News & Views – The Amethyst Controversy, and The End of Amazing Spider-Man

 

We’re walking on eggshells today, as well as getting things to up to speed on another thing. It’s time to talk about a surprisingly hot topic concerning DC’s recent release of Sword of Sorcery featuring Amethyst, as well as the latest in Marvel’s “Marvel NOW” initiative.

So regular readers may recall a few days prior I gave my first impressions on one of the books in the Third Wave of DC’s New 52, SWORD OF SORCERY. It brought back an old eighties comic series involving Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld. Regular readers may recall I gave that series a glowing markup, and that they should be reading it. They may also remember I briefly alluded to a subplot in that zero issue where one of the protagonist’s schoolmates was nearly gang raped in order to set our hero up as a competent fighter.

It’s been long month.

I make a policy of getting my personal impressions of a book out before I read other people’s opinions on the matter. Hence my trepidation upon finding out not only did many other fellow comic journalists talk about the attempted rape subplot, they had much more to say about it than “it happened”. Some possessed strong judgments concerning it. Very strong judgments.

So to make sure we’re on the same page, let’s try listing what questions this subplot raises. Should rape (either successful or attempted/averted) be included in comics at all? If it has a place in comics, when and how should it be used? Should Amethyst be a property that includes rape? And if so, how could this series have handled the subject better?

Now I’m certainly no authority on the subject of sexual assault (being both a man and a lay-man), but I do know entertainment media and comics in general. As such, I have my opinions that one is very free to disagree with and reprimand me for. From where I stand, rape is an aspect of real life, so one ought to be free to write about it in a comic. If we didn’t get fiction exploring it, the average person may never get an idea of what one goes through when one is the victim of sexual assault (I find fiction is very good at getting points across while making one invested in the point).

That being said, there are definite ways the subject can be misused. The biggest example that comes to mind is Identity Crisis; a murder mystery that just happened to include one character being raped, and having that rape be retroactively forced upon previously published stories where it hadn’t been a factor. The way it was misused there was that it the plot point could easily have been removed or altered to a non-rape crime against the character, at the plot resolution would have been the same. The rape of Sue Dibny had nothing to due with the murder plot, and served only as a distraction.

I think we can all agree that if rape is to be anything in a story, it shouldn’t be a red herring.

Now in Sword of Sorcery #0, the attempted rape wasn’t just shoehorned it without context. It was set up early in the issue, and it served a narrative function. Amy Winston got to have a big damn heroine moment, got to justify he fighting skills, and was provided that last push as to why she and her mother couldn’t stay in town. There was a point. And sexual assault on a high school student is a thing that happens, so it’s not entirely contrived (though why the student in question never suspected foul play despite the obvious signs is a plot hole in itself).

The problem comes in that it didn’t have to be an attempted rape. It could have been some students beating up on another. It could have been the popular girls trying to humiliate the plain girl, and in beating them up Amy got in real, unambiguous trouble (the cops probably wouldn’t take an attempted rape of a girl by a bunch of guys as a laughing matter, regardless of threats of litigation). It could have been a weakling male student being beat up or bullied. The scene could have replaced the attempted rape with most anything else, and it would have ended the same. So why keep it in?

To be edgy most likely. DC has an unfortunate habit of including sexual assault plots in their books whenever they want to come off as “mature” or “adult”. No, a mature depiction of rape would have it happen, and then spend the entire story exploring the trauma the victim and his/her family/friends dealing with the event. It would have made the rape/molestation/incest plot the central aspect of the narrative. Or if not the fundamental story driver, than a major, serious concurrent plot. Not just a random piece of baggage or a means of getting another (usually male) character to act.

So while the attempted rape in Sword of Sorcery wasn’t out of the question, it wasn’t necessary. Especially given that as it turns out, DC Nation has a new TV show to add to its cartoon block, starring Amethyst in the more classic premise.

A show that further proves DC fails inter-media integration forever. Just compare Animal Man as depicted in the DC Nation shorts (voiced by Weird Al Yankovic) and his depiction in the comic series. Some poor kid sees how awesome these shows are, goes to a comic store having heard they have series, and getting a face full of attempted rape and monsters made of rotting meat.

