The Superhero Issue That Taught Me Compassion

So, it started off with a tweet I saw from Tess Fowler, an amazing artist whose work I’ve enjoyed, asking a simple question about the comics medium:

And I replied with the following, speaking purely from the heart:

Marvel_Two-In-One_Vol_1_86

Ben and Flint enjoying a brew instead of throwing fists.

This issue in particular has always stayed with me, even if I forgot some of the details when I first got it. Unlike a lot of my friends who are fellow comic lovers, I never had much of a mind for detail in who drew and wrote what and when, so some research was in order.

Written by Tom Defalco and drawn by Ron Wilson, Issue # 86 of Marvel Two In One was a comic I had picked up as part of a four issue reprint Marvel had done in the 90s, even though the original had first been printed in April of 1982, during the reign of Jim Shooter as Editor in Chief. Back in the 90s, and this is only my hypothesis for I’ve not found any proof about it, Marvel was reprinting a lot of classic Marvel titles, from the origin stories that brought us Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four and others, to wholesale series such as Classic X-Men and Classic Spider-Man, possibly because Marvel was getting close to going bankrupt.

At any rate, I picked up the The Thing mini-series because I liked Ben Grimm and how un-superheroic he looked. Maybe it was something I was picking up on, being a fat kid in high school who didn’t look like any of the six pack, beefed up, superheroes I admired but unable to articulate why.  I was more drawn to the characters who were, for lack of a better word, ugly.

Like Ben Grimm, rendered into a rock like golem by cosmic rays, or Bruce Banner, transformed into the Hulk from absorbing gamma radiation.

I could understand Ben Grimm’s frustration at being mocked for his appearance, as I’d been mocked, bullied, and picked on for being fat. He was someone I wanted to see happy and loved and cherished, because it meant I could be too.

And it was Ben Grimm who taught me kindness and compassion, although it took me a few more years after high school, and a couple courses in Feminism, to better and more thoroughly apply such a profound lesson.

The basic plot is that Ben Grimm is angry and frustrated, and, upon hearing of The Sandman being at large once more,  finds him at a bar, and challenges him to a fight!

And Sand Man surrenders.

This shocks Ben, so much that he buys a round of drinks and simply… listens to Sandman, who tells him his name is Flint Marko, talk about his life and the choices he made and the mistakes befallen him that lead him up to that moment.

Just having a superhero comic where the team up is of two men talking about their problems instead of fighting or joking or brushing it aside really opened up my eyes not just to how much more a superhero comic could be, but in how men could do things differently. It was, in a way, one of the first instances of positive masculinity that didn’t deal in the language of violence.

That’s always stuck with me over the years, that sometimes if we just listen to people who might appear to be bad, we find decent human beings who make mistakes and, finding themselves in a deep hole, are unable to climb out without a helping hand.

And I’m not talking about truly ugly-hearted people whose minds are coloured with bigotry, ignorance, and racism, as the Friends of Humanity and the Red Skull’s are, but people who simply struggle to survive.

The issue ends with Ben giving Flint twenty bucks and wishing him well, hoping that he stays on the straight and narrow, and thus began the start of Flint’s heroic journey, all because someone decided to listen.

Superhero comics have taught me a lot over the years, such as with great power comes great responsibility, how bigotry and racism should have no place in our society, as well as how far a little kindness and compassion can go. I like to think it’s part of what’s shaped me into (I hope) a good person.

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Doing More Than The Bare Minimum

So, it’s finally come to pass that DC Comics have fired Eddie Berganza, the serial sexual harasser that has worked at DC Comics for over a decade.

No, he hasn’t been moved from one position to another, nor was he kept out of the public light, but he has been fired.

F-I-R-E-D.

And frankly, it’s about time.

Bridget Alverson of Smash Pages recently released an article talking about the history of Berganza and what he had done, as well as the concerns of women who worked under him and alongside him, and the sheer lack of any concrete effort by DC Comics to do anything more than protect themselves from a future, potential lawsuit.

It’s a good read, and one I recommend as it helps to collect the stories of various women who worked at DC Comics and their accounts.

The termination of Berganza’s employment at DC Comics, after allegations from three women, comes at an important time as the fallout from allegations brought against Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey continue to grow. As comics continue to work hard to improve sales and public relations, keeping on a known sexual harasser who kissed women against their will and promised them writing gigs if they only returned sexual favours is not a good look.

In our capitalist society, we’re all trying to buy according to our conscious, a hard thing to do considering the treatment of people who make our products, such as the laptop I’m writing this on.

So it was ultimately in DC’s best interest to fire Berganza, the guy who once pleaded with women to stay on the failing Supergirl comic series.

“Women. Who needs them? Well, actually, I do.”

Those words carry a considerable undertaste of bile and poison now, not that they weren’t any good back then.

