Sunday, 15 May 2011

On "Flashpoint" # 1: Sex & Gender & The Superhero Cross-Over

          

1.

We’ll talk of the value of Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert’s “Flashpoint” # 1 solely in the context of a superhero comic at another time, but it’s worth saying in passing that it’s in many ways a far, far better book than were the appalling issues of "The Flash" which preceded it and set it up. Mind you, that’s something of a shameful business in itself, because it's obvious from the pages of "Flashpoint" that Mr Johns hadn't actually lost his ability to write a story that was anything other than a shoddy, rushed bodge-job. And so, it appears that "The Road To Flashpoint" was such a poor, shallow, consumer-cheating piece of work because "Flashpoint" was absorbing a disproportionate amount of its creator's time and energy.

I'm sure that DC is even now preparing a public apology for charging the consumers of the last few issues of "The Flash" the outrageous sum of $2.99 a comic, while Mr Johns was, it seems, investing most of his efforts on far more important matters elsewhere. Perhaps those of us who showed faith in both company and creator might even be offered a partial refund in return for our naive belief and dumb consumer-trust.

     
2.

There’s a simple rule that applies whenever a writer is tempted to add sexual violence to a script in the name of entertainment. The rule, of course, is “don’t”.

Flash fact; sexual violence isn’t ever to be sprinkled into a comic-book just to amuse and entice the punters.

In "Flashpoint" # 1, the sexual violence implied in the text involves two distinct but associated programmes of organised and unimaginably psychotic oppression. The first is the slaughter of what's implied to be all 32 million males in the United Kingdom by an army of women. The second is the immediate castration by said women of any male who subsequently sets foot "in the good ol'UK...". The first business, those 32 million slaughtered men, is used in "Flashpoint" as way of creating a sense of jeopardy, the second, that terrifying business of purposeful and merciless castration, is placed to double that foreboding while adding a touch of boy's own humour to the mix.

Castration is, after all, surely as funny as it's scary, isn't that so?

            
Of course, in the real world, all acts of mass systematic sexual violence, including the mutilation of sexual organs, are organised by and executed by men. It's men who undertake the beating, torturing, raping, maiming and murdering which such policies of sexual violence involve, and the victims, now as throughout history, are mostly, although of course very much not exclusively, women. It says so much about the Common Comics Culture that when the superhero narrative finally does touch upon an issue of such genuine social and political concern, it's women who are presented as being to blame for mass murder and sexual mutilation, while it's the men who are portrayed as the victims.(*1) Though that's never been true for the whole of recorded history, and while precisely the opposite stands even today, in the DCU it's those violent sword-wielding women who viciously persecute those helpless males.

        
It's not that Geoff Johns and his colleagues are in any way working to suggest that organised armies of woman are persecuting men, and indeed castrating them en masse, out here in our world. Nor is there any intimation that the gender wars of the "Flashpoint" DCU stand as a comment on contemporary affairs at all. No, the offense is caused by DC's inability to grasp that all stories do, regards of how they're intended, stand as political comment. Whether the editors and creators of "Flashpoint" meant to be insensitive and sexist about this aspect of their tale is irrelevant, for the fact is that insensitive and sexist is how they appear. After all, it's so telling that the only time that the DCU chooses to touch upon such vital contemporary issues of state-directed sexual violence, the truth of such deliberate programmes of terror becomes entirely inverted, with the men being threatened and the women placed as the violent sexual destroyers. Mr Johns and his team couldn't have better obscured the truth of this issue if they'd tried, if they'd set out to quietly convince a largely male audience that women really are out to get men, and to remove their testicles, both literally and metaphorically, while doing so.But, no, I suspect that nobody at DC had the slightest idea that they were touching a terribly disturbing and vitally important cluster of issues in the first place.

There's no apparent social purpose, no commitment to social justice, where the gender politics of "Flashpoint" and its mass-murdering, castrating Amazons are concerned. The only function of such sensitive and should-be-shocking material in "Flashpoint" # 1 is to add a little shiver and a little chill for its mostly-male readers, which strongly suggests that issues such as mass sexual violence are thought of as nothing but entertainment at DC. It's not that anyone meant conscious harm, it's that no-one was on deck asking questions about whether such issues should be being embedded in their stories in the first place. And that's what's offensive, because that's all that sexual violence means here; entertainment in a story. Millions of dead males, the threat of female-on-male genital mutilation; it's just a way for the heroic challenge facing Cyborg and his doubtful superheroes to appear even more intimidating, and for Citizen Cold to seem to be yet more amusingly sinister through his allusions to the removal of testicles.

        
3.

It's also telling that the only independent nation of women in the superhero mainstream is here being associated so definitively with sexual abuse, to say the very least, and, once again, organised mass violence. Indeed, it's not so very long ago that that DC had the Amazons invade the USA. Whether in an alternative DCU, where we might expect characters to be behaving atypically, or not, the message does seem to be one that finds the very idea of a state ruled by women rather than mostly by men to be deeply threatening. It's as if the very idea of women who are powerful and independent simply has to be associated with men having their testicles cut off, with the sacred symbols of Washington D.C. and London's Westminster being trampled on by armies of Nazi-Amazons. Those nasty vicious women just won't listen to reason, and they're going to emasculate poor helpless men too.

Some of the most terrible aspects of the suffering of women and girls are here reduced in the superhero narrative to elements of fun, the most noble of their aspirations twisted into comicbook evidence of how dangerous and threatening their silly ideas are. Worse yet, at this point of "Flashpoint" at least, such vital matters are just there as side-issues, as little storytelling lures, to spice up the apparently far more important issues of changed continuities and altered superheroic identities.

Women who don't castrate in "Flashpoint" # 1: Barry Allen's lovable mother.

The role of the Amazon women  in "Flashpoint" is to serve as little more than a sideshow of castration and gender-genocide. But then "Flashpoint" # 1 is very much a book about men and the things which scare men; losing their mums, losing their wives, losing their testicles. All the lead characters of this crossover so far are  men, and the world is portrayed exclusively from the perspective of a profoundly traditional male point-of-view. Cyborg, the Flash, The Batman; they carry the narrative, their opinions frame the tale. Where women do appear, in terms of supporting speaking roles, they take their place as (1) a mother, (2) an ex-wife, (3) a bitching superheroine, (4) a mad superheroine, (5) a supervillianess kicked off a rooftop, and (6) two female members of the Marvel family given one sisterly line each about working together and not squabbling. Indeed, in the gathering of superpeople which serves as the second double-page spread of "Flashpoint" # 1, there are just four women present in comparison to the fourteen men who dominate the design.

Four women, fourteen men. How's that for a statement of intent where representations of sex and gender are concerned? And I suppose no-one will be shocked if I suggest that half of those few women are fundamentally characterised in their first appearance by their substantial breasts? Indeed, only the Enchantress, the most significantly undressed and breastful of the female super-people on show, stands at the front of the group, because, I suppose, those breasts must be seen. The other three - 3! - members of the cast are all notably standing behind their male counterparts and looking, considered as a group, rather unimpressively woeful, scared rather than defiant, nervous rather than determined..

            
In truth, the only women who do anything of note beyond loving or not loving Barry Allen in "Flashpoint" are actually those Amazons, meaning that, for this issue at least, there's a nice sense of counterpoint between mummy/wifey/sisterly women and those radical Amazons, who're gonna to cut it off, boys!

Honestly, DC, don't you have anyone checking whether at least your event books are presenting essentially balanced social representations? (*2)

*1:-  No doubt there will have been men involved in 'provoking' the Amazons, but I doubt those 32 million dead British males will be presented to us as having deserved their fate. Those women will have gone too far, I suspect, in the Flashpoint timeline as they do in the DCU proper.
*2:- Four members of ethnic minorities out of these 18 characters on show isn't too impressive either, especially considering that the entire DCU was up for reinventing in "Flashpoint".

4.

The strangest thing about the references to sexual violence in "Flashpoint" is how they're quite obviously there as a deliberate part of the set-up for the coming (almost) line-wide crossover rather than as a part of any kind of ethical agenda. There's a terrible and quite repellent irony in the idea of a narrative tease where sexual violence is concerned. The reader's curiosity is being purposefully snared by hints and passing details about the sexual horror which these terrible Amazons both have and might have committed. We're being nailed as future readers, or so DC seems to believe, in part on the basis that sexual violence is titillating, that it's going to be as exciting as it'll be tense to stand by the likes of Cyborg and Citizen Cold as they face these women who HAVE "slaughtered" thirty-two million men and who MAY be removing scrotums too.

It's that very business of the tease which disturbs this reader the most. For example, Mr Johns has Citizen Cold make the following comment, and Cold is at this point in the narrative being positioned as a bad guy, meaning that we don't know whether we trust him or not, which will inspire us, it seems to have been presumed, to want to come back to see if he's right or not;

".... but for a guy like me, hell, any guy sets foot on the good ol'U.K... I heard you're singing soprano. "


So, the whole purpose of this part of the text is to keep the image of those castrating women in our mind, to have us fascinated by whether they do or whether they don't do these terrible things. Strangely enough, the matter of the murder of "thirty two million (having been) slaughtered when the Amazons claimed the United Kingdom as New Themyscira" is stated in an unconditional sense by an apparently trustworthy source. We're not supposed to be too worried about all those tens of millions of murders of the male Brits, but we are apparently going to be enticed by the mystery of the rebel scrotums. Castration is the interesting stuff, castration is the matter which will keep us thinking, make us wonder, castration is the question left open to keep us curious. Whether the Amazons actually are culling those essential tropes of masculinity is irrelevant to the point that one of the key unresolved refers to sexual violence.

          
To those who'd suggest that this is all far too much attention to be being paid to a few panels, I'd wonder whether there is in general such a thing as an acceptable minimum of sexual violence, a small enough dose of rape, a respectfully limited sprinkling of superhero gelding? I'd also point out that "Flashpoint" # 1 is already in itself a narrative in which women operate quite on the periphery where the lead roles are concerned. We're not talking just about two panels and a series of unresolved prurient plot-points.

Perhaps Wonder Woman herself will prove to have had nothing to do with the mass murder of men and the castration squads. Perhaps the latter are all an invention of gossip-mongers and the likes of Citizen Cold in this new DCU. Perhaps Wonder Woman is a good mass-murdering sexual fascist instead of one of those women who really enjoys her job. Maybe she and her sisters just had a bad day and couldn't control their feelings, and, with all that emotion flying around, felt that they just had to create all those mountains of dead males. Or, well; perhaps it was the bad Amazons who did it, or, gosh, perhaps they're being manipulated by nasty men into conforming to a pantomime stereotype of how women get when their feelings are aroused. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, but to play the snare game is to buy into the whole premise of sexual-violence-as-entertainment in the first place.

         
If DC really wanted to deal with the issues of sexual violence on a mass scale, and we'll touch on the reality of that most disturbing and disgusting of social problems in a moment, then they'd not have used it to create anticipation in the minds of its readers for a summer popcorn crossover. They'd have had the whole matter stage-centre from issue one, because they'd have known that to leave a humane resolution to these dubious plot threads lying open for even one more month is to be seen to use sexual violence as a component of entertainment.

There is, of course, a lurking suspicion that this whole aspect of "Flashpoint" hasn't been designed to reflect the reality of sexual violence as a political weapon at all, hasn't been set up to responsibly inform the readers of DC Comics about the significant number of countries who today use for example rape as a deliberate weapon of oppression against their citizens. Indeed, there is a worrying thought that this suggestion of women "slaughtering" millions of men, and perhaps removing their testicles too, exists because DC Comics thinks that this in itself is all rather exciting in the way of minor plot-points.

Why was the Enchantress placed at the front of the heroes?
5.

I really do believe that it's important that one simple fact, one absolute truth, is stated over and over again until it's accepted as being simply true.Whenever armies have been used by a state or a cause to oppress one particular gender, the soldiers have always been male and the victims have always been female.

Flash fact: in any situation in history where a mass of one gender has organised campaigns of sexual terror against another, women have never been the aggressors. Put simply, women do not, and never have, organise themselves into armed units on any level and rape, mutilate and murder men. The opposite has, however, forever been true. Indeed, wherever organised sexual violence has occurred, whether aimed at males or females or those defining their own gender, it's been men who've taken the lead in the oppression.

            
Therefore, to suggest even playfully that a nation of super-women are the mass murderers of millions of poor innocent men while perpetrating a regime of sexual terror is the narrative equivalent of presenting an alternative Earth in which the Germany of the Thirties and Forties is ruled by a super-Jewish state sending millions of Europeans to the gas chamber. Women should no more be cast as the sole perpetrators of mass sexual violence, given that the opposite is always true, than the Jewish people should be presented as a genocidal tyranny in an alt-world take on the nineteen-thirties. Each of these fictional scenarios does nothing but insult the victim while leaving the culprit unchallenged. Both may sound like interesting ideas, as clever reversals of what is expected by an audience, but unless such concepts are (1) right at the centre of the purpose of the narrative, and (2) designed solely to challenge the very prejudices which they appear to bolster, then they should never be given a second thought. Yet although no-one beyond a Nazi would even dream of showing a Jewish state building furnaces at Buchenwald, it seems so easy for women to be pictured murdering millions of men for no other apparent reason than the fact that it seems rather entertaining to watch them doing so.

