Marvel's women problems past and present: when Ms. Marvel got raped

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Yesterday’s comments by Tom Brevoort on the lack of sales support for female characters at Marvel did not go unnoticed by the usual gender issue commentators.

Sue at DC Women Kicking Ass suggests that blaming the readers may not be the way to go given a lack of marketing support:

Did we give these books the level of promotion that we do for the bazzillion  ‘WOLVERINEDEADPOOL!” titles.

Do we maybe ask our overlords at Disney for some advice, “Hey, you guys seem to know how to market female-led IP, um, help?”

Right now Marvel is profitable; they have the money to grow the business. And as I said about DC earlier this year, I believe Marvel is leaving money on the table with female readers.

I am aware that Marvel’s purse strings are apparently tied up in in the hands of dude who makes the Simpson’s Mr. Burns look like a soft touch.

Susana Polo at The Mary Sue also suggests that not trying to reach a new audience may not be ultimately advantageous:

 

That’s right, ladies. All we have to do to get a retailer to see us as a part of their audience is to spend money on them. But the money comes first, and in comparable quantities to the rest of the entrenched demographic that they are already focusing on to the exclusion of others, or no dice. This is absolutely how a shrinking industry should feel about attracting a new and potentially eager audience. It is absolutely not the opposite of the way this transaction is supposed to go. Companies in the business of giving product in trade for money always play hard to get with untapped demographics. That’s how you know the demographic wants you.

 


The comments thread after this one is particularly lively if you like that kind of thing.

Also linked to at the Mary Sue: this two-part Escapist look at the strange history of Ms. Marvel


I watched these videos all the way through because they clicked something in my subconscious brain. Short version: In Avengers #200, Ms. Marvel, who was (as the above covers indicates) was created as a direct attempt to play off the then current surging waters of feminism, is abducted to hell, given mind altering drugs, has sex while in this date rape state, and eventually gives birth to the guy who raped her, all while the rest of the Avengers look on and think it’s awesome. At the end of the story she even goes off with the guy who arranged the kidnapping, rape, and mind control pregnancy. And no one stops her.

Although the Escapist doesn’t mention it, the story in question was written by Jim Shooter, George Perez, Bob Layton, and David Michelinie. It squicked out enough people to give rise to this bit of historic comics criticism from the ’70s by Carol Strickland..

It also squicked out Chris Claremont, who created the Ms. Marvel character wrote several issues of the Ms Marvel comic. (Gerry Conway created the character.)Say what else you will about Chris Claremont, but he sure created a lot of great female characters (and male ones, too.) Claremont eventually wrote an Avengers annual where a depowered Carol Danvers (she lost her powers to Rogue, remember) busts on the Avengers for failing to look out for her.

And now the memory dump: I do remember reading both these stories as a kid. And I remember being really, really disappointed that Ms. Marvel, who was a total kick ass hero, had to get all loved up AND later lose her powers. I was pretty young but I remember a real feeling of disenchantment and never really liking the Ms. Marvel character again. (It was Claremont who depowered her, BTW.) Even though she came back as Binary it wasn’t the same. Spider-Man and Thor and the Hulk and all the guys got to stay themselves…why did Ms. Marvel have to get de-powered?

I’ve written about this many times before, but as a kid, picking up an issue of JSA with a hugely boobtastic Power Girl was enough to totally turn me off DC for the next 10 years.

So, just FYI, Marvel and DC, young girls do pick up on your subliminal messages. And when we don’t like them…we walk away.

Comments

  1. Maverickman874 says:

    The Ms. Marvel story line and “Sins Past” are examples that never really happened, at least in my head canon. I refuse to believe they exist or matter.

  2. Scott Rowland says:

    Didn’t get a chance to watch the video, but Gerry Conway created Ms. Marvel. Claremont wrote most of her first series, but Conway started it off.

    Conway was also the writer who introduced Power Girl, btw. But I understand that Joe Orlando (with Ric Estrada?) designed the look.

  3. Synsidar says:

    I read AVENGERS #200 when it came out and thought it was a terrible romantic story. Looking back, the number of writers credited for the issue and the next issue, AVENGERS #201, having a lengthy backup story starring Jarvis, written by Stern and Michelinie, suggests that deadline pressure had something to do with the story being so bad. The previous “big” issue, AVENGERS #150, had been a partial reprint and having a similar failure with AVENGERS #200 would have been humiliating for some people.