See, it wasn’t just Eddie Berganza who made working at DC Comics a bad place to be for women who wanted to follow their passions as a writer or artist, but the higher ups in charge, the ones who listened to the women give their concerns, their accounts, and promptly did nothing.

I’ve heard some names brandied about as to who helped to cover them up, and if DC’s statement of a desire to make a harassment free environment is to be taken seriously, then those who knew and did nothing and continue to work at DC Comics should tender their resignation immediately.

Because the kind of environment DC Comics made, where sexual harassers are protected and shielded is not unique to them, and it’s one in which women face at many other different companies.

Harvey Weinstein has been the biggest name recently to come out about the kind of toxic environment he indulged in and which the companies he founded and then worked for, Miramax and The Weinstein Company,  indulged him. Like Eddie Berganza, nothing concrete was ever done about him and his harassment of actresses for sexual favours was the worst kept secret in Hollywood.

Actresses such as Lupita Nyong’o, Brit Marlon and others have come forward to tell their stories of how he attempted to exploit them, usully with threats to their career.

People.com has since collected a list of people with allegations against Harvey, and it’s sad and frustrating to read about how many women this man lorded his power over.

Another example of a man in a position of power and exerting it over women in exchange for sexual favours came across my twitter feed today from associate editor at Gamespot, Kellie Plagge, as part of the #metoo hashtag making its rounds on social media.

Sadly, there are common themes through these stories, and plenty of others, such as the disbelief that so and so would ever do such a thing, gaslighting women, threatening their careers, and blaming them for the actions of the men by either dressing or looking provacatively.

And quite frankly, it has to stop.

The people that permit an environment which allows a sexual harasser, a predator, to flourish and thrive also need to be held accountable for their actions. It takes more than the firing of the predator himself, but those who either brushed off the concerns of the women who were preyed upon, or took steps to protect the company on a whole from lawsuits and public relation damage.

Yes, it is good that Eddie Berganza was fired, and with any due luck the man will never be hired by another comics company and put in a position of authority over women, but his actions were tolerated by those at the top for years.

Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. It’s a quote from Elie Wieseal in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo Norway, in 1986, and it’s as true now as it was then.

Because as much as DC Comics might be doing the right thing in some regards, they did absolutely nothing, and those who turned a blind eye should be fired. It’s especially tiresome and frustrating as Brett Ratner has been signed on to be a producer for the next Wonder Woman movie.

Brett Ratner, much like Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, and others, abused his position of power over women and even outed Ellen Page on the set of the third X-Men movie, as she discussed in a powerful post on her Facebook page.

For DC Comics and Warner Bros to have this man on board still while firing Eddie Berganza reeks of hypocrisy and a real lack of care for the women on that set. It’s my hope that Gal Godot’s threat of not coming back for the second Wonder Woman movie unless Brett Ratner is removed will get the higher ups at Warner Bros to remove him, instead of rewarding him.

And that those who believed it would be a great idea to have a man who gladly included the pedophile rapist Roman Polanski in his movie, followed by a rape joke, Rush Hour 3, are subsequently terminated as well.

Image Comics & Provoking Thought

You know, more often than not, and mainly because I’ve been a superhero fan of the Big Two for so long, I’m used to either Marvel or DC Comics making colossal mistakes with regards to representing people from marginalized groups.

So imagine my surprise when Image Comics came into my field of notice with their series, The Divided States of Hysteria, written by Howard Chaykin.

Why? Well, not only does the first issue feature a transgender woman being beaten to death, but the cover of the 4th issue was to feature a Pakistani man being lynched.

Thankfully, the cover has been pulled and replaced with something else, of a bald eagle flying alongside remote piloted US Military drones, but the fact remains that someone saw the cover and signed off on it, thinking it to be a good idea.

They also thought it to be a good idea to depict a transgender woman being brutally beaten and murdered.

And Image’s defense, as produced by President Eric Stephenson, is this:

“Rooted in the worst aspects of reality, this is indignant, rebellious fiction, designed to make readers both angry and uncomfortable,” Image Comics President Eric Stephenson said in a statement when the first issue returned to press. “But more than that, it’s intended to provoke thought about how and why things have reached a state where the tools for progress — discourse, understanding, cooperation — are shunned in favor of treating anyone with an opposing viewpoint as an enemy combatant.”

This is, without a doubt, one of the most disingenuous things I’ve ever read from a comic book publisher since serial sexual harasser Eddie Berganza begged female fans of Supergirl to stay on board for the series back in 2007.

Because here’s the thing, Eric, we are already having discussions on racism, islamaphobia, and violence against transgender people. Transgender people themselves are talking about this because, surprise surprise, it affects them a whole hell of a lot more than cisgender people like you and me.

We don’t need nor want yet another cisgender white guy to tell us these things. A quick look on google can tell us these things, and more importantly, we can find sources from and by marginalized communities.

