selling / supporting then they’ll just unfollow you. And although the idea of buying comics as a vehicle for social change is a very nice one (and something that I would love to be true): all you’ve really done is brought a comic and made Marvel a little richer: you know – it’s just self-affirmation of all the beliefs you believe already.
There is another part of me that says: just shut up, stop asking questions and man the barricades.
But hey – problematic use of the word “man” aside (why not “woman the barricades”? or “person the barricades”?) I guess it speaks to another itch inside my head which is the (maybe somehow disgusting thought? I dunno) that maybe it’s not actually possible to change the world: that there are always going to be people out there that (for various ugly reasons) have ugly thoughts in my head. And maybe I’m being (to keep with the Watchmen terminology) too Veidt about this: but does it have an effect? Are people’s minds being changed? The people who abused Chelsea Cain: do the hashtags and the status updates help to change their point of views? Or (as I guess I fear) aren’t they just happy for the attention? Isn’t just more LOLS that everyone gets angry?
Because also: erm – in the midst of everything being awful and it’s the end of civilization and we’re living in a post-truth pre-Trump age: erm – aren’t we all living in the best possible time to be alive? Motherboxes in every pocket. A social language that is still a long long long long long way off from #fullrepresentation but is still better than it’s ever been before (Curry and Chips anyone?). A hundred years ago only rich white men where allowed to vote and get married to each other and now it’s everyone – which hey you know! hooray for social progress! And hooray for us having conversations about what social progress should look like: which is a whole form of social progress itself!
I have lots of questions. But no real answers.
But hey! Back to Ms Marvel (sorry for going on): but yeah – pretty much everyone at the Barbican Comic Forum recommended that I read it (they’re a cool group of people and obviously all way more tolerant and open-minded than my wizened soul self) but my impression of it before I read it was pretty much exactly what I got: it’s a formulaic superhero book only now in “Muslim flavour”! And well – frankly – that doesn’t really feel like enough (at least for me). I mean – I get that superhero comics are a thing that lots of people like and enjoy but in terms of the mainstream stuff – I kinda lost my appetite for them a long long time ago (which I guess is a whole thing in and of itself: why the vast majority of mainstream Marvel and DC comics suck and all the reasons why you shouldn’t read them: maybe I could do it as my Phd? LOL)
And actually reading it: urg. I mean – I get that Kamala Khan has the burden of representation weighing on her shoulders like a thousand tons but I wish it didn’t have to read like such an after school special.
I’m not going to pretend that I like or know anything about Spider-Man but a while back I did read this really cool thing called 50 Years Later: Growth And Maturity in Amazing Spider-Man 1-50 which talks about – well – how Peter Parker used to be a bit of a dick:
I mean: it’s still not enough to get me interested enough to actually read them: but it was enough to make me go: ooooooh – that seems interesting…
As opposed to Kamala Khan who it seems (from the first volume at least) to have no negative characteristics at all. Her heart is always in the right place. She’s always trying to do what’s right. She’s a model citizen. And oh my god – I’m sorry – but I just find that so completely fucking boring.
It could just be me and my paranoid crazy pills but it feels like there is an increasing state of mind that says that characters should be acting as role models and our stories should be full of people making morally correct choices (I can’t be bothered listing examples: because truth be told it’s probably that only exists in my own head): but Ms Marvel seems like a pretty good example of it (LOL).
And yeah of course that makes sense. Marvel wants to make sure that their brand is on point and woke and internet people (aka people) like to have shining examples of where we should be going and Ms Marvel ticks all those boxes.
I just – I dunno – I want to read something that feels like it’s more than just corporate synergy and hugs and social justice. I didn’t get around to reading Watchmen (hangs head in shame) and I realise it is totally totally unfair to compare pretty much any other comic to it: but goddamnit seeing how it’s bouncing in my brain – I mean: I want to read stories that make me feel uneasy and unsure. Did Adrian do the right thing? What is the right thing? Where do you draw the line? And why? And you know: boring stuff like that.
I realise that I want it both ways. But then maybe everyone does. I think the world is better than we keep on making out. But that also there is more to comics than mainstream Marvel and DC. While it seems like most other people out there feel like we’re already living in Trump’s America but hey: at least our comics are right on.
And maybe I’m messing up and all of the misogynistic bullshit has already got to the root of my brain because thinking it over – I’m not having much of a good hit rate with books by women am I? Blue is the Warmest Colour, Persepolis, Fun Home and now this. I mean – in my difference I’d say that I don’t really like much of anything (LOL). But hey: if you wanna come at it and say that my ideas are wrong or that I’m not being enough of an ally or too much of a dick – then I’d welcome it because ideas are meant to be challenged right? 🙂
But yeah: in conclusion: Ms. Marvel wins points for being a superhero book starring a Muslim woman. Because of course.
But it’s not enough. We need to do better. And instead of grating new identities to the same old formulas (kid gets superpowers, has to hide it from their parents, but still goes out and fights crime): I’d say the real progress would be making new formulas.
Which is why frankly – I’d rather be reading Injection.
But hey – that’s enough from me:
What do you think?
I am writing a piece for Freaking Cool (or some similar website) that looks at Islamic objection to the comic and the character. There was one group planning on funding a retailer exclusive cover for the launch of the character’s title, but it was all called off when they discovered the character had a Pakistani heritage. Because that, for some people, is a thing.
So, you know, it can come from all sorts of places.
Oh and you should read The Vision 1-12 for the things you seem to want from a modern superhero comic. It’s got Ms Marvel in it as well.
Haven’t read it and glad it’s around but know it’s not aimed at me so don’t intend to but a couple of things to mention
I visited New York in 2002 and even though I knew Friends wasn’t meant to be realistic, maybe the biggest surprise was just how Asian (both Indian subcontinent and East Asian) the city’s inhabitants looked compared to my expectations. I remember really enjoying the film Harold and Kumar go to White Castle when it was released because as well as being much funnier than expected, it was one of the few bits of popular culture at the time that bore any actual resemblance to the city I’d visited. It seems that this aspect is finally being represented a bit better in popular culture which is undeniably good news.
As for women writing good superhero comics, I though Kathryn Immonen’s Hellcat and, more recently her Sif in Journey into Mystery were both terrific reads,but they didn’t get the marketing blitz Ms Marvel got and both promptly sank pretty much without trace which was a shame
Barbican Comic Forum
I think it’s worth adding to Joel’s comments that Ms Marvel is actually written (and was created) by a Muslim woman. Most times Marvel (and DC, of course, but I’ll stick to Marvel for now) put a woman or a minority character in their comics and they’re all “hey look we’re doing that diversity thing our fans keep going on about”, which is obviously a step forward, but it’s only going to mean a certain amount when the people they’re hiring to write the characters are overwhelmingly white men. For instance, the relaunched Iron Man book will star Riri Williams, a black teenage girl, but the character’s creator and writer is Brian Bendis, a white guy. The other week Axel Alonso, Marvel’s editor-in-chief, described himself as “the last thing from a social-justice warrior” on a Black Panther panel at New York Comic-Con. It says something, I think, about how the big superhero publishers still see their audiences — they’re primarily concerned with how straight white cis guys who loved the original Ghostbusters are going to react to their comics. So, while I agree with some of what Joel says, I think it’s worth bearing in mind that at least this character represents Muslim women both on the page and behind the pen, so to speak. I happen to like Ms Marvel, for what it’s worth. I also think we should remember that, apart from anything else, most of us on this email chain (I’m assuming) are quite a bit older than the target audience for this comic. I’ve really enjoyed some of the all-ages superhero books that have started recently (I like Batman as much as the next person, but there’s only so much dismemberment I can handle), and this book deserves some credit for being accessible to younger readers, even if it’s not the most nuanced fiction you’ll ever read.
Barbican Comic Forum
Twitter / Ursularity
Ermahgerd I have so many Ms Marvel feels. Or maybe, more accurately, I have Kamala Khan feels because, like a bunch of people have already pointed out, this book doesn’t do anything groundbreaking narrative-wise but it sure does have a lot of meaning real-life-wise.
Look, I don’t read DC or Marvel any more. I read Ms. Marvel up until one of Marvel’s big crossover event things last year and just haven’t picked it up since. Ultimately, it’s another superhero story and that just isn’t my thing any more (and that’s fine! That’s just personal taste.) But just because it’s a superhero story doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot of value.
Example: I’ve just finished reading the New 52 Batwoman title, finally. I’d been meaning to from the start but I never had the cash for it. I saw the art, I heard about the character, I read Elegy and 52, and I knew I’d love it. But picking up the first volume the other day, I was nervous. Comics don’t like me. They don’t like women, and by extension, they don’t really like queerness either. I was scared that Batwoman – this character I’d kinda second-hand loved for years, that I was so excited to finally read – was going to be objectified, her lesbianism fetishised. Especially for superhero comics, that’s a pretty reasonable fear to have.
Instead, I got a powerful, terrifying, emotionally complex woman literally cracking skulls and, weirdly, beating up monsters. Was the narrative perfect? Not even close. By the time I’d got over the surreal parts and the godawful ‘trying-to-fill-the-reader-in-on-backstory’ parts of rebooted titles, the creative team changed and the writing and art clearly suffered. Sidenote:that’s why I don’t read DC or Marvel any more – because they’re always gonna let me down.
But, what I did get from this title, and what made me want to read on even at the most confusing parts – what made me really actually enjoy this title (beyond the gorgeous artwork) – was that Batwoman felt like a DC hero that was actually made for me. Not for dudes to wank over (although, y’know – some definitely will) but an actual female character (and a queer woman too, like me) that doesn’t pander to the male gaze, that actually feels like female readers are welcome to read this title. And that’s what matters the most to me.