I love you DC, I do. But you never make it easy to be a fan.

Although saying all that, believe it or not, this is not the first time a series featuring Amethyst had an attempted rape scene. I’m not joking, the original series had Amethyst herself nearly raped by ogres within the first few pages. The original creators of that series even thought in hindsight it was a bad idea.

So after all that, have I altered by stance on whether Sword of Sorcery is worth reading? Not particularly, no. Pretty much all of the people talking about the controversy maintain that, aside from the attempted rape subplot, the series still has a lot of promise. It’s not a bad new series, it’s a good one that made an ill-advised misstep in the first issue and needs to work up from there.

I think the one disappointing thing about it is the subplot probably won’t be followed up on. This may seem odd to say, but if time later is spent showing how Beryl (the girl who almost got gang raped) dealt with the experience and learned to trust Amy as a friend, and how to not be such an easily preyed upon person. But given how the end of issue zero set things up, it’s obvious the format of the series will have Amethyst stuck in Gemworld for the duration of the series. On the one hand, this is good because it means the series has tension. One of the biggest things working against the second Digimon series was that the protagonists could freely travel between their world and the fantastic world of the Digimon. They were rarely ever on the ropes and could chip away at their enemies as much as they wanted. Such a thing is averted here, for all intents and purposes, thanks to that John Constantine cameo removing their only way back to Earth.

But it also means the school subplots, including the Beryl assault subplot, are basically finished. This won’t come up again until maybe much later, if the series feels like getting back to it. So I hoped you got what you wanted from Beryl, because she’s gone. The rape is even less necessary because the characters probably never pop up again.

And to make matters worse (though not by much), we could easily have had a more inter-media friendly, rape deficient Amethyst comic series. And people wonder why I love alternate history fiction. And drink.

In order to bounce back from that lengthy and depressing tirade on a subject I have no business discussing, here’s a bit of news about Spiderman: come year’s end, Amazing Spider-Man will also end.

Something I’ve mostly neglected to mention in all my time writing for this blog is the upcoming Marvel NOW initiative. Marvel, having seen how successful DC got by relaunching it’s line of books, decided to get a piece of that with a relaunch of their own. Thankfully they’ve stopped short of rebooting their entire universe or disrupting the entire line of books, and seem intent on relaunching a select few titles. These include the likes Wolverine, Captain America, FF, and the Incredible Hulk.

Just from a personal standpoint, this is all the DC relaunch needed to be; an attempt to draw new readers by starting fresh some long running series and advertising the books. I mean actually advertising them outside the normal sphere of comics, where potential new readers could learn about them and be interested.

Anyway, recently it became obvious that issue 700 of Amazing Spider-Man would be the final installment of that series. Though I’ve yet to find information about what the inevitable succeeding series would be called, I do know that the writers of the old series never intended the upcoming issues to be a climactic finale. On the one hand, it means Marvel sprung this on the creative team when they already had plans of their own. On the other hand, it is a good move from a marketing perspective in that, assuming the main adventures of everyone’s favorite wall-crawler continue roughly unabated in the new series, a finale of epic proportions would only provide an absolute place where existing readers could drop the book. I know I sure considered dropping Amazing Spider-Man at issue 700, so now it’s a matter of course.

Will I continue on with the new series? Maybe, but probably not. I’ve been on this one for a while, which gets annoying given how it double ships every month. This one run fills two whole zip-lock bags in my comics bin, a feat unrivaled by any other single series since I started collecting comics roughly two years ago. I love Spiderman, but it’s a long commitment I’ve made and any chance I can drop titles from my pull list is a chance I jump on. I’ll keep my ear to the ground as to the new series, and see if it’s worth my time before I commit.

I’m sad that yet another series with hundreds of issues under it will get canceled. After Action Comics and Detective Comics, this seems like a blow to an already sore nostalgic area.

What are your thoughts on either subject? Do I have any right to talk about rape? Do you find the rush of Amethyst buzz as bewildering as I do? Is this Marvel NOW business a good idea? Leave your comments below.

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