The Screamed From the Rooftops But Unheard Story of Marvel Comics: Part 4

Part 4: Second Seduction of the Innocent

In the last part I discussed Marve's Twitter chracter popularity poll that shows Carol Danvers and Kamala Khan at top and Deadpool at number five while Deadpool’s comic books were selling way more. This is a result of what I’m calling the Sarkeesian effect on popular culture. I don’t want to delve too much into the politics of video games so I’ll just say that anyone who doesn’t know about Anita Sarkeesian can just get on YouTube and find out about how she lied her way into having a voice in the video game industry. I think the term ‘The Sarkeesian Effect’ is being used to describe anytime people with little or no knowledge of a product hijack that product to replace it with their politically correct agenda. If it's not, it should be. But the Sarkeesian effect was actually set in comic books long before Anita Sarkeesian lied about knowing where the ‘X’ button is. It goes all the way back to 1999 when the term “women in refrigerators” was first used. The quick origins of women in refrigerators can be found on Wikipedia:

The term "Women in Refrigerators" was coined by writer Gail Simone as a name for the website in early 1999 during online discussions about comic books with friends. It refers to an incident in Green Lantern #54 (1994), written by Ron Marz, in which Kyle Rayner, the title hero, comes home to his apartment to find that his girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, had been killed by the villain Major Force and stuffed into a refrigerator. Simone and her colleagues then developed a list of fictional female characters who had been "killed, maimed or depowered", in particular in ways that treated the female character as merely a device to move a male character's story arc forward, rather than as a fully developed character in her own right. The list was then circulated via the Internet over Usenet, Bulletin Board System, e-mail and electronic mailing lists. Simone also e-mailed many comic book creators directly for their responses to the list.

The list is considered "infamous" in certain comic book fan circles. Respondents often found different meanings to the list itself, though Simone maintained that her simple point had always been: "If you demolish most of the characters girls like, then girls won't read comics. That's it!"

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Before I go on I’d like to point out here that Gail Simone is a comic book writer. I actually like her work, Simone’s work on Deadpool is really good. However, she is also a feminist, and by commenting on comic books with this socio-political ideology she has opened a floodgate that is becoming harder and harder to close. I am really saddened that Simone’s name is attached to this so heavily, that I cannot write this blog without writing about her. I truly hope that Gail Simone ends up reading this and begins separating her ideologies from her art when seeing how a fan feels. And I would also like to ask her, if this was going on in comic books for so many years and the trope had been used to such an extent, why did you continue reading comics considering that most of the characters you liked were being demolished?

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Keeping on topic, though. What about Men? Ben Parker was the biggest loss in Peter Parker’s life and Uncle Ben’s death is what inspired Peter Parker to become a super-hero. Ben Parker was treated “…merely a device to move a male character's story arc forward”. Then we have Mar-Vell. Mar-Vell died of cancer and his death is still something that is felt though out the Marvel Universe. Maybe Jack Murdock, this was Matt Murdock’s father, who like Ben Parker was the hero’s biggest motivation. And, while Matt Murdock’s father died to drive The Daredevil storyline, his mother remained an enigmatic person who lent and unseen hand to help him in many ways. That actually seems exactly opposite of the ‘women in refrigerators’ trope. I don’t want to drag this blog out any further than necessary so one more: The Comedian. The Comedian was killed in the first few pages of The Watchmen in order to motivate the entire story.

The story goes on that a critic at one time said that this has also happened with male character to which a new term “dead men defrosting” was made to describe how when a male character is killed/maimed/depowered they usually come back more powerful and much cooler than they were when they died. The example they like to use is that after Batgirl’s back injury she was left paralyzed but after Batman’s back injury he recovered. And that’s very true, but they’re leaving a lot out of that. Barbara Gordon came back as Oracle and the back injury made her a stronger character, taking her out of being simply “a Batman for girls.” I really never cared for Jubilee until she was depowered then came back in The New Warriors, and then the vampire thing was really rocking. Jubilee was a character who was basically described as Wolverines sidekick until she got de-powered, that was when she actually became her own character and really became a good character. Maybe Jubilee is a little too recent taking it her big character change happened after the Women in Refrigerators/Dead Men Defrosting terms had been created. Well, there’s always Storm. Not only did storm become so much of a great character from being depowered but she actually beat Scott Summers in a fight.

