Women in Refrigerators Women in Refrigerators

Fan JOHN BARTOL responds

Back by popular demand, here John takes on the oft-heard rejoinder that, dammit, MEN suffer, TOO. (RH)


by John Bartol

(with heavy content contributions by the WiR team and long-time CBR'er, Shawn Feakins)

Well, now that the WiR has got everyone all agitated about the state of "Female Heroes and the Tragedies That Love Them", we here at WiR have received, from both creators and fans, some reactions and questions about Male Heroes and their unique condition.

To wit (and in the spirit of tit for tat... nice potential word play, that...), the Big Question has been this: "Yes, heroines have had it rough, as the WiR list shows, but have they had it any rougher, qualitatively or quantitatively, than their male counterparts?"

Our answer: Yes, else why would the WiR matter at all?

[Author's Caveat: Now, what follows is my take on things. And despite their contribution to our "Dead Men Defrosting" list below, I won't speak for all of the WiR'ers. They are the brightest of lads and lasses, and can do so for themselves at any time. However, I happen to know that most of them probably agree with what follows. Told you they were bright!]

In the few months we have been batting the WiR list around, we have invariably bumped up against the question of "How does this differ from the plight of the guys? Superman has died, Batman had his back broke, Captain America's been plagued with Super Soldier complications, the ever-lovable Thing has always been that ugly orange color..."

The fundamental difference I have seen is that the majority of male heroes, and especially our Dead Men Defrosting, are introduced to the reader with a situation or condition they must overcome. Female heroes, too, go through this; we meet them in the beginning of their tale with something about them that will play a role in their formation as heroes. But later, those same women heroes are altered again and never allowed, as male heroes usually are, the chance to return to their original heroic states. And that's where we begin to see the difference.

More specifically, that difference is this: The majority of male characters we have seen start of their journey through the Heroic Cycle (for lack of a better term and to borrow from Joseph Campbell) with some challenge or unique condition or even impediment. It is part of their nature. They are introduced with it and must overcome as a part of them becoming a HERO. We all first meet many of the heroes listed in the DMD as they are undergoing their 'initiation' into the world of heroes, and these initial traits are the results of the events that allow them to be heroes.

In cases where males heroes have been altered or appear to die (i.e., hit that part of the karmic Hero Wheel that says "Fall, then Rise to the Challenge!"), they usually come back even better than before, either power-wise or in terms of character development/relevancy to the reader. In cases in which the hero has died and isn't resurrected good as new, with very few exceptions (the murderous nutbar Hal Jordan being the one that stands out), they die an unambiguously 'heroic,' 'fallen in battle,' or 'touching' death. Marvel Comics' Captain Marvel and DC's Barry Allen are good examples of this. And note that for 'mantle' characters such as Flash, GL, Green Arrow, and even Robin, the Boy Wonder, there's always someone in the wings waiting to pick up the fallen standard. Can't say I've seen that among the women. Must be a club or something. [Author's Aside: Maybe that will be our next WiR column?]

There are obviously exceptions to the above. There are a few truly painful deaths I have witnessed in comics among the male hero set that were seemingly senseless - Blok from the Legion of Superheroes, for one. But for every exception like poor Blok, we have Batman better than ever after Bane breaks his spine (too bad Babs Gordon, the former Batgirl and now Oracle, didn't have Bruce's chiropractor), we have Thor consumed by Hel's curse and coming back from the pale better than ever (and all claims of godhood aside, if old Goldilocks was simply a mortal with some Odin-granted powers and a croquet mallet of the gods, we all know he would stand a pretty good chance of coming back from Death's cold embrace).

Shawn Feakins expands on the Bat-spine issue and more when he adds:

"... [Look at] Bruce Wayne's greatest challenge. The monster Bane succeeds in breaking the Batman, his spine snapped in two like a cheap hardback. Have little fear, for the Caped Crusader arose victorious in the end.

"An interesting situation arises when one compares the similar fates of Batgirl and Batman. We can see for ourselves in Birds of Prey how Barbara turned out. Now granted, this situation has resulted in a very good book with strong women characters; however, one has to wonder why the girls had to be depowered in the first place in order to gain such popularity.

