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“In the world of the super-cowboys, there’s always blood.”

And I’m driven to post again! Have I mentioned yet that I think I’m in love with James Smith’s blog? Clearly the best blog source for non-stop really good writing on comics is Jog - the Blog, but I’ve really been enjoying James’s takes on comics and blogging. And then today’s installment was so full of things I find interesting that I finally felt compelled to actually write a post of my own rather than just spout off in the comments thread (though I may find myself doing that anyway at some point) to talk about sex, violence and recent Grant Morrison. I’ll start by saying I’m going to disregard everything Grant Morrison says, because I think he’s really only useful when writing fiction. His interviews seem manipulative and ridiculous, though I read and enjoy them anyway.

I think I’ve always been public here about my discomfort with overt violence in life and art. I (used to) go berserk watching movies with car chases because there are never any repercussions, never any reparations for the property damages. And I care more about all the fictional people whose lives are being ruined when their stores are destroyed and their cars smashed and so on than I do about the perfect-haired protagonists. And it’s not that I’m trying to hide from the fact that violence exists in reality. As a kid, I was obsessed with reading about the Holocaust and dressing like a WW II war orphan. After a few years, this led into stories about nuclear holocaust, and from there to nonfiction accounts of life in warzones of several sorts. There are some nasty (although not really violent) episodes I’ve suffered in my own history, and I’ve ended up doing a lot of counseling for other sexual assault survivors and tons of education on the topic. It’s not that I think any of this should be glossed over, but that I think the standard portrayal of violence does just that. It’s because I know how real the real world is that I don’t like rape jokes or movies starring automatic weapons or anything in which people get kicked in the crotch. Other people know about the real world and like these things; I’m really just talking about me.

And then there’s sex, which I’ll touch on quickly before dropping (I hope). I wrote about breasts in Sgt. Frog, and I keep thinking back to that in the recent discussion of gender roles and sexual violence in manga and for manga readers. I had surmised that some young, female readers might not see the breasts as offensive but be willing to read against the grain for a more liberating version of events. I don’t know what girls actually do think about this sort of thing, and that seems to be the question everyone is wondering about. Having been a girl not long ago, I can only assume the answers would be ambiguous and passionate and a bit muddled, or else that the speakers might change or expand their opinions in a few years. I know that sounds awfully dismissive, but I imagine in a few years I’ll be able to look back on this post and see it as not only uncharacteristic of what I’ll believe then, but not wholly aware enough of my situation now. Anyway, the point is that I’m sure there are plenty of problems with sexism and non-consensual sex in manga, and that this is something manga fans should be analyzing and addressing. I don’t like the idea that just because the problem may be different and bigger in American comics, particularly the superhero ones, there’s no room for people to be critical of issues in manga and among manga readers. (This is all an aside I did not mean to make.)

Anyway, I wanted to talk about sex in the way James talked about sex, looking at The Whip from Seven Soldiers #0. This is completely my own crazy bias and I realize it makes no sense, but my general thought is that characters who are wearing more fetishy clothing (The Whip, new Batgirl, especially in her sewn-shut mouth days) seem more self-assured, as if they have made choices about their attire. I’m not sure what I’m comparing them to, but The Whip is much more palatable to me than Phoenix, at least costume-wise. The self-aware characterization helps, of course, but I’m more comfortable with sex and sexualized bodies when they’re not also being sold as wholesome. (And maybe Phoenix isn’t the best example there, but instead The Wasp or something. I dunno.) Since I’m not actually making an argument here, I’ll just add that I’ve been wanting to make a joke about how the real reason I read superhero comics is because they make me feel normal for having scoliosis. But even my body doesn’t twist the way superheroines’ often have to. And of course the best place for an abstract joke is way in the middle of an unrelated post. Maybe I’ll resuscitate it someday.

In mentioning Vimanarama #2, I said that I wasn’t sold on the coloring, and was reminded of that when James talked about the uneasy mix between romantic comedy and fairly grisly violence. Because the violence is just as shiny and pretty as everything else, I think we’re supposed to infer that there is no break, no real division. And despite talking about the place of violence in the fabric of reality right above, I’m going to say that I don’t like its place here. I don’t like that it’s as cartoony as everything else, that head-smashing has the same weight as the moment before a kiss. Maybe it does in reality and maybe it should in some stories, but I’m just not convinced that this is the right story, the right balance. But maybe the problem, too, is that I fear I’d like the story more if the fighting took place farther off-panel and the other sorts of conflict got more pagetime.