Superhero titles aren’t going anywhere. It’s not revolutionary to create a new superhero but does it matter if she’s Muslim-American? Hell yes. Is this the end of the road? Of course not. Are Marvel and DC always going to milk the diversity of their characters? Absolutely.
But like Tam and Charlie said, Ms. Marvel isn’t actually for any of us. I have both Muslim and Pakistani heritage and does it make me feel just a little bit more welcome in the superhero world? Yes, it does, and that means something. Does it make me more interested in superhero comics? Of course not. But what matters most to me, beyond any kind of representation for myself – and honestly, across every comic I’ve ever read, Ms Marvel is like the second-best for representation of my ethnicity/experience/culture, which means I should really love it for that but, well, I appreciate it but that doesn’t actually matter. What matters is whether it provides what it needs to provide for its audience – which are teens of colour, but especially Muslim-American teens.
The overarching narrative is never going to interest me much specifically, because I’m just not that into superheroes. But the little things bring me joy. Besides the art (and all the Easter eggs!) it’s seeing Kamala on Tumblr, or her interactions with her parents, or trying to navigate her identity both as a teenager and as a Muslim-American – these things made the comic so enjoyable to me. Again, personal taste – I really like comics about personal experience and identity and emotions and stuff – so you know, it’s not going to jive with everyone. But even if you know it’s not for you, you can appreciate what it means to its actual audience. I don’t know, I actually have experience of being Muslim (though not Muslim-American which is distinct from a British perspective of being Muslim) and growing up in a Asian family and being on Tumblr and trying to find a place in a society that, because of your culture or heritage or religion or personal experience, tells you that you don’t really fit in.
I can’t relate completely to Kamala. She’s not for me. She’s written to appeal to a younger audience. Joel said that she has no flaws – but for a younger perspective, she totally does. She’s a dork, she doesn’t fit in, she embarrasses herself. She also struggles to balance her personal desires with the desires of her family. It’s not a solely Asian (or Muslim) thing, obvs, but amongst the people I’ve known in my life, that struggle has been most common for Muslim teenagers and young adults, including myself. And it creates emotional conflicts and can spark reckless behaviour. Kamala is designed to be cute, quirky, nerdy, maybe also a positive role model in terms of doing the right thing (but like… to be fair, most superheroes are supposed to inspire that sense of righteousness and justice in us – just because we’re questioning whether Kamala should lie to her parents instead of, for instance, whether she should kill the Joker or not, doesn’t mean we’re questioning any less) – but she isn’t perfect. That’s… really nice to see when you’re a flawed teenager yourself.
It really comforts me to know that – amongst the tidal wave of superhero titles out there – there are a few that are specifically aimed at young people, representing them and their world. I absolutely want to see real representation and inclusivity across the board (like Charlie said, actually having a Muslim creative team behind Ms Marvel means much more than just buying a comic with a Muslim character in it) – I’d like better representation in the narratives I like to read, not just in DC and Marvel (or other superhero comics.) DC and Marvel are never ever going to ‘fix’ diversity. That kinda needs to come from outside superhero comics which are just too historically fraught with damaged straight white men. But just because we can see through the Big Two’s marketing tactics, just because we know they’re unlikely to offer anything really groundbreaking, doesn’t lessen the importance or impact of formulaic titles improving representation for the superhero-comics readers who need it most.
Frankly, that does make a difference. Maybe not on a societal or global or even a political level – but for individuals and real lived experiences, that matters a hell of a lot. It’s not OK to stop here, of course, but we are allowed to see the positivity before moving onwards and upwards.
I’m really glad that Zainabb brought up Kate Kane in the context of Kamala Khan (wow, never realized they have the same initials until now) because it accomplishes a lot of the heavy lifting for the deeply personal reasons that I connect to both of them, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Brass tacks first.
The key, and I think most fundamental aspect of what makes Kamala such a fantastic character and a blockbuster hit is that Sana Amanat, Stephen Wacker, G. Willow Wilson, and Adrian Alphona created a character who was perfectly primed for the loose metanarrative of the Marvel Universe. It’s something i touched on briefly in my first column for this site, which is more or less the contention that the most powerful and pervasive theme that runs through the major Marvel properties is a spectrum of perspectives on social alienation. The X-Men have shone so bright as to virtually erase the ways that almost all of the core Marvel properties are informed by some kind of post nuclear malaise, but it’s always there somewhere under the surface. Bringing Kamala into that setting makes her alienation more or less implicit because almost every significant Marvel character is informed by some kind of alienation or disassociation from societal norms that vary from the minute -Peter Parker’s social awkwardness- to the extremes of the Islamophobia that Kamala is subject to or the anti-blackness that informs Luke Cage’s world. Characters like Kamala, who can connect with the fundamental mythology in place and expand its applicability for a new generation are what justify the continued existence of fishbowls like Marvel’s shared universe.
As far as the perceived presence or depth of Kamala’s flaws, I’ll gladly defer to Zainabb on how cultural lenses affect the reader’s, well, depth perception, but I also feel like we’re in a cultural moment where the practice of humanizing female characters and/or making them relateable via character flaws has become nearly pathological. It’s something that I’ve focused on a lot whenever I’ve written about the Cain/Niemczyk/Rosenberg Mockingbird run and what made that particular book stand out. If you look at, and these are books that I adore, the Stewart/Fletcher/Tarr Batgirl run, Starfire, or the Conner-Palmiotti Harley Quinn empire, the way they build a connection with the audience is by connecting these characters’ flaws and neuroses to those of the expected audience. It pays dividends a lot and I’ve endorsed the ways that they work, but it’s also deeply gendered because we culturally expect glaring character flaws of Shakespearean proportions in women and barely register their absence in men. Bobbi Morse, as presented by Cain, Niemczyk, and Rosenberg, had a pair of middle fingers in the air to that construction from the first page of the first issue to the letters column of last week’s finale. Bobbi was a sarcastic, self aware power fantasy in a genre that was created to nurture heteronormative male power fantasies. That’s why Chelsea Cain got mobbed off of Twitter. So it’s like why should Kamala have some fatal flaw? What possible storytelling purpose does it serve, other than to reinforce the social construction that women and girls only rise to heroism out of being victimized and are only palatable when they can be brought to heel? The nadir of that attitude is pretty well exemplified in how the only way Kevin Smith could make sense of Felicia Hardy becoming Black Cat was by deciding she was raped in college, but if you look around, sexual trauma and/or intimate partner violence is common to just about every prominent female character at Marvel other than Squirrel Girl, Ms Marvel, Angela, and the girl with the dinosaur. Well, both girls with dinosaurs.
Which is another key aspect of Kamala! Her embiggening powers are a puberty metaphor. I hope I have shocked no one with this stunning fact. We all laugh about Spider-Man and how he is also a puberty metaphor and his shooting webs from his wrist symbolize masturbation. David Fincher, bless his heart, supposedly wanted to really stick it to the audience by having Peter wake up covered in webs the morning after being bitten by that famous spider. Nocturnal emissions and all that. Superhero coming of age stories as puberty metaphors are almost universally eroticized in one way or another, but, again, they’re deeply gendered. When it comes to Peter Parker, the erotic element is focused on self indulgence and virility because superhero fiction is a genre dominated by masculine self indulgence and virility. Puberty metaphors for female characters in Marvel comics until Kamala came around have not been good.
Illyana Rasputina, mutant name Magik, is a character I have an incredibly deep affection for. In one sense, her utterly unique circumstances that distance her from her mutant peers make her effectively the queerest of the queer (to borrow a Garbage lyric), something I relate to on an intimate level as a trans woman. Her origin miniseries, in which she went from a prepubescent girl to a half demon young adult, is probably the comic I’m most deeply conflicted about. It’s skeleton is a fairly rote Lost Girl narrative, but there’s plenty to inform it, especially the artwork. I’ve drawn and redrawn Brett Blevins’ iconic cover to #4 more than a few times but the overarching plot of the story is Illyana’s literal and figurative coming of age in a hell dimension while being more or less groomed by the pedophilic Belasco. The comic is shot through with deeply uncomfortable eroticism that plays much more to a leering male gaze than a genuinely self exploratory feminine one. The sexual trauma embedded in Magik’s origin is implicit rather than explicit, but in contrast to how we conceive of a character like Peter Parker, it says a lot about the rift between genders within the medium.
So coming back around to Kamala, she’s this incredibly rare instance of a female superhero whose fundamental puberty metaphor has no clearly palpable erotic element angled towards a normative male gaze and that’s a truly significant achievement. Her whole deal is poorly controlled growth spurts, at the end of the day it’s something that teens of any and all genders can empathize with, and that in and of itself is another noteworthy achievement.
A really unfortunate consequence of just how retrograde most mainstream media is when it comes to representation and diversity is that thought processes just kind of end when we reach the point that a given character is an advancement because readers of the corresponding background get to see a legitimate reflection of that aspect of themselves in popular fiction. Because it’s so rare that we encounter conversations or written pieces where someone explores how things that initially appeared alien to them or “for someone else” came to take on significant personal meaning, or, you know, the benefits of engaging with media that doesn’t necessarily cater to you, particularly when the you in question is someone who is more or less part of the dominant social class.