"Oddly enough, the only female counterpoint I could think of that is actually MORE stable than the male happens to be She-Hulk. Whereas Bruce Banner has gone through more personality changes, lost loves, mental breakdowns and trials and tribulations than arguably many female superheroines, his cousin remains content and relatively free of trauma.

"(One could read into the fact that, as a woman, She-Hulk could only find validation by becoming a green-skinned Goliath, thereby rejecting the "weaker" form of her natural sex - where Bruce Banner struggles to regain his normal male self. But I don't read into things like that. After all, I'm only writing a blurb interpreting comic trends... Really. Stop looking at me like that...)"

But She-Hulk, nevertheless, gets locked into her form, and in the graphic novel in which this revelation is made, there are at least a few panels of silence from her as she soaks this in. Jennifer seems OK with it in the end of the sequence, but I think John Byrne was going for some emotional resonance that wasn't exactly positive... [Author's Note: We'll fire a note off to M'sieur Byrne in short order to find out...]

But I digress...

Now, some of us at the WiR have had fans question us for seeing "misogyny" where there was none, or suggest that we might be overly concerned with looking for unwarranted instances of comics trying to "put women in their place." But the WiR and its contributors are trying to point out there is a difference in how male and female characters are treated. Some of this could be implied misogyny, some of it just may be creators playing out story and character archetypes and roles modern society still reinforces. But the fact is that this does happen, pros are recognizing it, some are not happy with it, and we just happened to point it out. Call it a natural and healthy curiosity about the state of comics.

The bottom line? Well, there is none. This missive, and the list below, is simply meant to enhance WiR's purview, address some questions we have been asked, and, hopefully, engage all of you in even more discussion about Women in Refrigerators...

And the Men Who Find Them.

So, without further ado, Dead Men Defrosting...

* * *

Superman - Dies, comes back, inspires new heroes, changes powers, splits into two, gets normal powers back, and somewhere in all that gets married.

Batman - Back is broken after a grueling physical and psychological battle with his arch enemies. Takes some time off, heals, and comes back to continue his crusade for Gotham.

Azrael - Goes insane, gets better, earns the Bat's trust, and is now one of the Bat family.

Hal Jordan as Green Lantern - Goes nuts, murders millions, tries to reboot Creation, commits a noble, self-sacrificing suicide to save the Earth. Meanwhile, the mantle is picked up by another (Kyle Rayner).

Barry Allen as the Flash - Dies heroically in the Crisis, and the mantle gets picked up by another (Wally West).

Spider-Man - Typically has had a bunch of Everyman problems. Gets cloned, has a bunch of family challenges, yet, too, is returned to the status quo. Note that poor Spidey's female set, from Gwen Stacy to Aunt May, are WiR A-list victims!

Captain America - Despite the usual challenges of the Super Soldier's after-effects, he's been stripped of his mantle, lost faith in America, been hunted by the very government he serves, and still comes on back better than ever and fighting for the American Dream. Go Cap!

Nova - Creator Erik Larsen correctly points out the fact that Nova has, indeed, lost his powers twice. Nova has also had his powers returned to him just as often, and with three attempts at a solo book to show for it, and he just keeps coming back with more power, a better status in the Cosmic Defender pecking order, and a bright, shiny bucket helmet!

The Hulk - Maybe our most problematic Defrosted. Definitely has been put through the "ride hard, hang up wet" part of the Heroic Cycle, but despite deep psychological and power issues, several different incarnations, and few really questionable skin colors, just keeps coming. SMASH, Hulkie. SMASH ON!

The men of the Fantastic Four - Pretty much same as they ever were, despite all sorts of trials and tribulations. Ben Grimm is our Defrosted poster child for this group, though...