The big problem with the “women in refrigerators” and “dead men defrosting” labels is the problem with giving anything a label, you gave it a label and now everybody is trying to correct it. Morgan Freeman once said about racism: “If you talk about it, it exists. It’s not like it exists and we refuse to talk about it, making it a bigger issue than it needs to be is the problem here.” And Morgan Freeman’s wisdom can be put into this situation. Let’s look at the recent ‘defrosting’ of Gwen Stacey, though well written it does have it’s problems. When Bucky Barnes was brought back as The Winter Soldier, he was all but forgotten, it had been at least a decade since Steve Rogers pined at the loss of his sidekick. The memory of Gwen Stacey however, was something that was still being returned to dfrequently. Not long before Spider-Gwen showed up, Gwen Stacey’s death was actually the center piece of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. In the end, though Spider-Gwen was well written, the character feels forced. I think it would have made a very good character in years to come if they would have let comic readers all but forget Gwen Stacey first, but as it stands her sales are slipping every month and she’s destined to go the way of Power Pack and Sleepwalker. This is exactly what Morgan Freeman was saying about racism, by calling something racism that’s not racism, you will have well-meaning people trying to correct the situation but only leaving it forced.

Then you have the issue with the covers. In the early part of last year, social justice warriors got on a mission to get rid of some variant covers. The first was the variant cover of Spider-Woman # 1. This cover showed Jessica Drew climbing onto a building. Third wave feminist were upset, this was a completely unnatural pose for a woman who’s father had injected her with a serum that gave her superpowers. They also stated that Spider-Man would never be drawn in such a pose. Irony is always there when you need it, because not only would artist draw Spider-Man in that pose, but they already had back in 2001 on the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #30. The same exact pose. Not getting everyone to burn their Spider-Woman comics the social justice warriors immediately turned their sites towards the upcoming cover of Batgirl # 41. Where they failed with the Spider-woman cover was they were protesting a cover that had already been released so throwing a fit about it only drove the demand up. Batgirl # 41 hadn’t been released though, so instead of trying to talk collectors out of buying a comic book (Trust me talking a collector out of buying a comic book is hard, I have to do it to myself all the time.) they just had to put pressure on the publisher. For anyone who doesn’t know the Batgirl # 41 cover was supposed to be a Joker homage cover in celebration of 75 years of joker. Rafael Albuquerque did the cover in reference to Alan Moore’s Killing Joke. Social justice warriors began protesting it immediately with #ChangeTheCover saying that it promoted rape culture, ironically the cover actually looked like a tame version of the Rose and Thorn #4 cover which was an issue written by Gail Simone. On March 16, 2015 Albuquerque announced: “My intention was never to hurt or upset anyone through my art. For that reason, I have recommended to DC that the variant cover be pulled.”

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The next little bit is just a theory, but hell, if I didn’t write a theory every now and then I’d be a journalist instead of a blogger. It’s really impossible for me to tell the order of how things went in because on March 16, 2015 Albuquerque made his announcement and on March 17,2015 sites were reporting that Valerie D'Orazio was accusing Chris Sims of cyberbullying. The date that I can’t seem to find is the day Valerie D'Orazio wrote where she accused him of this since she didn’t put the date on the blog. The blog that accused Sims of the cyberbullying was the same blog that she said that the Batgirl # 41 cover was triggering the PTSD she had been diagnosed with due to Chris Sim’s cyberbullying. Wait…. PTSD? Cyberbullying? Is she 13? That’s the crazy part she is actually in her 40’s and has worked on Punisher Max books. Punisher Max where in one issue a guy wakes up to find that he had been disemboweled and his intestines are strung along the trees around him. I know Garth Ennis wrote that issue not Valerie D'Orazio, but she should have at least seen it. You see, I have a problem with her PTSD. I literally work at a place where I wear a Taser on my hip because I could get attacked at any minute. I literally get into at least one fist fight with convicted felons a week, and she has been diagnosed with PTSD from cyberbullying. Valerie D'Orazio please give me the name of that doctor because I bet I could get disability for the rest of my life. Back to my theory though, Valerie D'Orazio has actually worked for DC comics and probably had the right numbers to call when her "PTSD" was triggered to claim how she was victimized. Becoming a victim to get your way is what the social justice warriors are best at. Now Batgirl is the only book in the bat family that didn’t get to have Joker variant cover. That’s a hell of a way to boost equality for women, make sure the female character gets less.

Before I end this I want to get back to Gail Simone’s quote about women in refrigerators from earlier: "If you demolish most of the characters girls like, then girls won't read comics. That's it!" That’s presuming that all girls like only female characters just like it would be presuming that all boys like only male characters. Like I’ve pointed out in these blogs before, John Byrnes’ Sensational She-Hulk is one my favorite all time runs. Scarlet Witch is one of my favorite all time characters. I used to date a girl who was really into Elf Quest, for Cutter not Leetah. I was introduced to comics 25 years ago by my fifth grade teacher, a female, who's favorite character was Wolverine. She also owned a small bookstore where she sold her old comics for a couple of dollars a piece, this is where she introduced me to so many great characters, both male and female.