    The issue might stand as an example of what happens to creators’ thinking when they’re under pressure to fill the pages with something — anything. Stories that are just as bad without the excuse of deadline pressure are worse.

    SRS

  4. Cekrypton1 says:

    As long as there is going to be a post-Bendis reboot of the Avengers, why not take the opportunity for an all-female Avengers? She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Scarlet Witch, Storm, Valkyrie, Invisible Woman and Rescue?

  5. Carlton Donaghe says:

    After David Michelinie’s rape of Ms. Marvel, I stopped buying any book that had his name on it. To this day, if that moron writes any book, I will not buy it.

    It may not be much, but as with my total boycott of DC as long as Didio and Johns are there, I have decided that I will not, in anyway, provide support for their livelihoods.

    You may disagree with me, but I don’t care. I don’t value your opinion in this matter, and I’ve lost nothing because of it.

  6. Snikt Snakt says:

    Never liked Ms. Marvel and always thought Binary was ‘Phoenix-lite’.

    When they brought back Ms Marvel in the current Avengers book, I remembered why I hated the character…

    Female superheroes get as abused as their male counterparts, I don’t care how its spun…

  7. Synsidar says:

    Never liked Ms. Marvel and always thought Binary was ‘Phoenix-lite’.

    I bought Ms. MARVEL when the series came out, along with a lot of other Marvel series, and thought it was so-so. I never bought an X-title that featured her as Binary. In Busiek’s AVENGERS, she was a soap opera-type heroine. In Brian Reed’s revival, she started out wanting to become a celebrity like the one she remembered being in the HOUSE OF M universe, but that was an unworkable premise. What followed after the premise collapsed isn’t worth mentioning.

    She might be an example of a heroine who has great visuals. and is easy to use in fight scenes, but lacks a core. She’s ex-military, dedicated, combative, intense, etc., all of which can be put to use in short sequences, but if she has to support a story by herself, she’s only as good as the situation she’s in and the other characters allow her to be. Try to project where she’ll be ten years from now, and nothing comes to mind. She’s like a soap opera character — interesting while onscreen but forgettable when she’s not. The rape in AVENGERS #200 is the most notable thing that ever happened to her.

    SRS

  8. Allen Rubinstein says:

    It was the eighties. Like to think that kind of story wouldn’t get past many eyes these days. Or at least the “correction” would be more of a “Ms. Marvel kicks ass and takes names” kind of mea culpa.

  9. Allen Rubinstein says:

    Or even shorter – now we have the internet breathing down everyone’s neck. Instant feedback overload.

  10. Charles Knight says:

    “I’ve written about this many times before, but as a kid, picking up an issue of JSA with a hugely boobtastic Power Girl was enough to totally turn me off DC for the next 10 years.”

    Did I dream this but wasn’t Power Girl big contribution during Zero Hour to play Mary and have a virgin birth?

  11. AVENGERS #200 was indeed the result of tight deadlines.

    As originally plotted, the father of Ms. Marvel’s baby was to be the Supreme Intelligence, who did it to create a human/Kree hybrid race and thus get around the Kree’s evolutionary dead end. In that version, I doubt Ms. Marvel would have gone off to live happily ever after with her rapist.

    But while the issue was under way, Jim Shooter decided that since there was another story involving a human/Kree hybrid appearing in WHAT IF, the two stories couldn’t both be done that way. So after several issues of build-up, they had to re-plot the finale, and do it while the extra-length issue was already being drawn. David Michelinie, Jim Shooter, Bob Layton and George Perez are credited with the plot, though which of them came up with the Marcus Immortus stuff, I don’t think anyone has ever said.

    I like to think that if they’d had more time, they’d have realized the error. Or at least not had Marcus flat-out admit to the Avengers that he’d been mind-altering Ms. Marvel, and have them go, “Gee, okay, that’s so sweet. Have a nice life in Limbo with your baby/lover, Carol!”

    But who knows?

  12. Kurt:

    Thanks so much for the history lesson!

    I like to think that Shooter, Michelinie, Perez and Layton are like the people in MURDER IN THE ORIENT EXPRESS — no one who was in the room will reveal who delivered the fatal blow.

