Thursday, September 24, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Avengers 200 & Ms. Marvel's Roguish Treatment, Pt. 1

Ms. Marvel? Could you look
a little more confident, please?
We have a surprise for you.
Great Cover, Not-So-Great Story
It was the Avengers' 200th issue and we were all excited about what kind of world-bending, mouth-dropping, senses-shattering experience these heroes would give us.

It would end up becoming one of the most controversial stories ever written at Marvel. So bad in fact, one year later, in their own annual, the Avengers were shown to be schmucks who had screwed up royally, betraying the trust of one of their very own; their lack of foresight and/or perception got a good woman abused and nearly killed.

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions
The Powers-that-Be at Marvel decided Ms. Marvel needed to leave and "go off into the sunset." Her book wasn't selling well. Many women-centric books from Wonder Woman to Dazzler were having a hard time in the 70's, mostly because boys did not buy them and the characterizations were barely keeping up with the changing role of women in America: no girl wanted "True Romance" and no boy wanted to see women heroes beat men. Part of the problem was compounded with the fact that having a woman superhero running around in thigh-high boots and opera gloves was indeed sexy even "hawt" but outside of that appeal... what exactly was her story?

She's one Carol Danvers, Air Force Officer chosen by the star-spanning Kree to have the powers of Captain Mar-vel; therefore she became Ms. Marvel.

I honestly remember nothing else. She referred to herself as a "Kree Warrior" and was superstrong, invulnerable and could fly - the exact same powers as Thor, Iron Man and Wonder Man [with a device or two]. She was intelligent and feisty, but beyond that...

Well, no one knew much. So you ended up with a character with no real cas de guerre, who spends a lot of time telling other heroes she needs no help. This results in the reader not being too fascinated.

Don't imagine I am being cruel: same thing happened to Nova and Dazzler and a host of other bright and shiny characters with little backstory or compelling motive. All characters go through this "Powers, check, Environment, check, Personality?... leave that box blank" stage in their development. There is a low point in development before a high.

For example, it was Frank Miller who truly brought Daredevil to life after it languished as a bi-monthly. It was Bob Layton and David Michelinie who made Invincible Iron Man a interesting mag with his bout with alcoholism and deeper relationships. Takes time to develop a character, it does.

In fact, the removal of Ms. Marvel for a season and the subsequent storyline made her character come to life with great pathos. I mean it - without this tragedy of irresponsibility from the Avengers, Ms. Marvel or rather, Carol Danvers, may never have been made into a fully fleshed-out dramatis personae.

So what happened to her?

Ms. Marvel - Carol Danvers - got abducted in a split-second of time and was then used by Marcus, the son of Immortus to be his surrogate mother so he could be born in our timeline. This event is often referred to as "The Rape of Ms. Marvel", it has become a rallying cry for women who feel comics glorify abuse to women.

However, I will not call this action her rape. I will not go into all the nuances of what constitutes rape. Rather I will agree Carol Danvers was raped - but after her abduction and her seduction, not from it.

And the culprit was not a man. It was a woman. A woman named Rogue.

Let me repeat that: Ms. Marvel was raped by Rogue of the X-Men.

In her first appearance.

But we love Rogue don't we? Can't call her a "reformed rapist", can we? Let's lay all the fault at the men of the Avengers, shall we? Those nasty men. They love rape and love abusing women and [insert 400 words of verbal abuse here].

*sigh*

If I'm going to be this chauvinist, I'll have to start at the beginning, won't I?

Avengers 200
You can read a synopsis here. The main points are:

Not the Wasp's finest moment, maybe,
but then what's she's supposed to say?
"Carol, do you want a late-term
abortion? Oh, fiddlesticks - too late!"?
1) The Avengers are getting strange calls about all sorts of weird happenings: pirates and dinosaurs and knights and biplanes are all appearing out of nowhere and disrupting life. We find out this is a temporal rift of some kind.

2) Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Ms. Marvel, who had kept her identity completely secret from the team, has shown up pregnant. It is the world's fastest pregnancy as she will give birth in hours, not months. Dr. Blake and the Avengers try to accept and put a bright face on it, but Carol says it is not her child, she has no idea where it came from and does not want anything to do with it.

3) As temporal anomalies increase, causing the Avengers to battle them - we are now at "seriously dangerous stuff level", the miraculously-born mystery child begins to mature rapidly, aging years in hours.

4) He begins building a machine of unknown power. Just as he completes it, Hawkeye decides it has to go and utterly destroys it, causing the now-adult young man scream at Hawkeye, saying "Kill me or I'll kill you!"

Man who'd been betrayed & killed tries to be sensitive
and protective. Woman checks herself in mirror
before calling her offspring a "thing."
5) The showdown gets stopped however by Iron Man and Thor who then demand the whole story. The miracle baby is Marcus, son of Immortus one of their ancient enemies - hence the secrecy. He is from Limbo, a timeless place, where his dad had fallen in love with and married an Earth woman who later vanished back into her time. Thus, Marcus was born but unable to leave. Dad also disappeared one day, so he thought if he could be born outside of Limbo, he could escape. So, like his father before him, he picked Ms. Marvel, wooed her for weeks with poetry and music from composers of all centuries, including Shakespeare and then "with a subtle boost from my father's machines - we became one." He had sex with her after weeks of effort and the use of a machine.

6) He put her back into the timestream, at the very moment she left, memories wiped. She then gave birth to his essence - but his very presence in our timestream upset all the various eras and they began dumping into New York City - thus the dinosaurs, biplanes, etc.