Could it really be that the DC staff behind "Flashpoint" have no idea that mass, organised sexual violence as an instrument of state power is a fact of our world's present and everyday reality, just as it has been the vilest of commonplaces throughout human history? Could it be that no-one at DC actually knows that it's men who persecute women, and sometimes other men too, in this way, as in Zimbabwe, in the Democratic Republic Of Congo, in Iran, in The Sudan, in Haiti, in Burma, in Guinea-Conakry; the list could go on and on just for the past quarter century, as Google would inform you, as organisations such as Amnesty International and War-Child would inform you.

No-one involved with "Flashpoint" # 1 seems to have considered how impossibly uncaring and ignorant it is, how entirely offensive it is, to turn the only female nation in the DCU into the equivalent of the rape-states fighting for power within the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Castration and gender-specific mass murder are only not examples of sexual violence when an awareness of such is entirely absent.) No matter how entertaining it might be for an alternative history to show disruptions to the status quo of an established fictional order, to do so for its own sake in this way is simply a mark of sensationalism entirely separated from an awareness of political realities.

         
6.

Oh, come on, I hear some folks spit, it’s only a joke, it's only a comic, it's not a serious business, as if using motifs of sexual violence and oppression could ever be anything but when events in the 'real world' are considered. Just this week, the  American Journal Of Public Health has reported that “400 000 females aged 15-49 were raped over a 12-month period in 2006 and 2007” in the Democratic Republic Of Congo, with 48 such sexual assaults still taking place every hour up to and including the very moment at which you're reading this sentence. 12% of the population of women and girls there have, the American Journal Of Public Health reports, been raped at least once assaults still taking place every hour up to and including the very moment at which you're reading this sentence. 12% of the population of women and girls there have, the American Journal Of Public Health reports, been raped at least once. The UN estimates that all sides in the civil war have used organised rape as a systematic instrument of policy, and that the last 15 years have seen at the very least 200 000 girls and women either raped or subjected to other forms of sexual violence.  The reader who was unaware of this conflict can rest assured that the rapes were not carried out by platoons of women.  

         
Perhaps Mr Johns is going to later show us that these comments by Cyborg and in particular by Citizen Cold concerning the Amazon state's policy of formally-constituted gender-genocide and sexual terror are all hot-air. Perhaps we'll find that the Amazons have been the victim of a bad press, and that Mr Johns is going to use this aspect of his tale to discuss the reality of organised sexual violence. Perhaps those Amazons didn't murder millions of boys and men, perhaps no testicles were removed. Perhaps it's all going to be for a moral purpose! After all, the superhero narrative rarely mentions rape unless it's to add jeopardy to a tale, to create a victim of a woman and an avenger of a man, and it's surely time that the issue was dealt with in a mature and responsible fashion. Given the fact that the audience for superhero books is profoundly male and to a worrying degree apparently quite uninterested in sexual politics, the cape'n'chest'insignia sub-genre would be a perfect place to start establishing certain home truths about human sexual oppression.

But if the DCU can't present a clearly informing portrait of how organised sexual violence occurs in the real world, especially considering how much disinformation and ignorance and naked prejudice abounds in our cultures, then the company's creators should just shut the hell up. 

       
7.

I've never seen a male-dominated culture in superhero comics being portrayed as one which mutilates women's reproductive organs as a matter of policy, which slaughters all of the female inhabitants of its territory as an act of state. I can't believe that anyone would think such an idea was interesting enough to follow through on. Such a concept would be surely be considered as being as offensive as it is inane, unless the creators were working overtime to deal with issues in the most responsible of fashions. I'm sure, indeed, that most of those associated with the CCC would never dream that their male characters would do any such thing. After all, men commit 400 000 rapes a year in America, according to the US Department of Justice, but that's a quite different issue, obviously. I can't imagine even the Atlanteans who've apparently drowned one hundred million Europeans in "Flashpoint" #1 being portrayed as women-slaughtering, vagina-removing brutes.

And yet a fictional state composed of women can be conceived of as being organised around the sexual mutilation of men and indeed the murder of tens of millions of them, despite statistics suggesting that 98% of rape, for example, is committed by men.  By which I mean, one gender has a far, far worse record of sexual violence on both an individual and an institutional level, and, oddly enough, it's not the one being shown killing 32 million Brits.

Still, perhaps the Amazons killed as many British females as males. After all, the text implies it's males who've been killed, and the art shows only men being slaughtered, but this, as with Citizen Cold's talk of testicle-removal, could all be a grand feint on the part of Mr Johns. But if it is, he's still created a story where sexual violence is being used in "Flashpoint" # 1 solely to bring in the curious punters for the next issue. One way or another, this is an issue which is being used here for commercial gain and not ethical purposes.


Well, perhaps we'll discover that the Amazons are being controlled by a God, or aliens, or some daft super-villain who wants the discredit the very idea that women can live free of the strictures of male-dominated culture.

In which case, the narrative's intentions ought to have been more transparently emphasised in "Flashpoint" # 1, so that this issue didn't just look like another politically insensitive example of "gee-whiz-what-if" thinking. Because these matters are too important to be left unresolved for another month or three, to be left with DC Comics looking as if it doesn't know the first thing about giving a damn about anything other than superheroes and profit.

Women who don't castrate in Flashpoint # 2: Barry Allen's loving, memory-wiped wife
    
For the rule is simple, and it's so grounded in commonsense and decent-heartedness that it must surely be easy to remember; whenever sexual violence is considered being used as a component of entertainment rather than as education, then it just shouldn’t be. Rape or castration or gender-genocide, it's not funny and it shouldn't be used for anything other than the most serious of intentions. To do otherwise will both inevitably insult the victims of organised sexual violence and distort the truth of how such horrors occur, two things which everyone involved in "Flashpoint" would, I'm absolutely sure, never want to do.


.

67 comments:

  1. I suspect they've taken this route because it's so divorced from the reality of sexual violence. It looks less offensive because it doesn't correspond to the experience of real victims; but that still leaves insensitive sensationalism.

    (It feels especially wrong involving Wonder Woman, who really ought to be written/edited with some awareness of sexual politics.)

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  2. Hello Mark:- I would entirely agree with you that it's most probable that the team involved in 'Flashpoint' decided to play with these issues because they didn't seem to refer to any realworld events. That, of course, is a reflection of a lack of a wider perspective that too often results in unintended insensitivities appearing in books by both of the Big Two.

    My feeling is that the portrayal of a culture based on gender prejudice and extremes of organised violence cannot help but refer to the real world, and that the story-choices taken here re: The Amazons reflect a problem the Common Comics Consciousness often has with relating the contents of their work with the real world beyond it. If "Flashpoint" # 1 had been a comic where the roles given to women had been progressive rather than traditional, if it had been a story relevant to both genders rather than one, than perhaps it wouldn't have worried me to the same degree, although worry me it would have. But I can't help but believe that that the general lack of awareness where sexual/gender politics are concerned in comics - some fine creator's work aside - means that more questionable decisions are inevitable. So many books are clearly sexist, albeit unintentionally, and with that as a base-line situation, further misjudgements are just too easy to make.

    I've just finished watching the Game Of Thrones with my wife, and all I could think was how brilliantly it dealt with gender and discrimination, and how I wish superhero comics would do the same. What an audience there might be for a product which spoke more often and more clearly and more fairly about these issues.

    And so I agree entirely with you about the use of Wonder Woman and her mythos in such a way. William Marston created the Amazons as an-admittedly - shall we say - idiosyncratic take on feminism, but the Amazons are becoming far too often the opposite of what he intended. If there were more women-only cultures in the superhero universes, then recasting any one of them for such a limited event would have been interesting. But to continue a process by which the Amazons become more and more violent and threatening to 'man's world' rather than an example to it; well, it feels like a poor choice, and certainly with these motifs of gender-genocide and mutilation added to the whole business.

    Of course, I don't mean to suggest anything other than a misjudgement on the part of DC here, and I fully accept that many would find my whole argument a tissue of PC waffle. Still, it worries me greatly ....

    Thank you for your comment. My apologies for responding so indulgently. Having watched 2 hours of GOT, my head is full of ideas about how great stories might be told ...

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  3. Back before she calmed down a bit, Valerie D'Orazio rather blew the whistle on the sexual attitude at DC (editorial decided "we need a rape" and then they sat down and discussed what female characters - not male characters, you'll note - they could actually use, as it had to be someone who hadn't already been the subject of a sexual assault), and given the management structure during her tenure has barely changed at all beyond that some of the editors are writing books themselves now and less female writers are employed, I don't really see how things could have changed very much in the intervening years.

    I think comics fandom doesn't want to look too closely at its gender politics because it's an uncomfortable thing to admit your head's not entirely right on some matters, but it's not confined to comics alone: consider the attitude towards 'political correctness' - a movement based on the notion that we should prize sensitivity and egalitarianism - and how it's reviled as an elitist anti-freedom movement thought up by the boffins to punish the working classes by eroding our love of poking fun at black people and lesbians (1). I think you're poking the hornet's nest asking such questions, Colin (2), but good on you for doing so.

    (1) Or as I like to call it, Channel 4.
    (2) Your comments moderation will serve you well here, I fear.

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  4. "The Mystery of the Rebel Scrotums" is the title of the greatest prog rock album never recorded.

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  5. I assume this act of mass androcide will be shown as the Amazons striking back against andrarchy and this is some kind of payback for the millennia of male abuse - after all how do you hold a crimes against gender trial when the mistreated has been so... en-gendered? After all the Amazon Flashpoint tie-in is being written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (they are also writing a Lois Lane one which appears to give another angle on this) and, while they haven't ever hoisted their gender-sensitivity flag up the mast, they are smart writers who are always looking to deliver an interesting and thought-provoking story. It can't issue after issue of castration, can it? The problem is this just isn't making me want to read this story at all (despite the talent signed up and the possibility John Constantine might be leading the resistance, or Janet Constantine?), it sounds like an unpromising poisoned chalice of a story - what I don't know is whether they came up with the idea or if Johns worked out the wider impact of his universe-tampering and dished out the assignments (if it is the latter it has promise, if the former well I certainly wouldn't have taken a swig of the sullied wine but I don't want to read about anyone who has).

    This also raise another troubling angle - I assume these few panels are being thrown out as hooks to snag readers into reading the tie-in mini-series and Johns won't be addressing this full on himself. So it strips what surely must be a more complex story down to a crude and tabloid headline-grabbing basics, in order to get you to check out another story. Assembly-line murder (surely the only way you could make the logistics of an operation that tops Stalin's purges over a longer period of time) as advertising is itself pretty shocking in it's own right (I'd hate to think what they'd suggest as the advert for Schindler's List) but throwing in some kind of gender pogrom just makes it worse. That this is intended to make people enthusiastic to read the comic is a bit scary. However, you are talking about it, as are others, so it might actually work. Scandal sells. We'll have to keep an eye on the numbers there.

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  6. Hello Mr Brigonos:- strangely enough, the image of the hornet's nest is one which came up when I was discussing this piece with the Splendid Wife, and although it's never easy to predict how things might go down, pieces dealing with issues such as these do tend to show why comment moderation was invented. I really don't want to be poking a hornet's nest, but I did think it would cowardly not to write about the issue, given that it's what I'd discuss with a friend if we were out for a walk or a drink and we were discussing the likes of recent books. But I won't deny that discussing issues such as sexism and race tend to have a negative effect on things like nasty comments and visitor numbers. I usually get a comment or two declaring that I'm trying to cause a fuss and gain attention, and in truth the opposite is true; any attention beyond that of regular visitors tends to be a touch unpleasant, and any fuss never works to the blogger's advantage.

    But you never know! I've put things up before which provoked a quite different response to expected. To be honest, I don't think I wrote this at all well, and so there's a sense that if I was going to go back to gender politics, I ought at least to have done it better. Ah, well. Not writing it would have been cowardly, though I'm worried that the thought "Do I want the hassle when it won't do any good?" did cross my mind. The mind generates stupid and shameful ideas when faced with the possibility of the tiniest amount of hassle.

    After all, it's only a blog, it's only an opinion, and the blog's never been about chasing visitors. I wouldn't write what I did if that were the motive! And I didn't insult anyone personally and I know that what gets written here is of no importance at all. Yet there have been pieces in the past where I've talked about gender roles and literally thousands turned up, including one about 2000 ad a year ago which brought in an untypical avalanche of links and visitors and yet saw my average visitor numbers fall when the fuss was over. I have no idea what this means, but I do know that social issues can bring attention which doesn't help the blogger reach an audience. In essence, such pieces don't help the blogger - or anyone else! - in any way beyond self-expression, so part of the brain will always want to avoid writing them. Simple psychological reinforcement at play. of course.

    cont

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  7. cont/Mr B

    I read the collection of pieces Valerie D'Orazio made available a few years ago. To be honest, I was so shocked that it was hard to breathe reading them. It's inconceivable to me that what she was describing was real, and yet I've no doubt that she was calling it as she experienced it. I don't mean to imply any doubt, but rather a sense of cognitive dissonance generated by the supposed meaning of the superhero clashing with the attitudes held then by some of those responsible for the sub-genre. I would hope that a change of attitude has taken place across society as a whole since them. I have noticed serious changes for the better in the respect and tolerance for whole groups of people in some areas of our culture since I first started teaching, for example. But then, I've noted some aspects of social respect regress too ...