  13. Will SOMEONE please give Rescue a better codename. I mean, SERIOUSLY. It’s just embarrassing! “Here comes Spiderman, the Incredible Hulk, and… Rescue?” ugh.

  14. Michael P says:

    Thankfully, Ms. Marvel is, at least powerwise, pretty much exactly as she was before that crappy story.

  15. Carlton Donaghe says:

    Mr. Busiek,

    Regardless of how it happened, that was a horrible story, and the fact that someone wrote it without stopping and saying, wait–this is wrong– only means that someone involved with that project has some pretty ugly views on sex.

    That’s like trying to excuse Spider-Man’s “Sin’s Past” by saying ‘well, they wouldn’t let me have Peter Parker as the dad, so I did what I could.’ No, you wrote an ugly story that distorted the characters in a horrible way.

    Creative people just don’t get a pass for creating trash like that. Sorry.

  16. >> Regardless of how it happened, that was a horrible story, >>

    No, really?

  17. Matthew Southworth says:

    I’m starting to wonder if “Carlton Donaghe” is a Fox News Culture War-bot (TM) determined to school us all on how rape and sexual harassment are BAD and that we’re uneducated and immoral for looking at any of the other facets of these stories.

  18. Carlton Donaghe says:

    Yeah, Matthew– I’m from Fox News! Ha!

    You didn’t know that only right-wing Republicans can express opinions?

    Take a bath, hippie!

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

  19. Matthew Southworth says:

    Nope, didn’t suggest you were a right-wing Republican, just suggested you’re a bot.

    Oh, FoxNewsBot (TM), I just can’t stay mad at you. . .

  20. Carlton Donaghe says:

    Well, it’s even worse than that! I think writers should be held accountable when they write trash!

  21. Carlton Donaghe says:

    Before I fade away (I’ve got finals to grade and no grad student to do it for me) I would like to push an idea for discussion… and if it is inappropriate to have here, let me recommend the very free-and-open Comicon.com (former home of the Beat)…

    I do not believe in cultural relativity. There are some things that are just trivial, of course, but in the big things, a person’s culture excuses nothing.

    For instance, it is nothing but wrong to impose the wearing of a burqa on a woman. It doesn’t matter what religion, culture or socio-economic status, that’s wrong.

    No religion can protect a society that calls a woman an adulterer if she is raped.

    Similarly, it doesn’t matter how wealthy you are, stealing is stealing. Certain large banks, many large corporations, and one party of politicians in America have participated in the theft of the wealth of the American people. No fake, Fox News religion can protect these people.

    I so often enjoy my “hit and run” comments, but… I thought I’d like to throw out this invitation.

    Oh, and David Michelinie has no business writing comics!

  22. Glenn Simpson says:

    Wow. Too bad Carlton is gone. I’d never met anyone who never made a mistake before. After all, if you make a mistake, you should be punished for it for the rest of your life, right?

  23. Brad Ricca says:

    You bring up a really good point that even those of us who read these as kids knew something was wrong. I thought Avengers #200 had the coolest cover ever, but was so disappointed in the story because it made no sense. Immortus? What??

    The annual also had an amazing cover, but I also thought the story was amazing. It also made me utterly forsake The Avengers for the X-men. Why? Because the Avengers, as Claremont so skillfully portrayed them (in their own book!) were jerks.

  24. Carlton Donaghe says:

    Glenn, I’m sorry, but your post doesn’t make any sense. Am I punishing someone? Do they know they’re being punished? In what way am I punishing them? Do I know I’m punishing them, or is it a secret? Does it hurt? Was it meant to hurt? Did I get hurt?

    Maybe try dropping over to Comicon.com. It seems more geared to discussion.

  25. Pantsless Pete says:

    I think the issue with a lot of female characters is the same issue you have with a lot of non-white characters: They kind of suck.

    It’s due to their gender or race, in so far as it becomes their only defining feature. Wonder Woman never really manages to get a comic off the ground, for example, because she is perpetually ‘The Girl’ and kind of boring in practice. I realise the Wonder Woman in peoples heads isn’t boring but I’m not sure that Wonder Woman has ever or will ever exist.

    What we need are new female characters that aren’t there to be female characters. Let’s have some people that aren’t there to be peoples imaginary comics girlfriend or to round out demographics.

