Once upon a time, the Comics Bulletin staff were planning a Top Ten about the most heinous acts that supervillains have pulled off in comics. After taking a look at some of the suggestions, we realized that a startling number of the most heinous acts were committed towards female characters, which in and of itself is heinous. So, we decided to focus on the inordinate amount of crimes against women in comics, because male characters generally get off pretty easy in these stories.
This will make some of the boys mad, but think about it this way: if you were interested in comics and found that in most of them all the male characters were either raped or raped and murdered or raped, tortured and murdered, would you even bother reading comics? Shit’s fucked up, y’all.
Also, only one of these is actually a joke.
Honorable Mention: Haunted Vaginas
Danny: Haunting, while sometimes deserved, is rarely consensual. Usually, you do something wrong to get a ghost all mad at you. I can’t imagine a woman wanting her ladyparts to be haunted, nor can I imagine the method by which a woman’s ladyparts become haunted. I definitely don’t want to imagine the exorcism process. I’m seriously hoping it’s the Super Mario Bros. version of dealing with ghosts: turn around so it’ll chase you.
Ghosts: don’t go chasing vaginas. Please stick to the dusty old mansions that you’re used to.
10. Wasp Becomes Lunch
Nick: When you get down to it, Jeph Loeb’s script for Ultimatum is a crime against humanity in general. But one of the more grotesque crimes perpetrated within it is the disgusting fate that befell the Ultimate universe’s Wasp. Already a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of Ant-Man and his army of ants, the Wasp is taken down in the pages of Ultimatum by the Blob, a rotund fellow who is typically a less-than-threatening foe for the X-Men.
But it goes beyond that. Rather than simply killing her, the Blob is discovered devouring the Wasp, like some holdover from a lesser issue of Marvel Zombies. It’s a death that’s robbed of any respect or point, instead turned into a clear embodiment of the shock value Loeb coated all of Ultimatum in. To add to the trauma for fans, Wasp’s death in Ultimatum appeared only a month after she had been killed off in the main Marvel universe, albeit in a more respectable fashion.
Danny: Also, a fat dude eating someone? C’mon, guys.
9. Batgirl (two of ’em)
Danny: Of the three people that were Batgirl, two have had some serious violence inflicted upon them. The story of the first Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, is famous: in Batman: The Killing Joke, the Joker shot her in the spine, took compromising photos of her and showed them to a naked, chained-up Jim Gordon to mess with his head. Some people think he raped her, but I’m gonna go ahead and say that’s creepy fanboy wish fulfillment. The one benefit to this act is that it gave the character something to overcome, allowing her to reinvent herself as Oracle, the DCU’s tech-savvy master of data and communications. That Barbara’s paralysis wasn’t the end of her story is a progressive move on DC’s part.
But then there’s Stephanie Brown, the current (until September) Batgirl. Back when she was Robin, Black Mask tortured her to death. To make matters worse, she got no Robin memorial in the Batcave and Dr. Leslie Thompkins revealed that she let her die to teach a lesson about the dangers of kid vigilantes. Until, of course, it turned out that Thompkins helped her fake her death in a hilariously convoluted twist.
I like Arrested Development too, but c’mon, guys.
8. Starfox’s Emotional Rape
Nick: The ’80s were a pretty terrible time for the Avengers. Their line-up was stock full of also-rans and future Nextwave members (o hai other Captain Marvel). They even had an emotional rapist in a key role.
While everyone is well aware of the mad Titan Thanos, not everyone is as aware of his little brother, Eros. Eros briefly hooked up with the Avengers, where he was given the name Starfox because apparently Eros just wasn’t appropriate enough and Nintendo hadn’t yet bought all iterations of the name. By now you’re probably wondering what Starfox’s powers are.
Outside of the normal Titan abilities of strength, stamina and agility, he can also control the emotions of others. You probably see where this is going.
In the self-aware ’00s, writers figured out that Starfox’s “abilities” were kind of creepy and he soon reappeared in the pages of She-Hulk, where he was taken to court over accusations that he was misusing those abilities to seduce a married woman. She-Hulk initially believed Starfox had also used those abilities on her at one point in order to force her to have sex with him. This turned out not to be the case at all. In fact, Starfox had only used his abilities to force her to love a different man. Comics!
7. Purple Man’s “Seduction” of Women
Nick: As reprehensible as Starfox’s meddling in She-Hulk’s life was, dude ain’t got nothing’ on the Purple Man. Originally created by Stan Lee and Joe Orlando, the Purple Man has lately turned into one of the most vile villains in the Marvel Universe, mostly due to the efforts of Brian Michael Bendis.
Purple Man, outside of the normal villain hobby of messing up the lives of super heroes, also likes to use his mind control pheromones to force women to be with him, including his ex-wife and mother of his daughter Kara, herself the purple skinned Alpha Flight annoyance Persuasion.
But Purple Man’s most infamous vile act occurred when he captured Jessica Jones and brainwashed her into being his slave, both for his amusement and as a weapon against Daredevil. Purple Man’s plan backfired because Jessica mistook the Scarlet Witch for Daredevil and nearly got beat to death by the Avengers for her efforts. Purple Man’s act forced Jones to give up her career as Jewel and launch her private detective career instead, but Purple Man continues to meddle in her life.
6. Psylocke Turns Japanese
Danny: Nobody remembers this, but once upon a time Psylocke was a British chick with purpl
e hair who didn’t know martial arts. Sometime in the late ’80s, however, Betsy Braddock got her brain put in the body of a sexy ninja lady. While she was stricken with amnesia. So, y’know, that mind transplant ain’t consensual.