My kind of initial thought process going into Ms Marvel when it first launched was that it was going to be a kind and fluffy comic that would do nicely as an emotional palate cleanser for the more violent and emotionally fraught comics on my pull list, and that’s not an incorrect evaluation of its superficial virtues, but what really truly grabbed me about it from the beginning was how Wilson portrays Islam and matters of faith. My favourite character in the comic is actually Sheik Abdullah. Feel free to substitute your anecdotes about the archetypal English vicar, but in contemporary popular fiction you’re either going to get, when it comes to Christianity and especially Catholocism, either a buffoonish authority figure to be bucked with simplistic secular rebellion or cloying paternalism. My ethno-religious background is Irish Catholic and Italian Catholic, and while I’ve long since parted ways with the Vatican on matters of faith, I’m also not going to hesitate in saying how deeply unsatisfying the Catholocisms of Daredevil and Huntress are. It’s all self flagellation, torture, and behaving unnecessarily self righteously towards sex workers. I’ve yet to, and likely never will, see in those characters the aspects of the faith that I loved as a child and still retain a fascination with. I come from one of the most notoriously conservative diocese in Canada, but at the same time I see a lot of the positive interactions I had with the clergy reflected in Sheik Abdullah, and I think comics could use a lot more characters that refract similar values to his through the prisms of their faith.
Finally bringing me all the way around to Kate Kane. Unlike Zainabb, who feels like Kate was made for her, it’d be more accurate to say that Kate Kane made me. Elegy came out at a time when my sense of my own gender was both very plastic and fragile, and Kate appeared and just crystallized it all. She confirmed that what I thought was femininity, what I wanted to model and assert for myself was valid, strong, and beautiful. A big part of that for me was that it was J.H. Williams III who drew those issues not long after finishing Promethea, which had an even more profound effect on me and was very deeply informed by (the western esoteric tradition’s interpretation of) Kabbalah, so a lot of the visual language that Williams used to evoke the feminine aspects of the divine with Moore went into his depiction of Kate and her twin Beth with Rucka. Not for nothing, he even drew a framed illustration of the tree of life in her penthouse, which, you know, also has a tree growing through the middle of it. So we have this Jewish heroine who is most iconically portrayed by the artist who did Promethea and is deeply connected to the occult end of the DCU, which is mostly built out of pop versions of Enochian magic and Kabbalah, and yet, here we are a decade into her publication history and we have no idea what her actual perspective on matters of faith is. That’s ludicrous to me.
Kamala isn’t a perfect or perfectly executed character, but when I look at her and what I’ve read of her series, I see a pretty significant list of things that her creative team have enacted that either don’t get attempted or have utterly failed elsewhere for a very long time. Kamala Khan is, for my money, the purest distillation of what a Marvel superhero is and can be in 2016.
On a side note, I find it really fascinating that two of the next most significant Muslim superheroes after Kamala -Faiza Hussain and Khalid Nassour- are both doctors in an era when superheroes are constructed almost exclusively as soldiers and police.
Barbican Comic Forum
I haven’t read Ms Marvel and as Charlie pointed out, I’m probably not it’s intended audience. Would I read it? I would, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to do so. What I do find interesting is the way Joel has setup this discussion (nicely done).
I won’t dive into the minute details of what Ms Marvel represents or brings to the table and thankfully that has been done in a far more superior way than I ever could by Zainabb and Emma. What I will attempt to do is to respond to Joel’s Metaphors.
“Metaphor alert 1 /// for me Ms. Marvel is an aspirin when you’re not actually sick.”
Starting with the metaphor itself, to take an aspirin when you’re not actually sick implies that you’re perfectly healthy and that you may think you’re unwell but in actuality you’re only imagining it. I say this with the greatest of respect, and with your permission “You can call me conceited if you want” :D, that is a little conceited. Yes I appreciate your varied background and even give a special shout out to the Ghanaian part of your heritage (my people! lol) but the fact is if you don’t tell someone this they will have almost no clue.
If we look into the origins of most people on the street you may be surprised to find out that your sisters aren’t the only people around you with such a mix of different ethnicities. Being aware of this is all well and good, but one of the things about representation or how your perceive yourself is sometimes the way others perceive you. In this non Utopian world we inhabit, the fact is, if you can pass as whatever the predominant group is in your society (in this instance white), then no matter how much you associate personally with your actual heritage you will have the fortunate experience of bypassing some of the uglier aspects of prejudice. This may lead to you not being able to appreciate how much of an impact a relatively small thing like seeing a positive character that you can relate to, can have on an individual. When you spend you’re childhood having to imagine yourself as someone who’s life or life experiences have almost nothing in common with your own, actually seeing a character that doesn’t require the extra mental exertions you normally go through can be a breath of fresh air. It can also make you feel like maybe your experiences have some worth and that other people might be interested in knowing more about your way of life. That leads me on to the second metaphor…
Metaphor alert 2 /// Ms. Marvel is an aspirin when what you really need is antibiotics.
I agree that an antibiotic is what is needed, in that larger more wholesale treatment of the actual problem is required. That doesn’t mean that while you’re waiting for the antibiotic to be applied, you can’t appreciate a aspirin to help ease the pain you’re currently experiencing. Can’t I have an aspirin now and an antibiotic later? I’m going to stop with the medicinal references now because I feel like Google’s information gathering algorithm will start placing advertisements for STD clinics or some other infectious disease treatment facilities in my email and web pages I visit.
You made a great point when you said things like tweets or other social media posts don’t really make a huge difference. They can however make a substantial difference to an individual or a small group. For example, there are some that will update statuses regularly to the latest evil afflicting our world and leave it at that. Doesn’t make much a difference until someone sees that update (yes I know there are other ways to find out about what is going on in this world). Theoretically, that person might see the update then click on a link and actually donate or organise something that has a real-world impact. Going back to our Watchmen review – Does everything worth doing or having need to have a Veidt-like impact or is there room for the Rorschachs of the world to make a change in individual lives? I think we can have both and should have both, especially as not that many people are able to pull off a Veidt or would want to.
I have no illusions about the reasons why Marvel are doing this. It’s probably not because they want to make a better world or to try and elevate humanity one comic at a time (I like that idea though). Yes this may be the same superhero formula, but don’t forget it’s old to you because you’ve seen it over and over again. There are actually people who may not have been exposed to this formula before (yes I know it’s shocking but it’s true). You have to admit when you were younger and less jaded (assuming you’re jaded) the formula brought you joy and entertainment and when it’s all said and done isn’t that one of the primary objectives of story telling and specifically comics? For those that are tired of the formulas I’m sure there are alternatives. I nice optimistic and maybe naive part of me (which I regularly give a good kicking) believes that we’re getting closer to a state in which everyone can find something that interests or “speaks” to them. When you boil stories down (Ms Marvel or Injection) they all follow basic principles and could be described as formulaic right?
I apologise if it seems like my response is too focused on you personally Joel, but you did such a great job of setting up the discussion (possibly playing devil’s advocate) I didn’t feel I could respond in any other way.
Stories like Ms Marvel aren’t going to single handedly make everyone feel more included or teach people to perceive different cultures/lifestyles more tolerantly. However, I do feel that they can have a profound affect on some people and for that alone I think it’s worthwhile.
To build on Nana’s first point a bit, in that your ability to perceive yourself is frequently mitigated by outside perpectives, I think that at a certain point, any discussion of the emergence of Kamala Khan is going to have to acknowledge the exceptional level of Islamophobia in comics as a medium. I don’t want to diminish the prevalence of other prejudices that are alive and well in the medium, but Islamophobia is a permissable and vociferously defended prejudice in every corner of comics from the infamous Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad and Charlie Hebdo’s oeuvre to Jason Karnes’ Fukitor and DK3. Even Marvel is in on it, giving Solo, whoever that is, an eponymous comic that has him squaring off with generic depictions of Al Qaeda fighters on the cover. The media discourse on Muslim representation is so profoundly broken that back in 2010 when David Hine replied to a post speculating about Nightrunner’s backstory on my site, it got passed around by major media outlets as his rejoinder to right wing bloviating about there being a franco-algerian Batman analogue. As far as I can remember, Graphic Policy and Bleeding Cool were the only sites who didn’t need to come up with a barefaced lie in order to write an item about what inspired the creation of a Muslim superhero. That’s the cultural context that Kamala, say nothing about real people, has to exist in.
Barbican Comic Forum
Don’t think there’s much I can add to this debate about race and depiction in comics.
I will say Zainabb’s “milking” take on comics getting more diverse is incredibly spot on. I mean take Black Panther and Ta-Nehisi Coates (I think i spelt that right). Or maybe I’ve misinterpreted. Screw it – here goes.
If he hadn’t been picked up as some brilliant intellectual voice on race issues as Black Lives Matter grew would Marvel have tapped him for the character as he made his cinematic debut?
I think the conversation would have gone something like this:
A: Oh, there’s this writer. Really talented, important voice on race issues in America, big fan, great pitch, Risky but new. What do you think?
A: …Well I love Bendis, we all do. He’s great, but maybe Black Panther could be done by a new writer, one with a deep connection and a new take on the character?
A: Bendis has mentioned he would like to see his children at some point this year. Maybe Black Panther could be that break?
*A hangs himself on a noose made of secret invasion tie in comics*
(Also Christopher Priest who wrote one of the best runs on the character spent YEARS out of the industry simply because people only offered him black characters which is just, come on).
I actually think it’s fucking great that the editors at the caped big two are exploiting diversity for money. This is a capitalist society, what the market wants, it gets. Trump joke Trump joke Trump joke.
