Amethyst’s long heritage of attempted rape

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So Amethyst is finally back! I admit this fantasy saga of a 13-year-old girl who finds she actually a princess of Gemworld was one of my favorite comics of the time, aided by the great storytelling by writers Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn and Ernie Colon’s marvelous art, filled with imagination and whimsical details. The new reboot is out, with an older Amy and creative duties by Christy Marx and Aaron Lopresti. I haven’t seen it yet, but I have seen plenty of outrage over an attempted rape scene in the book, which appears in Sword of Sorcery #0. Chris Sims saw it as an indictment of the entire current superhero scene:

Throwing rape and the threat thereof into a superhero story to give it an air of edginess and modernism is a trick that writers and editors have pulled over and over and over again over the past 20 years in an attempt to recapture the critical success and importance of Watchmen and, in the case of DC Comics, assure their dwindling readership that Aquaman was definitely not silly, no sir. It's cropped up in stories from Green Arrow to Nightwing, a trend that culminated in the abysmal Identity Crisis, a story explicitly designed to go back and put rape into past comics that didn't already have it. And, to be fair, it's not just DC, either — superhero comics as a whole have developed an over-reliance on rape as a plot point to signal that they're trying to be more "mature" or "relevant."


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Horrible! Terrible! So against the real Amethyst! Only, as blogger Tangognat pointed out in a comment, and a blog post, the ORIGINAL first issue of Amethyst ALSO included an attempted rape scene:

To tell the truth, as someone who has read the first issue of the original series of Amethyst multiple times, the attempted rape didn’t really stand out in my mind very much, being placed as it was within a narrative where Amy Winston goes to a place called the Gemworld and finds it intrinsically terrifying. The attempted rape scenes in the original comic also took up much less space – two partial pages out of a standard 32 page comic. I’m still going to buy Sword of Sorcery and I really hope that as I continue to read it I’m going to enjoy the good things about the comic and I’m going to be able to forget about the rocky first issue.


I believe Dan Mishkin commented on the original Comics Alliance thread, but that seems to have scriolled off into the murk of a 350-comment thread, Tangognat quotes an earlier interview however:

I’m not going to say that this particular attempted rape scene is ok. When I interviewed the creators of Amethyst, Gary Cohn said, “Dan and I have often pointed out to each other that the attempted rape in the first issue was a big mistake, very much a male mistake, and if we had a do-over, that would not have made the cut.” I don’t think that the attempted rape in this context does much for the story. Amethyst’s powers are triggered by being threatened by rape. Her powers could certainly have manifested for the first time in a different context. Granch shows up and saves her, demonstrating his loyalty and coolness. He’s also portrayed as being totally bad-ass later in the comic, so it isn’t really necessary to have him rescue Amethyst from attempted rape to establish his warrior street-cred:


As someone whose very first published work was a piece that complained about rape or attempted rape as the overused heroic turning point for female characters (just as coming home and finding your family slaughtered is an overused male trope), I can’t say I’m too surprised at the selectively short memory here. Or the over use of the trope. What has changed in 30 years is that Amy has gone from victim to rescuer…I think that may be a little more pertinent in this case.

What’s even more pertinent is this rejected Amethyst pitch by Renae de Liz.
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Now do you see what I was getting at? Based on the look alone, the new Amethyst comic (unlike the Amethyst cartoon) is not a kid-oriented fantasy, but rather a slightly skewed version of a modern DC comic, with the same very skilled and enthusiastic but generic look in the art that one finds in 95% of mainstream comics. I say that based on looks alone—I’ll reserve further comments until I read the darned thing. In the meantime, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

Comments

  1. One quick note: Amethyst first showed up in 1983, and hers wasn’t the only story in that era that turned on the rape angle. That’s 29 years ago, which sails past Sims’ notion that this has been going on a) only in the past 20 years and b) since Watchmen. This clearly precedes Watchmen, and do many other examples. Watchmen is big and important, but it’s clearly not the first book to use that angle. It was probably the most graphic of the mainstream examples, but not the first. Of course, Moore doesn’t help either, including violent rape in nearly everything he does.

  2. Now now, let’s not start judging comics on the WAY they handle topics. Let’s just stick to being shocked that they DO.

    And seeing that pitch art, I kind of want Renae de Liz to draw MY kid-oriented comic. That’s pretty.

  3. One point from Chris Sims’ post that I totally agreed with was that DC and Marvel have been relying on things like rape and murder as a means to make their books more edgy, or “mature” by their definition. It might have worked in the 90s or early 2000s, but now it’s become a cliche. Their handling of rape and murder comes off rather childish, actually. Stuff like this pops up in almost every New 52 comic I’ve read. In JLI, there was a giant UN bombing with some major deaths in a pretty horrible fashion. In Firestorm, someone dies in almost every issue from a gunshot or a mass explosion. It happens so often that it loses any real meaning. Amethyst had a shot of being an in-continuity comic that didn’t bum me out ten pages in, so I was disappointed from the day of release.