    But then, in teaching I did see Political Correctness being used to stifle debate and cloak some horrible attitudes, just as the public values PC claimed to replace did. I just wish that the "sensitivity and egalitarianism" you mention had been more carefully formulated and fought for, and that more of the media seemed aware that the fight to just be a little kinder is far from over. The old Morissey line about it taking strength to be gentle and kind may sound wet, but it's not untrue, and that strength's not always around.

    Mind you, there's an economic argument for kinder, more inclusive comics, in the social sense, too. Fantastic literature appeals to a far broader audience of people than just white men. Stories which appeal to a broader audience by representing them could undoubtedly sell more. By this, I don't mean that the social content of a sub-genre should be determined by economic self-interest, but I do mean that if kindness and cash go hand in hand, it surely is a no-brainer. Watching Game Of Thrones last night, as I said above, just made me wonder why more comics don't try to represent a broader range of folks.

    I can't believe anyone at DC meant anything but to be kind with "Flashpoint". What worries me is not the intentions, which I'm sure are good, but the lack of systems in place to support both editors and staff in order to ensure that mistakes don't happen. Even on the level of the first issue of a major crossover appearing without a single female POV character, such systems would've surely helped. I know there are spin-offs such as those starring Wonder Woman and Lois Lane coming out. But the big-tent book would have benefited from being less of a boy's book too.

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  8. Hello Harvey:- "The Mystery of the Rebel Scrotums" is the title of the greatest prog rock album never recorded".

    When I was a boy just into my teens, I used to be the junior member of a social scene of sorts composed of far older - relatively speaking - lads. On the edge of them were two or three blokes who did indeed produce prog albums of their own, heavily influenced by Zappa, Yes and 'Krautrock'. "The Mystery Of The Rebel Scrotums" could've come from one of their hand-written C-45 tape covers. They could've BEEN "The Rebel Scrotums".

    One of them is now, I believe, an editor of music and ITC magazines and his how-to-play guitar books are on sale on Amazon. Good for him.

    But he's not a Rebel Scrotum anymore!

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  9. What a barnstormer Colin, well done. The overplayed vision of warlike Amazons is becoming quite noxious. It seems with each passing decade the subversive content of dear ol' Marston's original work - yes, bondage and all - is stripped away more and more.

    The important point to note is that he always portrayed Paradise Island as a superior culture, one of the earliest things to be reversed at the first opportunity - hence the increasingly primitive portrayals of the Amazons, seemingly trapped in time due to a like of men on the island.

    It is interesting that when they are displayed as a dominant culture, such as here in Flashpoint, that dominance is only achieved through colossal violence!

    It says more about the values of those writing the stories now in contrast to Marston than it does the nature of these fictional Amazons themselves.

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  10. Hello Emperor:- the whole issue of androcide worried me greatly even in how I wrote the piece, in that there is a case for saying that androcide was carried out against men in various cultures in a way that parallels the Amazon’s behaviour in Flashpoint. Such, of course, would make the point that mass sexual violence has been male-run and largely anti-female a problematical one to support. Yet it seems to me that the assault on men who are intellectuals, as in for example Pakistan, involves not a gender-based principle of assault, but one based on the cultural capital which only men in general could attain in that culture. Similarly, attacks on males capable of serving as soldiers is an assault not on the principle of gender but of the power given to certain roles. In Flashpoint, of course, it APPEARS that the very FACT of masculinity is what drives the Amazonian gender-genocide, making it a quite different business. Still. I’m glad you used the term. I should’ve used it, and made it plain that I intended it in a specific rather than general sense. I raise my early-morning orange to you for your use of androcide.

    I’m sure that men will have driven the Amazons to it, of this I have no doubt. What a shame that CM’s Amazons couldn’t be allowed to practise the restraint and good judgment that we might hope the only once-idealistic matriarchy in the DCU would display. There’s no point in anyone saying “But it’s an alt-dimension”. For many reasons, it just doesn’t wash. But then, I have kind-of covered that above; yet I want to write it all again, like a person in an argument that just can’t help repeating himself because the points should be obvious! :)

    I can’t believe that Mr Johns will allow any gender-genocide/mass castration plots to run to any degree at all. I choose to believe it’s a smokescreen and the true nature of the story involving the Amazons will be something quite different, still bloody, but not so … gosh, misjudged, shall I say? Similarly, Mr Abnett and Mr Lanning will surely be doing something other than taking that issue of sexual violence and presenting it as entertainment for nought but its own sake.

    Yes, I too expressed that concern that castration was being used as a narrative snare. In fact, just about everything that’s gender based in FP seemed ill-judged, to a greater or lesser degree.

    I hadn’t read the BC piece, but I have seen the issue referred to elsewhere. Scandal does indeed sell, but I just can’t envisage the folks at DCU trying to provoke one in this way to shift a few more books. I know your words don’t say that, I just mean that the thought occurred to me as I read your comment, and then immediately my mind shouted back “I don’t think so!” as well as “I don’t want to even imagine that!”. A mind would have be pretty hardened to kindness and social justice to do that, or perhaps just lacking in any experience of gender politics beyond kneejerk media talk.

    Most of all, I do hope that we don’t get given a “nice v ugly women” picture of good old DC female characters fitting into comfortable female roles fighting those castrating mad women with bloody swords. DC have to be careful not to be seen to presenting a very-moderate v radical feminism argument here.

    Fingers crossed, I look forward to seeing all my concerns proven worthless. I like these books, characters and creators. I’d love to write how socially just the rest of the epic crossover is.

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  11. Hello Emmet:- “barnstormer” is a great word! Thank you!

    ‘Noxious’ is a very fine word too in this context. I tried to stay away from discussing the way that superhero books just can’t cope with cultures which are in any way superior to the modern-day west, because I wanted to keep the crosshair fixed on this target, and yet it was so hard not too. I’ve written about it before and it’s hard not to repeat such concerns. You put your finger on something that’s so upsetting about all this undercutting of the Amazons, in both the DCU proper and here; the Amazons were created to be politically subversive, as you say. They’re there to point out how ugly man’s world can be, and how many of the virtues associated with being female can be considerable sources of strength, not weakness, and justice, not meek subservience. Better yet, the Amazons also declared that women could lay claim to whichever roles and powers men had claimed for their exclusive use too. Now of course I don’t subscribe to CM’s INCREDIBLY WEIRD version of feminism, but that doesn’t mean that the Amazons should just be constantly reduced to archaic brutes no better than the men they were created to stand as a comment upon. Excellent point too about the Amazons and the way they’re portrayed as violent to such a degree that their power is now associated with their castrating swords rather than their beneficent ideals.

    The Amazons invade the USA because they think a member of their royal family is being detained by America? They invade the capital of the USA because of that, swords a-waving? You’re right, this inability to respect the whole concept has its roots far back before Flashpoint.

    I was discussing this whole business with the Splendid Wife, who wondered whether there wasn’t some degree of uneasiness about the whole idea of equal rights and a more-radical-than-conservative agenda on display here. It can’t be, can it? But the thing is, it looks that way, and I can’t believe that too many women chancing upon this book would think “This is the sub-genre for me!”.

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  12. Ah, the subtle Mr.Johns. I have to say that I have no interest in those Crossovers any longer so I don´t care either way. But this sounds very stupid. Most writers can´t deal with the concepts of the Amazons which at DC seems to be getting shriller all the time. Its Amazons so they only can be man-hating nutcases. If this is the only thing the imagination of these writers can bring up it would be sad.

    And all this for just what seems to be another Age of Apokalips.

    "Watching Game Of Thrones last night, as I said above, just made me wonder why more comics don't try to represent a broader range of folks."

    Because the writers don´t have this in them? If they even can´t write woman which isn´t a stereotype how should they write a broader range of folks?

    Just take a character like DCs Montoya for instance. A perfect example how an interesting supporting everyman character was so often re-invented that she lost her appeal. From streetcop to lesbian superhero, from an - admittedly cliched - us to a them. Just because she wasn´t "cool" enough?

    Superhero comics should stay away from gender politics. It is mostly emberassing what makes it on the page.

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  13. Hello Andy:- thank you for always being willing to put forward opinions which I can disagree with! I've said it before, but there's no point to a blog where everything’s all agreement, and you often help me re-think my position on things.

    For example, as I'm sure I've said before, I have a much higher opinion of the craftmanship of Mr Johns than you do. Of course, that doesn't mean that I admire all his work, and some of it gets my goat, but he has done some very fine work.

    And yet, I can quite understand how an exposure to a sample of his work could provide you with the evidence for your statement. Similarly, I do know how frustrating modern superhero comics can be. Once again, I can't disagree with your honestly expressed opinion, but I do very much want to see the good as well as the bad. Not that that means that you have to agree there are good bits in the first place :)

    But your comment does, for all of my qualifications, remind me that I have no explanation for a great deal of the material which has shown the Amazons as violent, irrational and rather unpleasant. Similarly, I have no way to explain how some writers approach their female characters in so cack-handedly a manner. I honestly don't think it's either because of a lack of talent or because of anything so disturbing as regressive intentions. It can only be a CCC.

    I have always been uncomfortable with the Montoya/Question business. But I think that's because I (1) enjoyed her as cop, and (2) find it hard to believe that ordinary folks, even remarkable ones like RM, can just become superheroes. Making remarkable supporting characters into superheroes doesn't always produce a convincing fit between the one and the other. I did also very much like the JLU Question, so I suspect I wanted to see more of that version.

    Heaven knows we need more female leads and more openly gay characters. I'm glad DC was brave enough to take the step with RM that it did. That I might not feel comfortable with the details of the principle is irrelevant, I suspect. Endlessly more important than my own taste is the diversity than the RM/Question character delivers.

    I very much don't want to see superhero books avoiding matters of sex and gender. Some of any content generated re: the topic will be questionable, because some of everything's that written always is. But the more practise, the better the final product will eventually be :)

    I'm feeling optimistic again. I can't seem to help it, Andy.

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  14. There's no apparent social purpose, no commitment to social justice, where the gender politics of "Flashpoint" and its mass-murdering, castrating Amazons are concerned. The only function of such sensitive and should-be-shocking material in "Flashpoint" # 1 is to add a little shiver and a little chill for its mostly-male readers, which strongly suggests that issues such as mass sexual violence are thought of as nothing but entertainment at DC. It's not that anyone meant conscious harm, it's that no-one was on deck asking questions about whether such issues should be being embedded in their stories in the first place. And that's what's offensive, because that's all that sexual violence means here; entertainment in a story. Millions of dead males, the threat of female-on-male genital mutilation; it's just a way for the heroic challenge facing Cyborg and his doubtful superheroes to appear even more intimidating, and for Citizen Cold to seem to be yet more amusingly sinister through his allusions to the removal of testicles.

    The subplot that launched four thousand words, eh? Nobody ever accused Johns of thinking terribly much about anything he has written, not that I suppose that is any excuse. He is Chief Creative Officer of one of the two largest superhero story factories, after all, which would imply having the responsibility of paying attention to the way the company's stories appear to the outside world, and not simply to the built-in audience (consisting mostly of, as you say, males, and many of those of questionable emotional maturity).

    There's no apparent social purpose, no commitment to social justice, where the gender politics of "Flashpoint" and its mass-murdering, castrating Amazons are concerned.

    Hurm, is there ever? The superhero exists in a fragile symbolic realm with just enough notional distance from tangible events to prevent itself from becoming too dated while remaining just close enough to keep from slipping into irrelevance. At least in theory. Very often we get Doctor Doom crying over the 9-11 attacks and Spider-Man teaming up with Pres. Obama; or they make an attempt at broader so-called relevance with very special issues of Superman "dealing" with domestic abuse or Green Lantern hanging his head in shame at the realization that he has friends who are blue, but not black. Do we need companies with their company-owned characters flailing wildly into supposed relevance? Do we want it?

    (cont...)

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  15. (...cont)

    It's not that anyone meant conscious harm, it's that no-one was on deck asking questions about whether such issues should be being embedded in their stories in the first place.

    Yes, yes, how real do we want our tights-n-flights rags to be? DC Universe: Decisions still sends some into night terrors. In these fantasy worlds where people wearing circus outfits have the power to crush mountains with a sneeze, and sometimes do so, it seems almost silly to put the focus on real world evils of any sort. Who wants to debate embryonic stem cell research when CADMUS has been cloning and discarding human beings for decades in the sewers below Metropolis? Who can worry about the horrors committed by past totalitarian states when the future Sheeda could arrive at any moment to strip our world clean? Issues of supposed relevance cannot form anything but background noise in the bombast of a superhero crossover. Or at least they shouldn't.