7) Story explained and all reasoned out, Carol announces she has powerful feelings for Marcus, who has to leave immediately or his continued presence will destroy our timestream - thanks to Hawkeye's overzealous intervention and blasting to bits the device he'd constructed.

8) Ms. Marvel decides to save Marcus from his loneliness by going with him, even as Iron Man asks if she really wants to do this. She says it will help her find her heart or something. As she fades away, Hawkeye confesses he feels bad about busting up the machine and Iron Man just hopes it will all work out.

9) So Avengers 200 ends up with the Avengers defeating the greatest foe in the world: reason and accountability.

That's sarcasm, if you didn't catch it.

But here's the problem: I still don't think they are the most culpable party.

"Honey -we need to talk about
[BOOM] our.. [KA-BLAM] our
commu -[THOOM] communication!"
They had no other choice but let her go.

They were silenced by service to Ms. Marvel's wishes. They were not in command, but reaction mode.

They believed Marcus because he was only a day old and had just been a little baby.

They believed Ms. Marvel was in no real danger because she was tough, smart, an Air Force officer and a Kree warrior, blast it.

In other words, they trusted her personal competence.

On top of that, it was a crazy environment. Think of running into raptors in a nightclub and pirates in the bathroom while you are calling 911 for help.

To possibly imagine, after a testosterone-filled street-destroying, block crunching brownstone battle that our heroes are going to be able to say "Hey, Carol, sweetie, I think you need to slow down a bit..." is a bit of stretch. The Avengers barely had time to breathe much less think about what was best for Miss-I-don't-know-my-own-feelings-Danvers.

And why?

Because Carol Danvers does her own thinking, thank you. She marches to her own drum and she does it with thigh-high boots and opera gloves. As I said, one sexy lady.

Nothing bad about that. Honestly - very attractive stuff.

But cautious? Wary? Given to self-introspection?

Oh Hail No.

So as awful as what happens to Carol is - and mark me, kiddos, it is bad - Carol Danvers was not in the "I like to have a Group consensus of how I should act" camp. What happened to her was wrong, but it was...

... crud, it was next-to-inevitable. Men know how to protect women who say help.

How do you watch out for a woman who says "I don't need your help." How do we gauge when to step in?

You see, men spend years learning which fights to pick and which ones we cannot win with other men. We fight. We compete. We fight in arenas to the cheer of the crowd. We don't do dress up to show how pretty we are - well, unless we are Bruce Jenner, of course.

But we live martially. Any woman who willingly joins this type of life is crazy. She can have no testosterone rush to make it better and, while I respect every woman who can fight, [thinking of Ronda Rousey], we men are the Natural Brutes who enjoy curb-stomping your face in while peeing on the gasoline we have laid on your dying body to slow down the burn so it lasts longer.

Cruel and vicious? Oh, yes. Hey, let me tell you: men are scared of men.

Carol, you ever hear the story of Oedipus?
We are not scared of women. Not physically, anyway.

We don't go "Hey, honey, will you walk me to my car? I just don't feel safe with all those women out there."

So when a woman declares herself a warrior and is superstrong and invulnerable - just like some of my characters are - they are prepped to kick male tail. They are prepped to kick female tail.

They are not prepped for male seduction.

A handsome man with kind words telling you how marvelous you are, that he needs you? You are his very life? [In Marcus's case, literally.]

Crud. That is catnip for any woman I know. In my experience, men want respect and women want adoration.

As for the Avenger's mindset?

The Avengers could not imagine she could be seduced. Not Ms. Marvel!

Finally, Carol Danvers shows some tenderness and love.
Iron Man is instantly confused and suspicious.
So when she said "I'll go with him" they utterly had no choice but to say as Iron Man did "Are you sure about this?"

Like every man with a daughter who wants to go out with the punk boy who's trying to get into her pants. Like every mother who is arguing with her baby girl who wants to travel Europe unsupervised.

How could they have stopped her?

Introspection, reflection, concern for Ms.Marvel's well-being
even while powerless to affect it. Insensitive louts!
The reason I ask this question is going to be clear later. You see, Chris Claremont rakes the Avengers over for their error in judgment and uses Carol Danvers to blast them. All-in-all I think something great came out of an ugly event. I credit Chris Claremont for making Carol Danvers a far more exciting character by bringing her back...

...after taking her powers, her memories and nearly her life.

Blame the Writers?
So if we "blame" the writers for abusing women in comics, keep in mind that as long as the abusers get their just deserts and the women are made stronger by what they have endured, you must also give credit to them for caring enough to work with the character for good and ill. That's drama, folks.

In the end, the "Fairy Tale" ending of Avengers 200 was the end of a character that was hard for us to empathize with.

Let's talk about my feelings,
shall we?
Avengers Annual 10 gave us the Carol Danvers any man or woman would be proud to know: a survivor.

She had Superman's origin - or Wonder Woman's, if you prefer - mighty alien from another culture trying to help us in ours - while looking stylish, of course.

Then she became Batman, de-powered and learning from ground zero. She became Binary, then Ms. Marvel again. Ultimately she even got a uniform that says "I am not here to party. I'm here to get the job done."

I wouldn't mess with that woman for all the tea in China.

That's my Ms. Marvel.

Amen.

p.s. In reading Carol Strickland's "The Rape of Ms. Marvel" she does what all whistle blowers do: she calls foul on the mis-characterization of women in a male-dominated arena.

But I doubt she is fair and just to the male characters who did show care, concern, worry for a woman who could pick up tanks, and who could have killed Marcus her abducter with one punch. Her concern is for the de-valuing of Ms. Marvel and though I disagree with her in specifics, in actual intent of the male characters, she got an advocate in Chris Claremont's writing of Avengers Annual 10. Her voice has been heard.

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