  4. As a comics shop owner when the first issue of the original series came out, I complained to DC about the attempted rape. I pointed out that the heroine was actually an underage girl, which made it not “merely” attempted rape but attempted rape of a child. I was told that hadn’t occurred to the editor. Well, that makes it okay then.

  5. Snikt Snakt says:

    I guess I’m old school in that I feel that rape/attempted rape are adult themes that should NEVER be in a superhero comic…

  6. If Dan Mishkin is not happy with the attempted rape scene he wrote in amethyst back then, I do not agree at all with himwhen he says the scene did not serve any purpose. It did, and quite well.
    First, it really makes the reade runderstand that Amy body grew up when she arrived in Gemworld, making her now the object of sexual desire. Carnelian is also making sexual allusions later in the next issue.
    Second it also marks the complete change of mood, from the cheerfull innocent mood of amy’s world on Earth to Gemworld darkest corridors.

    I’m also fed up with current repeated rape scenes in modern comics but this one was perfectly well done: amethyst costumes isn’t shreded and it’s very short: and I think it does put Granch in a good position, making no doubt to amethyst that he’s a friend, despise his frightening appearance.

    I read Sword and sorcery 0 and find myself pleasantly surprised so far by the reinterpretation of the Amethyst character.
    And the Beowulf back up was a delight: barbariansin the new52 are now wearing very tight boxers!!! Greaaaat! :)

    for anyone interested by Ernie colon, I invite them to go see my blog on his career (click on my name). (new update soon, I was ill, sorry for that)

  7. Kate Fitzsimons says:

    … At least in the new version, she’s the rescuer and not the would-be victim? Yeah, I’m not sure either. But I do like Amethyst despite it.

  8. Synsidar says:

    I guess I’m old school in that I feel that rape/attempted rape are adult themes that should NEVER be in a superhero comic…

    There’s rape in a standalone, dramatic story, and then there’s rape in a superhero comic. Rape in a superhero comic is such a cliche–I dislike the word trope, although I admit it has its uses–that a writer uses it to motivate a heroine without actually thinking of it as an experience to go through. Hawkeye of the Young Avengers, for example–a story about her background tossed a rape into it so casually that not many people–maybe–reacted to it. Without the rape, she’s psychologically normal and doesn’t become a crimefighter.

    There should be other methods of motivating someone to be a superhero, but how many actually work in a serial? The “With great power comes great responsibility” rationale is insane in the real world, in which anyone and everyone is replaceable. Without trauma as a motivation, the primary reasons to be a hero would probably be self-sacrificing nobility and heroism, which result in nothing but morality plays.

    SRS

  9. Johnny Memeonic says:

    A litle off-topic, but I’d like to point out the modern and classic story panels posted in the article are another example of how current artists need to study the old masters and develop better storytelling, better “acting,” and a wider range of shots.

  10. “Amethyst’s long heritage of attemped rape” – Wait, twice in what, 35 issues of the title constitutes a “long heritage”?! Oh internet, HOW you love to spread snark and create false hysteria.

    This is being blown WAY out of proportion if you ask me. Holy crap, A) this title isn’t a kids-oriented book. Why everyone thinks that it is, is beyond me. Plus, if anyone had any second guesses, all you’d have to do is read the backup story to realize that it’s not for children.

    Secondly, you’d think this had been some six page rape scene in close detail or something? I mean, it was a couple pages, of something that was implied, but did not happen (cause Amethyst put a stop to it.) Obviously I don’t approve of rape, but the “uproar” this has created on blog sites is just ridiculous.

    Real world things happen in comics, people.

  11. It’s worth noting I’m a guy, and I know with issues like this, guys aren’t going to have the perspective that women have. But, I’m just wondering why attempted rape is off the table from a story-telling perspective?

    A lot of things happen in life: rape, murder, drug use, physical abuse, torture… and a lot of these things have happened in comics. I think what was disturbing about Watchmen was that a superhero (who is supposed to be good) tried to rape another superhero. He also shoots a pregnant woman, etc. These things are terrible actions, but they are more disturbing when the good guy is doing them.

    To me, having an attempted rape scene from evil characters in a story shows how evil the bad guys are. Those scenes make me uneasy, but I can see why they are in stories. I’ve heard that some women can have trigger events where when they are reading this stuff, it comes back to them, but isn’t it like that with anything? I mean, if rape is off the table, why not murder? Why not overdosing on drugs? Why not spousal abuse?