And yet I don’t have the same problem with The Manhattan Guardian #1. The violence is lurid and vibrantly colored but I was able to skim over it without feeling bad for not being more invested and without feeling like I was missing out, as in Vimanarama. It was just a violent backdrop, an extremely violent backdrop, to what is probably going to be a violent story. Like James, this elicits no real emotional response from me. Am I supposed to be horrified? Intrigued? Aroused? Beats me, and not just because I don’t go in for that authorial intent stuff much. I just don’t go in for watching people beat each other up, have never found it cathartic to read about a pivotal punch. So why do I read this stuff? Beats me, at least to some extent. I guess I find it interesting to see what gets built around the violence, what the rest of the story is. I let myself believe/pretend that everything else is the real story with the violence as some sort of metaphor-heavy frosting. I’m not sure if those of use who read this way (James, I think, and David Fiore and myself) all do it in the same way and if our readings differ greatly from the normal ones. I guess the more important thing is that it doesn’t matter to me and that I keep on doing mine. So this is some sort of segue back to blogging, I hope.


  1. jamesmith3 says:

    Ha. Thanks for the compliments.

    I should say first that I don’t really have a mad-on for Morrison, though it may seem that way from other things I’ve said. You’re probably right to just ignore his interviews. My problem is that if I read it, it’s in my head; so when I start thinking about a given book, the interview pops up too. Plus, I wanted an excuse to use that truly bizarre opening quote from his undernourished website.

    I maybe should have ignored the sex part of the equation– the Whip’s costume doesn’t really bother me, but I think it sensibly could bother someone overly concerned about Hollywood’s “perverted concoctions.”

    And I agree that the violence in the GUARDIAN is less damaging to the story, as the whole thing is an action/adventure tale, and you rightly expect more of that. VIMANARAMA literally has two modes, and I just don’t think they mesh well.

    You know, I often wonder what happens to the pedestrians and shop owners in action films, too. It just seems essentially mean-spirited to act as if they don’t exist. I watched TERMINATOR 3 not too long ago, and I kept re-playing the car chase scene, as it causes enough property damage to bankrupt a small city, and yet no one is apparently hurt. It just completely fascinated me in a weird, probably unhealthy way.

    — 30 March 2005 at 6:37 pm (Permalink)

  2. Dave Intermittent says:

    I don’t have a problem enjoying violence on the level of spectacle, so something like T2 has never bothered me. It’s so wrapped up in its own glorious cartoon stupidity to offend. I do have a problem with violent movies that aspire to say something uplifting, i.e., the entire film output of Micheal Bay. You can’t earn the uplift unless the reality of the violence is confronted. This is why the end to Saving Private Ryan always bothered me; the whole flag flapping in the breeze seemed to me so at odds with the movie, and anyway, what about the families of the German soldiers? I’ve gotten into some good fights about that one. Maybe I am a pinko commie after all.

    James is right, though, that comic violence, even violence intended to make an impact, simply doesn’t: I remember an Ennis Hellblazer where there was, like, a half page spread of a man whose groin had been shredded by a shotgun, and remember thinking as I read it that it really should be more squirm inducing than it actually was. Which was my early problem with Ennis, in any event, insofar as his Hellblazer work was structered around gore-out moments that were incapable of causing the reaction he wanted.

    — 30 March 2005 at 7:31 pm (Permalink)

  3. Rose says:

    James, I didn’t mean to imply you did think The Whip was troublesome to you, but I definitely agree that there are reasonable people who would have a problem with her outfit, which is the point you were making anyway. And I don’t actually ignore Morrison interviews, since I can’t go back in time to un-know things he’s said there, but I do think he consistently twists and overstates his intentions and beliefs, perhaps to make interviewing another part of his fiction or perhaps for other reasons or none at all.

    I’ve read a lot of Hulk stories, for a variety of reasons, and I think there’s something sweet about the conceit that he hadn’t ever killed anybody, that there was some inner nobility or perhaps outrageous luck that managed to keep him from killing humans. I realize this is the same magic at work in most fighty action stories, but whenever there’s a veneer of realism it just makes the whole endeavor look ridiculous to me.