    Millions of dead males, the threat of female-on-male genital mutilation; it's just a way for the heroic challenge facing Cyborg and his doubtful superheroes to appear even more intimidating...

    For once in your life Col — why don't you relax a bit? Come join the celebration!

    And that's what's offensive, because that's all that sexual violence means here; entertainment in a story.

    How can any comic book, television show or film tackle an—apologies in advance for the weasel word—issue well? Purveyors of mass entertainment desperately want to be seen as relevant, as compassionate, as very much interested in the plight of victims and of those less fortunate. An artist might on his own manage to do this in a way that is honest and heartbreaking. Asking a company to do this ends in Hal Jordan feeling ashamed about his blue friends and Doctor Doom shedding a tear at the interior voice that says, "this is not right." Or even worse, a very special episode of House where... I don't know, something generically controversial happens. Or the episode of Home Improvement where Jill thinks she might have breast cancer. Or the episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air when it is decided that a young female character is old enough to decide for herself if she's, you know, ready.

    ...entertainment in a story.

    Or that issue of New Frontier when Wonder Woman casually slaughters some Vietnamese militants.

    Surely we are better without preachy melodrama, yes? And even worse, this is simply a pop cartoon version of sorting through real moral dilemmas. A PSA is a PSA no matter if you dress it up in tights or a laugh track, and a PSA is the lazy man's replacement for engaging in real moral philosophy. It's as hard for me to get worked up about the Amazons' genital mutilation as it is for me to get worked up about House's preaching or Mark Millar's silly satire or Bill Willingham's more straightforward commentary. None of these things are particularly real, and all are engineered as entertainment, with the direct purpose of making money. Hey, pain sells. So does controversy. It doesn't matter if we get the masturbating fanboys or the cocky feminists in charge of DC Entertainment: they will always care primarily about breaking the Internet in half so that they can sell more units. They want to pretend they can serve a moral cause and Mammon, and as long as we keep paying them, they will believe it.

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  16. Hello J:- several points come to mind. Firstly, you seem to put forward a model of narrative oppositions, in which there are only (1) ethically careless comics and (2) sentimental preachy melodrama. J, we've been discussing these comics for months and months and I've never argued for preachy melodrama. Those Dr Doom and Green Lantern moments were as excruciating as they were patronising. And I can only think of 2 of the famous/infamous O'Neil/Adams GL/GA relevancy books which worked at all. Nope, I'm not arguing for preachy anything.

    IF DC is going to touch upon issues which have a realworld meaning, then my argument is that they have to treat them responsibly. You'll note that I did actually suggest that if they weren't going to do so, then they might best leave things alone. I've no problem with fiction without a political purpose, as long as its makers are making sure that they're not ignoring politics rather than merely not trying to be political. So, I've no objection to a 1 000 books which don't want to be making feminist arguments as long as they're not so carelessly constructed that they don't end up making anti-feminist arguments anyway.

    The opposite of a politically insensitive book isn't a preachy melodrama. It's a book that's been created so as to NOT make a point it doesn't intend to. I've no objection again with books making points I don't agree with as part of a platform; Alan Moore's politics for example are very much not mine. Here it's the careless unthinking construction of stories that I worry about.

    So, in answer to your question, do we want preachy melodrama; NO! I'm with you.

    But there are plenty of stories which control both text and sub-text to create a coherent political meaning which doesn't descend into any kind of preaching. Paul Cornell's Capt Britain and M1-13, for example, is a book concerned with in part with thinking through what a liberal, inclusive UK would involve in a superhero world. You'd never feel weighed down with worthiness, of course, because DRACULA WAS INVADING THE WORLD WITH VAMPIRE PIRATE SHIPS FROM THE MOON!!!!

    cont;

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  17. cont;

    I also don't agree with your view that the individuals who work for the comics industry don't care about meaning, and that they can't work anyway to create it, because they lack the ability and the suitable raw material to fashion accordingly. I'm a teacher, I can't help it, I've seen folks turn around in a matter of months to absorb new skills, aspire to excellence, re-create their ambitions and so on. I've also know several generations of students produce insensitive work with the best will in the world because they didn't know how to do otherwise. And there's plenty of folks that don't need to change, who're doing fine as they are without a little fine-tuning being necessary. Another example? Gail Simone delivering month after month of book discussing tolerance and its limits in Secret Six while constantly delivering fine superhero stories.

    Which I guess brings me to my final point of disagreement. (I'm glad we've swapped opinions for so long. We know each other well other to just disagree. We've done it before, and though I've no idea how the process was for you, for me it's both helped me focus my thinking and, indeed, change it on occasion too.) I don't think the superhero narrative is one which can't bear moral weight at all, as you do. I don't think any genre can bear preaching, and I'm so glad that that's a point we can both share ownership of. But I think that all stories are political, whether we like it or not, and therefore the job isn't to ignore politics, but to control its meaning. There are thousands of books which have combined a political meaning with a lack of preaching and the presence of entertainment. Some writers such as Steve Gerber fashioned a highly laudable career out of craft and intelectual curiosity, constantly discussing social and political issues in one form or another. (Environmentalism long before it was a common cause in Defenders # 27, the difference between freedoms in the USA and USSR later on in the run, when the Red Guardian speculates on a correlation between America's large number of heroes & the relative free exchange of scientific knowledge.)

    So, I think we disagree here. "It doesn't matter if we get the masturbating fanboys or the cocky feminists in charge of DC Entertainment: they will always care primarily about breaking the Internet in half so that they can sell more units. They want to pretend they can serve a moral cause and Mammon, and as long as we keep paying them, they will believe it." Well, I've met an awful lots of fools and knaves in my time. Even teaching, which you might imagine would be full of splendid folks, was actually full of them.

    But I've also met splendid folks who care about alot more than face and profit. And most folks sit quite squarely in neither cocky or uncaring camps. From your passionate words over the past year or so, I'd imagine you'd be one such person. I think that most folks actually want to master more craft and control their work accordingly. I may be being somewhat sentimental, but I can't believe in an industry where no-one cares, no-one has a moral code beyond self-interest, while the subject matter they work on cannot bear the weight of rigour or ethical ambition.

    Real moral philosophy isn't, where I'm concerned, something that can only place in a sphere where only the elect can debate it. That's a form of moral philosphy, but it's not the only one. And popular fiction is one arena where real moral philosophy can play out its themes very productively indeed.

    Ah, well. I hope this finds you well. I fear you've outed me as far more of an optimist than I would've previously believed.

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  18. We've done it before, and though I've no idea how the process was for you, for me it's both helped me focus my thinking and, indeed, change it on occasion too.

    Yes, I hope my flamboyant flippancy isn't taken as disrespect, but simply as the disagreement that it is. I used some cartoony language above, but only because of the subject material under discussion.

    I do feel some mild regret at giving into my cynical and misnthropic habits in this conversation, but it's difficult to avoid that hole when shoddily-written funnybooks or sitcoms tell me how to live my life. Morality is a house built of fine distinctions which can be more easily shattered by well-meaning melodramatists than by direct opposition. Some platforms are more stable and more tied to The Real, better suited for a discussion of the moral. Can superhero floppies enter the discussion without destroying it? Perhaps, but not without difficulty. Your examples are acceptable, but they are also rarities.

    It could very well be that I am retreating too far in one direction. John Gardner's On Moral Fiction is a worthwhile read on our topic, if you can manage to get your hands on a copy. Admittedly it is a tad strange that I would want any medium to disengage from a moral discussion, considering my rather traditional religious concerns. Many of my fellow religionists would say that I'm wrong and that what we need is more morality in the mass media. I say that we simply need less mass media, and that encouraging said media to engage in moral approbation of any kind has the unfortunate effect of legitimizing it. (My goodness, did I just argue against the very creation of popular comics? Maybe I should stop while I'm ahead.)

    As to whether comic publishers are interested in serious art or just the bottom line? They are businessmen, after all, even though many used to be writers and illustrators. The artists themselves are often interested in art for its own sake, but they have to conform to the system in order to survive. Hard to blame people who need to eat, but it's also hard to defend the opportunistic moralisms they too frequently churn out. It stinks of simony.

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  19. Hello J:- absolutely no quibbles on my part about your “flamboyant flippancy”, because, and I hope you don’t mind me saying so, I’ve always found your arguments to be so morally grounded that they didn’t need a deeply-serious tone added to them. I was hoping I caught your sense of making points without that preachy melodrama you were discussing. I think an agreement on that point is actually one which occupies not a tiny amount of space re: two slightly overlapping circles, but a HUGE AMOUNT OF SPACE.

    I agree that pop fiction shouldn’t TELL anyone how to live their lives. I think it should aspire to opening up a discussion on such issues, but in a way which leaves the reader/viewer about whether they join in, and to what degree. At opposite ends of the spectrum; Dr Doom weeping over the World’s Trade disaster and Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment”; no-one need watch The Apartment and feel that they’ve been watched a discussion of atomisation and alienation in modern American society. If they do, it STILL doesn’t take away from the comedy at all.

    I’m with you that the superhero book isn’t as you say ‘most stable platform’, to work with. But if some folks can work with it, then more can too. It all depends on how that Common Comics Culture is engaged with. And as I say, my experience as a teacher is one which makes both hopeful for humans as a whole, as well as pessimistic, because they even manage to screw up systems of education where the basics are concerned. Things, I suppose, do tend to go wrong, but in the right environment, I’ve seen such remarkable things that I have to believe that folks are as capable of being splendid as they are of being dastardly.

    I think your point about preachy melodrama legitimising pap is a fine one. It worries me too. Arsenal and the dead cat winning an award for drug education. It’s enough to make any human being a hermit in an Egyptian cave. No, you’re right, “opportunistic moralisms” – which actually I don’t think the misguided but sincerely-meant Arsenal comic was an example of – are a wearying business.

    But there is good stuff out there. And I guess in the end that I want to say “huzzah!” to that good stuff produced in an environment where there’s not a great deal of encouragement to create it. Not that my words, my opinions, count, in the best Rick fashion, to a hill of beans, but still “huzzah!” and “boo!” is still worth saying. If there’s not that much that’s good, then it needs all the more attention, I suppose, rather than less, and the pap needs discussing too. (“Diamonds in the garbage”, as Jim Starlin has Warlock once say.) Which I hadn’t considered quite in that way before you got in touch.

    Finally, I strongly believe that more ethical, but not preachy, work will allow the sub-genre to appeal to more people. Those things such as sexism and racism, political callousness and so on, can be eradicated and bring more money in. Ethics and money together form a powerful lure, I suspect, where business is concerned. And looking at how women now buy into fantasy and even far more science fiction means that a more welcoming and less abrasively-macho superhero product could PAY CASH!!!!! Simony is disgraceful, but what if greed, or shall we self-interest, and morality coincided?

    I shall chase down On Moral Fiction. I read Grendal some twenty years ago & I’ll be fascinated to know his argument on fiction and morality. Thank you for the steer, and I hope the evening finds you well! Thanks as always for making me think!

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  20. It is good to agree to disagree - how boring would a blog be otherwise?:-)

    I just can´t share your optimism. When I read the comments something occured to me: can you name one superhero comic of the last ten years which had the same impact then those GL issues or other moments which elevated the genre above the usual slugfest or had to say something relevant?

    Of course today´s relevance is tomorrows preachy moment. Personally I wouldn´t put the GL moment side by side with Dr. Doom crying. The latter is more like Captain America hitting Hitler, a piece of idiotic cringe-inducing propaganda. I am not saying it wasn´t heartfelt, it was just dumb and thoughtless. Granted, the GL is hard to read today, but at it´s time - in the historical context where the Joker still was the clown-prince of crime not a serial-killer and Lois Lane´s reason to get up in the morning was to prove that Clark is Superman or to marry him - it was really something new and brought a topic to comics which just didn´t exist in this form.

    "Purveyors of mass entertainment desperately want to be seen as relevant"

    I think J is right in this. Contrary to Mort Wisinger or Stan Lee or Gardner Fox a lot of the post 70s writers wanted desperately to be relevant. Not to be trashed in the pages of the Comic Journal as eternal hacks. This may have changed - who cares for the Comic Journal any longer? - but the ambition is still there.

    Of course the current writers have it much harder in some regards than in the past. The reset-button of the event-comic make the quiter moments seemingly impossible. Everything is constantly retconned or reset. The original Flash is dead, no, he isn´t, Hal Jordan is a genocidal mass-murderer, no, he got better, Superboy just punches the universe or whatever. To write a meaningful story in this environment can only be a doomed attempt.

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  21. "There’s no point in anyone saying “But it’s an alt-dimension”. For many reasons, it just doesn’t wash."

    One of the keys to creating plausible alternative dimensions is seeing where the divergence points lie and how the implications of those changes spread out and change the modern-day. How you get from the original set-up of the Amazons to this point is very difficult to imagine - they have somehow become a nation of mass murderers who, apparently, wouldn't even blink and what we must assume is the murder of 100s of thousands of male babies and children, who wouldn't have been indoctrinated into patriarchal society and who must surely have been savable.