So if you’re telling me that comic readership has matured to the point that there’s money to be made by making long term, sustainable comics about diverse characters by diverse creators – then fucking A. More range, more ideas and everyone gets in on the fun. Exploit away – it says pretty great things about the audience, that they don’t just want the same few rent-a-kit identities. If it keeps going this way, we’ll get that Barack Obama Superman series Grant Morrison was meant to write two mad volumes of by now (the plot, a bunch of salvia scribblings he found in some krusty Kathmandu shirt pocket from 1995).
Okay I added a bunch. Sue me.
More interesting to me is the question – how the fuck is another super hero origin arc meant to be interesting?
I mean there’s a lot that Joel is (surprisingly) right about, the Kamala Khan story is a generic superhero origin. Entirely so. Generic is boring and cultural progress doesn’t turn a boring story into a good one.
But what I disagree on is dickishness as something new and interesting.
Bruce Wayne – miserable brat.
Oliver Queen – Ladbible.
Tony Stark – Military industrial complex whore who decides to save the world after only a few billion more.
Dr Strange – Tony Stark with acupuncture and shrooms.
Spider-Man: Literally Nice guyTM
Bruce Banner – above average road rage
Matt Murdock – Went to Law school.
Clark Kent – Journalist at a major news paper and Julian Assange said I’m meant to hate those guys.
Stan Lee was said to have been an essential forward point in the superhero genre, by creating origin arcs of an asshole becoming a milder asshole with superpowers, he turned 1 dimensional characters (DC’s characters were effectively just coloured in “virtues”) into 2 dimensional ones. Later DC updates did alot to humanise characters by making them terrible people who grunt about which deaths are better than others.
So with Kamala – I think that’s part of the broader appeal – that her heart is in the right place. That she’s a goofy, nerdy, awkward sweet hearted teen and in wish fulfillment terms, that’s a big part of why a superhero comic has appeal – I saw a part of myself. The awkward high school kid that obsessed over this stuff and in no small part wished that he could live the Kamala Khan story. Hell I still want superpowers and funny adventures with Wolverine. It’d be great.
Additionally, what elevates this is the funny. Look at Scott Pilgrim. It’s about a white, male asshole that fights a bunch of guys to “win” a girl. Try pitching that to Tumblr. But Pilgrim is a classic in no small part because Scott Piglrim is a hilarious ass surrounded by people who point out his flaws in very funny ways.And he’s kind of adorable. The humour and the the video game pastiche look is a reason why it resonates so well.
I caught Escape From New York a little while ago and it is in many ways an astoundingly generic film – gruff badass goes to dangerous locale to rescue important thing. It’s core form is the standard story box (much in the way that Ms Marvel inhabits the frustratingly standard superhero origin box). The reason it’s so fucking good is the stuff inside the box – the 80s electronica look, the sound design, the dialogue, the Ernest Borgnine cab driver, the tape swich, the jokes. Those things take a standard story form and elevate it into something iconic. Ms Marvel is great because it’s boring box is stuffed with a character that reflects not just people from an under repped culture, but the adolenscense of a modern fan – not necessarily a science nerd getting smacked around by athletes but someone who feels a little awk on the fringes who loves spending time getting lost in the world of caped crusader characters. It’s a box stuffed with the funny that helped make Scott Pilgrim so fun for everyone. It’s just full of fun happy things that make you smile. It made me smile. So it’s good.
We sit around the same camp fire and tell each other different versions of the same stories, often, it’s simply the way we tell those old stories that makes them new again.
Ms. Marvel is really fun and a decent cultural step forward.
Uncle Toms Cabin barely managed half of that sentence.
It maybe worth noting that Brian Bendis has two black children. His concern for relevant superhero comic books for his kids to read seems a prominent one and may explain his drive for the creation, continued publication and writing of Miles Morales, Spider-Man as well as his recent replacement of Tony Stark with Riri Williams as Iron Man.
As for Ms Marvel, there are things to note. She is totally being created in the manner of a sixties Marvel superhero, specifically Spider-Man, keeping her identity hidden from parental figures, trying to balance school and superheroism, and she even has the double letter name – Kamala Khan, Peter Parker, Reed Richards, Bruce Banner etc. The aim is definitely to do a “growing up is hell, but you get through it” superhero comic, that she is a Muslim is just another thing. Ms Marvel, the comic, may be closer to Buffy than anything. She has yet to fight a series of themed anti-Islamic supervillains.
And please can we talk about Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring, the main artists on the character. The artwork is so important to the success of this comic, and moreso in that it is not Marvel House Style if such a thing exists anymore, and is probably comparable with what DC did with Batgirl when Babs Tarr started drawing it. Alphona and Herring’s work, from that first splash page of a vision of Carol Danvers, through the book manages to reflect the power base of the character, it is squshy, it is blobby, it embiggens with emotion with colours and paints that make the whole comic feel more like an acheiveable, touchable watercolour painting rather than the unapproachable computer designed look common to other books. It is a world away, say, from the stylisation of The Wicked + The Divine.
No one can be a god. But anyone can be Ms Marvel.
A bit like Zainabb above – I don’t really read superhero books anymore and had the sense going into this that Ms Marvel wasn’t written for me. It did however remind me of Ultimate Spider-Man – a book that *was* written for me when I needed it 10 or so years ago. These kinds of superhero origin stories a like the bottom of the comics escalator. You hop on when you need that affirmation and escapism and power fantasy that the genre provide, and you hop off when you tire of all that and want something that’s (as Joel says) more challenging.
What is interesting for me about Ms Marvel is that her superpower is to change her appearance. Being a teenager is partly about experimenting with different looks and identities, and in Kamala’s case her shapeshifting brings out the (mostly subconscious) pressure she feels to conform to a certain western beauty standard – something which is not readily available to her because of her race. It’s quite a powerful moment in the comic when you realise that she is not going to take advantage of the ability she suddenly gets to appear white, blond, sexy, etc. Instead, maintaining that surface-level disguise is a distraction from the real work of saving the day. She commissions a real costume so she doesn’t have to worry about what she looks like anymore.
So. Yeah. There are lots of things that I wanna say. Hats on.
(I think I might end up with comparing Ms Marvel with Hillary Clinton: but let’s see how it goes huh?)
One of the problems tho is that everything that I want to say conflicts with all the other stuff that I want to say. Or – actually: to say it in the way that makes sense: I can see (feel) all the problems with everything that I want to write. The first thing I say has a baked-in objection that means I should say the second thing to go against it. The second thing has a third thing. Third thing a fourth and etc etc. I think it’s called dialectics? Or something? I don’t know. Whatever.
Point is: all the things I think make me feel confused. So I can only imagine that to anyone else trying to understand the things that I want to say: that I’m probably just going to sound like a crazy person. Because basically to everything I just want to say: “It’s more complicated than that.”
Which – I dunno. Feels like it’s right and true: but maybe isn’t very helpful? I don’t know.
Just in case you missed it: Donald John Trump was elected as President of the United States last week. To which mostly all I can really say is (on a repeat forever): “Holy. Shit!” And just to be clear so that you all know where my loyalties lie: That is a very bad thing. Trump is a bad man. And he says bad things that I do not agree with.
(Whisper in my ear: “But it’s more complicated than that.”).
Shut up you.
I mean: I know that this is a dumb thing to say: but hey – if we could have chosen any book to talk about during these times then Ms Marvel is kinda a good one no? (Altho the “No Normal” subtitle header feels a lot more ominous now – seeing how we’re now all stuck in a No Normal world).
And yeah: shit. The day after he got elected I really felt like I wanted to write a big long thing that replied to the stuff that people had said so fair and tied it into Trumpness. Only well: I couldn’t bring myself to do it – because – it feels like what we all need in a world that’s now got a lot more dark and hostile and unfriendly is something that can make us feel good and happy and safe and strong and all right. And shit man: there is a part of me that would really like to be that person. Only: I’m not a politician. I’m not a journalist. I’m not an entertainer. I’m just a messed up guy full of doubt and self-recrimination and I’m here to tell you that actually – it’s all so much worse than you think.
(Whisper in my ear: “But it’s more complicated than that.”).
I guess if it’s not already clear I should come clean and admit it and say that yeah: I’m a member of the (scary noises) “far left” in that I would like to live in a world that is fair and just to everyone: fully automated luxury communism: you know – what happens after Edward Nortion holds hands with Helena Bonham Carter at the end of Fight Club (what do you mean they made a Fight Club 2?!): fully non-realistic nonsense or whatever.
I mean: I would just call it: being a normal human being that doesn’t want to live in a world where other people suffer but hey – (shrug emoji)
(Whisper in my ear: “But it’s more complicated than that.”).
When I was thinking about what to write in my head I thought that it would be best maybe to start off by writing about “Ideologies.” Like: that could be the first word. And then I go into what it means. I mean: it’s word that I’ve ended up using more and more as time goes on: but I’m not sure I could give you a dictionary definition of it (but saying that: I probably couldn’t give you a dictionary definition of most of the worlds I use: my mind just doesn’t work like that): but I guess you know – it’s your system of beliefs. The way you see the world. The ideas that you carry in your head that you use to make sense of things. aka the things that will eventually doom us all.
Because yes – I mean: in case it wasn’t obvious: Donald Trump being elected President of the Frigging United States of (Fuck me) America is a seismic event on the level of 9/11 or the Second World War (everyone looks at me blankly) or ok – whatever – The Death of Superman (everyone nods their heads in understanding). I mean: this is an event that was literally laugh-worthy this time last year and is now totally 100% our reality (oh my goodness). I mean: it’s up there with contact with aliens: only people won’t laugh at you if you say that it’s possible that it could happen – you know? (Or whatever – maybe you run in different circles to me).