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Edit 3-20-2016: I just watched the second season of Daredevil and couldn't help but think of Valerie D'Orazio when the character of Frank Castle said that claiming to have PTSD is disrespectful to people who really have it. I hope that Valerie D'Orazio (as a Punisher fan and writer) takes that to heart.

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The Screamed From the Rooftops But Unheard Story of Marvel Comics: Part 3

Part 3: It Came From the Cave

" And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive someone saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?"

-Plato The Republic

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There is so much going on in Marvel comics right now, so much that I may end up posting stuff in weeks to come that seems like old news. I mean I really want to talk about what happened with Isaac "Ike" Perlmutter well over a month ago, since it was one of the things that really made me want to start writing these. I'm having a little bit of trouble basing an entire blog around it or how it can tie into philosophy and comic panels (which is really my goals with these blogs). Right now I'd like to celebrate Deadpool's recent success at the box office by talking about meta-comics and breaking the fourth wall.

A meta-comic would literally translate into "a comic about a comic" which would involve self-aware characters breaking the fourth wall and things of that nature. Marvel has a rich history of meta-comics. Of course there's Deadpool, but there's also She-Hulk and more recently, though in a much more limited capacity, Squirrel Girl. Squirrel Girl hosted Dan Slott's GLA mini-series from a stage giving insight into the storyline to come. In a recent issue of The Unbearable Squirrel Girl (volume 2 issue 3) there was a flash back from a minor character where the character's story telling would fill the word balloons that came out of Squirrel Girl's mouth. Squirrel Girl was quick to interrupt the character: "I never said that!." as if she were aware that the flashback was being told in comic panels and could see the word balloons. There have actually been essays written on the She-Hulk's self awareness in comic books. She would do ridiculous things in John Byrne's "Sensational She-Hulk" title (Which, off topic, is one of my favorite runs ever.) She-Hulk would walk from panel to panel stepping over the gutter, she would refer to different pages by number in the books, and in the final issue of John Byrnes' run she actually fired the narrator. Deadpool's self awareness in comics is so important to the character that it made the difference between a bad film representation and a good film representation. So, what does this have to do with Philosophy?

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In Plato's Republic (514a–520a) part VII refers to a conversation between Glaucon and Socrates that has been called "The Allegory of the Cave". I'm going to give a real bastardized version of the story and if you'd like to check the whole thing out you can get Plato's Republic for free from Amazon on your Kindle app. If there was a group of people who were raised where they could only see one wall of a cave they would believe that the shadows projected on this wall to be reality. If one of these people were taken out of the cave they would, at first, believe that the shadow an object casts was reality until this person adjusted and found that the object was reality and the shadow was a projection. The story goes on to tell what would happen to this person if they were to return to the cave and try to bring his friends out to see the reality he found: "...and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death." This person, threatening the reality of the occupants of the cave, would be put to death.

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The Marvel characters I mentioned before are actually three of the biggest outcast in Marvel. Other Marvel characters see them as weird. The question you have to ask though is are the characters weird because they are weird or is it because they are self-aware and the reality that they are seeing (which is also the reader's reality) is not the reality that the other comic book character know. Plato's cave is a lesson that everyone should keep in mind when questioning what reality we are seeing and what reality we may not be seeing. But, what reality is there that we are not seeing? it's right in front of us. A couple of months ago there was a Twitter poll (you know, Twitter, where the Carol Corps hang out) asking who the most popular Marvel character was. Carol Danvers was # 1, Kamala Khan was # 2, and Deadpool was all the way down at # 5 (http://marvel.com/cards/222/marvels_best_of_2015_favorite_comics_hero/all).

This is a poll that Marvel even took serious enough to post on their website. That same month, however, a Deadpool title was the third best seller (behind Walking Dead and Secret Wars, neither of which should really count in this because they aren't solo superhero titles) and Carol Danvers' title ranked 22, Kamala Khan's title ranked 59. A month later Deadpool released what would become the highest grossing R-Rated movie of all time, this really isn't an easy task taking it The Exorcist is still in that top 10. For the past year it's been hard to take five steps in a store without tripping over Deadpool merchandise showing there is a demand for it. What does this tell us about Twitter? The dwellers of the Twitterverse aren't buying comic books or comic book merchandise but they are quick to vote for a comic book character because of the character's gender or minority status. If you speak out about this though, the people who voted in this poll will make you feel like a sexist or xenophobe. You'll be weird because you can see a reality other than the one they have made for you through their social media without contributing any money to the industry. You'll be the one that returns to the cave, talking about the world outside to people who would be more willing to kill you than to step out of the cave. I'd rather see reality.

