Saturday, February 23, 2013

This is why we can’t have female characters

I hate feminism sometimes. One of the problems is that women characters create a huge number of problems, especially if the writer happens to be male. The big issue is the equality issue; on one hand, we are expected to treat all characters equally. This means that, to my mind, I should be able to have something bad happen to all my characters, regardless of race, gender, philosophical stance, or whatever qualifying trait applies, as long as there is a good reason for it. If I want a character to die, I should feel absolutely no remorse killing that character. If I want the character to be tortured, I should enjoy coming up with a great torture for that character. If I want…well, you get the idea.

On the other hand, however, I need to be aware that there is a site out there that tallies anything bad that happens to women. If anything bad happens to a female character, it is treated as some sort of singling out of that character, not because she happened to draw the short straw of suffering that day, but because she’s a woman. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hangnail or she ends up with an iron bar through her chest, she’ll end up on the list.

This is a ridiculous constraint.

If you look through the list posted, it makes for some fun reading. Admittedly it’s a partial listing, and the issues are summarized, but there are some interesting injuries. My personal favorite has to be Captain Marvel II, who “ceded code-name to male hero”; the person she ceded it to was the original’s son after he tried to give it to her (yes, Monica just has that much class). I also feel sorry for those that were sent to Limbo due to Crisis on Infinite Earths, or replaced by a male character in order to develop a gay romantic subplot (Shvaughn Erin, we were just getting to love you!). Yes, there are also prostitutes, brood mares, and even turning really ugly, and turning evil seems to be a major occupational hazard. Yes, it sucks to be a comic book heroine.

But let’s get real here: If we threw everything on the list into one character, for some guys it would be an average week; if it was Spiderman, it would be an average afternoon. Sterility? How many cyborgs have replacement from the waist down? And that’s including guys turned into sterile monsters or other substances, like Wildfire (energy) or Simon Williams (The Vision, sort of). There are a couple of non-80’s heroines that were abused as kids; okay, that’s only happened to few on either side of the fence, but it has happened to guys (poor Spiderman). Cancer? Really? Addicted to drugs shows up a few times, yet I see no reference to Demon (Justice Machine) or Speedy. Impregnation is something men can’t suffer from as much as women, but I’d like offer to castration in its place, such as that done on every male captured by the Amazons on Flashpoint. And that’s ignoring embarrassment scenes (seems like every male character has been forced to strip in public, and we won’t talk about a certain lost bet by Hulk and Iron Man, or the Ultimates Giant Man), forced sex, and any number of weird problems (poor Prime; he’s thirteen, his girlfriend is thirteen, but he looks 30; makes for some interesting discussions).

I think it’s very reasonable to say that if men haven’t suffered in the same quality as women, they’ve more than made up for it in quantity.

I am not by any stretch saying that either gender is suffering the most. What I am saying is that if women are to be used as characters, then they need to suffer just as much as the guys. If we are going to be allowed to have women in comics, there are going to be some times when women will suffer, and it’s not necessarily going to be pretty. We, as writers, need to be able to kill off women with reasonable impunity, or we may as well as not use them. It makes no sense to have characters that are just tokens and not be able to make their lives just as much as hell as the guys. If we want to kill off the girlfriends to raise the emotional stakes we need to be able to do that as well. Trust me; the guy s will suffer just as much; with more women characters come more boyfriends in danger; just ask Steve Trevor about his oh-so-safe life as Wonder Woman’s beau.

I’m not asking for much; I’m just asking for the right to kill off a few people for dramatic effect now and then. Is that so wrong?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Romance Act II

So you have your couple. Now things get interesting: You get to torture them.

Once you have your couple in mind, you need to build the romance. The best way to do this is through a series of misadventures calculated to get them to know each other. They need to overcome any prejudices about the other, be it racial, social, or any other stereotype; you need to show them that they belong together. There are the usual things to consider:

1)      They need to support each other. The couple needs to learn that they can depend on each other, that they have each other’s back. Consider Remy and Rogue: Remy needed to know that he could trust Rogue with his secrets, and he did through a number of adventures, including Rogue gaining his memories for a while. Afterwards she had dealt with those memories, which included his part in some of the darkest moments of X-Men history, they were able to talk about them. Not as visceral as the standard gain-trust-through-combat scenario, but it was more fulfilling. 

2)      They need to learn that each is the complement of the other. If one is a ranged specialist, the other is a melee master; they need to cover areas that the other doesn’t. This includes more than just things like combat, social skills, or even cooking; the couple needs to realize that where one fails, the other succeeds. They need to be able to handle a wider range of challenges together than alone; otherwise, there is no reason to match them up as a couple. This is why the Cyclops/Phoenix romance works; Jean may have a thousand ways to kick butt, but she needs Scott’s tactical skill to make the most of it. It doesn’t hurt that Scott isn’t exactly a lightweight on his own, having basically one of the biggest guns on the planet and a plethora of skills he can bring to bear on any problem. In short, her raw power is complemented by Scott’s skills.

3)      They need to be independent of each other. This goes back to the relationship has to be of equals; if one is dependent on the other, that’s a great Harlequin romance, but it’s boring to comics readers. We don’t like heroes that need to be bailed out on a regular basis; the damsel in distress may be great for other genres, but it’s sort of lame for readers who expect everyone to pull their weight. This is what made the She-Hulk/Wyatt Wingfoot romance problematical; Wyatt needed some firepower to equal She-Hulk. However, with his access to SHIELD firepower, resources, and social connections, he nicely complemented her physical prowess and legal skills. Either one can handle a variety of situations, and can help the other fight battles that are scaled to the other person. If one needs the other to function, it’s time to debate the pairing.

4)      They need to be bring something out of the other person. This is where Disney consistently gets it wrong; Cinderella and Charming may love each other, but they can’t sustain a series. Now, Mulan and Shang? That’s a couple to emulate: Mulan becomes the warrior she needs to be because of Shang’s tutelage as well as his belief in her, and Shang overcomes his chauvinist attitudes because of her. That makes them a more powerful couple. It’s the same as the traditional wild woman/straight man couple; he loosens up just as she learns that roots aren’t that bad.

Okay, now we have some goals. Guess we need some plot…