Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Fearless Defenders 9, originally released September 11th, 2013.
Taylor: Men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Bros before hoes, sisters before misters. Men and women are two different species. Such platitudes have been woven into the fabric of society since the dawn of civilization. Given their age, you might find yourself uttering such phrases during awkward conversations in the lunch room at work because you know they will be accepted with little umbrage. However, that doesn’t make these seemingly innocuous phrases any less offensive or misinformed. While men and women are different in many respects, the truth is they share far more similarities than differences. Some might call this a progressive view, but in reality it’s just a logical one. With that being said, you would think Fearless Defenders, a title which seemingly strives to show that female superheroes are just the same as male superheroes, would champion the similarities between the sexes rather than exaggerate them. But is issue nine, which examines this idea, up to the task?
The Defenders have all met up at an Irish pub so they can convene with their female counterparts. The reason for the meeting is obliquely to discuss how the two teams can work together to better stop evil and such. The men begin to wonder where the women are so naturally they begin to swap stories about their romantic escapades with the Fearless Defenders. Meanwhile, Valkyrie and her team have been delayed to their meeting by Madeline LaFaye’s new team of Doom Maidens. They battle for awhile before the party happens to crash into the same bar the Defenders have been waiting in for their lady friends. Everyone teams up to defeat evil and Val prepares to interrogate some bad guys.
I want to like this title, I really do, but sometimes it seems like Fearless Defenders is actively trying to either insult me or make me angry. Whether it’s lazy storytelling, poor character development, or old tropes, this title has always found a way to take a promising premise and turn it into something that is nothing but disappointing. So, what has Fearless Defenders done this month to earn my ire?
Issue nine enjoys cutting between the two camps of female and male Defenders. This causes us to compare the two camps and one would expect writer Cullen Bunn would take this opportunity to show how lady heroes and gentleman heroes are more similar than different. As it turns out, however, he would rather indulge tired stereotypes that serve to widen the gap between the sexes rather than close it. On the male side, Hercules is given the voice of man and what he has to say borders more on the offensive rather than the comedic.
The message is clear: men are brutes who prefer rough sports and ogling women over everything else. It’s hard, as a male, to not feel offended by this portrayal. Not every man likes football and not every man has sex on his mind all the time. While this view is voiced by Hercules, who is the jester of the bunch, it’s hard not to view such words as being part of the thesis of this issue since no one protests them or offers evidence to the contrary.
Given this derogatory view of males you would think that the titular characters of Fearless Defenders would be given the chance to shine, to show that they are better than their male counterparts. But this doesn’t happen. Instead they are given the exact same treatment as the Defenders.
Women, right? They love to cat fight. In a situation of life and death, females insult each other on their fashion sense because women always have clothes on their mind. It’s a perpetuation of a stereotype that is equal parts tired and insulting which few readers would actually find entertaining. Additionally, “boob armor?” The writing borders on the juvenile and it’s hard to imagine who the intended audience is. Are women going to find this funny, are men? Is anyone who reads comics really going to enjoy such forced humor?
Drew, I’m really having a hard time finding anything worthwhile in this issue, and increasingly, this title. All of the issues that plague this issue are symptomatic of the series as a whole and reading Fearless Defenders has become an exercise in patience that I might not be strong enough to endure. It’s one thing for a title to not live up to its expectations, but then it’s another when it begins to engender stereotypes that are hurtful to both sexes. So Drew, can you find anything redeemable in this issue? Did the humor in the issue strike a better vein in you than in me? Do you even care about any of the action that takes place in this issue?
Drew: You know, Taylor, I was right there with you throughout the first half of this issue — beyond the macho stereotypes you mention, the male heroes are incredibly condescending about the abilities of their female counterparts. As Venom explains, “this defenders thing is a bad idea.” Or, as Doctor Strange clarifies, the idea of the defenders is fine, but, “this group could use some guidance” [emphasis mine]. It’s this type of presumption of misogyny that never fails to make me uncomfortable — can’t a feminist work make a point about the strength of women without painting the whole of masculinity as hyper-piggish straw-men? It’s offending to be lumped in with these characters, and ultimately undermines any argument against such behavior.
But then page 17 happened.
Switch the gender roles, and we’ve seen this scene play out a million times: the boys rush off to fight, insisting that the girls stay put “to be safe,” but the girls rush into the fray, anyway. It’s a sequence that’s been done to death (and one that always bothers me because of the same presumption of misogyny), but I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen it gender-bent before. There’s something patently absurd about telling the likes of Hercules and Iron Fist to hide from the fight — these guys are heroes, after all — revealing exactly how absurd the opposite scene would be.
Suddenly, all of the tired gender stereotypes Taylor detailed make sense; they aren’t undercutting a general pro-woman argument, they’re strengthening a specific anti-gender role argument. Bunn is recreating a story where the women gather to fret about their men, stereotypes and all, but he’s flip-flopped the genders. Every bit of discomfort is totally intentional, and maybe says something about those having the discomfort.
That said, I don’t think Taylor’s rejection of this story as unenlightened is that far off base. For someone who has never confronted just how detrimental stereotypes can be, I think this story could be revelatory. But (and this is a big “but”), for somebody who is ready to be “post-stereotype,” this issue is going to feel entirely puerile. You know, like how Mister Rogers Neighborhood is educational for little kids, but incredibly condescending if you already know what a mailman does for a living. Only amplified by a million because everybody is so sensitive about gender.
To me, that’s the hardest part about talking about gender: we’re all ready to have different conversations. How do you settle what it means to be a woman when you still have to address answers that hinge on the presence of ovaries? This series may not be having the conversation we want to be having, but I’m not sure we can hold that against it — Mister Rogers may not set my imagination on fire anymore, but I don’t think that means I should begrudge a three-year-old who doesn’t yet know how crayons are made. There’s no doubt in my mind that this issue opened the minds of some of its audience, and I’m grateful for that, but I’m not sure I have the patience for more evangelization. We’re already in the choir — lets stop the preaching, and start the discussion.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?