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The Screamed From the Rooftops but Unheard Story of Marvel Comics: Part 2

Part 2-The Stoic Man-Thing Vs. All-New All-Different Marvel

Stoicism: an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.

-Oxford Dictionary

The above definition sounds like the last thing you would call a character like The Man-Thing (a creature with empathic abilities, who really can't think), but since reading Watchmen and Philosophy: A Rorschach Test I developed a habit of trying to pigeon-hole the comic characters I'm reading about into philosophical schools. Lately I've been reading a lot of Steve Gerber's old Man-Thing books and regretting the fact that I didn't do it much earlier. These stories are great and it reminds me about what used to make comic books so great.

In many of Gerber's early stories The Man-Thing would be sitting peacefully in his swamp when people would wonder through. The Man-Thing would watch these people from a distance for a while, then at the stories climax he would make himself known and touch somebody because "Whatever knows fear burns at the touch of The Man-Thing!" So, even though The Man-Thing is empathic, Stoicism is the best word to describe him because before he makes himself known he watches then acts out of the knowledge he has gathered. This can best be shown in Adventure Into Fear # 18. This issue begins with a drunk driver who crashes into a bus and the survivors are left to trek across the swamp to a nearby town. The two survivors that the story focuses is a soldier just returned from Vietnam and a hippie. Throughout the book these two argue about war and patriotism, Gerber pointing out both good and bad qualities in the characters. Just before reaching civilization a member of the party brandishes a gun and says that he had to kill the rest because he was the drunk driver and wasn't going to jail. He kills the soldier and the hippie and The Man-Thing acts before he can kill any others. No matter what the soldier's and the hippy's feelings were on war and patriotism, they died the same. Truly a Stoic message.

I think the story that blew me away most was in Adventure Into Fear # 12. In this issue a sheriff chases a suspect into the swamp and begins hunting him. The Man-Thing comes across the wounded suspect who told the creature his story, about how the sheriff had a vendetta against him and that was why he was being hunted. When the sheriff comes across the suspect and The Man-Thing he accuses the suspect of murder, an accusation that the suspect couldn't deny. As The Man-Thing walks away from the two men, now having all knowledge to make his decision, the sheriff shoots the suspect. You may ask me why this blew me away so much, there's more shocking content in one Garth Ennis dialogue balloon than in that entire story I described. Well, it has to do with the fact that I purposely left out the fact that the suspect was black and left you picturing Carl "Crusher" Creel as I described the story.

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Now in this day and age race shouldn't matter, but it really does. ComicVine's description of the issue I just described reads like this:

Mark Jackson is a wanted man. One of the few black people in Topequa, Florida, Jackson is now the victim of racial crime, doggedly pursued by corrupt sheriff Wallace Corlee. But the Man-Thing has heard Mark’s plight and understands. Will justice be served in the heart of the swamps?

Nowhere in that description did ComicVine mention that Mark Jackson was actually a murderer, no they describe him as a "victim of racial crime." In the All-New All-Different Marvel and post-Ferguson America Steve Gerber would have been crucified for writing about a sheriff shooting a black man whether the black man was a murderer or not, but it was not shocking for us to imagine the sheriff shooting Absorbing Man. And let's not forget poor Man-Thing. The All-New Avengers would have chased him to the ends of the nexus of all realities and put him in a Zyklom B chamber full of weed killer.

The thing that surprised me more about these comics was the Stoicism though. This is not something you see in modern comics and it reminded me of why I fell in love with super-heroes. Captain America (Steve Rogers) was always very open and fair. Don't get me wrong, Rogers stood by his guns and his beliefs but he would always gather the facts first and wasn't quick to act without the facts. The All-New Captain America (Sam Wilson), on the other-hand, was quick to say: "I have a side. That's right, I have opinions, strongly held beliefs even." after publicly saying he was against, of all things constitution quoting conservatives. Not Nazis, not criminals, not even Skrulls or the Kree, but Republicans (Captain America: Sam Wilson # 1) before flying to the Arizona/Mexico border to help illegal aliens cross. This is the attitude of the All-New All-Different Marvel, Instead of having our heroes stoically stand back and base their actions on knowledge and reason they are enforcers of political agendas and ideologies. But what do you expect when you put Nick Spencer in charge of writing a book? This writer is an ex-politician for Cincinnati, Ohio’s political party The Charter Committee, a party whose representative has said: “If you look at progressive cities that are successful, you don't see them turning back the clock on environmental issues." So naturally this ex-left wing politician writer is going to make Captain America’s worst nemesis be Republicans. In the last part of these blogs I covered how Steve Ditko had problems with editors because he wanted to put political ideologies into comic books in the 1960’s. Now it seems like Marvel Comics not only allows this but actually recruits it’s writers from a pool that would be politically tainted.