  26. Wonder Woman’s character was fine when Marsten and Peter created it.

    No other version of that character has been so uniquely inspired. The original Wonder Woman comics are arguably (and winningly) the best super hero comic books of all time.

    So if

  27. You know, I remember being pissed at these issues as I felt that Ms. Marvel could easily have defeated her attacker. That was the way she was always written… as being a strong-willed character who found the solutions, and defeated the menace.

    Avengers #200 was an abysmal comic that should have shelved. It left me disgusted at the creative team, and it ruined a great run of Ms. Marvel in the Avengers series. After the events of the issue, you wondered if they should have changed the name of the series to “The Bystanders”. Why wouldn’t they come to Carol’s aid?

    Just a foul message to send to ANY audience, Male or Female alike.

  28. Snikt Snakt says:

    Carlton, please get off your soapbox, we really don’t give a sh*t…

  29. Shawn Kane says:

    “You may disagree with me, but I don’t care. I don’t value your opinion in this matter, and I’ve lost nothing because of it.”

    Wow.

  30. faboofour says:

    Snikt’s right, Carlton, they really don’t give a s**t. The mainstream industry only cares about selling depraved crap to children–I thought it was an exaggeration that DC was enamored with decapiatation until I checked out the first issues of ‘the new 52″. I used to get on the case of people who complained about violence in comics, but they’re right–it’s disgusting.

    They don’t care, neither the dealers nor the junkies. The junkies need their weekly fix and the dealers are happy to sell it to them, in small doses, making sure the delivery device (the so-called “story”) never resolves so the junkie is hooked and has to come back, week after week.

    Don’t try to discuss ethics with this lot–it’s a waste of time.

  31. Carlton Donaghe says:

    Faboo, I agree.

    And Snikt, I could really care less.

  32. faboofour says:

    Shawn, why should a moral person value the opinion of an immoral person?

    No moral person, knowledgeable in the way mainstream industry always has and always will treat its content creators, would allow him- or herself to be exploited by such an industry. No moral person, knowledgeable of the continuing exploitation, would support, much less defend the actions of such an industry.

    If you support an known immoral industry, whether by knowingly selling your services to it or knowingly purchase non-essential product from it, you are, by definition, immoral.

    (FYI, I purchased my last DC product upon discovering I bought a story fragment with the second decapataion in as many months.)

    Why would anyone value the opinion of people who value depraved filth devoid of any socially redeeming value whatsoever?

  33. Matthew Southworth says:

    This is rhetorical nonsense. Carlton’s comment “I don’t value your opinion” came before anyone had made any sort of comment that he–or Faboofour–could judge as immoral.

    Faboofour (god, people, just use your real names and spare the rest of us the silliness of addressing you with these childish handles–if you’re determined to address the issues in a serious way, these nicknames cheapen the discussion)–I am neither a dealer nor a junkie. I buy very few superhero comics–always decreasing–though I do love some of them. Mark Waid’s DAREDEVIL, for example. And I am a moral person, knowledgeable of the industry’s past and its present, as I work in it now.

    Your argument that such entertainment has no “socially redeeming value whatsoever” is a straw man. Does the exceedingly violent TAXI DRIVER have redeeming value? How about the Archies’ recording “Sugar Sugar”? Moebius’ erotic drawings? How about the excessively bloody revenge fantasy anthology the Bible?

    The point is, I “value” crappy comics in the same way that I value good comics (or movies or music). I buy and read and listen to the things that I find personally redeeming and informative, not what some vague moralist tells me I should. And I don’t buy the stuff I find objectionable, usually for artistic or intellectual reasons, nor moral ones, since I believe that morality is not a prescribed set of rules I’ve been forced to adhere to, but a fluid set of considerations and decisions I’ve made for myself through careful consideration.

    If you and Carlton don’t value my opinion, well, that places us on pretty unequal footing and makes us unable to discuss things. Do you really feel smarter if you just ignore those you disagree with?

  34. Matthew Southworth says:

    Oh yeah, by the way–Avengers #200 sounds like a shitty comic to me. Kurt’s point, if I understood him correctly, was that bad art gets made in a multitude of ways, and this time was the result of deadline pressure, editorial fumbles, and too many cooks in the kitchen. His point wasn’t to defend it, Carlton, but to explain how it might have happened.