And – LOL at all of my naivety – I would have thought that with such an abrupt crack in our reality and our common sense understanding (I would link here to all of the things that all of the people wrote and said about a Trump Presidency being an impossibility: but you probably spent all of the past year reading about them already right?): would cause at least just a little: I dunno – soul-searching and “how did we get this all so wrong?” questioning instead of – from my vantage point at least (yours may differ) – everyone doubling down on the things they’ve already believed.
(Whisper in my ear: “But it’s more complicated than that.”).
Well yeah: except – here’s the kicker: I’ve doubled down on all the stuff I’ve already believed too. That our system doesn’t work. That politics from the center doesn’t really work anymore. That people want a change to an establishment doesn’t really care about them. You know: all that stuff. The kind of thing that Jeremy Corbyn says:
“Trump’s election is an unmistakable rejection of a political establishment and an economic system that simply isn’t working for most people. It is one that has delivered escalating inequality and stagnating or falling living standards for the majority, both in the US and Britain. This is a rejection of a failed economic consensus and a governing elite that has been seen not to have listened. And the public anger that has propelled Donald Trump to office has been reflected in political upheavals across the world. But some of Trump’s answers to the big questions facing America, and the divisive rhetoric around them, are clearly wrong. I have no doubt, however, that the decency and common sense of the American people will prevail, and we send our solidarity to a nation of migrants, innovators and democrats.”
(Whoops: I can hear people stopping reading from all the way over here).
Because yeah: looking out at the things my friends have been saying on facebook for the past week: that’s not the reason at all. Instead – it’s racism and sexism and the decline of white privilege and people wanting the perfect over the good and people paying too much attention to emails and the media not being full-throated enough in their support of Hillary and not doing enough to condemn Trump and the voters being lazy and stupid and short-sighted and everything and everyone.
(Whisper in my ear: “But it’s more complicated than that.”).
And yeah – I mean: shoot – I have a few articles that I could recommend you read:
Except: well – I’m not sure that I believe in the existence of someone whose mind can be changed by reading one article on the internet because that’s not how it works is it?
We all have our ideologies and the things that we already believe and not only is there nothing that can be said that can be done to change it: but there’s also nothing that can happen that’ll make you change it either. Which – gosh – is all sorts of disappointing and depressing.
Like: the thing that scares me the most I think is how for pretty much all of us (maybe you’re a rare exception to the norm?) the things we think are so obviously shaped by our experiences. Like: there’s the whole thing that a white person can never really know what it’s like to experience racism because well – duh. Obviously. You can sympathise and try your best to give it your all with your empathy: but you can’t. Same thing with being a woman. I mean: I can try to be aware of all the traps of misogyny and society and etc: but I’ll never really know what it’s like to be a woman experiencing sexism. And etc and etc.
But here’s my secret fear: one that I (hopefully) don’t say lightly (and hey: please feel free to cuss me out / write back and tell me all the ways that you think I’m wrong) but is it possible that it’s also a trap?
This is only a recent awareness – but I feel like I’m coming to understand that the things I think are the result of the things that have happened to me in my life. Like I said above: I’m a left-leaning type of guy that kinda feels like at the end of the day – most things come down to power and class. My view of the world is that there are powerful elites (aka the rich people) who want to keep us all divided and separate from each other so that we don’t realise what’s going on and decide to create a more fair, equal and just world.
(Whisper in my ear: “But it’s more complicated than that.”).
And yeah – to me that just seems obvious: but I get that maybe it doesn’t to most people. Maybe you’re one of them? Maybe you think I’m ignoring race and sex and religion and sexuality and gender and etc. And yeah maybe you’re right.
But shit man: I started my life poor. I mean: I went to a very crappy secondary school that was falling apart (it actually feel apart and they knocked it down and built an academy over the top of it – so it goes): and even in this crappy shabby piece-of-shit school (sorry guys) – I was the poor kid. I couldn’t afford a proper uniform and shit. I looked a state. I had free school meals that gave me food poisoning once a term (true story – one time I got Appendicitis: but everyone just thought it was the dodgy chips again). But well yeah: I got real lucky and managed to fall upwards (most probably helped out by the fact I was a white male yeah: because hey: it’s life played on the easy difficultly setting).
And hey: I would say that has directly affected my outlook on the rest of the world. I know what it’s like to be poor. I know what it’s like to have no real hope for the future (except I always thought that I’d be a famous actor / rock-star / artist / film director one day) and etc and so on: and because of that – class is kinda at the center of all the things that I believe. Like: there’s been a black President. There was almost a female President. But I don’t think there will ever be a poor President (it’s almost a contradiction in terms no?)
And here’s my secret fear: in the same way me being poor makes me fixate on class: does the same thing happen with other people with racism and sexism? Or – fuck – is it racist and sexist to even think so? (I hope I’m not being: and if so seriously: I apologise). But once society makes you see yourself in a certain way: and connect it to a feeling of shame (and oh my god: speaking of: I would totally recommend you read this: The Left’s Self-Destructive Obsession with Shame which I think maybe says everything I’m trying to say only much better) then it kinda welds it to everything and all you are and all you can see.
(Whisper in my ear: “But it’s more complicated than that.”).
If anyone wants to come at me with: I’m just another straight white male that doesn’t know what he’s talking about then that’s fair enough.
And oops – brace yourself: because this is the bit where I start in on superheroes and lose any goodwill that I might have left (*checks gauge* gauge says: EMPTY)
*takes a sip of water*
There’s a comics blog I’ve been reading for a really long time called The Hurting.
I mean – it’s really great. It’s smart. Funny. Insightful. Even when I don’t agree with the stuff it says it’s still entertaining and makes me think and opens up new parts of my head (which I sometimes feel is all I really want from anything).
Early October they posted up this:
Which erm yeah. Is worth reading for all sorts of reasons (stop reading this and go read it now – it’s ok: I’ll wait – and you won’t regret it) but I’ll just focus on one of the points that made me think of what’s been written here so far (or maybe the other way around? Whatever).
This is the bit:
Although he was hardly the first to articulate the idea, what sticks with me the most from Spurgeon’s article is brief mention of old-school Journal writer Darcy Sullivan, and his belief that “reading comics may indeed be a very bad thing for many of us, contributing in very specific ways towards our becoming emotionally and spiritually crippled.”
At the end of the essay, after some biographical details regarding his associations with food and comics, he ends with an observation regarding the nature of superhero fandom that superhero comics promote such an unrealistic fantasy based on bizarre, arbitrary models of action that they don’t really give anyone a model for fully socialized behavior. A kid who idolizes the biggest shithead basketball player on Earth can at least pursue the sport in which his hero participates. But until fighting ninjas become a club activity on major college campuses, the core activities of the superhero are lost on the superhero devotee.
I mean – please feel free to disagree with any of the above or any of the following: but I guess this is where I’m coming from when I say that I think that mainstream “Big Two” superhero comics are kind of a crappy thing.
Hats off – I Zainabb and Emma have both written very cool things about their appeal (in fact hats off to everyone who’s contributed so far: there’s been lots of good stuff here: I mean for real: I think this might be my favourite LGNN thread so far) but mostly I tend to view DC and Marvel as drug dealers supplying a toxic product that creates nothing more than addicts and ends up blighting our collective imaginative landscape (and – ooooh yeah: now they’re making films! Hooray!).
I mean: yeah – there are a few counter-examples: Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns have both been talked about the LGNN and I think they’re both pretty cool books. But part of the reason why I like them (and a big part of the reason why I think 99% of DC and Marvel stinks is because they tell complete stories. You pick up the book – you read it – and then once you get to the end: you’re done. Which erm yeah – isn’t the case with your typical superhero comic which is more like being dropped into the middle of the Library of Babel (lol I love that place) and being told you have to read your way out.
Credit where it’s due: in terms of a marketing strategy – it’s one of the most diabolical tricks that has ever been played (and seeing how successful the Marvel movies have been: one that keeps playing off dividends and making lots of people very very rich). But yeah – while I agree that it’s great news for the people who control it and make the money: I would disagree strongly with the idea that it’s good for the people who read it.
(I hope I’m not pissing on anyone’s bonfire when I say this stuff by the way: it’s not my intention to just be a complete killjoy dickhead and trash every I see – even tho I totally get that might seem what I’m look like I’m doing – but hopefully (fingers crossed) none of you take my opinion seriously enough for it to matter).
But here’s also the other problem with superheroes (and oops: also with most of our entertainment in general): good guys and bad guys.
That is: the idea that there are good guys who are on the side of right and thumbs up emoji and then there are the bad guys who have hearts full of evil and hate and only want to all the worst things and are thumbs down emoji.
(Whisper in my ear: “But it’s more complicated than that.”).
Because I guess that’s the thing that’s mostly been driving me crazy lately is the insidious as fuck idea that there are only two sides to anything instead of: oh dear – lots of strange shades of grey.
Like: if the links above didn’t make clear – I don’t think that the way to deal with Trump and the Dawn of Fascism in America is to blame it on racism and sexism and declare that everyone who voted for him is also evil. Because well: it seems like it makes more sense to say that – actually – it’s probably way more complicated than that.
(Whisper in my ear: “But it’s more complicated than that.”).
