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I've been trying to think of a way to describe how it feels to be a woman and watch a female character you love and respect be brutalized, tortured or raped. It's not as though this is a new phenomenon. Women have been brutalized in comics – hell, in all kinds of media – as a plot device for a very long time. It's so common that it's a trope: "Women in refrigerators", used to describe when a female character is brutally killed or sexually assaulted, often purely in order to give a male character the motivation to do something "extreme".
Still, there's something about coming across it once again being perpetrated on a widely-known and beloved character that makes me sick to my stomach.
For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, I'm referring to a recently-released comic that's setting up what will likely prove to be another popular, maybe even best-selling, video game starring DC characters: Injustice: Gods Among Us, by the makers of Mortal Kombat.
You see, DC needed a premise. An excuse. A reason why Superman might get angry enough to fight all the other heroes in the world. Thus, in the digital-first comic setting up this extremely violent video game, Lois Lane – a Lois Lane pregnant with Superman's child – is captured, tortured, and mutilated by the Joker and Harley Quinn, who then trick Superman into killing her and her unborn child.
The commentary for this scene on some of the gaming boards has been particularly interesting. "Gosh," it goes, in post after post. "That's harsh. I sure feel bad for Superman."
I sure feel bad for Superman.
The Joker torments, tortures, and murders Lois Lane, one of the greatest icons of the independent woman, a character who's been around for 75 years, and who do people feel sorry for?
Why, Superman, of course.
Because Lois's death is meaningless in and of itself, it's only there to drive the plot, to hurt Superman, so people can say, "Wow. No wonder he went bad."
That's pretty much a textbook definition of "Women in Refrigerators".
But hey, why can't DC tell a story like this? Why shouldn't they have Lois Lane's death be Superman's motivation? What's wrong with it?
All right, let's try a little thought experiment.
Please take a moment, just a moment, and imagine that DC just released a brand-new story with much hype and hoopla. The premise?
Superman gets his dick cut off.
You read that right.
The Joker gets ahold of a kryptonite knife and cuts off Superman's dick.
That is the premise of the story. Imagine that it's written by someone like Scott Snyder, well-known for his skill at taking a grotesque and horrific premise and making it compelling. Imagine that it's played, not for laughs, but completely straight. Imagine it's illustrated with graphic, gothic images by someone like Greg Capullo.
Superman's penis is brutally and painfully sawed off with a blade made of kryptonite.
Does the idea make you uncomfortable? Does it make you cringe? Does it make you feel a little sick? Do you feel that maybe it's a stupid premise, given what we know of the character and his background?
Does the very idea make you angry?
Now imagine that this premise isn't even the point of the story. This horrific, brutal act is used as nothing more than an excuse, a reason for Batman to finally get angry enough to attack and kill the Joker. Superman's dick gets cut off.
As a plot device.
Maybe you'd feel like DC could have come up with a better idea, a better motivation, one that didn't require taking a much-loved and well-known character and cutting off his dick.
Now imagine that this isn't an isolated incident in comics.
Imagine that male characters having their dicks cut off in a brutal, often sexualized manner is standard fare in comic books. Imagine that it's a running theme. Imagine that it doesn't happen to Superman just once, but in story after story. In universe after universe.
This is what it feels like to be a female comic reader: watching the characters most like you be hurt in ways that make you feel sick, and horrified, and disgusted. Again. And again.
This plotline *again*?
Maybe you would rather not read a story where Superman gets his dick cut off. Maybe you would write an angry letter to DC comics, and drop all your books, and rant about what a terrible company they are.
Then again, maybe you're just being too sensitive.
I mean, why can't DC tell a story like this? Why shouldn't they? What's wrong with it?
The Final Squeak
Of course, the analogy is not exact. The average guy generally hasn't had his dick cut off, nor does he have to worry that he's likely to get his dick cut off at some point in the future. However, a great many women will experience, or have experienced, physical abuse, spousal brutality, or sexual assault. Millions of women (including myself) have gone through a miscarriage. Thank you so much for the reminder of how that felt, DC editorial.
The comic's writer, Tom Taylor has, by all accounts, responded to fan concerns graciously and respectfully, but with the information that he had very limited control over what was to happen in the comic. As Derek Russell put it, "Now, I’ve got nothing against the team on this. Tom Taylor is a good guy. He gets it. He’s up against a wall. Honestly, I have to ask myself how I’d be in that position." Given DC's recent dismally poor record when it comes to creator freedom, color me unsurprised. It's hard to blame the creator when he likely had little say over the actual events of the story. On the other hand, to say that I'm d
isgusted with DC editorial is an understatement. Disappointed? I'm so far beyond disappointed, it's not even funny. I'm discouraged, disheartened, and most of all, disillusioned.
I stood up and praised DC at San Diego Comic-Con just six months ago. I really thought they were trying to improve. But their track record since has been nothing less than disgraceful. Their dismissive attitude toward genuine concerns has been incredibly insulting. And after this comic, I'm left wondering whether DC's editorial department even sees women as human beings, let alone as potential customers or creators.
You think cutting off Superman's dick would be in poor taste? You think it would be "too much"? You say you'd never want to buy another DC comic if they did something like that?
Welcome to my world.