Monday, October 13, 2008

My Favorite Characters Make Crappy Boyfriends

Is it sad to claim to be a feminist, and yet continually find myself most interested in comic book characters who treat women poorly?

I know I bash Hal a lot, but he's actually what got me started thinking about this today. Now, he's not really terrible to women. I think he has trouble understanding them and respecting their feelings -- but then Hal has that problem with everybody. I was not terribly impressed with how quickly he shacked up with Arisia, not because she was actually as young as she was (and I don't care how long it takes her planet to revolve around the sun -- she was very obviously the physical, mental, and emotional equivalent of a 14-year-old girl until she "grew up", whether Geoff Johns like it or not), but because he so quickly changed his mind. "No no, we can't" became, in like two seconds "Oh, you grew up. Cool, let's do it!"

But most of what bothers me about Hal is the way he carried on with Carol, especially how it's been portrayed most recently in the Secret Origin. On the surface, it's cute, and I even find myself thinking "Oh Hal, you adorable rascal!". And of course we know that Carol probably wants him, too (though I find myself wanting to argue that she was never really that into him). But he's just so damn arrogant about it that I know that, if a man were to behave that way around me in real life, I'd want to punch him in the face! And I don't care what kind of pussyfoot games you think you're playing -- when a woman tells you no, you back off. Particularly when that woman is your boss. I'm the manager of the groom shop where I work. And I suppose it might be different if you own your own company like Carol does/did, but where I work, sexual harrassment and workplace dating rules are a BIG DEAL. It's too easy for other employees to think you're playing favorites. It's too easy for messy breakups to happen -- and whether you like it or not, it's going to affect the way you treat each other. It's just a bad idea all around. Carol was trying to draw a line between her and Hal for a reason, and it's terribly disrespectful of him to completely ignore her wishes. Not to mention the fact that it makes things very hard for Carol, who is trying to keep a dying company afloat and doesn't need that extra stress at the workplace.

My favorite Marvel character is Hank Pym, and there's probably not a man in all of comicdom who has gotten more bad press for his treatment of women. He has this long, distinguished history, marred by mental illness, and no matter how many times writers try to portray him as recovering in a healthy way, along comes another writer who only remembers him as "Hank Pym, Professional Wife-Beating Psycho" who writes him that way again. Sound familiar? Because it's pretty similar to what happens to Guy all the time over at DC. Luckily for Guy, however, most of the time when people draw him with his old haircut and write him being super brain-damaged jerk, it's usually only for a short appearance or bit part in another book. For poor Hank, it's often the writer of whatever big book he happens to be appearing in, and they make a huge plot-point out of it! And it seems that every time the issue is addressed, the event itself gets blown more and more out of proportion. I could write a novel about why I love Hank and why I think the abuser label has been unfairly slapped on him, but I'll spare you. (For now.)

I'm also a fan of Quicksilver. Or at least I was, before his most recent foray into insanity. I actually think the failure of his and Crystal's marriage is as much her fault as it is his (man, did I cheer when Medusa called Crystal on her childishness in the latest issue of Inhumans!), and I think he loves his wife and daughter very much, but I can't deny that he has to be a hard man to live with. It's funny, though -- I imagine Pietro to be rather possessive and controlling, which are two very bad traits for a husband to have, but he hasn't actually been portrayed that way in regards to Crystal and Luna. She cheated on him because he was restless and preoccupied. Well, duh lady, he's a speedster. All your hot sexings aren't enough to keep him occupied 24-7 (even if Crystal's Love Shack is apparently open all those hours). Still, he's not exactly the sort of man that makes for good relationship material.

And of course I can scarcely go a post without talking about Guy. But in the interest of fairness, I have to bash him a little bit, too.

I sympathize with Bea a lot. Even though I think part of her problem is the fact that she's hot for Guy and Tora both, I know what it's like to be the friend of someone who insists on staying with a real loser boyfriend. And let's face it -- Guy treated Tora horribly. He used to be the sort of man that you do not want your best friend, sister, or anyone else hooking up with. He never hit her (nor do I think he ever would), but he certainly said some terrible things. Thigh cheese? Aside from being sort of a disgusting mental image, it's just mean to outright tell your girlfriend that you think she's got fat thighs. Particularly when it's not true and she's sort of a self-conscious woman to begin with! I can imagine Tora later, looking at herself in the mirror, wavering back and forth between "Oh... maybe I do have jiggly thighs!" to "No, wait, I don't!" while Bea sits there watching and trying to convince her that she looks great.

And then of course there's the time when Tora was feeling less than confident about her powers and what she brought to the team and was thinking of leaving. First Guy teases her about it (not too badly, but it was bad timing) and then after she hesitates in battle, he yells at her and tells her that yeah, she is useless. Ow. Just ow. It was a cruel thing to say any time, but it seemed that Guy had a knack back then for kicking her when she was down. He accidentally knocked her down the stairs. At least it was an accident, but still... you have to be a pretty self-centered jerk to knock your girlfriend down the stairs and not even notice!

I think probably the worst though was in his solo book when he was parading around town with a floozy on each arm and she came uptown to see what he was up to. Now, he's really just trying to draw out Goldface (that's what Tora thinks, anyway, and I agree even though Guy doesn't actually say yes or no), but when she asks him about it, he tells her that she's just jealous because he's hanging around with women who are better-looking than her. That's not just kicking her when she's down. That's knocking her down, kicking her, and jumping up and down on her.