Because yeah – even if by ticking that box in the voting booth that unleashed a whole golden box of evil demons into the world: I just don’t think it’s ever a good idea to write off people as whatever (I dunno – choose whatever word you think works best). I mean: fuck – it’s pretty easy to extend your empathy to people who already agree with all the stuff who agree with you. But to actually try and see the point of someone you disagree with. To try to understand the thoughts and feelings of someone who basically (in a small way) committed a destructive act on the rest of the world – I mean: that’s the hard stuff no?
This from one of the links above:
What many don’t understand is how truly desperate these places are, and we’re not talking about small enclaves or a few towns–we’re talking about multiple states where a significant chunk of the white working class struggles to get by. Heroin addiction is rampant. In my medium-sized Ohio county last year, deaths from drug addiction outnumbered deaths from natural causes. The average kid will live in multiple homes over the course of her life, experience a constant cycle of growing close to a “stepdad” only to see him walk out on the family, know multiple drug users personally, maybe live in a foster home for a bit (or at least in the home of an unofficial foster like an aunt or grandparent), watch friends and family get arrested, and on and on. And on top of that is the economic struggle, from the factories shuttering their doors to the Main Streets with nothing but cash-for-gold stores and pawn shops.
The two political parties have offered essentially nothing to these people for a few decades.
But come on: this is beyond a joke: what the hell does all this have to do with Ms Marvel?
Ok. Thanks for sticking with me and reading this far down (have a cupcake).
Forgive me if I already said this before: but with all of the above in mind – my problem with Ms Marvel is that it’s not better.
Because fuck me – just take a look around: we are all in an extremely precarious situation right now. The right wing are ascendent and that is very very very bad news for everyone. We all need to shift our butts into gear and mobilise our forces and – oops – in a strange coincidence that just so happens to line up exactly with all the things that I was already thinking (what are the chances?).
Like the stuff with people saying Ms Marvel is “just for kids.” I mean – what? Since when has that ever been an excuse? Like: most of my favourite things in the world are things that are just “for kids” = pretty much every Pixar film; The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ (which I just re-read and oh my god – it’s brilliant); Adventure Time; Harry Potter; Judge Dredd; Ursula K. Le Guin; Roald Dahl; Studio Ghibli; Raymond Briggs etc etc. I mean: just because it’s for kids there’s no reason that it can’t be good for other people to read too. You know: it just has to be quality and set it’s sights a little higher. I mean: shit – at the risk of inflaming things – Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man is DAMN GOOD COMICS. Made for kids. But still quality.
And oh my god – well yeah: just to open one final barrel of monkeys – (and I guess I should be careful how I say this): but just speaking personally here: I really don’t care who the hell writes what. And in fact – a world where the Muslim person writes the Muslim characters and the Black person writes the Black characters and etc and so on: doesn’t sound like the sort of thing we should we aiming for: you know – please forgive me for sounding so simplistic – but I’d prefer to be aiming for everyone writing everything (oops – is my Utopianism showing?)
The thing to fight against is the monopoly of straight white male voices (he says fully aware of the colossal irony): because yes of course. But getting ourselves lined up so that people only deal with characters who share the same gender / race / sexuality / etc with them “because you can only write your own experience” seems like a recipe for – well: boring stories that don’t do much to help us all expand our spheres of empathy. Which well – is the thing I think we should all really be aiming for (with a matter of some urgency already: come on! Otherwises we’re all going to die – the right wing = bad).
But looking back at everything I’ve written I realise that I haven’t said even a fraction of all the things I wanted to say: How Studio Ghibli is a much better model for understanding each other than superhero binaries (most of the time in a Studio Ghibli film: the bad guy has a point of view that you can understand which wow – feels invaluable no?); how the economy affects how we think of race and sex and vice versa; how the media lets us all down; how I’m sorry / not sorry for spending the last week splashing every corner of facebook I could see with “Yay Bernie” stuff; how even tho I know the stuff I believe just comes from the randomness of my life – it’s still the stuff that I think that’s true.
But also yeah – Ms Marvel is like Hillary Clinton. In that – if we want people to vote for good and save themselves from the dirty grubby hands of fascism then we need to make the alternatives better. We can’t just expect people to vote for good because it’s the right thing to do. You have to give them reasons that will make their lives better. If you want me to want to read Ms Marvel because it’s good for me (and everyone else): then it can’t just be because it’s a force for good – it has to be because it’s also – you know – entertaining and shit.
Or something. I don’t know.
An initial note on the idea of writing outside of one’s experience, G. Willow Wilson is white. Her primary point of commonality with Kamala is faith, which is no small thing. Nor is, as it was pointed out, Bendis’ vested interest in expanding representation with characters like Miles, having a blended family of his own. This vein opens up a lot in conversations about representation, asking whether or not people of a dominant group ought to be able to write a marginalized one. Sometimes, as now, it’s genuine, and in others it isn’t. The latter is, you know, what happened with Lionel Shriver and that infantile display of hers with the sombrero a little while ago. A full on public tantrum even, but what she was begging for wasn’t permission to write outside the narrow scope of her own world, it was to demand the privilege of doing so without being held accountable for the result.
The reality of the situation is that no marginalized person can ever truly harm or end the career of someone who holds privilege over them for writing something crummy. Hand wringing over what anyone is *allowed* to do is an asinine way to frame the conversation. To keep at least one foot planted in comics here, you can say that yes Bendis has a personal stake, a perfectly valid reason for wanting to write Miles or Riri. By the same token, you can also say that in over a decade of Miles existing, only Bendis has written the comic starring him. There’s never been an opportunity created for a black writer to bring their full self to the character. You can also say that until World of Wakanda debuts in 2017, Marvel has never employed a black woman to write one of their comics. So if you look at these diversity initiatives, or whatever you want to call them, and the question I think is more is this about soothing white liberal egos or is it genuinely about opening up the medium to new voices? Is it about re-energizing the concept of the superhero by seeing where these new voices can take it, or is it -like the hip hop variant covers- a way to profit off a cultural cachet without a genuine engagement with its origins?
I’m not going to be the critic or reader who comes to anything resembling the most astute conclusion on that when it comes to Ms Marvel, but I will question the idea of what the threshold of the book is under any writer. In what world, and this is an honest and not maliciously asked question, could Ms Marvel be a “better” comic in the sense of being more incisive or challenging to societal norms? The world on November 8th, 2016 was much the same as it was on November 7th, 2016. Donald Trump being declared President-elect of the United States came with implications for the future, but it didn’t magically plunge us into Bruce Wayne’s ultraviolent fever dream from Batman Vs Superman or the X-Men’s last stand in the genocidal nightmare of Days of Future Past. In a sense, yes, maybe it did deliver us into God Loves, Man Kills thanks to Mike Pence, but the underlying point is appreciated, I think. The western world decided that it was permissible to hate, vilify, and racialize Islam long before the current election.
Wilson has, to varying degrees of acclaim, criticism, and scorn, written more penetratingly and revealingly on her view of the politics and inner workings of modern Islam in her memoir The Butterfly Mosque and novel Alif the Unseen, but let’s not kid ourselves that she could write as freely on Ms Marvel or that the majority secular white audience can claim access to that kind of narrative. If we want to talk turkey about Trump, it’s only fair to point out that in 2008 Hillary Clinton, cast as the great feminist hero of the 2016 campaign, was running on the exact same tone and tenor of Islamophobic alarmism as Rudy Giuliani did at the time. So, really, how realistic is it to expect better than the baseline of the Marvel Universe mythos in discussing a character from an ethnicity and faith targeted for massive discrimination domestically and written off as collateral damage abroad?
Which, is also, fundamentally, my response to the utterly gob smacking idea of being asked to feel empathy for Trump voters. You have to understand that this is not a new phenomenon bubbling up after the votes were cast. The mainstream media in America begged and pleaded with us through tear streaked eyes to consider the deeply embittered “white working class” from the first signs that Trump was catching on. They flung themselves on the floors of newsrooms across the continent and pounded their knees, elbows, and fists raw, wailing themselves hoarse. It’s a complete sham. It’s fugazi. They don’t exist. The poorest white demographic is the only one that Clinton actually won. Whites across the economic board voted for Trump. His policies and positions weren’t a mystery or even concealed or equivocated. His Vice Presidential candidate is a man who believes that you can and should electrocute same gender attraction out of people. There is no force on Earth powerful enough to compel me to find empathy for people who, at best, want to bar me from public life by making it impossible to use a public toilet without being physically assaulted. You have to think really hard about the kind of demands you’re placing on marginalized people relative to degree of systemic oppression they face. Look at it systemically. Ask honestly, has the space necessary for the demands you’re placing to be realized been made? Are you asking the marginalized to contribute -and risk- more than the people actively working against them?
There was a lot in the previous post, and the majority of what I want to respond to has to do with the dialogue happening here about superhero comics. First up, though, I want to address a couple of points that were more straight-up political before getting to the comics goodness.