    "I choose to believe it’s a smokescreen and the true nature of the story involving the Amazons will be something quite different, still bloody, but not so … gosh, misjudged, shall I say?"

    That is the only real hope - that this is some kind of shifty propaganda. Cold is apparently a hero, even if there are those who know he is really up to no good, it could turn out that he is trying to manipulate the situation somehow. So this could all turn out to be disinformation designed to further the villain of the piece's schemes and Lois Lane has to get in there and find the truth. I am just not confident that is how things will turn out (after all this is a world filled with superheroes, dozens of whom could nip over and take a look for themselves without breaking a sweat, as well as there being incredibly powerful types around perfectly capable of stopping genocide in an afternoon - you can't kill 32 million people in the blink of an eye).

    "Scandal does indeed sell, but I just can’t envisage the folks at DCU trying to provoke one in this way to shift a few more books. I know your words don’t say that, I just mean that the thought occurred to me as I read your comment, and then immediately my mind shouted back “I don’t think so!” as well as “I don’t want to even imagine that!”."

    Indeed, my heart was sinking thinking about it - throwing this out as unthinking entertainment is bad enough, but the thought that they've realised such an angle would incite debate and get some people to check it out even if only to see if it is as bad the lead-in implies (see also The Rise of Arsenal) is worse as it implies they knew ahead of time this would be controversial and went for it anyway (or even because of that).

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  22. Very interesting piece Colin, and contrary to your fears, not badly written at l. You make your points with examples, without name calling and with elegance.

    It is disturbing that once again the Amazons are being portrayed at evil. In Amazons Attack the first incident was the beheading of a father in front of his child, here we have the notion of castration; I can't imagine how much hate the alternate Amazons would have to have in order to systematically mutilate.

    And I can see DC saying, well, this world is twisted, that's the point. But, it's DC who are deciding in what way things twist.

    @Emperor, as regards who came up with the castration angle, Abnett and Lanning say Geoff Johns came up with the world, but I don't think they state who came up with specifics.

    http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=32105

    Like you, I tend to trust DnA.

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  23. Well as it happens, my wife saw a Greg Horn cover with Emma Frost one time.

    'What the hell is that?'she asked. I explained who Emma Frost was etc etc. She responded 'why is she dressed like that?'

    'Um....sexism?'

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  24. I can't add more than "yeah!!" to most of the discourse over the last 19 posts, but I can wonder: what pathetic and feeble women the UK has in this alternate universe, that only men were killed when a vast horde descended on the country to slaughter their husbands, sons, brothers, fathers, and friends. Either the Amazons used some sort of magic to disable all women who opposed them (which shows they can conquer without killing and that leads us back to the problems already noted) or no British or Northern Irish woman resisted at all! That's an unfortunate implication.

    (Also, does this mean the Amazons conquered Northern Ireland but left the Republic alone, or did Aquaman hit that? Bloody Aquaman seems to be getting the bulk of the conquered land here, the Amazons are being swindled)

    - Charles RB

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  25. Hello Andy:- I do enjoy the way you test my faith in the current state of the medium/sub-genre! Well, I think that both the Bendis/Bagley “Ultimate Spider-Man” and the Millar/Hitch “Ultimates” have been hugely influential, admired in their own terms as stories while influencing quite literally a whole generation of creators and fans. The same is the Morrison/Quietly “All-Star Superman”. I’d say three such influential books in roughly a decade off the top of my mind is a pretty fair crop. I do agree with you that the GL moment was different in kind to the Dr Doom moment, but they were both examples of what J was referring to “preachy melodrama”. That doesn’t in any way contradict your point about the significance of what those relevance comics were attempting to achieve and the influence they had. I don’t think the fact of the sentimentality and the seriously powerful influence are contradictory points.

    Actually, I’m a big fan of the Simon/Kirby Captain America punching Hitler! I think that’s a profoundly important business, as well as being very good fun! If we’re talking about scenes which are markers of a time, I’d say that one’s pretty important!

    But I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to deny your point about that corrosive longing to be credible and relevant. On its own, without the appropriate discipline and craft, it results in little good and some worrying harm. Similarly, the re-boot/re-model culture does indeed make it hard to make an impact upon the sub-genre, but then, I’d be content at least at first with a greater measure of general competency. In my experience, raised levels of POP craft matched to POP culture tend to end up producing even more POP anyway.

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  26. Hello Emperor:- of course, I’m ready and happy to be convinced that the Amazons had a good reason, if not an excuse, for doing that which they apparently have. But that doesn’t excuse the theme of sexual violence and it being associated with a nation of women. As of course I believe we’d both agree. But I did just want to state so that I can have it in writing that regardless of how well this alt-dimension/history has been constructed, the ethical content of Flashpoint # 1 was very much a no-no.

    “How you get from the original set-up of the Amazons to this point is very difficult to imagine - they have somehow become a nation of mass murderers who, apparently, wouldn't even blink and what we must assume is the murder of 100s of thousands of male babies and children, who wouldn't have been indoctrinated into patriarchal society and who must surely have been saveable.”

    Well, yes, it’s going to have to be a great reason, isn’t it? One problem with comics is that few who create them are willing to believe that a culture would choose non-violence, or would pursue violence with a clearly limited agenda and even – gosh – an exit strategy too. But again, given all we’ve discussed, I’d still have been for just not turning the Amazons into more of the sword-swinging bitches from hell.

    ”That is the only real hope - that this is some kind of shifty propaganda”

    ‘Shifty propaganda’ is a great phrase!

    “I am just not confident that is how things will turn out (after all this is a world filled with superheroes, dozens of whom could nip over and take a look for themselves without breaking a sweat, as well as there being incredibly powerful types around perfectly capable of stopping genocide in an afternoon - you can't kill 32 million people in the blink of an eye).”

    I assume the limited series will clear up these glaring problems. How is it that no-one knows what’s going on would be my first port of call. Still, it may very well be true that a group of folks were sat in a room for a few days just to make sure that stupid plot points don’t undermine the enterprise. Flashpoint is a huge investment for DC. Who’s to say they won’t prove to have covered the basics, even if they watch out for the genital mutilation plot teasers.

    ”Indeed, my heart was sinking thinking about it - throwing this out as unthinking entertainment is bad enough, but the thought that they've realised such an angle would incite debate and get some people to check it out even if only to see if it is as bad the lead-in implies (see also The Rise of Arsenal) is worse as it implies they knew ahead of time this would be controversial and went for it anyway (or even because of that).”

    There was a sense that Arsenal was out there to be shocking, but I suspect it was also believed that it wasn’t stupid too. Stupidity that pronounced would be hard to fake. Shit, as Gore Vidal regularly wrote, has its own integrity, and it does.

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  27. "There’s no point in anyone saying “But it’s an alt-dimension”. For many reasons, it just doesn’t wash."

    Very interesting piece Colin, and contrary to your fears, not badly written at l. You make your points with examples, without name calling and with elegance.

    Hello Martin:- your generous words are very much appreciated here.

    ”It is disturbing that once again the Amazons are being portrayed at evil. In Amazons Attack the first incident was the beheading of a father in front of his child, here we have the notion of castration;”

    It takes the breath away, doesn’t it? I’m beginning to think that the way in which Paradise Island’s island was decoupled from Marsten’s wacky feminism and attached to a take on the culture of Ancient Greece has been a very bad idea indeed. It’s too easy to fall back on the ‘Amazon as archaic bad-ass” aspects of Greg Rucka’s time and forget the other part of the equation. I suspect this all stems back to Frank Miller’s famous drawing in the mid-80s of a blood-covered Diana holding a great axe; it pushed the CCC forward into thinking of Wonder Woman the warrior. For all that it might make cheap storytelling more difficult – I’m not accusing of GR of that by the way! – the idea that the Amazons weren’t so time and culture-locked, the promise that they spent 3000 years and more evolving a better culture, would all go towards having a more positive view of feminism in the superhero universes. No one take on gender equality could possibly ever be enough, but the fact that I’m longing for just one explicit statement does tell a truth.

    “I can't imagine how much hate the alternate Amazons would have to have in order to systematically mutilate.”

    Indeed. How BRILLIANT would it have been to see an Amazon army fighting alone and to the point of extinction to resist such horrors?

    ”And I can see DC saying, well, this world is twisted, that's the point. But, it's DC who are deciding in what way things twist.”

    I do love and loathe the view that the narrative constricts its dominant creators, as if the first pre-dated the second.

    ”Like you, I tend to trust DnA.”

    Can I add my vote to that where the superhero universes are concerned? My worries about recent DA 2000 ad stories aside, both creators have to my knowledge a fine track record. Fingers crossed, we need all the good guides we can get, especially since the ride has already begun as a very rocky one.

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  28. Oh, Emmet, I've been reading the past year of Uncanny X-Men prior to KG taking over the sole writer's reigns and the sexism of so much of the art is so disappointing. Beyond the tackiness and stupidity of it, it's such a shame, because the X-Men was where folks once went to chant "Gabba Gabba Hey". Now, if the X-Men chanted back "We accept you, one of us", I'd have a long list of preconditions before I signed up as a camp follower. There's no way that Marvel haven't spotted the sexism, which means that they either don't care or they care more for the sales. If Emma Frost is going to be portrayed as she is, then the narratives should be designed to compensate for the extreme view of freedom and power in relation to sexuality that she supposedly represents. Instead, Utopia is so often portrayed as being home to a race of nymphets. And though it's incredibly boring, it's never so dulling that it isn't offensive.

    Still, maybe it's all change!

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  29. You’re right, Charles, there’s so much that the coming books will need to explain. Maybe that’s why they need so many of them! I’m going to be appalled if the girls and women of the UK stood by through fear and intimidation, especially if they’re going to need the all-American spit’n’gumption of Lois Lane to inspire and save them :) But that’s silly thinking on my part. There’ll be good reasons why the women of Britain bowed down, and they’ll be able to fight back without needing masses of inspiration from anyone else beyond Ms Hellraiser.

    I wonder if everyone at DC knows that there’s two distinct political units in Ireland. Mind you, magic can do anything, including sinking the Republic and saving the North for a man-slaying weekend of righteous rage.

    But if it is magic that does away with all those men, why is WW and her fellows shown killing male soldiers in Flashpoint? I look forward to the future explanations.

    Of course, the matter of why anyone would destroy 32 million individuals that have at the very least economic potential is beyond me. That’s a lot of slaying fro a very little return. I suppose it was we Brits who did the terrible things to the Amazons. Similarly, why would anyone sink Europe? There’s plenty of land under the sea perfectly suited to Atlantis and its needs. Economically it makes no sense at all. Ah, well, lots of states have behaved aggressively in ways which run contrary to their financial interests.

    I suppose the fact we’re throwing around plot-points might be held to suggest that the snare-strategy of Flashpoint has worked. In truth, I’m so disappointed by the gender issues in the first book that I can hardly motivate myself to think of investing any more money on the enterprise. But if it is turned around, then I fear it’d be hypocritical of me not be willing to recognise that. Not that anyone cares a whit one way or another, but “fair play” and all that …

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  30. Great piece, Colin. I wish I could say I expected better from DC... but of late, not so much.

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  31. "I suppose the fact we’re throwing around plot-points might be held to suggest that the snare-strategy of Flashpoint has worked."

    Well it's got me talking about it but it's not got me buying it, and the talk here is "how was that meant to work?" & "that's a bit wrong". Probably not what DC had in mind! (But if it sells to the mainstream, then they're probably onto something - or they think they will be, because is that getting attention to Flashpoint or is it the standard "EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT" appeal of an alternate reality? "We need a rape" they allegedly said about Identity Crisis, but it was already selling on the basis of being a DCU murder mystery.)

    I've also now got a rather heartbreaking mental image of Paul Cornell's masses of Silver Age heroes and villains standing against a gore spattered invasion of human monsters. (I bet the Milkman and Death Dinosaur both went out spectacularly)

    -

    re "the BLACK skins!" in GL/GA: the thing in its favour that crying Doom doesn't have is that it was basically the first time DC Comics had done anything acknowledging racism, and from what I gather from The Comic Book Heroes there hadn't been many DC Comics with anyone black in before then. It's flawed and hamfisted, but it was a sudden acknowledgement of stuff in the real world that DC hadn't done before. (Marvel had already been including non-white characters and touching on race, politics, and drugs before, which is why DC suddenly went for it)

    - Charles RB

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  32. Hello Mark:- thank you for your generous words. They are especially welcome on an afternoon when a few ... less kind words have been directed to the delete button.

    There's so much talent and ambition at DC, so I've decided to believe that great things are right around the corner. I know what you mean, I do ... but I think I feel guilty if I don't match a negative review with high, hopeful expectations. But, yes, "... of late, not so much" does kind of speak for me too.

    I hope the afternoon finds you well.

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  33. Oh, Charles, that's a terribly sad image re: Mr Cornell's characters which you've created there. And I think you've put a finger on why it's too easy to create a cheap sense of pathos by just hurting characters for the sake of it. Of course, all stories are artificial creations put together to create an effect, but there's a difference between a clever and a cheap effect.

