Chat Cave: The Amethyst Controversy

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.

21 comments on “Chat Cave: The Amethyst Controversy

  1. When I first started reading these negative reactions, my knee-jerk reaction was to feel guilty as a woman for not even taking notice in the first place. I think that ingrained assumption that women should be more sensitive to these sorts of issues is a part of that media double standard Patrick mentioned.

    Did anyone read any criticism questioning how Marx as a woman could include a rape scene in the issue? Would reactions have been worse if a man wrote this title? I’ll be honest, I haven’t read a ton of reviews because after just a couple I would be so confused and angry I would have to go lie down.

  2. I hadn’t seen the criticisms that it normalized and/or glorified rape. What a dumb criticism. Does featuring the Joker in a comic normalize poisoning people? The attempted rape scene clearly depicts rape as something terrifying and ugly, and Amy’s intervention as heroic. HOW ELSE ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DEPICT RAPE? Or is this just that we shouldn’t talk about it at all? I don’t get this criticism.

  3. As soon as I read that scene I was taken out of the story simply because I knew it would cause controversy. I did ask myself why the writer felt this scene needed to be included and wondered if she needed to go down that route. I imagine that Marx wanted a scene in which she could show that Amethyst is a hero with or without her powers so a confrontation of some kind was needed. With that, I asked myself if Marx could have simply written this part of the book as two high school kids going on a date, getting mugged, and then rescued by our hero instead of the scene we got. It would accomplish the same goal of showing Amethyst as a hero without having to go down the path of using rape.

    Then I thought, maybe Marx wanted to show more than just Amethyst proving herself as a hero. Maybe Marx wanted to bring rape into the spotlight in her own work. Maybe she’s been personally affected by it in her life or knows someone who has. Maybe she just knows how prevalent rape is in our society and wants to get more people talking about it as we definitely need to talk about it more. Then again, maybe it was just a simple device that Marx decided to use in her story. For all we know at this point, Marx wants Amethyst and the woman she rescued (I forget the character’s name) to have a deeper connection that will play out through the series and felt that being saved from an attempted rape would accomplish that goal way more than a simple mugging would.

    I’m not sure what her intent was and it very well could have been a cheap trick, but it’s certainly gotten us all talking about the book and the deeper issues within. Which then leads me to ask if comics are even an appropriate venue to bring up that kind of conversation. Whatever the answer, I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing for the success of this book but it’s clear to me at least that Marx isn’t going to be pulling any punches and with that being the case, I’m definitely looking forward to the next issue.

    • It’s true, we’re all of us speculating on authorial intent, which we could do forever. Of all the reasons you listed, I personally feel that cheap trick is the least likely, simply because I wasn’t taken out of the story like you were. I could also just really want there to be a more story-driven reason for it.

      • When I say “taken out of the story” I meant for only the second it took me to ask if the scene was needed. I didn’t have a definitive “yes” or “no” to that question mind you, I simply wondered and moved on with the issue. I really enjoyed the issue and am looking forward to more of the story although I am also hoping that something more comes of the scene. I really don’t think it was cheap trick either and I hope Marx will show that with later issues.

        • Sure, I get what you’re saying.

          I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s going to act later as something to really draw those girls together. The other gal’s name is Beryl, so she’s obviously going to be a big player in this gem-based universe.

    • It’s interesting to me that the inclusion of rape has to have some narrative justification, where a mugging can simply be a random act of violence. Ultimately, given what we’re given here, I agree that the violent act Amy stopped seems inconsequential to the story, I’m just not convinced that that means it shouldn’t have been rape. It’s a very real concern for women.

      Actually, now that I think about it, I think it isn’t just a random act of violence. Amy beating up rapists increases the potential threat to herself while also drawing attention to the fact that this slight teenage girl just beat up a bunch of adolescent male athletes. Gender roles are important here in a way they wouldn’t be for a mugging.

      • Definitely, that’s where I was going with my theory of Marx wanting to build a strong connection between the two characters. With rape being a concern that is so central to women, the threat of rape would be appropriate in this story.

      • Well and it’s also possible that there’s a theme developing of the darkness that underlies this sort of young woman fantasy. The “real world” example is that making out under the bleachers at the high school football stadium turns into assault, and the “gem world” example is this candy-colored world actually being filled with genocidal maniacs.

        • Right. Plus, sexual assault may actually be a much more realistic threat than a mugging in the quaint suburban town depicted here.

  4. I just don’t get how this comic is overtly “kid-friendly”? I mean, DC publishes kid friendly titles drawn in the style of their cartoons and typically sold on a separate spinner rack in your LCS. This is not one of them. This is a sword-and-sorcery anthology book where the backup story is currently a post-apocalyptic take on Beowolf. Just cause something is poppy does not immediately make it juvenile!

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