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The Screamed From the Rooftops But Unheard Story of Marvel Comics: Part 1

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Part 1-(Not So) Marvel Team-Up: Steve Ditko and Ayn Rand

Steve Ditko was the creator of Doctor Strange, Speedball, and Squirrel Girl. He co-created Spider-Man and had the idea to make Iron Man's armor the iconic gold and red. Ditko was a huge creative force in the comic book industry in the mid- 1960’s,Ditko was the hottest artist in the industry working on the hottest bookin the industry (The Amazing Spider-Man). Ditko revolutionized the superhero by having every idea that set Spider-Man apart from the status quo superhero, from the age, to the costume, to the heavy incorporation of the character's personal life outside of the costume. These are all things that will forever be credited to Stan Lee, and as Stan Lee once said "I'll take any credit that isn't nailed down", but there are those of us who will forever know this was all Steve Ditko and we as the readers will forever be grateful for what Ditko has given us.

Then Ditko just decided to quit Marvel Comics. I've heard several times that Ditko's departure had to do with a creative difference he and Stan Lee had over the secret identity of the Green Goblin. The story goes that Stan Lee came to Ditko and said that he wanted Green Goblin to be the father of a friend of Peter Parker's, Norman Osborn, but Ditko was adamant that Green Goblin be a random New Yorker like every other villain that Spider-Man had faced so far. I think we know how this worked out, and probably for the best. Norman Osborn has turned into an iconic character and added so much to the lore that I can't imagine Green Goblin being anyone else. I always thought that this little creative difference was a stupid thing to quit over, especially since it worked out so good for the comic book's lore. Then I heard about Ditko and Ayn Rand, particularly Ditko's obsession with Rand's philosophy of Objectivism and things started making sense.

For those out there that were not brow-beat with Ayn Rand books by and over-zealous literature teacher in high school like I was. I'm just going to put the Wikipedia definition here:

Objectivism's central tenets are that reality exists independently of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive logic, that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness (rational self-interest), that the only social system consistent with this morality is one that displays full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-fairecapitalism, and that the role of art in human life is to transform humans' metaphysical ideas by selective reproduction of reality into a physical form—a work of art—that one can comprehend and to which one can respond emotionally.

Academic philosophers have mostly ignored or rejected Rand's philosophy. Nonetheless, Objectivism has been a significant influence among libertarians and American conservatives. The Objectivist movement, which Rand founded, attempts to spread her ideas to the public and in academic settings.

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In Objectivism what someone creates should be the most important thing in the world to them. In Rand's book The Fountainhead, the hero of the story, an architect named Howard Roark, actually burned down a building he designed because it was not built to his exact specifications. So that goes without saying that Steve Ditko's decision to leave Marvel Comics over a small creative difference was one that he made through philosophical principal. But it goes on, there's a theory out there that there was a bigger reason that Ditko didn't want Norman Osborn to be the Green Goblin. This theory goes that Ditko wanted Peter Parker (not having a male role model in his life) to meet his friend Harry's father and be inspired. In time Ditko planned to make Norman Osborn into not only a father figure for Peter Parker, but also a philosophical mentor that Steve Ditko would use to put Objectivist ideologies into the comic book.

In the next few years Ditko would create The Question for Charlton comics and The Creeper and The Hawk and The Dove for DC comics. The early issues of these titles show a lot of Objectivist ideologies, reinforcing the idea that Ditko wanted to put this agenda in The Amazing Spider-Man. His runs would always end with editors telling him to stop though. Ditko then created and independently published Mr. A, a title that anyone who has ever even seen panels of it online (guilty as charged) can recognize it as a platform to move ideology.

In the years since Ditko has published with several independent companies and even returned to both Marvel and DC. These returns however were only for one shots or small runs. In the late 80s' Ditko won a Comic-Con International Inkpot Award. Since Ditko refuses to give interviews or appear publically the award was accepted on his behalf by his publisher. Ditko did not like this at all, his words to his publisher were: "Awards bleed the artist and make us compete against each other. They are the most horrible things in the world. How dare you accept this on my behalf" and made the publisher return the award.

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