    I must admit, I wonder whether there's such a thing as bad publicity, and it's a thought that's very much making me wonder. Quite contrary to my expectations, there's been closing on a thousand visits to the above piece in about 48 hours. Now, even though most visits are brief - and I don't blame them! - that's still a great deal of publicity. I wonder if the ethical thing was actually to just not say anything at all?

    You're absolutely right to point to the gamebreaker that was the representation of race in GL/GA #76. It is a pity that the good intentions weren't matched by a more sensible story, but in the heat of that moment ... well, I suspect I'm not expressing enough admiration for what O'Neil and Adams achieved there. Thank you for redressing the balance.

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  34. I'm glad you said something, I really appreciate this piece and how well it was written. I was actually struggling with why the whole 'Straw Matriarchy' business bothered me so much. I think you've articulated it well and held it up with pretty good logic.

    I agree that we should expect better from the industries we have become fans of.

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  35. @Martin Gray - thanks for the interview link, it makes interesting reading especially as it describes the constraints of the creative process in such big events.

    Dan Abnett says this about Wonder Woman:

    "The reader will sympathize with her because she’s not intrinsically evil and she’s not doing anything that would make you unsympathetic to her, but she’s going about things in a very aggressive way."

    Which would tend to suggest we may be being misdirected in the Flashpoint mentions of the British situation because killing 32 million men and castrating any man she gets her hands on tends to put her in other "unsympathetic" figures from history like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. There is no way that he could have quite so easily overlooked all the violence as castration isn't something a chap can easily ignore.

    It is clear the Amazons are at war with the Atlanteans, the latter drowning large areas of Europe (presumably with a death toll exceeding 32 million) - could this be Atlantean propaganda? I'm not sure fishmen have spin doctors, but then again Mandelson had something of the deep about him...

    So I am just confused, nothing seems to add up and I think I'd rather be enticed into reading a series from excitement, not because the plot seems problematic and I can't figure out how they'll get it all to work out.

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  36. Yes to all of this!

    Also, as a Briton who lived in the US for some years, I hear the loud echo of the often-asserted "fact" that British men (or, sometimes, more specifically Englishmen) are gay. As in the horrid notion of gay men as somehow always effeminate (which is, obviously, the very worst thing in the world!), and therefore sort of castrated.

    I took to responding to the invariably smugly grinning American men who said this by saying, "Yes, the whole population is grown in laboratory tanks. Millions of us." I notice it was never women who said it to me, and never men who seemed really comfortable with women; it was men who wanted to demonstrate their manly street-cred, usually in front of other men.

    So, misogyny and weird national stereotyping. Sounds like a lot of compensating is going on.

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  37. Ah, the publicity question. Always a tricky one, since we can all point to figures and fictions that benefitted from outcry (dozens of really crap films gaining immortality from being "video nasties" for example). It's always a threat. However, I look at it this way: if no publicity was bad publicity, politicians and companies wouldn't hire marketing departments and we wouldn't have superinjunctions. ;)

    The main problem is that almost everyone may have already decided whether or not they'll buy Flashpoint long before they get to this blog or any other. But it might get people to think about it and wider issues (I thought Blackest Night sounded utterly shite but you convinced me Geoff Johns was being cleverer than I thought, and I notice female characters & lack thereof more in 2000AD; Al Ewing cheerfully admitted the blog's given him food for thought)

    Personally, I prefer the 60s Spidey story with Robbie Robertson's radicalist son leading a protest that gets out of hand, because that's a story where a white lower-middle-class middle aged dude is trying to do a story about young black radicals. It's surprisingly nuanced in parts, since Lee's twist is that some of The Man was on the student's side all along and was hamstrung, but even as Robbie's decrying anger and damage he's saying they need more radicals.

    - Charles RB

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  38. Hello Lilith XIV:- thank you for your kind words. It is strange, isn't it, to see comicbook fans and professionals arguing over the detail of continuity in order to establish whether Amazons in the DCU can be justifiably shown as possessing an admirable matriarchal society. There are indeed echoes of the 'straw dogs of matriarchy' debates elsewhere in various social sciences.

    Yet where the fiction of an immersive superhero universe is concerned, where anything can be justified at all, the whole argument in the end seems to me to come down a simple point; why would anyone not want to have a single society on show which isn't in essence patriarchal and which isn't bloodthirsty and militaristic too? Why can't there be one idealised take on one version of feminism, for there's surely a mass of patriarchal and ultra-masculine values on show right across the sub-genre. I'm not asking for an utterly idealised, pristine society of Amazons without human flaws and limitations. But it would be good to see something other than the sword-swinging harpies of both Amazons Attack and, apparently, Flashpoint too.

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  39. Hello Karen:- your experience there has certainly made my thoughts head off in a direction which they haven't been traveling in up until now! I must admit, I am thoroughly weary of the Brits, and in particular British men, being the antagonists in Hollywood movies, and being associated with all manner of apparently anti-American, supposed vices. (One of the great things about Mel Gibson's apparently temporary fall was that he in particular couldn't produce more movies in which those disgusting British men ruined everything.)

    Those national stereotypes can be so destructive. When I was teaching in the eighties and the nineties, when Britain was panicking about AIDs while being profoundly in denial about the issues the disease raised, many of my students associated the illness and its transmission with supposedly predatory American gay men in a very unpleasant way indeed. Associated with that belief was the idea that American men were far more likely to be gay and far more likely to be at best irresponsible. As a belief, it seemed to pass into a less virulent form in the early to mid 90s and to then disappear entirely, although homophobia certainly never did, regrettably. It's strange to think that a different form of associating nationality with homosexuality is at play in what you've experienced in the USA. Wasn't it the French who referred to homosexuality as the English vice and vice versa? Every part of pop culture might do just a little bit more to undercut that tendency for some folks to decide that the twin (not) sins of being gay and being foreign can be conflated.

    I would hope that Flashpoint shows a diverse bunch of Brits, super-powered or not, winning back their freedom without having to rely on overwhelming American aid, and without some terribly traditional gender roles being shown to be absolutely superior. With Paul Cornell's Brit superheroes on hand, for example, there's a chance for diversity and difference to be brought into play. Most of all, I'd just very much appreciate it if all the ill-considered issues about sex and gender raised in Flashpoint # 1 were a one-off miscalculation.

    I'll be the first to raise my hand and say "huzzah!" if that's so.

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  40. Hello Emperor:

    Dan Abnett says this about Wonder Woman:

    "The reader will sympathize with her because she’s not intrinsically evil and she’s not doing anything that would make you unsympathetic to her, but she’s going about things in a very aggressive way." Which would tend to suggest we may be being misdirected in the Flashpoint mentions of the British situation because killing 32 million men and castrating any man she gets her hands on tends to put her in other "unsympathetic" figures from history like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. There is no way that he could have quite so easily overlooked all the violence as castration isn't something a chap can easily ignore.”

    Absolutely! And it would great to find that there’s just been a touch of carelessness in Flashpoint # 1. As I said in reply to Karen’s welcome comment above, I’d be celebrating if that’s so. I mean, if the Amazons have killed off 32 million people – all men or not – well, it’s inconceivable that WW could still be sympathetic. That many folks dead isn’t a symptom of aggression, after all, but genocide.

    ”It is clear the Amazons are at war with the Atlanteans, the latter drowning large areas of Europe (presumably with a death toll exceeding 32 million) - could this be Atlantean propaganda? I'm not sure fishmen have spin doctors, but then again Mandelson had something of the deep about him...”

    Mandelson is a character who clearly never existed, but fled from a novel and managed to pass himself off as a politician. He’s so wonderfully complex that he must come from an unpublished Dickens manuscript.

    I think Flashpoint talks about more than 100 million Europeans being killed. Again, there’s obviously a great deal to come. Perhaps Atlantis killed off all those Brits and the Amazons are getting the blame. Again, anything to make the sexual politics of # 1 less icky.

    ”So I am just confused, nothing seems to add up and I think I'd rather be enticed into reading a series from excitement, not because the plot seems problematic and I can't figure out how they'll get it all to work out.”

    Popcorn summer movies aren’t supposed to make sense, are they? Mind you, that’s why I stopped bothering about them. Let’s hope Flashpoint stands as a great book in its own right and that the confusion resolves itself into a fine grand crossover.

    And yet, yes, enigmas based on confusion are ultimately self-defeating. A greater sense of control of the material could only have helped here.

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  41. Thank you for your generous words, Lois. They're very much appreciated. My best to you.

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  42. Hello Charles;

    “However, I look at it this way: if no publicity was bad publicity, politicians and companies wouldn't hire marketing departments and we wouldn't have superinjunctions. ;)”

    That’s a terrific point, Charles. Mind you, I note a growing tendency for authors on the net to link to poor reviews, including real pastings, based on the premise that it’s better to recognise such things and somehow neutralise them with kindness.

    ”The main problem is that almost everyone may have already decided whether or not they'll buy Flashpoint long before they get to this blog or any other.”

    Oh, absolutely! God help the blogger who thinks they’re going to have an impact upon how many folks buy a book. That way lies nemesis …

    “But it might get people to think about it and wider issues (I thought Blackest Night sounded utterly shite but you convinced me Geoff Johns was being cleverer than I thought, and I notice female characters & lack thereof more in 2000AD; Al Ewing cheerfully admitted the blog's given him food for thought)”

    Thank you, Charles, and as I hope I’ve acknowledged constantly on this blog, I’m constantly having my opinions challenged and changed here too. There’s been, for this lil’blogger at least, quite a degree of slapping me down for this piece elsewhere, which is, of course, par for the course. But it does raise the idea that just discussing these ideas somehow stands as a form of heresy to some folks, who want all this stuff about women and sexuality and rights to go away because it’s …. well, because it’s just going to spoil their fun. You’d not believe the comments that I’ve deleted over the past 24 hours, and not because they disagreed with me – that’s a commonplace here :) – but because they were both unpleasant in tone and ugly in content. That’s not to say that most of those who’ve disagreed with me elsewhere were anything other than civil and sensible. Not at all. Just that there are some folks who find the very idea that, say, rape can’t be entertaining infuriating. I suspect that anything which arouses, a mass of such kneejerk ire is something which needs discussing more and not less. It’s not that debate is a bad thing, it’s just that some of the response has been so close to playground bullying that there's obviously some raw nerves being touched.

    ”Personally, I prefer the 60s Spidey story with Robbie Robertson's radicalist son leading a protest that gets out of hand, because that's a story where a white lower-middle-class middle aged dude is trying to do a story about young black radicals. It's surprisingly nuanced in parts, since Lee's twist is that some of The Man was on the student's side all along and was hamstrung, but even as Robbie's decrying anger and damage he's saying they need more radicals.”

    Yes. For all its strengths and weaknesses, it’s a story where the writer was trying to engage politically rather than tripping up by ignoring – or not being aware of – the political issues before them. Yep. I’ve no objection to political books, since they’re largely unavoidable anyway. I mind poorly constructed one, I object to books which end up saying things their creators didn’t mean because folks weren’t in control of what they’re doing.

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  43. Hi Colin,

    I wish I had the time to review all the comments before posting, but I'm late to the game and it's now more than I can read at the moment. Nevertheless, wanted to thank you for this excellent piece. It's important that such things be said.

    I think it's especially helpful that you anticipate counter-arguments so well. There is a tendency, for instance, to write off criticism by arguing for the basic detachment of the genre from the real world (thus, any representation, no matter how vile, cannot be a "real" problem) or to refer to the creator's good intention as the governing fact (Johns doesn't mean to toy lightly with genocide and misogyny, therefor he hasn't done so). On the whole, then, this is a very thoughtful argument that makes the point in a way that will hopefully stick.

    For my part, I gave up on Johns (and, by extension, DC) a few months ago as it seemed the representation of violence in his comics was just too ill-considered. Couldn't stomach it anymore. That so many of his creative choices seem geared at the generation of new toy lines rather than actual characterization or plot doesn't help matters. Looks like I made the right decision, sorry to say.

    Best,

    Nick

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  44. Hello Nick:- Thank you for your kind words. They really are appreciated. The response to the piece has been mixed and in some places a considerable offense and/or irritation appears to have caused. I can understand folks being put off by my style, but I have been, despite myself, shocked to come across as many folks openly arguing for principles which I'd hoped might have been rendered distasteful by cultural change. Of course, there's also been good folks who disagreed strongly without anything other than a civil and respectful disagreement being presented.

    There is, as you imply, something of a culture of denial and avoidance where matters such as gender are concerned in this sub-genre. It's not so much a desire, it seems, to see a lack of social justice continue on the page so much as a policy of not wanting to see that any such problem exists. When I've been reading responses elsewhere, and there have been quite a few, I've been surprised by how many haven't engaged with the arguments here at all, but with what they've imagined I was saying. Quite a few people already seem to have a script both for me and for their responses in place without needing to actually read anything with any care. That's a tough situation to anticipate counter-arguments to :)

    I do know what you're referring to where that unnecessary violence is concerned. By that, I don't mean violence per se, or even violence imaginatively cast in some glorious widescreen form, but just repititive, unimaginative nastiness. Again, I suspect it comes in general from an inability to recognise that stories aren't just collections of gooly-gee-whiz moments. Without purpose and imagination and restraint informing how violence is used, it gets dull and degrading pretty quickly, doesn't it?

