Tag Archives: superhero comics

Lessons In Fate, Power, And Passion (From An X-men Comic)

Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey (2017) #1

As kids, it seems as though everyone is trying to teach us morality lessons that’ll help us grow into functioning adults. Those lessons aren’t always effective, though. Just ask the potheads who sat through the DARE program in school.

As adults, we tend to pay less attention to those kinds of lessons because we arrogantly believe we’ve figured it out. We think we know enough about the human experience to determine what is right and what is wrong. People who think that way tend to be the arrogant assholes who refuse to admit that Dr. Oz is a quack and a fraud.

Truly functional people, be they kids, adults, or adults who still act like kids, never stop learning important life lessons. Life is a constantly changing, obstacle-filled struggle where you never see the finish line and are guaranteed to fall flat on your face at least once a week. That’s why lessons that really deliver a powerful message in a compelling way is a special, precious thing in this chaotic world we live in.

That brings me to comic books, superheroes, and the X-men. Yes, this is going to be another one of those posts. Yes, that means I’m about to extrapolate a major philosophical insight into the human condition from an X-men comic, most likely in a way that applies to love, sex, and everything in between. You’re welcome.

It’s not the first time I’ve gleaned such lessons from an X-men comic. A year ago, I singled out X-men 92 #5 as a testament to just how powerful a romance between equals can be. Chances are, I’ll single out more comics in the future and there’s a high possibility that they’ll involve the X-men, Deadpool, or Wonder Woman.

The comic in question today is Marvel Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey #1. It’s actually not part of any ongoing X-men series. It’s a single, self-contained story that’s part of an major promotional effort by Marvel called Marvel Generations.

The goal is as simple. Marvel seeks to bridge the gap between its older incarnations of iconic characters with the newer versions. While some of those newer versions have already caused controversy, the goal is always the same. Marvel hopes to appeal to their long-time fans while appealing to newer fans who are just getting into the world of Marvel.

Comic companies do this fairly often, trying to please old fans while creating new ones. Having followed comics for a good chunk of my life, I’ve seen more than my share of efforts. DC Comics, Marvel’s chief rival, did it last year with their DC Rebirth initiative. By most accounts, it was a success. Now, Marvel is attempting to achieve similar success.

There are many challenges to that effort, but for Jean Grey of the X-men, those challenges are more daunting than most. I’m not talking about the kind of daunting that involves dragons, killer robots, and Brett Ratner movies. I’m talking about convoluted complications involving time travel, evil clones, and cosmic forces. Trust me, it’s way more complicated than it sounds.

For this particular issue, though, you don’t need to know the fine print of those complications. You only need to know that Jean Grey’s story, after 50 years of X-men comics, got so crazy that one of her teammates, Beast, traveled back and time and brought her and the rest of the original five X-men to the future.

Now, since 2012, Jean Grey has basically been Marty McFly from “Back To The Future,” minus the incest sub-plot. She knows that her future sucks in that she ends up dead, and multiple times, no less. On top of that, she finds out she’s destined to become corrupted by a cosmic power known as the Phoenix Force, which will go onto cause all sorts of headaches, heartbreaks, and overall frustration.

That destiny is a huge part of the X-men mythos. That’s the part that “X-men: Dark Phoenix,” a movie I’ve talked about extensively, is going to try and capture. In this comic, Jean Grey has already read the spoilers to that story. She knows it doesn’t turn out well.

In fact, she has an ongoing solo series where the primary theme involves her preparing herself to face the Phoenix Force so that she doesn’t become that cute redheaded mutant who constantly dies and ends up on the wrong side of a bad love triangle. That’s entirely understandable and Marvel Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey #1 gives her the best opportunity she’s had to date to change her fate.

This is where the lesson that Marty McFly learned the hard way comes in. Through elaborate space-time machinations that would give Doc Brown a migraine, Jean Grey is transported to a critical moment in the history of her character. It’s a moment that puts her in a position to change a lot more than just her fate.