  12. Dan: Well a couple of things here. I dislike the idea that a woman must be raped or nearly raped in order to have the “defining moment” that turns her into a hero or down the heroic path. In other words, rape as origin story. It can work and be powerful sure, but violation is a lot different than just tragedy or violence of neuroticism (other typical origins.) When rape is part of a male origin it usually involved being molested as a child and it’s never good. WRiters seem to love using the rape origin for women as if being horribly damaged is the only way to find your true self. Of course male heroes are also horribly damaged (Batman) but the stories less often involves personal violation.

    The NEW Amethyst story used it as a chance for the hero to show her heroism, which I think is an improvement over the original. But bear in mind I haven’t read the comic so I’ll suspend judgement until I do.

  13. Synsidar says:

    Real world things happen in comics, people.

    But when rape happens in a real-world story, the story is about dealing with the rape and living the rest of her life. The rape doesn’t set her on a new career path.

    When right-wingers argue that abortion shouldn’t be allowed in instances of rape, they’re demonstrating a complete lack of empathy for someone who has to endure a pregnancy caused by a rape. Upholding their abstract principles is more important to them than appreciating what someone’s going through. Turning a rape into a cliche, a reason for a woman to fight crime for the rest of her adult life instead of living in the real world, makes the rape as much of an abstraction as the political attitude toward rape-induced pregnancy does.

    SRS

  14. o-herow says:

    You folks had nothing better to do than put this together right? Alright, I get the women in refrigerators thing but honestly it only really works with the modern world setting and not in a fantasy setting.

  15. Dan Mishkin says:

    I don’t think Gary or I said that it served no purpose. It’s just that the same purpose could have been served without the implied threat of rape. Unwanted smooches from an ogre that the princess finds icky would have done the job, and would not have been out of place in a classic fairy tale. I believe that was where we were going initially, and that the level of assault increased without our really thinking carefully about it as we went from plot to pencils to dialogue to finished art.

  16. I suppose how it’s written matters, Moore may have over used rape at this point but it truly is shocking in Watchmen and I would say about as emotional as a comic could get. This scene just seems generic and color by numbers but to be fair I have not read it. Would a modern comic use the rape of a male character by a male character to release his superpowers or give him turning point? I doubt it, most of these rape scenes seem more like teenage titilation. I read Chris Sims’ piece I thought he pretty much had it right, there is a lot of deliberate violence simply added for a grittier feel that seems ham-fisted and unnecessary.

  17. Oh please, please, please…
    Renae, do this as a creator-owned work. Change the names, and tweak the costumes. Your passion for the work is astounding, and frankly if the editors at DC are so blind as to not see their value…
    Please make this happen! I have a 10-year old daughter who has been begging for comics that look like this. Renae de Liz, put your effort behind this, it’s a diamond!

  18. jonboy says:

    “But bear in mind I haven’t read the comic so I’ll suspend judgement until I do.”

    Wow. But I guess it’s okay to post an article decrying the event, when it’s completely misleading. Including the headline (which has of yet been unchanged).

    Amethyst isn’t raped in the new book. Nor is she a victim of an attempted rape. She shows up and stops someone else from being a victim. Same as Batman does in pretty much every Batman comic ever.
    But I guess Batman glorifies rape as well.

    And all this about too much rape and murder and violence in comics?
    (paging Dr Wertham, paging Dr Wertham)
    Really? The exact same argument can be made for pretty much every cop show on TV. According to Criminal Minds, the US currently has 246 serial killers on the lose. CSI makes Las Vegas into one of the most dangerous cities in the county. And Breaking Bad will make our Children into Meth dealers.
    (insert rolling eyes icon here)

  19. >> Renae, do this as a creator-owned work. Change the names, and tweak the costumes.>>

    This is pretty much my thought, as well. Why try to convince a publisher to let you re-do something under their control and ownership, when you could do something of your own — something built around whatever you love about the old something, but remade into something new — that you get to own and control, so you get to do it your way, not their way?

  20. Marc Burkhardt says:

    That pretty much echoed my thoughts re. Jonathan Lethem and Omega The Unknown.

  21. Alexandra says:

    “First, it really makes the reade runderstand that Amy body grew up when she arrived in Gemworld, making her now the object of sexual desire. ”

    IRL some people rape children. Japan even has two genres of comics aimed at people who desire children (lolicon, short for Lolita Complex, for readers who desire girls and maybe settle for the cartoon version and shotacon for readers who desire boys and maybe settle for the cartoon version).

  22. Alexandra says:

    “It’s worth noting I’m a guy, and I know with issues like this, guys aren’t going to have the perspective that women have.”

    Actually, some men and boys are rape survivors themselves too.

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