To start – you spoke briefly about not caring who writes what. This is the best article I’ve read on that in a good while:
(for the record, the credit for this article coming up here goes to Zainabb, as her twitter feed is where I first saw it). I don’t agree with “not caring” about who writes what, but caring about the question is not the same as saying that some people “don’t get” to write about something. Because ultimately, of course they do. From the article above – “The complaint seems to be less that some people ask writers to think about cultural appropriation, and more that a writer wishes her work not to be critiqued for doing so, that instead she get a gold star for trying.” I had an interesting discussion with my flatmate when I was watching Luke Cage a few weeks ago (still haven’t finished it, to be honest) where I said that were it written by a white writer – say, me – it would be way more problematic. The tone of the show, and certain characters, to my eyes seem very grounded in Blaxploitation cinema, tropes and archetypes passed down through it. Ultimately, my attempt to create those characters as being authentic people may not be impossible, but having never lived in Harlem, or known very many people that inhabit that specific environment, I’d be at a genuine disadvantage. I could, through sheer effort and research, “love these characters into existence”, as the writer of the aforementioned article above put it – invest myself heavily in each and every one of the background characters that make the show’s Harlem feel alive. But those characters feeling truly genuine to anyone more familiar with the experiences covered in the show would be nothing short of a small miracle, simply because I would be forced to write them as descendants of one’s I’ve experienced through films, music – perhaps many of the same influences that make up the show, and yet without that crucial lived experience that lends whatever genuineness the show’s setting possesses. I am not qualified to speak on how well the show does this. I simply know that if I wrote the exact dialogue from the show, it would rightfully be under greater scrutiny. As an extreme example (and because I just saw one of his comics is being covered here next month) – imagine the same show written by Frank Miller. The exact same show, shot for shot, line for line, if watching it we knew it was written by Frank Miller… It would just feel gross, wouldn’t it?
In my view, many of those characters aren’t extremely well developed in the show (because for the record, I kind of just don’t love the show), so what we have to go on, as unsatisfying as this may seem, is some form of trust in the creator. And that trust can be earned (and lost) by anyone. But writing an experience I obviously have no frame of reference for myself just adds an extra hurdle to an audience’s ability to surrender themselves into trusting my ability to bring that particular ship into port smoothly. There’s a world of difference between “hey, I know that person – I’ve grown up alongside many who share certain characteristics!” and “hey, I know that person – they remind me of someone from the 2000 remake of Shaft starring Samuel L. Jackson”. Even having more genuine, less abstracted and caricatured cultural points of reference is merely a difference in degree, not kind. And again, if I’m willing to do the work, no matter how hard that may be, to properly invest myself in these people, that is one thing. It’s another if I wanna just toss off some background characters and call it a day.
I badly want to address your point on ideology, but the more I think on it, the more I come back to the Identity Train* (*Editor’s note: Keen-eyed readers will recognize this is a callback to to August’s discussion on Blue Is the Warmest Color. Excelsior!) So I think I’ll sort of leave it for now. All I really want to say is – I don’t think the infighting is a trap. All that those splits show is that while I’d like to think the Left is the side of good, and therefore so is everyone that allies themselves to it – to borrow your inner whisper – it’s more complicated than that.
Speaking of the good-evil split in politics (and I promise this is my last point before steering back towards comics) – you’re right. There are factors other than racism, misogyny, and homophobia that motivated Trump’s victory. A Trump voter may not have a cold, evil heart, but they’re still OK enough with having someone electrocute the gay out of me – in order to bring the jobs back to America, get their struggling town off drugs, stick it to career politicians, whatever – to vote for people that advocate both. If that doesn’t sounds like a Marvel/DC villain, complete with a “BUT DON’T YOU SEE!? IT’S FOR THE GREATER GOOD! I don’t HATE people I’m sacrificing to elder gods, but it is the only way to bring back our former prosperity and I am a martyr doing the unpleasant but necessary work!” monologue, then I’ve never read a superhero comic. And before I continue – this is an exaggeration, I am neither delusional nor sleep-deprived enough to not recognize this. But if you read up on Vice President Mike Pence’s record – it’s not enough of one for me to not have very legitimate concerns for queer people in America. And that’s looking just at the bit that personally touches me most – I have no doubt Muslims will have it way worse (which is bringing us inevitably closer back to Ms. Marvel). So – you’re right. They’re not evil. But isn’t that the like most basic analysis of genre fiction? “Everyone is a hero in their own story” – yeah, the villains have reasons other than evil to do what they do. But they’re still villains. I’m not advocating beating them up, superhero-style – but pretending that everyone BUT Trump voters are actually to blame for a truly scary cabal’s rise to power doesn’t fix anything, either (just for the lols: http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/politics/politics-headlines/everyone-to-blame-for-twats-like-trump-except-the-people-who-vote-for-them-20161113117081 ).
OK, now we get back to comics, finally (I promised I’d talk about comics next time I wrote in!). First off, I have a bit of a reflexive reaction when it comes to putting down superhero comics in a sequential art forum. Ultimately, comics as a whole is dominated by genre fiction – not just superhero-based, but detective, horror, fantasy, sci-fi… There are a lot of great comics that are more literary in nature, as well, naturally, and I am in no way putting those works down as being either being an insignificant part of the medium, or in any way inferior. But the good vs. evil dichotomy is not unique to the superhero genre by any stretch. And while one might argue that superhero fiction tends towards a more simplistic expression of that duality, that is not necessarily inherent to the medium. Take the pinnacle works in the genre you mentioned – Dark Knight Returns, for example – does not exactly dismantle it; whereas Watchmen does certainly attempt to tackle the issue while remaining firmly entrenched in the superhero genre.
So let’s move on to another objection to the Marvel/DC superhero comics – the fact they are stories without end. I actually quite liked your comparison with being dropped in the middle of the Library of Babel and being told to read your way out. Cause that’s actually something that I love about those comics. I enjoy picking up a random trade paperback of X-Men from the early 90s, opening it, and starting to piece together where in the history of these characters it takes place – “ooo, Professor Xavier is dead at this point? Interesting. I guess he was killed by Onslaught or something? Might be something to look into further”. And hey – I understand that is most definitely not for everyone, I am not in any way trying to convince anyone on the value of those tropes or that type of storytelling if they don’t find them interesting. But for me, it works. It lights up my brain. And – this may be a bit of a stretch – isn’t there some value in acknowledging the endlessness of a story in fiction, surrendering yourself to it? After all – isn’t the most unrealistic aspect of fiction, in general, the illusion of stories having definitive beginnings and ends?
Here’s the other thing that I find in superhero comics:
That… Is valuable to me. It’s something I pretty badly need in my day-to-day. Is it unrealistic? Simplistic? Emphatically, yes. But it’s something that brings me strength to carry on, a reminder that no matter how bad things get, how badly outmatched I am by an obstacle, the best and only thing I can do is stand up and do my best. It is wish fulfillment, yes, but to say it’s just that is oversimplification. My fantasy is not to be beaten badly enough that I’d be reasonably excused by most to just give up. But I look at reading fiction that is fundamentally about morality as practice – a thought experiment I can run over and over in my head, so that when the time comes for me to make a tough choice, some distant instinct will kick in, and rather than freeze, I’ll try and do something positive. A friend recently happened to be the first person at the site of a horrific car crash. When he came away from the situation, what I think he was most shocked about is how many people around him simply did nothing. Now, what I honestly think enabled him to act is the fact that he’s witnessed a similar situation – someone being injured – and did not respond in a way he was satisfied with (which I keep telling him is his superhero origin story). It may sound stupid, but in my way, by reading superhero comics, and engaging with them on a more-than-surface level, I’m trying to do something similar, in absence of real-world experience of anything quite so dramatic.
Finally, on to Ms. Marvel. It’s OK if you’re not entertained by it. I honestly wasn’t bowled over by the first volume, but the second one really captured my attention way more. But I’d argue that even if that is the case, to respond to your point, it IS better. For starters, it is funnier, more fun, more full of the sort of wide-eyed enthusiasm and what reads to me, at least, as genuine heartfelt emotion I tend to gravitate towards these days. And more importantly, it serves an under-served audience, as its popularity clearly shows. Creating a work for a market is not well served is not only good business – it, frankly, does differentiate it from the majority of the superhero comic market. Maybe not for you – but for many, many people. So maybe the question we should be asking is not “can anyone write anything” – because, while some results of that will not be received well, yes, anyone can – but rather, “should everything be for everyone”. And I’d argue that when we’re talking about something that is genuinely good, rises above the mediocrity of its genre (whatever it is), the answer is no. Some of the best stuff isn’t.
Now, by the time I typed this whole thing out – it took me the entire day, in short bursts when I could find time away from work – I see Emma responded, and made many of the points I was trying to make, but better. I’m not going to rewrite what I wrote, though. I realize this is all sorts of messy, and I do apologize for that. But while I tried pretty hard to distill everything I had to say down into something more manageable for you all, there’s that whisper again: “it’s more complicated than that.” Or maybe it’s just too complicated for me.
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Oops. Deadline is almost here and there’s still like a million things to say.
First up: this is me saying sorry if I’m being a dick:
Sorry if I’m being a dick.
I’m sorry. Like. Fuck. America is in all sorts of a fucked up state: and I’m all the way over in sleepy England nested in the heart of liberal London surrounded by people who all pretty much agree with me on all the stuff that counts (hate is bad / love is good).
I mean – when I write stuff on here I’m mostly doing it to figure out myself and other people. I have all these thoughts in my head – does everyone else think the same thing or is it just me? If the thoughts are different – then why do they think these things and I think the other things? I mean: I guess that maybe there is a part of me that wants to convince everyone else to think the same things in the same way as me (one of these days it would be really nice if after I sent out the first email kicking off the discussion everyone just replied with “Yeah Joel you’re right” and then we just left it at that = LOL).
(Is this an excuse or an explanation?): like I said – I’m “far left” (which I said “radical left” actually because it sounds cooler but whatever) and so I feel like most of the stuff I write I think (would like to think) that I’m saying because I think we’re all on the same side. There are systems and forces that are trying to destroy us all and these are the things that I feel like will help us fight it. I mean: from the looks of twitter and facebook and all the rest – most people out there direct their attention to the low-hanging fruit and the trolls – you know: how A Force Awakens is good because white girl and black guy; how Ghostbusters is good because women; Ms Marvel is good because she’s a Muslim.