    Dave, I’ve never seen Saving Private Ryan, though I think Steven has, both because I think I can understand (in my own way, at least) that sort of situation without having to immerse myself in a video version and also because I have trouble telling male actors apart, especially in war movies where they all dress the same and have similar haircuts. I’ve gotten better about that to the point where maybe it’s not an issue, but I also have an aversion to Spielberg movies. But have you by any chance seen the fourth season of Blackadder, set during WWI? I don’t want to say much about it because the surprise ending is my absolute favorite part of the series, but it blows up that trope of beautiful, poignant solace in the midst of violence.

    I don’t think I’ve liked any Ennis because I don’t like feeling manipulated by the violence (or, more accurately, left out of the manipulation) because I can’t help feeling he does want you to squirm and root for gore and thus be complicit. Whenever I read his books I just want to escape the ugliness of it all, but because of that I haven’t really read enough to have a fully informed opinion. I disliked Johnny the Homicidal Maniac for similar reasons, so there’s a fairly broad net of annoyance I’m throwing out here.

    — 30 March 2005 at 8:46 pm (Permalink)

  4. jamesmith3 says:

    Well, here’s hoping my last lost comment doesn’t appear and make me look stupid.

    I guess I’m not bugged as much by the utter destruction as I am by the way that destruction seems totally divorced from any reality I could recognize or relate to.

    The Hulk comment reminds me of the Brian Azzarello story that features a long scene of the aftermath of one of the Hulk’s rampages. I looked at it and thought, ‘If I were in danger of doing that every day, I’d shoot myself.’ Only to turn the page and see Bruce Banner putting a gun in his mouth. You’re right, Rose, you run into a big problem if you demand these things to “be realistic.”

    But even if the writer isn’t trying to make violence “realistic,” isn’t that what the artist/special FX co-ordinator is doing? I wonder how this would all play out if the violence became more distant and abstract?

    — 30 March 2005 at 11:29 pm (Permalink)

  5. Rose says:

    Your lost comment stayed lost, at least as far as I can see.

    I’m still not sure how I make sense of the Hulk stuff, but it’s something I find interesting. I think my instinct is to say that stories like that (and maybe most superhero tales) can’t possibly be about what they seem to be about, because that would just be nonsensical. And yet I wonder if I’m not just making excuses because I find something interesting being said about “human nature” or various personal tendencies there.

    Relatedly, I probably still wouldn’t like many action movies (definitely including Saving Private Ryan, if Steven’s description of the plot is to be believed) because of weird racial/cultural/sexual politics assumptions they display. I still hate masculine revenge fantasies more than just about anything else, and they’re hard to escape in action movies (and superhero comics, which is part of the reason I don’t read tons of them).

    And then there’s Sin City, which is going to be gory and blood-drenched and will feature four men on revenge missions. And I may end up watching it anyway, although preferably not at a time when the audience will be filled with bloodthirsty high school boys. We’ll see.

    — 31 March 2005 at 3:16 pm (Permalink)

  6. jamesmith3 says:

    Ryan I see as a special case, because I still contend that the first 35-or-so minutes constitute the best anti-war film I’ve ever seen. War is horrible and anonymous and stupid and no one ever really wins and then you’re dead. The end. Spielberg should just make shorts…

    — 31 March 2005 at 8:40 pm (Permalink)

  7. Dave Intermittent says:


    Agree totally with regards to Ryan, which is why the end felt to me like such a tremendous betrayal.

    — 1 April 2005 at 4:17 pm (Permalink)

  8. Dave Intermittent says:

    Another anecdotal data point. Just saw Sin City (well, “just” being Saturday). Things which never struck me as being gruesome in the books struck me as gruesome indeed on the screen, to the point where the whole thing felt faintly off-putting. Insofar as what is onscreen is exactly what is in the books, we got a pretty good example of how film violence is more visceral than comic book violence.

    — 4 April 2005 at 4:15 pm (Permalink)

  9. Rose says:


    Do you have any idea why that is? Movement? sound? Having real people rather than pictures? Having no control over when to turn the page?

    We did not see Sin City this weekend, didn’t really do much of anything, but I imagine we’ll get there in the next week or so, even though I doubt either of us is going to fall in the “love it” camp.

    — 4 April 2005 at 5:09 pm (Permalink)