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  45. Well said, Colin.

    You know, I WANT to be able to enjoy epic DC events, I really do! I thumbed through Flashpoint #1 in the comics shop, wanting to see enough there to make want to buy it as the first part of a summer-long ride. But the Amazon portrayal stopped me cold.

    When conservatives expressed outrage about Superman rescinding his American citizenship, it was pointed out by many that hey were "dropping" a book that few of them actually read. In my case, I'm a regular comics-buyer and lover of a well (or even decently) told superhero tale, one who was ready to invest the time and money for the event, but ended up putting the book back on the shelf. Whatever encouraging sales numbers the series gets, I'm convinced that there are further multitudes who, like me, end up staying away because of--well because of all that you point out above. Too bad, really.

    mikesensei

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  46. Hello Mike:- You remind me that there isn't a single comic book of any stripe that I don't WANT to enjoy. I'd buy, or at WANT to buy, just about anything competent and decent-hearted that publishers could put out there, and in truth it takes a great deal to put me off spending my money on comics. I suspect there's a great deal of us, as I know I've said before, who could be convinced to part with some more of our money with just a little effort. It wouldn't be difficult, it really wouldn't, to ensure that we're comfortable paying up. But if long established readers are just keeping their coins in their pockets even when they're standing in comic shops; that's like producing chocolate so poor that a chocoholic can stand in the middle of a sweet shop and still resist the product before them.

    It would be good to find out that the coming Flashpoints won't have the problems signed up here. But even if that's so, there'll be folks who the industry - and particularly DC - can't afford to alienate and who've decided that it's not worth it. All DC's grand plans for the end of Flashpoint - if Bleeding Cool's articles pan out, and it all looks convincing to me - will count for little if they can't get more than the hardcore readers in on their new order.

    It is too bad, as you say. And somewhat daft, too.

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  47. Here's a point I just thought of, for better or for worse: The Flashpoint universe was one completely "reverse-engineered" by Professor Zoom. Who knows how much tinkering he did to the Amazons' history and personalities to MAKE them genocidal man-haters? I doubt it was just one or two tweaks. Probably more like one or two MILLION. Remember this is a guy who can think faster than light.

    It's possible that he molded them into ZOOM'S idea of what an independent strong female society would be like. Zoom seems rather misogynistic; he treats the women in Barry's life as objects to be hurt or killed just to torment Barry, and he "retconned" a woman who rejected him into a vegetative state. The Flashpoint Amazons appear to be a warped male's fear about women. A PARTICULAR male's fear. ZOOM.'S. In which case, what an actual island of independent women would or wouldn't do might not be a factor, thanks to Zoom's extensive manipulations.

    Maybe it's a misogynist's view of strong, independent matriarchies because Zoom, Flashpoint's architect, IS a misogynist.

    I'm not endorsing this approach, btw, just offering a theory. Me, I would have had the Amazons initially staying out of the conflicts, except for Diana, who would join the Resistance.

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  48. Can I just say that it gives me great pleasure just to type the following greeting;

    Hello notintheface :)


    Yep, what a great twist that would be. Better yet, what if there was a social rather a golly-gee-whiz agenda attached to it too, making the Flashpoint universe one which in part satirised sexism rather than reflected it. Oh, if that were to be so, I would make a point of hanging out the flags in this blog. (Not that that would matter in the least to anyone else, but I'd feel it a pleasure and an obligation to shout 'mea culpe'!) This is a situation where I want my worst suspicions to be disproved, because I do love these books, and what a clever, clever twist that would be.

    Of course, that would still leave some of the most worrying aspects of the first issue in place, but, although I'd need of course to see the whole thing play out, I suspect there'd be grounds for seeing Flashpoint # 1 as an audacious feint. To be honest, I suspect there's a great deal in what you're saying in general terms; the corruption of the Amazons needs to have a broader cause and purpose than just 'castration/genocide'. In which case, the problems with those themes would reflect a lack of care in polishing and editing the first issue.

    I think I'd've preferred the story option for Diana and her sisters you mention too. Or perhaps even seem them acting as reluctant peacekeepers, caught up situations where peace isn't being attained and good intentions are being corrupted. After all, not everyone we've seen so far seems to have gone to hell in this universe. Barry's mother and Iris seem to have managed to retained their decency, so the whole narrative doesn't have to have every aspect of it dark, grim'n'gritty. But your ideas make me realise even more than there could be very fine things coming in the coming issues, and I'd much rather be hopeful and disappointed than cynical from the off.

    Thank you for a thought-provoking comment :) I caught it just as I was shuffling of towards bed and it's quite the sleep out of the mind!

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  49. Hi there Colin, long time no post. I have been lurking again here lately, and have thoroughly enjoyed (and variously agreed/disagreed with) your recent campaign for the restoration of pop to comics.

    Anyway, to the matter at hand. This statement of yours pretty much nails it: 'There’s a simple rule that applies whenever a writer is tempted to add sexual violence to a script in the name of entertainment. The rule, of course, is "don’t".'

    There ARE occasions when I've found the inclusion of sexual violence acceptable in an entertaining and even (sorry) a humorous context in fiction. But those occasions are a long way off from the example under discussion here, which for various reasons makes inclusion of this subject matter a Very Bad Idea. These reasons include the naturalism of the story (aside from the obvious suspension of disbelief required to accommodate superheroics, the world depicted is meant to approximate to our world), the nationwide scale of what's being discussed (thereby doing more to invoke the real-world political contexts you cite), the fact that it involves an exotic culture (ditto), the throwaway manner in which the subject matter is referred to - I could go on.

    MAYBE this sort of subject matter could be worked into Eric Powell's The Goon (and even then, and even despite the fact I love that title, I struggled to laugh at the example of pitch-black humour you recently posted from it because even in such a non-naturalistic context I can't help feeling sorry for animals). Frank Miller's preoccupation with castration (particularly in the Sin City story 'That Yellow Bastard' and its film adaptation) is, like the rest of the sexual politics of his latter-day work, something that at best sits uneasily with me.

    In film, castration works as humour in the cod-Freudian dream sequence and other references in the Coen brothers' 'The Big Lebowski', and I could just about accept the humorous use of castration in Robert Rodriguez's neo-grindhouse effort 'Planet Terror'. And even there, the fact that Quentin Tarantino plays an (ultimately emasculated) character called 'Rapist #1' in the film, and the fact that a toy was subsequently made of this character (and not everyone understands that toys aren't just for kids these days), was understandably felt by some to be crassness taken too far. On a more serious note, castration works as subject matter in Alejandro Jodorowsky's 'The Holy Mountain', and the novel 'Some Dance to Remember' by Jack Fritscher contains a powerful sequence in which the protagonist is brought to a state of sexual ecstasy watching the main castration sequence from 'The Holy Mountain'.

    But in superhero comics? Nah.

    And of all people, BARRY ALLEN was brought back for THIS? Stalwart of Silver Age goofiness? That sticks in the craw as badly as Marvel turning Speedball into Penance - a development I hate SO much, not least because of the way it too ends up trivialising the real-world issues it invokes.

    (And lest I be accused of looking back at the Silver Age with rose-tinted glasses, the 'Goofiest Moments' series currently running on CBR/CSBG has recently included some appalling examples of racism and sexism in Silver Age Flash stories. But he's come to represent something better than that in our minds now, and we should be building on that.)

    Alex S

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  50. Great article, Colin. Great food for thought, as always. I can't help but think that this is one of the problems of the concept of Wonder Woman and her amazonian sisters in the DCU.

    The concept is really just woefully dated, and it's one that's hard to incorporate into the wider DCU without bringing up issues of gender and sexual relations (most of which, you note, seem rather tasteless and obscene when rendered for entertainment).

    The defining feature of the Amazon women is the fact that they are all women. How they relate to the world is inevitably defined by that one trait, as is the way the world reacts to them. They don't have nationalism or patriotism - writers have never anchored the nation to some notion of shared identity based on the land they inhabit or the religious beliefs they hold, at least not to the extent that either of those differs from their gender. It would feel markedly strange to have the Amazons embark on warfare against Great Britain, for example, based on their military policy in the middle east, or their fishing in Amazonian waters, or even just because they are a bunch of land-hungry Amazons.

    Which, by the way, touches on another problem of writing a homogenous community linked by one trait: whatever they do is always measured relative to that trait. So if the Amazons are war-like, it's because of their gender - we're playing up the male fear of female empowerment. If the Amazons are meek and diplomatic, it's equally because of their gender - we're assuming that they're weaker because they are women.

    And, to be honest, even without the gendercide, an Amazonian invasion of the British Isles wouldn't read well from a gender point of view. It would still read like the nerdy male fear of powerful women - and we'd argue they are metaphorically castrating men (as they define the outside world as "the world of man", which is also just a bit sexist). Which doesn't excuse the literal castration, which is probably, as you note, meant as cheap entertainment, but it sadly seems a logical flow from the original concept. In fact, one might admire Johns for having the balls, so to speak, of making the implicit castration of male-dominated political systems into something explicit. I just see it as a lose-lose situation. But then you can't just "not" use the amazons, because they're such a core part of DC's lore.

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  51. cont'd

    It's essentially - and here's where the concept seems dated - an island of warrior women who will always do stuff in some way because they are warrior women. It's sad, and it needs very much to change, but it won't due to the static nature of comic books.

    So when Johns wanted to have the Amazons attack, he looked at the concept, how it had been used over the years and decided that the ideological basis of any invasion would not be based on political or philosophical concerns, but ones of gender.

    It's shallow and, as you suggest, quite tasteless, but so is the whole Amazon fantasy from which the concept originally flowed. I find the idea that an island populated solely by women is inherently paradise to be just as sexist as the belief as any other misinformed one. Of course, it draws from classical fantasies about male adventurers finding worlds populated only with women (chanting stereotypical nonsense like, "Show me this thing you call... love!"), but the world has come a long way. This concept seems to have been left behind.

    If you replaced gender with ethnicity in Wonder woman's backstory, think of how insanely racist the result would be. The world has moved on, and writers like Rucka and Simone have tried to do something with the concept, but there's only so far the mould can stretch. If you ask me, that's the fundamental problem with Wonder Woman and why she hasn't been too popular since the seventies.

    None of which excuses any of this, but - I think - puts it in context. Wonder Woman and her Amazon colleagues are defined by gender, so any core and fundamental conflict (and Johns works at his best getting to the roots of characters) will logically be about gender. So it makes sense, from a story-telling point of view, for the conflict to be boys vs. girls.

    I agree with your suggestion none of this was intentional, but I think it's the inevitable outcome of Johns trying to do something "new" and yet "familiar" with the concept in an overcrowded fictional universe he has to establish very quickly. None of this is a defense, but I can see how we ended up here from the starting point of the Amazon presence in the DCU - and I think Johns is doing his best story-wise with an established concept, but the result is awkward and quite sexist.

    It's interesting to think about how politically incorrect the concept would seem if inverted. An island of warrior menfolk, who live in paradise without women. Try pitching that as a comic and see if it gets picked up. Now magine the publicity storm if they invaded Britain and launched their own wave of sexual violence, as the women folk do here? There would be bloody murder in the mainstream media.

    Great article again, by the by.

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  52. Hello Alex:- it's good to hear from you again and I hope you're keeping well. So much of what you've written takes my ideas off in areas they'd not have traveled otherwise, and in pushing me towards that CBR/CSBG posts, you're challenging me to realise a big hole in something I've just been arguing in another comments section just a few minutes ago here. My thanks!

    Your own reasons for the problems with the sexual violence theme in FP # 1 really do help establish how problematical the matter is. For as you say, you could go on and on, and you've tapped into arguments which of course I never touched upon, meaning that the charge sheet is a long, long one.

    On the Goon. I too feel as you do. What I should have written is that Mr Powell never makes the cow's pain the joke, and the last we see of her, she's not suddenly recovered, but still obviously suffering. In that, the reader is encouraged to sympathise with her - as we %*!$ing well ought to - and there's more of a sense of empathy there than in, for example, the famous horse-punching scene with Mongo in "Blazing Saddles". Yet Saddles is more obviously a playful text, and the violence in TG is far more graphic. I thought it was an impressive piece of work on EP's part. But like you, I'm not comfortable with it, and when you raise the point as you have, I feel even more uncomfortable. Still, that was, I believe, EP's point, a joke at our preconceptions. It wouldn't work if it didn't scald.

    There was a toy of Tarantino playing the Rapist? Satire is IMPOSSIBLE.