That’s because she’s plopped in the middle of the iconic Phoenix Saga, also known by fans as the greatest X-men story ever told. It’s after her older self gains the cosmic power of the Phoenix force, but before it corrupts her in a way that destroys an entire star system and dooms her to a life of death and resurrection. There’s no part of that last sentence that’s exaggerated.

It’s an understandably confusing situation, but it’s one that puts Jean Grey in a position that even Marty McFly never dealt with. She doesn’t just have a chance to change her fate or learn more about her older self, who she’s only really known through the memories of other X-men. She has a chance to learn more about the cosmic power that she knows will doom her.

It makes for a series of colorful interactions between her and her older self that will bring tears of joy to the eyes of X-men fans of any generation. It’s hopeful, sincere, dramatic, and impactful. It fits perfectly within the narrative of Jean’s ongoing story in other X-men comics, as well as the story of her past self.

There’s so much to love about this comic, but I’m not going to spoil the entire thing here. I’d much rather have people go out and buy the issue. It’s money well-spent. Even if you don’t know much about comics or only know the X-men through the movies, this comic will appeal to you.

Beyond that appeal, though, I want to highlight an important theme within this comic. It’s a theme that applies to stories beyond comics and is relevant to life, in general. It especially applies to matters of love, passion, and intimate connections, which are major topic of this blog and the novels I write.

Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey (2017) #1

At the heart of Jean Grey’s struggle in Marvel Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey #1 is a difficult decision that everybody who isn’t a psychotic dictator faces at some point in their lives. It has to do with having the power to effect a situation and choosing whether or not to exercise it.

In the comic, Jean Grey has a chance to tell her older self everything she knows about her fate. She could, in principle, warn her about how the events of the Phoenix Saga play out for her. As a result, she could ensure it turns out differently, preferably in a way that doesn’t leave her dead and subsequently cloned.

On the surface, it seems easy. We saw what Marty McFly chose. We saw what the entire cast of “Hot Tub Time Machine” chose. They chose the easiest, most obvious path. They understandably wanted to improve their situation. In doing so, they created a lot more problems that they had to solve. The stakes for Jean’s problems, though, are much higher.

The problems she could create by changing her fate might be far worse than simply ending up dead. She’s not dealing with incestuous infatuations here. She’s dealing with a cosmic force that eats entire stars just for the fun of it.

She already knows the consequences of not changing anything. That has been hard enough to deal with. However, she has no idea whether she’ll fix anything by choosing otherwise. Given the Phoenix Force’s mixed track record, the odds are not in her favor.

I won’t spoil the choice she makes or what goes into. Again, I’d rather people read this comic to appreciate the full weight of its message. I’ll just say that the decision Jean makes is one that we all indirectly make when we have any kind of power over someone and can affect the course of their life.

Whether you’re a parent, a spouse, or an authority figure of any kind, you have an ability to make choices that affect other peoples’ fate. This is especially true when you’re in a relationship with someone. Your love for them and their love for you effectively links your fate. That makes your ability to make the right choices for the right reasons so critical.

It happens all too often, people using their position of power over others to abuse them. We see it when police harass minorities. We see it in crimes of passion. We see it in cases of spousal abuse and child abuse. When someone else trusts us with authority, we impact their lives in so many ways, often in ways we can’t see.

It can bring out the best and the worst in people, as the Phoenix Saga famously demonstrated. Real life demonstrates it too. Power does corrupt people. Sometimes the hardest choice to make is to not exercise that power to avert the potential consequences it might incur. It’s a choice that a lot of crazy dictators fail to make.

It’s a choice ordinary people fail to make as well. Parents find this out the hard way when they try to make decisions for their children. Sure, it seems like the right thing to do at the time. They may see it as them just protecting their child, as every parent should. However, they don’t realize until it’s too late how much damage that can do.

When you’re in an intimate relationship with someone, it can be just as powerful. If someone loves you implicitly and is willing to trust you so completely, you have the power to guide their lives in profound ways. That guidance, though, can be detrimental to the both of you.