The men of the X-Men - The list, obviously, is long and distinguished, even after you take away the "feared and hated" aspect of their tortured mutant existence. With the exception on 'no adamantium' Wolvie (which we hear is going away anyway in favor of Full Metal Logan), they all get put through the ringer and get better. Cannonball/Sam Guthrie actually dies and comes back after Marvel reveals Sam is an External, an immortal mutant. Oh my. And let's face it, Scott and Charles started off, in our minds, with impediments, but have overcome them and/or lived with their burdens. But Beast has undergone changes in form, power levels and intelligence, all for the better, as has Angel, who loses his real wings, gets metal demon wings from Apocalypse, and eventually gets his real ones back. Nightcrawler, Colossus, the kids in the New Mutants (even CYPHER!) and Generation X... Their lot is a tough one, but goshdarnit, those mutant deformities and physical differences, shored up by Xavier's Dream, sure do build character. Just hope your mutant ability isn't to become an X-Woman. You'll be in for a Big Hurt...

Livewire - Loses an arm, gets a bionic one, and keeps on LoSH'ing! [Author's Note: The Legion of Super-Heroes, truly a progressive team of the future, has a striking number of exceptions to both the WiR and DMD list, a topic my esteemed WiR collaborator, Rob, will be covering elsewhere at this site. Watch for it!]

Nick Fury - Seemingly ageless like his good buddy Cap (due to the Infinity Formula or something? Let's check that miniseries!), he's been dead and on the mend as well several times, right? Has he taken his chair away from Sharon Carter yet?

Wonder Man and the Vision - Marvel's Janus brothers, one the reflection of the other, both have had death experiences, losses of humanity, criminal forays for which they are forgiven, and even loved the same woman. Vision's been rebuilt as good as new how many times? And Wondy was just brought back as good as ionic energy new in Kurt Busiek's latest run of the Avengers.

Iron Man - Old Tony's had a tough road, no doubt, continually living with the disease of alcoholism (for which he should be applauded) and for finding a way to overcome permanent paralysis through his inventive genius. Or was it because he had Bruce Wayne's private number in his Palm Pilot? Those rich guy crimefighters with bad backs have to stay together, don't you know? Anyway, a beautiful and complete recovery.

Cyborg - One of two Titans on this list, Vic is a possibility as well. His initial condition/alterations came hand-in-hand with a power increase. Granted, he was constantly battling for his humanity (at least, from his own perspective) and when he went nuts recently after a jaunt in space, his "family" came to the rescue and now he's literally a shiny happy person in the new Titans title.

Changeling - Ah, Gar. First he's purple, then he's green, but he's always his high-energy, sarcastic and teenage humor-spouting self no matter what animal he changes into. Of course, there was that whole incident with him assuming more and more monstrous shapes, but like his best friend Cyborg above, with the advent of the new Titans, he's a levelheaded hero making a comeback in Hollywood.

Aquaman - Lost a hand, but got a neat multipurpose hook/harpoon in its place, some self-validation, and a quick-selling book in return. Erik Larsen recently gave him a "robotic" hand to bring our King of the Seven Seas back up to his full ten-fingered glory!

Hawkman - After several different and conflicting continuity-wrecking and inconsistent retcons, our Thanagarian expat finally gets the respect he is due and... HAH! Made you look! Hawkman might as well be an honorary WiR for all the crap poor Katar has taken...

* * *

And those, fans and foes, are the Dead Men Defrosting. So far.

What's the grand conclusion? The "a-ha" moment that brings the past five pages together? There isn't one, really. Our hope is that at least a few of you look at the WiR and DMD lists with a new, slightly skewed POV. We could start breaking the above and its sister list down into stats and figures and charts that say, "Look, 57% of all heroines are prone to being messed up by a masked villain permanently while shampooing their hair, as opposed to only 14% in the heroes' ranks!" But that's not the point.

The point is this: our beloved heroes and heroines, the idols of our childhood and myths of our adult nostalgia, are not exactly all running plays from the same Campbellian playbook. Their fates are not the same, their lives are not the identical epics of archetypal meaning. Someone seems to be getting the shaft. And it's not the boys in the y-fronts.

Now, after all this, you may be still be asking, "So?" Good for you. Skepticism helps fuel the Great Engine of Discourse here, and (hopefully) ultimately helps improve the medium of comics. It better, or else we are wasting a lot of web space for nothing.

Do us a favor: Help take up more space.

And keep the iceboxes of the four-color set hero and heroine free.


P.S. - But I hear Pokémon chill real well.