In fact, here are some examples:

Transgender Cartoonist Sopie Labelle faced a series of online threats, was doxxed, and had to cancel a book appearance.

Hate Crimes against Muslims double in Canada.

Trump rolls back rights on LGBTQ workers.

A mosque is sent pieces of the Quoran wrapped in bacon.

These are just a few of the examples of me spending a couple minutes on Google, so really, having glorified violence against transgender and Middle Eastern people in a comic by a writer who whines about identity politics does absolutely nothing to further the discussion. The defense of provoking a discussion is nothing more than that; a flimsy defense.

Another terrible defense came up yesterday from writer Kaare Andrews, in this bizarre twitter thread:

Reciting old moral codes from the Comic Book code, put in place after Fredrick Wertham’s book “Seduction of the Innocent” came out in 1954, appears to be Karre’s response to criticism over the violence depicted against transgender and Middle Eastern people. After all, as one person said to me in defense of Karre:

So, we have two problems here:

  1. Criticism is not censorship. This has long been a problem hard for dudebro gamers angry over women and minorities talking about representation in video games to udnerstand, and it’s certainly a problem for comic book fans, seeing as how comic books have long catered to straight white dudes.
  2.  Marginalized people do not have nowhere near the power to censor anyone, nor were they looking to censor Image Comics and Howard Chaykin.

Instead, what was being sought was to tell Image Comics just what in the hell was wrong in depicting these images of violence against marginalized communities. Islamaphobia is on the rise, and violence against transgender people in fiction has been around so long it’s a terrible, crude joke. It’s pretty much well known as transgender pain porn, where in the sole existence of transgender people is to show us how much misery is in their lives.

And to give straight, white, cisgender dudes Oscar Awards.

In fact, here are two good threads on Twitter about Image Comics’ grossly ignorant decision to showcase the violence against marginalized communities that I highly recommend you read:

And Alexis Serios had this thread of comments to talk about where the line is with regards to bigotry and transphobia in comics:

So what to do about it?

Well, as others have done, we point out why what Image did was wrong, the responsibility they have as a majour publisher to do right by marginalized communities, and to not hide behind such flimsy defenses.

We, as in we straight, white, cisgender people, listen to said marginalized communities when they talk about their very real lived experiences. We don’t wait for some white dude to say “Hey, this is bad, hmmkay?” before agreeing and doing something.

And yes, I recognize the irony considering how I am, myself, a straight white, cisgender man.

And if comic companies like Image, Marvel, and DC don’t want to listen, then we do what I’ve seen also used as a defense for them to make our voices heard, and vote with out dollar.

As such, and to end this article on a more uplifting note, here are some comics you should support!

Alexis Sergio.

She’s the writer of Wish, a webcomic about a transgender woman who is brought back to life and is granted super powers. Alexis also contributed one of many amazing threads about diversity in our media, comics creation, and listening to people who aren’t straight, white cisgender dudes.

Kiva Bay

She’s a writer of Bowled Over, a cute story of girls of various, diverse backgrounds falling in love. She’s also a pretty darn good artist who discusses fat activism.

Crash and Burn

A Canadian comic about a diverse group of people who crash land on an abandoned amusement park world alongside alien royalty, I found their booth at the Calgary Expo and the artwork and story instantly grabbed my attention. I also appreciated that their booth had buttons featuring bisexual, asexual, and transgender flags.

Go Get A Roomie!

Written and drawn by Chloe C, this is the story of a free loving hippie and her sleep obsessed friend who grow and develop and learn while interacting with a wealth of other people.

Strangely Katie

An illustrated and comic book artist, Katie drew one of my favourite comics ever, Princess Princess Ever After, a story that deals with fat shaming, gendered roles, and fighting ogres and dragons.

BOUNCE!

A story of a bouncer dealing withoverly entitled white people, racism, and just trying to get through life. Humourous and funny, it is also touching and poignant at times.

Brain Food – Episode 64

Oh wow, it’s been a while since I’ve uploaded an episode of Brain Food, eh? Hope you still like them because they’re back!

In this episode, I talk about Gamer Girl & Vixen as well as Paradox Girl, two kickstarters I backed a while ago.

I also got some cool swag from the reward tiers I’d selected!

Music was provided by Audio Library – No Copyright Music, and the song used was Morning Sun, by Nicolai Heidlas Music.

Music by HookSounds

They’re a really cool no copyright music channel I’d recently found on youtube, so please check them out.

Hey everyone and welcome to the 50th episode of Brain Food, and in today’s episode, I review the cute and lovely graphic novel about lesbians, latex, and larceny, Gamer Girl & Vixen!

If you missed out on the kickstarter, keep an eye out as they’re doing another to finish issues 3 and 4, as well as put together a TPB.

You can also go to their website and buy either digital or print copies:

Gamer Girl & Vixen

Brain Food – Episode 50