When you have the power to influence a person or a situation, it’s easy and tempting to bend it to what you think will be more beneficial. The problem is that, without the benefit of hindsight, it’s impossible to know whether you’ll actually make things better or much worse.

The hardest decision in that situation is to acknowledge the problems as you understand them, bear the burden of solving them, and focus on the future rather than agonizing over the past. It’s rarely a preferable decision because it means accepting a situation and your role in it. It may feel like a missed opportunity, but it can just as easily be an averted crisis. Hindsight may be painfully clear, but possibilities are painfully vague.

Jean Grey, who is a teenager, mind you, in the story that plays out in Marvel Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey #1, has to make this decision in the face of impossibly high stakes. What she does is a testament to the kind of character she is and the values we cherish in our heroes.

It’s a short, but powerful story that teaches an important lesson to children, adults, comic fans, and non-comic fans alike. Whether you’re a comic book character, a celebrity, an authority figure, or just someone with the slightest bit of leverage over someone, it’s a lesson worth learning.

2 Comments

Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Jack Fisher's Insights

Doomed Superheroes And The Paradox Of Heroism

When I wrote my post on Dr. Doom being the perfect ruler, I expected that a follow-up would be unnecessary. Dr. Doom is one of those characters who gets the point across, regardless of how fictional he might be. When Dr. Doom makes a point, it doesn’t need to be made again. That’s just how he rolls.

Then, someone on a message board brought up an interesting point that I didn’t cover, one that highlighted some even larger implications to Dr. Doom’s character and superheros as a whole. That’s pretty remarkable since a lot of discussions on comic book message boards tend to devolve into arguments about Thor’s hammer and the Hulk’s penis. As such, I feel it’s worth discussing.

Whenever I do a blog post about comic books, whether it’s a movie review or why Spider-Man sucks at his job, I often post links in message boards, such as the one run by Comic Book Resources. For the Dr. Doom article, I posted it in the Official Dr. Doom Appreciation Thread. Yes, that’s a thing.

That’s where one of the regular posters of that thread replied to my link. This is what he said.

Regardless, the existence of Doom in the Marvel Universe does raise an important point, that few Marvel stories actually deal with ruling. It’s been said that ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ but in many ways Marvel’s superheros are dangerously irresponsible. They fight to save the day and defeat evil but they draw the line at actually trying to change society or assume any real positions of authority. Instead, they hand power back to the same short-sighted and corrupt officials, allowing the whole cycle of violence to perpetuate itself. That ultimately, Marvel’s superheros can’t truly save the world, it all ends in ruin eventually as Marvel’s endless crisis and civil wars attest. Only Doom’s leadership has ever been able to bring a measure of stability to the Marvel universe.

Those bold parts are the ones I highlighted. They’re also the parts that stood out to me most because it speaks to a much larger issue about superheroes, one that Dr. Doom reveals just by being what he is.

It’s an issue I’ve touched on, in part, before on this blog. A while back, I wrote about how most superheroes are incompetent by design. They kind of have to be incompetent to keep the story going. If a hero ever became too competent, the world would have too little conflict and no interesting story to tell. At that point, the comics would stop and there would be no new material for billion-dollar superhero movies.

That’s why Superman will never defeat Lex Luthor. That’s why Batman will never defeat the Joker. That’s why the Avengers will never beat Thanos. However, that’s just a matter of publishers and movie studios not wanting to throw away good villains. The problem is that this inescapable flaw in the system creates a paradox, of sorts.

Superheroes, be they in comics or movies, can save the day and stand for all that is good and noble in the world. They can save countless innocent lives, stop every major threat, and embody the greatest qualities that we humans value. However, in the long run, they do nothing to actually fix the flaws in the system that makes their heroics necessary.

It’s like fighting the symptoms, but never attacking the disease. In the real world, that’s a problem because it means someone will think they just have the flu when they actually have something much worse. For superheroes, everything is the flu. There’s no real effort to find another ailment. As such, they never change their tactics.