    Of course, on the issue of the mutilation of sexual organs, the real issue globally is that of female mutilation. I kept my powder on that specific issue because I feel it may be better discussed if FP # 1 goes in the 'wrong' direction. I also faced the problem of not wanting to overload the piece, and on that day, I was worried that the anger I can't help feel when discussing such an issue would have threatened the calmer tone I was trying to maintain. Reading your well-chosen examples of the castration motif, for good and ill, made me realise there's nothing but a few comparable examples that I can think of where women are concerned.

    Which again makes me despair. I suppose I should've found a way to point out that castration is non-existent as a policy of oppression, but female circumcision as a cultural norm embedded in forms of patriarchy certainly isn't. I thought I was making a sensible choice to limit my field of fire, but now I think I really did make a bad judgment there. I appreciate you writing such a interesting comment that it made me go back and challenge my approach to this topic in general too. Thank you.

    Finally, Penance. Alex, you couldn't be more on-the-nose. I can't even imagine how it was possible to be SO irredeemably daft AND offensive where old Speedball is concerned. Penance will stand as a metaphor for how %*!& comics have been during the second half of the post-00 epoch. To paraphrase C L R James, What do they who know of only comics know of comics?"

    Great to hear from you again, Alex, and thanks for the inspiring ideas!

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  53. Hello Darren:- well, can I rush to the end of the your comment, because it made me laugh out loud with the chuckles of man who's read the truly telling comment;

    "It's interesting to think about how politically incorrect the concept would seem if inverted. An island of warrior menfolk, who live in paradise without women. Try pitching that as a comic and see if it gets picked up. Now magine the publicity storm if they invaded Britain and launched their own wave of sexual violence, as the women folk do here? There would be bloody murder in the mainstream media."

    Fantastic! I don't think anything can express the confused thinking and the dubious ground that we find represented in Flashpoint better than that. I read your words, and those of the folks above too, and I note time and time that I barely scratched the surface of these issues. Well, of course I did! I wasn't meaning that I'd expect myself to get any more than a fraction of the important points. Rather, what I meant was LOOK AT HOW BROAD AND DEEP THE PROBLEMS ARE!!!!!

    Do you think the Bog Two will ever hire some folks to help with these issues? How could it hurt?

    "It would feel markedly strange to have the Amazons embark on warfare against Great Britain, for example, based on their military policy in the middle east, or their fishing in Amazonian waters, or even just because they are a bunch of land-hungry Amazons."

    Absolutely. From the publicity, we've already been told that Queen H has been killed. But it will surely be something far more significant than that which explains what's apparently going on. After all, any society which embarks on genocide and sexual mutilation because of the death of their leading citizen is clearly profoundly corrupt in the first place. So it must be something far worse, which raises the worry of what just is going to be shown being "done" to the Amazons. Fingers crossed, fingers crossed for plot developments which are anything but what seems to be being teased.

    "I just see it as a lose-lose situation. But then you can't just "not" use the amazons, because they're such a core part of DC's lore."

    You make a good series of points about how the Amazons might be treated, and what ethical issues that treatment might be used to debate. Given, as you again said, the Amazons will inevitably be read in the light of sex and gender roles, the question is how will those issues be put to use? It is still possible that FP # 1 is, as I've said above, a real feint. To see a feminist argument coming out of this would be a joy. The issue of how to place the Amazons in this narrative is, as you say, not how to exclude them, but how to include them respectfully and productively. I would have preferred to see them as an embattled outpost of decency in a bleak world, or indeed anything other than an army of harpies. But, as I keep having to remind myself, everything could turn out differently to expectations.

    cont

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  54. “It's shallow and, as you suggest, quite tasteless, but so is the whole Amazon fantasy from which the concept originally flowed. I find the idea that an island populated solely by women is inherently paradise to be just as sexist as the belief as any other misinformed one. Of course, it draws from classical fantasies about male adventurers finding worlds populated only with women (chanting stereotypical nonsense like, "Show me this thing you call... love!"), but the world has come a long way. This concept seems to have been left behind.”

    You raise issues there which I’ve long been throwing around. I’m certainly not of the belief that women are inherently superior to men, or indeed the opposite, and it would be impossible to defend the original take on Paradise Island as any kind of rational reflection on issues of sex, gender and culture. But in the absence of little that isn’t Patriarchy in comics, Paradise Island takes another significance, namely a fairy story that there are fictional types which stand in opposition to the dominant ideals of the malestream. Indeed, Marston’s mad, wild idea of what feminism actually removes the Amazons from the position of absolute ideal and places them obviously as a fictional ideal. As Gloria Steinman said in her famous essay on Wonder Woman, Marston’s mythos is about inspiration, not political reality. That’s perhaps one of the reasons why the castration motif hurts so, because it violates not just good taste and common sense, but the idea that there’s ONE place in the DCU where women are a symbol of a strange kind of perfection. Paradise Island as a ‘Paradise’ is indeed a problematical idea; in fact, you’d have to believe in CM’s world as an ideal, but as a fictional flag of defiance and encouragement, well; I think it has value. And against that backdrop, debates about representations of woman can be played out. Paradise Island is, if you like, an ideal type, an idea which permits comparisons and provokes debate.

    But the key to it is a questionable and yet necessary ideal, I argue, in a world which is still intensely dominated by men.; women can create their own identity free from patriarchy and they choose not to behave as the worst of men would insist of them.

    ”… but there's only so far the mould can stretch. If you ask me, that's the fundamental problem with Wonder Woman and why she hasn't been too popular since the seventies.”

    I think you’ve nailed the point. The key isn’t to stretch the model, the key is to work with the meaning of the metaphor and use it to debate a far more complicated and nuanced reality. Which of course is easy to write!

    Darren, what I’ve written in the above is just an immediate response to a second reading of your ideas. I throw them up in the spirit of a friendly exchange of ideas rather than as a declaration of well-thought through principles. In truth, you’ve made me think of matters in a way that I’ve not before, and so all I’m doing is saying “Oh! Well, what if …?” But the above is just a set of ideas, and I suspect I’ll change my mind in the next five minutes. Thank you for inspiring such uncertainty!

    My best to you, sir, and I hope I’ve done any injustice to your thoughts.

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  55. Here via Chris Haley. I'll be sticking around.

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  56. Hello mordicai:- you're very welcome, I promise you.

    And your dropping in meant that I could discover your blog, which I've genuinely enjoyed. Even during my first glance of a visit there, I appreciated coming across your words about Game Of Thrones, a series and a book which I've been stupidly, stupidly snotty about.

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  57. DARREN! DARREN! DOWN HERE!

    I'm an idiot. My last paragraph to you should have read;

    "My best to you, sir, and I hope I’ve NOT done any injustice to your thoughts."

    There's been some incoming since I wrote and I can't amend my mistake without throwing things out of whack. But although I'm sure you'll recognise the typo, I still wanted to say that doing injustice to your thoughts was the opposite to my intentions!

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  58. No worries. I've made enough typos in my time to spot one. And you didn't.

    Cheers! And a good day to you!

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  59. Bless you, Darren. I'll be popping over to the mOvie blog when the next Dr Who review goes up, if not before. I know it may not be as quick as the last one, but if you're keeping up with that, I'll be there.

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  60. Oh Grud. Via Emme O'Cuana's post at http://www.tasteslikecomics.com/2011/05/mapping-flashpoint/ I find out that in the Flashpoint world, Brazil is "Nazi Occupied" and the continent of Africa is "Ape Controlled".

    Now I'm sure that DC is just trying to do a "superheroes and villains rule whole nations!" schtick, and Gorilla Grodd is indeed a major Flash baddie and from Africa. But still, having Africa be ruled by monkeys is just wince inducing. (In fairness, it's not alone; Nikolai Dante has the whole continent ruled by genetically engineered animals)

    - Charles RB

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  61. Hello Charles:- thank you for the link. Hasn't Emmet done a fine job there? I'm going to post the link in a later piece here on TooBusyThinking, but if anyone turns up here and is curious, Emmet's article is well worth reading, to say the least.

    The ape-ruled Africa in inexcusable. It's so ignorant that it's beyond my capcity to condemn. It doesn't make any difference at all if the Apes have wiped out all the races of Africa, or if the rebellion against them is led by an army of ..... actually, I don't think that I can even finish that sentence.

    It's just such a bad idea.

    I appreciate the link. You're as good an egg as the idea of ape-controlled Africa is a stinker.

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  62. Lost me for good here "No, the offense is caused by DC's inability to grasp that all stories do, regards of how they're intended, stand as political comment."

    As someone who would like to be an author, words cannot express how untrue and distasteful I find that sentiment.

    If I write something that is not intended to be political, then it is not political. Period. Point Blank. Full Stop, end of story.

    While you have the ability to over-analyze and spin whatever I write into something it was never intended to be in the name of some sort of bland political correctness, as far as I'm concerned, you do not have the right to do so.

    To spin a story into something it was not intended to be cheapens not only the story you are spinning, but all stories. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it cheapens the act of storytelling in itself.

    To quote Stephen King (to the best of my memory) "Why can't you just let a story be a story?"

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  63. Hello anonymous:

    Quote from Stephen King; http://www.salon.com/books/int/2008/10/23/stephen_king

    "I've always been a political novelist, and those things have always interested me. "Firestarter" is a political novel. "The Dead Zone" is a political novel. There's that scene in "The Dead Zone" where Johnny Smith sees Greg Stillson in the future starting a nuclear war. Around my house we kinda laugh when Sarah Palin comes on TV, and we say, "That's Greg Stillson as a woman."

    Stpehen King has always been aware that his work has a political dimension. He even discusses the matter. (I'll come back to him at the end of this.)

    I promise you that I've never believed in any "bland political correctness" of any kind. You'll find no arguments supporting anything of the sort here. My argument wasn't that work should be constrained to follow one particular political agenda, and I said so in the piece. My point is that is that work inevitably carries political meaning, and that creators should work to make sure that the politics of their work expresses what they believe rather than that which they don't. The problem - a problem, I should say, - with Flashpoint # 1 is that it carries meanings which exist only because of the carelessness of its creators. If DC had wanted a book that intended to be, for example, insensitive to women, then fine. I may disagree with it, but it's a deliberate decision and I'll engage with it in its own terms. The problem with Flashpoint is that it's insensitive due a lack of care and control, that's different.

    By which, I don't mean to say that I wouldn't take issue with a book which argued for, say, genital mutilation as a social good. But Flashpoint is something else. It's a text which argues for things which its creators surely don't intend to.

    As for the idea that a book isn't political if its creator doesn't intend it to be: that can't be so. Will Eisner meant nothing political, by his own admission, by adding stereotypical "minstrel" comic relief to The Spirit, but having Black Americans only appear in the form of humourous characters with pidgin dialect and characteristics such as cartoon-bulbous lips is obviously making a political statement about who is and who isn't superior.

    cont;

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  64. cont;

    I'm sorry to have offended you so, anonymous, and although that may read as sarcasm in cold print, it's not intended as such. But I'm afraid that there's a century of social science, of psychology and sociology and so on, which quite clearly establishes that work does carry meaning separate from a creator's intentions. Of course, a text can't ever be fixed, and no creator can succeed in making it say only what they want. Its meaning will always slip from a creator's intentions, if intentions they have. But in terms of crass, obvious statements to do with issues such as race and sex and gender, creators can work to ensure they avoid saying daft things.

    But to not even pay attention to the possibility that a text will inevitably be read politically is to abandon responsibility for one's own work. The issue is not whether texts are political. The issue is that all creators have a responsibility to make sure as best they can that the politics they express are as close to those they'd want to as possible.

    I think you'd be surprised by my politics, anonymous. I'm not for imposing strict limits on what people say at all. I'm for people saying what they intend to, or for them working to avoid saying things they don't want to. This is not a question of a tyranny of PC. This is a question of individual responsibility. If DC and Marvel put out, for example, a series of books where women are forever in the minority, presented as sexual objects and often viewed only in terms of their importance to men, that's a political statement. It may be - and indeed is, I'm sure - very much not what was intended, but what's intended is irrelevant.

    Nope, we're talking not about a limitation on writerly freedom here. We're talking about respect for others. And so, if a creator does, for example, believe in traditional gender roles, then they have the absolute right to produce work which reflects that belief. I'll argue against it because I believe that all human beings have the inalienable right to be consider equal. But I'll respect the creator's right to make such an argument too.

    But it's the work where folks don't realise that part of shaping a text is avoiding unintended political statements which most concerns me where comics are concerned. King does take that responsibility. He makes sure that he doesn't say things that he doesn't want to take responsibility for. He can't stop nutters finding offense or comfort in his books, of course. But he obviously has a conscious policy of not saying daft things through carelessness.

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  65. Hi. Just happened to stumble onto this blog, but this was a great post. I can just imagine the tagline for this event:
    "Flashpoint-a tale of genocide and sexual mutilation--featuring The Flash!"
    Remember when comics used to be fun?

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  66. Hello there:- thanks for the generous words.

    The real shame is that there's something of a romping good yarn underneath all the sillinesses and the problems with representations in Flashpoint. It just needed a touch of care, that was all.

    Issue # 3 actually is fun in places. Shame, shame, shame about there only being one person of colour and barely a woman in sight, mind you.

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