    I found that interesting–more interesting than the book would likely be to me–and I’m glad he mentioned it.

  35. faboofour says:

    Matthew, I stand corrected: The “socially redeeming value” crack was, indeed, a straw man and uncalled for.

    However, I stand by my point that supporting a corporation that one knows to be unethical (a word more semantically accurate to my point that “immoral”) taints one’s own ethical position. I’m sure you have your justifications for doing so, but I, personally, can’t justify supporting stockholders who continue to make money from the creations of Bill Finger and Jack Kirby, among so very, very many others.

    Before we can have a truly equal conversation, we need to understand each other’s ethical basis for opinion-making. No, I’m not “Mr. A”–we all have our Jean Valjean moments, but c’mon: the comics industry has more than a century of unethical history–from Outcault and Dirks to the latest insult to the Kirby estate. There is no other description of an industry that, as SOP, buys for pennies (read: exploits) the intellectual property of a freelancer and then turns a profit of, literally, billions of dollars from it.

    So, do you work for such an industry because you know you’re not talented enough to work elsewhere (or maybe you’re just so insecure you don’t think you could make it on the outside?) or are you a prostitute working for a pimp?

    Seriously, I don’t mean to insult, but if there’s another explanation, I’m unaware if it. If there is, seriously, please do enlighten us.

  36. faboofour says:

    Oh, and btw: Back in the pre-AOL days of the internet, I used my real name in USENET discussion forums. I stopped when in one forum someone who disagreed with me spent literally hours every day for more than a year posting in multiple forums libel upon libel upon me and my family. When Google bought the USENET archive, these libels invariably came up with any search of my name.

    It will never happen again.

  37. Matthew Southworth says:

    Wow, for a reply that started out so rational, it sure turned personal. Am I a “prostitute”? Am I not talented? Am I insecure?

    Thank god you dropped the straw man arguments and went straight for the personal attack!

    As a matter of fact, none of the above explain why I work for companies like Marvel and DC and enjoy doing so (as a side note, I also work for Oni, have worked for Image, would like to work for Dark Horse, and am doing work for a small local publisher, too).

    I work for those companies because I like making comics. I also like the people I work with a great deal; not a one of those people was working in comics when Kirby, Finger, Siegel or Shuster was around, and they can’t be held responsible for the treatment those men received. I don’t believe that artists should be treated unfairly, and neither do any of those with whom I work, I suspect.

    BUT even if they did–even if we disagree wildly on political issues or moral issues, such as whether gays should be allowed to marry (of COURSE they should) or whether the government should be allowed to detain so-called enemy combatants without access to an attorney (of COURSE they shouldn’t), for example–I can still work with them and make good comics.

    I’m an American, born and raised, and I love the Northwest, where I live. I love many people in my country and have never lived elsewhere, I love to travel and explore the country. But I sure as hell can’t justify a number of the things my country has done (and continues to do) throughout history.

    I am very aware of the limits of my talents and am not in the least insecure about them–I believe that art is made by constant effort, not by the result of some inherited quirk. So for me talent is a non-issue.

    I choose to work in the comics industry because I love comics. I worked in film for years (and theatre before that). I used to work for Paramount Pictures, MGM, CBS Television, Warner Bros Feature Animation (when such a thing existed), among others. A whole lot of great big corporations in there, and I don’t claim to know much about their moral correctness. I enjoyed working for some, not so much for others, but that was about my own direct experience, not something I read in an old magazine and formed a one-sided moral judgment about.

    If I’m a prostitute, I’m doing it because I love the sex. Or maybe I’m just an artist who likes making art.

    And maybe you’re just someone who likes throwing stones because you don’t have any other way of expressing yourself.

  38. george says:

    Heidi, you were “a kid” when Avengers No. 200 came out in 1980? Like under 18? You’re younger than I thought.

  39. Mosker says:

    Ms Marvel: The character whose alcholic screw-ups were paired with Steve Rogers having flashbacks to Nazi death camps. So is the message that her mistake is on par with (or worse than)John Stewart letting his ego lead to a planet’s demise? Or pre Jean Grey/Hal Jordan evil entity exorcisms?

    Sad. I played Marvel Ultimate Alliance with her on my team and invariably she was the weak link. Insult to injury.

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