The approach of most superheroes is fairly standard. It varies in scope, scale, and personalities involved. However, it tends to follow a few major themes.

  • A dangerous threat emerges

  • A superhero, or team of heroes, respond to that threat

  • A battle ensues, complete with setbacks, losses, and personal growth

  • The heroes win the battle, throw the villains in prison or exile them, and go back to the way they were before

Granted, that’s a very basic and general assessment of how superheros work. However, it’s the first and last parts of the process where the flaw emerges.

For the most part, superheroes aren’t very proactive. They only react to threats. In fact, some major superhero conflicts are built around the idea that being too proactive is evil and working with the authorities will turn you into a villain. Anyone who has ever read Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” or just played any real-time strategy game in the past 20 years knows that’s a losing strategy.

It’s the end of that process, though, where the paradox really takes hold. Whenever a conflict or story ends for a superhero, they usually go back to their lives and nothing really changes. In fact, it’s somewhat of a running joke among comic book fans that every major change is subject to a “retcon” eventually. That’s not always the case, but it happens so frequently that most comic fans aren’t shocked by it anymore.

As a result, the heroes never really learn from the conflicts. They never attempt to change anything about the system they live in. Bruce Wayne spends much of his vast fictional wealth fighting crime as Batman. However, he never uses any of that wealth to reform the government, create major social programs, or fund projects that actually reduce crime. The same can be said for someone like Iron Man.

With Superman, the potential for change is even greater. Superman isn’t just a paragon of virtue. He has access to advanced alien technology, which he keeps at his Fortress of Solitude. That alien technology could probably solve every major global issue by the end of the week. Technology that advanced could cure cancer, eliminate pollution, and provide clean, safe energy for everyone.

However, Superman never shares this technology with anyone. He never gives a reason for it. In the first “Superman” movie, his father, Jor-El, claims sharing such technology goes against Krypton’s highest laws. He never fully justifies those laws. Keep in mind, though, there are many major laws that have since become obsolete. That makes Superman’s inaction all the more egregious.

By not at least trying to use that advanced alien technology to improve the world, heroes like Superman, Iron Man, and the Fantastic Four effectively doom the planet to the same ills it has always had. At the moment, many of those ills are impossible to fix. With alien technology, they’re not just fixable. They’re basically an afterthought.

Beyond the technology, Superman and other heroes like him never attempt to get involved in the process of actually managing human affairs. They never try to improve the laws, governments, and regulations that effect peoples’ lives far more than an occasional alien invasion. They leave all those ills and flaws untouched.

In a sense, the inaction of many major superheros constitutes a crime in and of itself. If Superman ran for President of any country, he’d win in a landslide. If the Avengers campaigned to take over the United Nations, most average people who aren’t overpaid government bureaucrats would be for it. The fact they don’t do these things means they’re dooming the world to a brutal cycle of conflict that it need not suffer.

Even when they do, which happens from time-to-time, they end up getting corrupted. They become cruel, heartless tyrants. It happened with the Justice League. It happened to Tony Stark. When heroes try to rule the world, they just become evil asshats. That says a lot more about them than it does the villains they fight.

That brings me back to Dr. Doom, a man who doesn’t give half a cow fart about heroic ideals. In a sense, heroes only ever go halfway towards saving the world. Sure, they’ll stop it from being blown up, but they’ll do nothing to fix the cracks.

Victor Von Doom never does anything half way. Hell, he actually became God at one point. He never stops at simply keeping the world in one piece. He seeks to change it in a huge way. Sure, change is scary, but who’s to say those changes wouldn’t be better?

People resisted major changes like same-sex marriage, the abolition of slavery, and not beating children. Some people still resist those changes, some more than others. However, these changes did lead to improvements in the human condition and a reduction in overall suffering.

Superheroes may be willing to confront that suffering, but Dr. Doom is willing to go ten steps further and actually change the conditions that led to it. Sure, he’ll be ruthless about it, bullying and killing anyone who dares get in his way. However, villainous rulers have, historically, inspired positive change.