Guy still had brain damage back then, of course. I can't imagine Guy saying those things to anybody he even remotely likes now, let alone the woman he professes to love. But it doesn't change the fact that it happened, and that it's pretty blatant emotional abuse. I don't think I've ever actually talked to anyone who opposes Guy/Tora as a pairing for this reason, though. It seems that most people either like the pairing, or are just indifferent to it because they don't really care about Guy and Tora as characters, anyway. Compare and contrast that with the Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne situation. Guy was brain damaged and had a repeated pattern of emotional abuse with his girlfriend. Hank was in the middle of a nervous breakdown, and hit his wife once, with no pattern of, or even any hints of, abusive behavior of any kind before or after the incident in question. Guy gets off without much comment, and many folks (me included) desperately want to see them get back together. Hank gets bitterly lambasted for the entire rest of his existence as a character, and half the internet froths at the mouth when they get back together every so often.

On the one hand, I think it's good that we react with anger when a man hits a woman. As much as I despise knee-jerk reactions (particularly when they demonize one person or group of people immediately), at least it's a sign that most people realize that domestic abuse should not be tolerated by us as a society. But on the other, I think it also shows just how little we recognize or care about forms of abuse that don't leave physical scars. I'm willing to bet that most of us already know a man or woman who sticks around with a significant other who says terrible things to them and makes them feel really bad about themselves. Or who controls them in an unfair way (bursting into tears over little things to get their way, threatening to leave them over really trivial things, etc.). If you happen to be a close friend of the person in question, you probably try to convince them of the futility of the relationship, because you hate seeing your friend get hurt. But in general, I think we tolerate this sort of behavior far too much. It's harder to see how things like this hurt a person, and how they affect them long-term. But they certainly do.

And yet, I do desperately want to see Guy and Tora together again. Now that his brain is fixed, I really believe that he'd make a great husband and father if they choose to have kids (and I think they will). I suppose the fact that he's not a greasy spot on the pavement is another check in the "Bea secretly likes Guy" column, because if anyone else had treated Tora that way, I suspect Bea would have reacted a lot more violently than just tossing insults his way.

Hank and Jan? There was a time when I would have loved to see them get back together and I think it could have worked out wonderfully, but too many writers have dredged up the past too many times since then, and Hank's recovery in the pages of West Coast Avengers has been all but forgotten. Assuming he isn't dead (I know he was skrull-swapped) or that he comes back to life if he is dead, I'd like to see him with someone eventually... but maybe not Jan. Jan, too, I'd like to see with someone, but I don't think she ever had a good relationship with anyone but Tony Stark, and that was only for one issue. Too bad it was right after she divorced Hank, when he was rotting in jail for something he wasn't really responsible for and when the blow would hurt the most. Huh. That has too many echoes of Hal/Kari and Guy for my tastes.

Pietro and Crystal? Assuming he ever stops being batshit insane... no. A thousand times no. I never liked Crystal, admittedly, but they're just not a very compatible pair. Crystal is childish and selfish, and Pietro is... Pietro. I'm honestly not sure that he would be compatible with anyone except maybe, uh, his sister. And that's only because she would forgive him anything, which also tends to make for a bad relationship even if you're not talking incest. I still can't believe that The Ultimates actually went there (and that everyone but Cap seemed to think it was cool).

Hal and Carol? Never liked it. In fact, I just don't think Hal ought to attempt to date anyone seriously. It just... doesn't fit. I like Arisia, but she needs to stop hanging out with Yat (who is way too much like Hal) and hook up with Kilowog. I don't care for Cowgirl, but that's just my personal opinion. I can't imagine him getting married or even moving in with a woman for very long. He wouldn't mean to run her off, but... he has a way of getting and staying preoccupied by everything but his relationship.


SallyP said...

Well, that was interesting. I don't have too much interest in Hank Pym, although I will agree with you that he's had a unjust depiction in comics. I really Can't Stand Janet however. I'D like to paste her one!

Guy DID treat Ice pretty horribly. In his defense, at least when he was being obnoxious with the yellow ring, she was busy drooling over Superman, and he was simply seething with jealousy. Remember the scene where he goes up to her room with flowers, and discovers she has a picture of Supeman on her nightstand? The flowers droop in his hands, and he goes away with his shoulders all bowed and sad. When he's parading around with the floozies, she had just sided with Superman against him...AGAIN!

I can understand Tora's little infatuation, I suppose. Superman IS a bit of a hunk. I've NEVER liked the way that he was written during this stage of the Justice League however. He was much too bossy and even more obnoxious than Batman! It wasn't just Guy who was insulted, they ALL were, with the exception of Tora, anyway.

And Hal...oh Hal. You'd hump a rockpile if you thought there was a snake under it.

Duskdog said...

Yeah, that's very true. Superman was a real jerk during that period of time, at least in the JLA book.

I'm not even sure how exactly to explain Tora's crush on Supes, except maybe that she was feeling bad about her relationship with Guy and just sort of latched on to somebody who she perceived as being very different from him. Ironically, he was being almost as bad as Guy himself was during that period, and had far less excuse for acting that way.

It's a little bit creepy that she had his picture on her nightstand, though. And watching Guy shuffle off after seeing it was almost as painful as watching him give his ring to Hal.

I think Tora had a bit of a crush on Wonder Woman during/around this time period, as well. I seem to recall her being awfully impressed with her (in an almost G'Nort-ish sort of way) in the annual where the ladies fight the Chimera.

SallyP said...

It's funny, I was just going through my stack of Justice League Quarterly books, and READ the Chimaera one last night. I still think that the slumber party was cute.

Tora was going through something of an interesting stage at this time. She and Beetle had been fired, and then they all got back together. Guy had lost his ring, and then found the yellow one, and was being even more unbalanced than usual. Even Bea was having something of an identity crises. So I suppose it is possible that Tora was feeling somewhat at loose ends, and latched onto Superman as a way to compensate.

I do hate the way that Superman was being portrayed at this stage however. He was SUCH a jerk.