The fact that a character was changed into something completely different is hilarious, but also predictive of where comics were going at the time — slathering a slick, visually titillating sheen over generally goofy superhero comics, attempting to make them cool and extreme. This should come as no surprise — Jim Lee was drawing Uncanny X-Men at the time.
5. Sue Dibny in: Rape Crisis
Nick: Identity Crisis is in many ways the nadir of modern comics. A bloated, overly serious grim and gritty comic blockbuster, Identity Crisis was a commercial success that was also creatively bankrupt. Centered around the “murder” of Sue Dibny by fellow superhero wife Jean Loring, Identity Crisis also deals with the effort by the JLA to mind wipe villains after discovering the formerly goofy Dr. Light had raped Mrs. Dibny.
That act by Dr. Light makes no sense from a character perspective and is perhaps one of the most egregious examples of the women in refrigerators trope, where violence (or in Jean Loring’s case, misogynistic characterization) is perpetrated against female characters in comics merely as a means by which to motivate male heroes. Dr. Light had previously been a symbol of incompetence, a paradox that Identity Crisis writer Brad Meltzer attempted to fix by introducing the mental rape concept of the mind wipe. So really, you could argue that Identity Crisis is all about rape.
4. Gwen Stacy: Original Woman in Refrigerator in Theory
Danny: Gwen Stacy is the original woman in a refrigerator — a female character murdered in order to dramatically “enhance” the male main character. Everyone knows the moment: the Green Goblin drops Gwen off the George Washington Bridge, Spidey tries to save her with a webline, but the shock of the sudden stop breaks her neck. It’s a shocking, classic moment in the genre, but also a sad precedent. Think about it: how many female characters wouldn’t be killed if The Amazing Spider-Man hadn’t done it first?
3. Alex DeWitt: Original Woman in Refrigerator in Practice
Danny: As a contrast to Gwen Stacy, the death of Alex Dewitt is more infamous than it is famous: the goofy faux Captain Atom villain Major Force (seriously) kills Green Lantern Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend Alex and stuffs her in a refrigerator. Sure, the resulting outrage gave us Gail Simone, but surely there’s got to be a better way.
Look, comics. I know it’s really temping to kill a superhero’s girlfriend, and it stands to reason that she’d be in danger pretty much all the time. But you don’t have to kill superhero girlfriends all the time. For one thing, it’s cheap and lazy. For another, it’s so rampant that makes us rail against any mistreatment of women in comics.
2. Ms. Marvel
Nick: There’s a strong chance most of you don’t even know about this, but at one point Ms. Marvel was abducted by the “son” of Immortus, Marcus. That’s bad enough, right? Well, it gets worse. It actually gets pretty fucking horrifying.
You see, Marcus’ plan for Carol Danvers was to take her to some alternate dimension and get her to give him a son…at whatever cost. While Marcus never came out and explicitly used the rape word, he made it pretty clear that he held Carol against her will, experimented on her and eventually bred her, resulting in the birth of another version of Marcus (don’t ask), who then proceeded to take Ms. Marvel back to that alternate dimension. I know what you’re already asking: where the fuck were the Avengers during all this?
The Avengers, like the honey badger, just didn’t give a shit. In fact, their apathy towards the situation was considered so heinous by Chris Claremont that he wrote an entire storyline about taking them to task for being a bunch of assholes and gave Ms. Marvel a position with the X-Men, where she was transformed into Binary after experimentation by the Brood. Yeah, it kind of sucks to be Ms. Marvel.
1. DC Comics’ Hiring of Women Creators
Danny: I really, seriously, truly, madly deeply don’t want to think this is on purpose, but the lack of female creators working for DC circa the impending reboot is highly suspect. It’s come out that a handful of women had to turn offers down, but even that strikes me as disingenuous as pointing at Gail Simone as proof that DC’s creator selection isn’t biased.
The fact is this: if DC’s shooting for a diverse line of comics that reach out past the fanboys and get casually interested people reading their books, then shooting for some diversity in their creative staff is a necessity. A comic about an African Batman written by a white guy isn’t enough. DC claims to be working on this issue, but we’ll see if this will play out as an honest effort to spice up their lineup or just lip-service to quell the PR nightmare surrounding their big, risky relaunch.
However, considering DC’s curious Image-Comics-retro aesthetic, maybe there’s no room for many women there.
Nick: DC’s biggest crime here hasn’t just been the way women have seemingly been left out of the relaunch but the manner in which they’ve handled people’s questions about that oversight. When confronted at SDCC this year by “Kyrax2,” a fan attending DC panels dressed as Batgirl, DC co-publisher Dan DiDio came off as impatient at best and an ogre at worst, implying, either consciously or accidentally, that t
here were hardly any women creators involved the DC relaunch because they simply weren’t talented enough when he stated that DC only hired the best.
DiDio’s response was tantamount to a preemptive attack on the perceived implication that Kyrax2, and likeminded fans, were asking for affirmative action. The truth is that comic fans are far more diverse than they’re given credit for and the call for diversity is meant as a reflection of that. It’s a call for publishers to take their own PR statements about diversifying their universes and creative teams seriously, not in a cold, calculated way wherein random representatives of every conceivable gender, race and ethnicity are hired but wherein the company finds the best representatives of their fan base’s myriad interests and make-up.
To continue to cater to the hordes of dying and disappearing stereotypes isn’t just a crime against women but against comicdom itself.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book writer, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter as @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his newest comic, “Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men,” over at Champion City Comics.
When he’s not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for “Partytime” Lukash’s Panel Panopticon.