Since Dr. Doom has no equal in the real or fictional world, he might very well inspire more positive change than any superhero. In that sense, he has the potential to be a greater hero than anyone. Conversely, the deeds of superheroes will always be empty in the long run, their potential squandered by their unwillingness to do more.

Essentially, superheroes are doomed, if that’s not too fitting a word, to be villains through their sheer inaction. Conversely, villains like Dr. Doom have the potential to do the most good. It’s tragic, but painfully pragmatic in the grand scheme of things.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes

Cyclops And Jean Grey Of The X-men: A Prelude To The Future Of Romance?

Admit it. You knew it was going to happen at some point. I start talking about brain-to-brain communication, sharing thoughts, and techno-telepathy and eventually, I was going to relate it to comic books.

If you’ve been reading this blog in any capacity over the last year or so, you know how much I love comic books and superhero movies. I’ve also made clear how much I love X-men in particular. Hell, I even argued that Storm was a better female superhero than Wonder Woman. Make that argument on a comic book message board and you can expect a lot of angry responses, including certain remarks about your mother.

My point is that if I haven’t made my love of comic books and X-men clear now, then there’s not much more I can do that doesn’t involve tattoos. That’s why it really should surprise no one that I’m about to relate my recent discussions about the future of sex and intimacy to the X-men.

Yes, I know the X-men were created in 1963 and using them as a precursor to the future is like using old reruns of “The Simpsons” to predict the future. Then again, given the Simpsons’ track record, that may be a bad example.

Specifically, I’m going to focus on Cyclops and Jean Grey of the X-men in discussing the future of love and intimacy. They’re not just one of my favorite comic book romances of all time. I’ve also cited them before as an strong example of a relationship of equals. I’ve also cited them as a way to highlight just how mind-numbingly awful love triangles can be. Overall, they’re a pretty useful couple is what I’m saying.

Now in talking about them with respect to the future of love and intimacy, I’m not going to focus on the particulars of their relationship. There are plenty out there who despise this romance, just as there are plenty out there who despise every romance that involves vampires. I get that. There are vocal X-men fans who would rather see Cyclops and Jean Grey involved with someone else. I’m not here to argue with those fans.

Like every superhero romance, Cyclops and Jean Grey has been prone to many complications that go beyond bad love triangles. Look at any romance in comics. Without exception, there’s always some amount of uncertainty, drama, death, rebirth, and reboots. It’s just how comics work.

For the purposes of this post, I’m not just going to focus on what makes the Cyclops/Jean romance work. I’m going to focus on one of the unique components about it, namely the fact that Jean Grey is a powerful telepath. She can read, project, and manipulate thoughts and she doesn’t need future technology or hypnosis to do it. As a mutant, it’s just one of those talents she’s born with. In that sense, it’s definitely more useful than sewing.

Now Jean Grey isn’t the only telepath in the X-men or the Marvel universe, for that matter. She’s not even the most powerful. Professor Charles Xavier, who was played by the insanely-charming Patrick Stewart in the X-men movies, is often cited as the most powerful psychic in the X-men comics. However, Jean Grey is often cited as a close second.

I mention that to make clear that Jean’s talent for telepathy isn’t just good by comic book standards. It’s first team all-pro good. Why does that matter? Well, being such a powerful psychic, it’s hard for her to filter out the thoughts of others. She even remarked in “X-men Apocalypse” that she knows what everyone thinks. Not much surprises her.

This makes her relationship with Cyclops all the more intriguing in the sense that she develops such a strong romantic connection with him, despite being able to read his thoughts and sense his emotions. He, in turn, falls in love with her, knowing full-well she has this kind of power. There isn’t a dirty, deviant thought he can hide from her and he doesn’t mind in the slightest.

Think about that for a moment. Cyclops falls in love with a woman from which he can’t readily hide his thoughts. He can’t even hide his emotions from her. She’s even commented in the comics and in the movies on numerous occasions how she can pick up on his emotions.