And yeah sure – it feels good to smack the trolls who say that the new Ghostbusters destroyed their childhood or whatever bullshit it is before they’ve even seen it: but – oops – the fight for truth and justice and equality kinda takes a hit when the film that everyone has been defending and comes out and (say it quietly): isn’t actually very good.
And well yeah: the same with Ms Marvel.
Emma and Dziugas: I mean again – hats off and thank you – you guys write good stuff and make good points and man – I wish I had more time to reply but just to pick up some of your threads:
Emma you asked: In what world could Ms Marvel be a “better” comic in the sense of being more incisive or challenging to societal norms? I mean: hey on the one hand – some people have already given reasons why they like it (I especially liked Rich’s contribution: ” it is squshy, it is blobby, it embiggens with emotion”) but yeah – isn’t it a little disheartening to see how many people on this thread where everyone is already into comics (so much so that they’re writing emails about it even!) to be like: “oh yeah – it’s not really for me.” I mean – I think that sucks. Because like with the examples I mentioned before: there is so much stuff that is “just for kids” that adults can fall in love with.
I mean: granted maybe for me there’s an impossibility / paradox to the thought of there being a “good Marvel comic that exists in continuity” because pretty much almost without exception every mainstream Marvel comic leaves me colder than a freezer. The only exceptions I can think of are – some of the Ultimate Marvel stuff (The Ultimates and Ultimate Spider-Man especially): but then that kinda proves my point because those are at their best when they started and were free from the shackles of continuity and could just do their own thing (maybe we should do Ultimate Spider-Man when the next Spider-Man movie comes out?). Ennis’ Punisher MAX stuff is super-great but that is also very much it’s own thing. And then – well – there’s the Miller and (especially) the Bendis run on Daredevil which is also good – but a big part of that I think for me is that it kinda goes somewhere different and does it’s own thing (everyone finds out the big secret and it’s great).
But yeah: “a superhero – but she’s a Muslim!” doesn’t go far enough for me. Like – just off the top of my head: what if Kamala got her powers and then moved to Silicon Valley and got into business? What if she decided that she was going to be like The Punisher – but with superpowers? What if she decided to run for President? I mean: I’ve only read the first volume – so maybe it all gets more exciting in later volumes?
I mean yes – all-in-all Ms Marvel is a force for good. In that the world is probably slightly better with there being a “Superhero Muslim” comic than without. Like: maybe I’m just reacting to everyone saying “Best! Superhero! Comic! Ever!” and holding it up as a shining example that Ms Marvel will help us all defeat the fascists. Because well yeah: it’s still just superheroes (which I still fear are probably bad for us) and it’s still a comic that says all of our existing systems are good and if we all normalise then the better we’re all be: it sells us the myth that everything is hunky-dory – when – hey: open a window – it’s not.
Then again: maybe the problem isn’t Ms Marvel maybe the problem is just me? In that – maybe we’re all looking for different things from our media content? I mean: my psychology is such that the stories I like are the ones full of discontent (maybe I’d like Ms Marvel more if she decided to use her powers to become an anarchist?) and maybe the people who enjoy Ms Marvel are those that want stories with good feelings and happy endings (am I saying that like it’s a bad thing? Truth be told – I just don’t know anymore).
I really like the Kaitlyn Greenidge article that Dziugas sent out and I agree with absolutely everything she wrote.
Namely this bit:
Now I look back and I can say I felt so strongly that Bill had a right to write that scene because he wrote it well. Because he was a good writer, a thoughtful writer, and that scene had a reason to exist besides morbid curiosity or a petulant delight in shrugging on and off another’s pain.
And this bit:
Imagine the better, stronger fiction that could be produced if writers took this challenge to stretch and grow one’s imagination, to afford the same depth of humanity and interest and nuance to characters who look like them as characters who don’t, to take those stories seriously and actually think about power when writing — how much further fiction could go as an art.
Maybe everyone reading this will say that I’m missing the point or that I don’t fully understand the situation (and maybe you’re right): but I would say that the important thing that matters is the stories themselves. This month I watched a Black Mirror episode called San Junipero written by a pasty white guy called Charlie Brooker and I read a (very cool) comic called Cry Havoc by Simon Spurrier and Ryan Kelly (with Matt Wilson, Lee Loughridge, & Nick Filardi doing colouring) – and well yeah: I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark here and say that most of that team are white guys too. Both of these stories are about gay women but (for me anyway) both of them are really good. So I guess my question is: does it matter who’s writing the stories as long as the stories are good?
Like: in response to what Dziugas was saying about Luke Cage. I mean – if Luke Cage is rubbish: then it’s rubbish (I’m going to guess that it’s probably rubbish). Even if the person who wrote it grew up in the house next door to Luke Cage and brought every single comic when it came out and listens to all the same records and whatever – that doesn’t make them a good writer (and doesn’t make them good at politics): and fuck man – I think it’s almost like a human need to say that we need good stories. And stories that help us see each other clearly. So yes – stories that are diverse and take in multiple view points. Because – don’t get me wrong: I wish that Luke Cage was good. Because hey – a story about an bulletproof black man sounds like the sort of thing that could perhaps have some relevance right about now? But not if it’s told in a bland boring way with all the politics drained out of it (but then – what do you expect I guess: it’s Marvel after all).
But then – well – how the politics of a show or a story or a comic works is a lot more complicated and a lot harder to get right than just looking to see what the identity of the person is who made it.
I mean – I know it’s all more complicated than that. Because yes white supremacy and yes minority voices don’t get heard and don’t get the same chance and growing up in a racist / sexist / homophobic / transphobic society has the tendency to mess people up in all sorts of insidious ways (eg straight white males have all the confidence in their opinions while other don’t – hmmm: I wonder why?) but my feeling is: we need to champion the right things.
Or whatever. I don’t know.
The conversation where it stands, around what a straight white guy can, as a writer, bring to non white and/or queer characters is definitely at the shallowest end of the pool as far as the discourse goes, but as a group, that really kind of is where it has to start and get worked through before anything more can be achieved, right?
There’s two characters that I’ve very recently said, you know, I’m done with reading them as written by men. Black Widow and Wonder Woman. The latter is especially ironic because I’ve gone to some pretty great lengths in describing how profound of an effect Wonder Woman: Earth One had on me, but part of that was coming to the conclusion that Morrison and Pacquette had really brought as much out of the concept as they could from a male perspective. Especially when compared to recent female driven takes like The Legend of Wonder Woman, DC Bombshells, and The True Amazon. I read one issue of Rucka’s Rebirth run and said, you know, I don’t need more of this. I don’t need another Diana has an identity crisis storyline, and if I really need more Rucka Wonder Woman at some point, The Hiketeia is waiting for me. Nicola Scott’s Diana is fantastic, but I’m in no rush. There’s just a much deeper connection to the character and the story when it comes from a female voice because the differences are more than just a name. I mean yeah, of course, Luke Cage’s masterclass is conservatism and respectability politics would have looked far more uncomfortable with white names attached, but those white names would have produced something with a markedly different inflection even if they had similar motivations.
And speaking of Rucka and Black Widow, when I first got my Marvel Unlimited account I trawled it for Black Widow stories and read a bunch of the minis that he and Devin Grayson seemed to be tag teaming for a while. It was a really funny period for Marvel because Rucka was really trying to bring a hard nosed, realistic Queen and Country vibe while also dealing with the pre-MCU aesthetic that had Fury in airbrushed on blue and whites. J.G. Jones, drawing if I recall correctly, so hyperrealist GI Joe action figure. Anyway, with these three flavors available, it became immediately apparent that Grayson had a much more satisfying and understandable voice for Natalia, that Rucka had a better command of military/spy fiction, and together they formed a gestalt that could only really be beaten by Marjorie Liu. There’s a threshold that, as fuzzy as it is, just can’t be surpassed.
But again, these are situations looking at what someone of a more privileged background can do to illuminate characters from marginalized backgrounds. What doesn’t get talked about is when the reverse happens. Obviously, I’ve been really fascinated by Wonder Woman lately and in poking around the edges of Phil Jiminez’s work on her, I really started to appreciate his complex positionality within it.
As a gay man, he’s removed from the normative male gaze that typically informs the character, especially the erotic tint to it. He’s invested in Diana as a sexual being, as he’s said a few times over the years, and maintains that there should be a recognition of the erotic in her appearance, but what he produces is unique because his viewpoint bypasses the hang ups and kinks around her musculature and so forth, but it also isn’t necessarily going to align with an eroticized queer female gaze. That’s all fascinating and could take weeks to fully unravel.
But Jiminez is also Latino, and brings his perspective as a man of color to the character as well. Despite how deeply Diana’s physical appearance has been shaped and influenced by Latino artists in recent years, most prominently Jiminez and George Perez, the former approaches Diana as if she’s white, which is really a matter open to conjecture given that she’s from a fictional race vaguely attributed to Mediterranean Europe. That becomes really apparent, as well as how Jiminez’s viewpoint impacts the character, in Wonder Woman #170, co-written by Joe Kelly in which Diana gets interviewed by Lois Lane and she describes Superman as he’s subject to the privilege of being a white man who also has superpowers:
That exchange, as we see it there, isn’t something that Greg Rucka, Grant Morrison, or even Marguerite Bennett, Gail Simone, or Jill Thompson could produce. That’s an inflection unique to Jiminez, and how something like that comes about and what it adds are things we don’t talk enough about anywhere.