Zero month saw the launch of several new titles, including the fantasy-infused Sword of Sorcery. As soon as the issue was released, the return of Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld was overshadowed by controversy surrounding a scene of an attempted rape. Reactions ranged from outrage and disappointment to outrage and disappointment over said outrage and disappointment. The only thing that could really be said about the reactions is that everybody had one. Not to be left out of the dialogue, the Retcon Punchers have their own thoughts on the issue. Welcome to the Chat Cave.
Drew: The charge against this issue is largely lead by Chris Sims of Comic Alliance. Sims’ objection basically boils down to two key points: 1) that rape as an overused trope writers use to darken comics needlessly, and 2) that it’s particularly inappropriate in a kid-friendly title. This blogger does a pretty good job of rebutting Sims first point, so I’ll just add that while rape can be misused as a narrative bludgeon — as can death, love, war, hate, or pretty much anything else that makes stories compelling — it doesn’t mean it should be off-limits. Whether or not it was used inappropriately should be determined on a case-by-case basis, so its perceived overuse shouldn’t enter into the conversation at all.
What really offends me in Sims’ argument is the thought that it was particularly inappropriate for a kid-friendly title. Let me be clear: I agree that many comics (especially from DC) are more violent than they need to be, alienating younger readers — I just don’t understand why this particular comic is somehow more guilty of this than any other title. I can think of no character more appealing to a six-year-old boy than Batman, but murder is written right into his origin story. It strikes me as openly sexist to suggest that titles that appeal to little boys can be as violent as hell, but those that appeal to little girls should be squeaky clean. It’s a completely arbitrary double-standard, and I think Sims recognizes it, which is why he regularly refers to Sword of Sorcery as “Amethyst,” as if that could wave away the Beowulf backup where a MAN IS CUT IN HALF. Oh, but there’s no female lead in the backup, so why would a girl ever read that?
Shelby: I was astonished by the backlash over this issue. I didn’t think twice about the attempted rape scene; I understood it’s purpose in forwarding the plot as well as what we are supposed to learn about Beryl and Amy. When I started reading reviews and comments of people freaking out, I was surprised and immensely disappointed. Avoiding discussing rape at all costs is just as dangerous as using it as a tool to sell something. Avoiding the issue only serves to further mystify and stigmatize rape, turning it into a taboo that is kept shamefully secret. The scene in question was tastefully handled; it wasn’t at all graphic or disrepectful. It was completely appropriate for a title rated for teen readers.
That’s what really confuses me about the complaints about this; who ever said this was supposed to be a kid-friendly title? The cover is clearly marked rated T for teen, this is not a children’s title. Is this assumed to be kid-friendly because of the candy-colored art inside? Well, it’s not. We can certainly make the argument that there are not enough children-appropriate titles on DC’s shelves, but that does nothing to change the fact that this isn’t being billed as one. Also, before people start talking about the original series being for young girls, I read a comment in the blog Drew referenced that in the original first issue, after Amethyst is magically transformed from a 13-year-old to an 18-year-old (and you know how I feel about that), she is assaulted by ogres who “hunger for her flesh.” I couldn’t find any hard info to back that up, but if anyone knows if that’s true, I’d love confirmation on that.
Patrick: Shelby, I saw that argument about the original issue #1 of Amethyst come up a couple times in my internetting. Evidently, the original writers back-pedaled on that attempted rape years later (as though authorial intent matters at all).
The part of this conversation that really bothers me is the implication that — when it comes to fiction — all forms of violence are okay, but sexual violence is totally off limits. I don’t mean to imply that we should be more accepting of sexual violence in media, but I do think the double standard needs to be addressed. Frequently, critics will say that fictionalized accounts of rape perpetuate (or even glorify) the rape culture in America. But the general culture of violence goes unchecked.
The internet is the worst possible place to have this conversation. All three of us are expressing nuanced arguments about sex and violence and their role in media intended for children or adults (and for the genders), but to anyone offended by the Amethyst story, we’re simply supporting rape. And that’s impossible moral high ground to hold – even though the arguments we espouse are — in fact — moral. I am thankful that our readership is level-headed and can discuss these topics in a measured, reasonable way. Whenever something like this happens, I am quickly reminded that not all websites attract the readers that we seem to.