Lying to her is impossible. Hiding his feelings from her is impossible. Now on many occasions, Jean Grey tries to make clear that she doesn’t read peoples’ thoughts without permission. The keyword there is she tries. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes she can’t help it. Just ask the recently-outed Iceman.

Regardless of how much Jean Grey respects the privacy of others, it doesn’t prevent her and Cyclops from forging a relationship. It also doesn’t stop that relationship from blossoming into one of the most iconic romances in the history of comics, culminating in X-men #30 where they got married. Even if you’re among those X-men fans who despise their relationship, it’s hard to deny that were pretty damn serious about their love.

Why does this matter? What does it have to do with the future of romance and relationships? Well, think about the dynamics of such a relationship. Cyclops and Jean Grey don’t just share love, intimacy, and legal obligations. They actually share thoughts, as in real, unfiltered thoughts. That’s a dynamic that doesn’t exist in the real world yet, but as brain-to-brain communication technology matures, it will exist soon enough.

If communication is the key to every relationship, then Cyclops and Jean Grey have a master set. With them, there’s no need to put thoughts and feelings into words. There’s no need to make these elaborate gestures to convey how they feel. They don’t even need to argue about it. Their own thoughts convey whatever sentiment they want, be it love, lust, or a craving for corn dogs.

How many relationships in the real world fail because two people can’t properly communicate certain feelings? It happens all the time. It manifests in all kinds of sitcoms, some more than others. Hell, it happens in my own novels, especially in “Skin Deep.”

In addition to those relationships, how many others form on a foundation of lies because two people don’t know what the other is thinking? Someone might think they really love someone. The other might just fake it to get back at an ex-lover or land some big inheritance. It happens and, because these thoughts can be hidden, they can’t know for sure how genuine the romance really is.

In a future where brain-to-brain communication is available and couples can wield it like Cyclops and Jean Grey, the entire dynamic of love and romance changes. There’s no need to carefully navigate social cues in an effort to figure out what someone it thinking, feeling, and wanting. Everything becomes that transparent.

On one hand, this means the self-obsesses douche-bags who see others as walking masturbation toys that breath can’t hide anymore. The pick-up artist, the ladies man, and the Regina Georges of the world are exposed for all to see.

On the other, it also means that people can be certain that they’ve found a lover who genuinely loves them. It means we can be sure that the thoughts our lovers think are honest and true. We’re not blindsided. We’re not mislead. We know because we can make our thoughts known.

From a practical standpoint, it means that society will have to reshape the way people find love, intimacy, and connection. For some, it’ll be downright scary, having to share intimate thoughts with one another. However, we’ve reshaped those concepts before. Remember, there was once a time when marrying for love seemed like a crazy idea.

As is often the case, though, popular culture tends to be ahead of the curve when it comes to social and technological evolution. Star Trek did it with cell phones. Cyclops and Jean Grey may end up doing the same for romance. With that in mind, I’ll leave you with this iconic panel that highlights everything I’ve come to love about the Cyclops/Jean romance.

3 Comments

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights

Takeaways From The “You Fight Like A Girl!” Panel At New York Comic Con

img_1686

Are you tired of hearing me talk about how awesome the New York Comic Con was this year? Well too bad! I’m still going to talk about it because there are issues and experiences worth discussing. Some of those issues apply to my work as a romance/erotica writer, both directly and indirectly. Some of them even manifested in strange, but fitting ways.

There was a lot to see at the New York Comic Con. I was only there for a day so I had to make everything I saw and experienced count. This includes being very selective with the panels I attended. Make no mistake. There were so many panels at this thing that it would take a week and a fuckton of coffee to attend every one of them. That said, I felt I selected the right panels in the end.

One of the first panels I attended turned out to be the most informative, at least as it applied to my romance/erotica endeavors. It was a panel entitled “You Fight Like A Girl!” and was meant to discuss trends in female superheroes and female characters in general. Seeing as how the kind of romance/erotica I write tends to involve multi-layered female characters, often out of necessity, it was a worthwhile discussion to have.

At this panel were some notable female writers, some of which I knew more than others. They included Tami Stronach, Amy Chu, Heidi Maconald, Dr. Katie Monnin, and Gina Gagliano, although one of them could not attend due to illness. A man named Michael Gianfrancesco moderated the panel, but he didn’t do much talking. The women here had plenty to say.

They discussed a great many topics. At first, they just shared some of the challenges they faced as women trying to break into comics, a traditionally male medium. They never gave the impression that they had to punch someone in the dick to get their foot in the door, but they definitely had to put in more effort compared to their male counterparts.

This led to some pretty entertaining stories that drew a few laughs, but one story in particular really stood out to me. It came courtesy of Amy Chu, an accomplished female comic book writer who has a unique talent for making female characters more interesting. She’s basically the kind of woman who I’d have sent wildly inappropriate love letters to if she went to my high school.

She told a brief story about her work on the title, “Poison Ivy.” For those of you who don’t know, Poison Ivy is a major Batman villain who sets herself apart in two major ways. First and foremost, she’s less a criminal and more a radical eco-terroists that even PETA would deem unhinged. Second, and perhaps more importantly for the subject of this discussion, she looks like this.

She looks like the embodiment of a lurid fantasy from a radical male vegan. Naturally, she’s one of those female characters that is frequently subjected to excessive sexualization. How could she not be? She wears only leaves for clothes for crying out loud. The imagination of horny men doesn’t have to be that elaborate.

This presents a challenge for Amy Chu. How does a female writer handle a character whose sex appeal is at a level that’ll likely guide many teenage boys through puberty? How does she make this character more than the sexy, villainous vixen that shows up in every bad porn parody ever made?

It is a challenge, but one that Amy Chu took on and subsequently kicked its ass. She then told a story about how she discussed her plan for this character with DC’s main editor, Dan Dido. The nature of this discussion definitely resonated with me for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who has ever heard someone whine about female superheroes showing too much super-cleavage.

During this discussion, Dan Dido brought up Poison Ivy’s uniform with Ms. Chu. He favored giving her more clothing, making it slightly less easy for men to masturbate to. For a character like Poison Ivy, that’s asking a lot. However, what was really remarkable about this discussion was how Ms. Chu opposed it.

She said outright that she didn’t want to “de-sexualize” Poison Ivy. She wanted to keep that aspect of her character while exploring other parts of it. She said that a female character doesn’t need to be a goddamn nun in order to explore other parts of her personality. This may sound like the most logical concept in the world, but in this insanely politically correct culture of ours, it may as well be on par with quantum mechanics.

Needless to say, my respect for Amy Chu went way up when she told this story. It also revealed something telling/troubling about the male side of the discussion. From the perspective of her editor, Poison Ivy had to put on more clothes in order to become more complex. She had to be less sexual for those complexities to reveal themselves.

As a man, I can understand this to some extent. If a topless woman walked up to me and began telling me all about her charity work in South Sudan, I’d be distracted. Heterosexual men are biologically wired to stare at boobs. It’s a bug in the system, but it’s not a bug that needs to crash the whole system.

This is where I think Amy Chu earned her credibility as a skilled writer. She shows that she willing to embrace every trait of a female character and not just ignore those that may be distractions. She’s willing to work with and/or around those distractions, but she’s not going to ignore them. Sure, she’s making it harder on herself, but the end result is a more balanced female character who also isn’t afraid to show cleavage. As a man and a comic book fan, I can only praise Ms. Chu for such dedication.

There were many fun and entertaining panels at the New York Comic Con this year, but this one was definitely the most revealing. It highlights that popular culture, despite the progress we’ve made since the days of shitty slasher movies, still has issues with what constitutes a strong female character.

Thanks to women like Amy Chu though, we’re making progress. I hope I can be part of that progress with my own work as a romance/erotica writer.

1 Comment

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights