Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Teen Titans 23.1: Trigon, originally released September 11th, 2013. This issue is part of the Villain’s Month event. Click here for our Villains Month coverage.
Shelby: Demons, am I right? They are pretty much the most concentrated form of evil out there, short of Satan himself. There are a few demons floating around the DCU, so it’s no surprise one of them would get an issue this month. The only thing I knew about Trigon going into this issue was that he fathered Raven, and I was intrigued by what his origin would be. Would he be something along the Christian lines of Hell and minions of Satan, or would it be a more galactic demonic force sort of situation? Whatever it was, I knew it would be unsavory, in a dark magic sort of way, which is usually right up my alley. Unfortunately, I was not prepared for just how unsavory it would turn out to be.
A mostly human-looking Trigon finds himself in the presence of The Divine, a species that eradicates evil across the universe by sucking evil souls into a giant black heart that is always hungry for more evil. Evil, evil, evil. They try their trick with Trigon, but he flips the switch from suck to blow, and ends up absorbing basically all the evil in the universe. The Divine set up some kind of barrier, however, so he can’t leave to spread havoc and destruction. He summons a “bride” to himself, rapes her to impregnate her, and then is himself born through the baby when she gets back to her people. It’s unclear. He makes his way across the universe, seeking more “brides” to bear his demon army. Alas and alack, he finds most of the females he encounters either unable to survive being raped by a demon or unwilling to bear the fruit of such a union. Finally, he gets his hands on Arella, a human woman who worships Trigon. At the end, we find out the omniscient narrator was her all along, telling her story to beg us, the readers, to help her slay the father of her daughter Raven.
Ok, guys, I’m just going to lay this out on the table, so we’re all on the same page.
This book is about a demon raping his way across the galaxy.
Patrick actually warned me ahead of time there was going to be some demon rape in this issue. Honestly, I thought the first one, when Trigon apparently impregnated a woman with himself, was going to be it. I actually thought, “well, that wasn’t great, but it wasn’t so bad I guess.” Then I realized I would have to qualify that rape as “the first one,” and I knew this was not going to go well. Something like two-thirds of this book is Trigon trolling for “brides.” (Also, seriously, brides? He makes a living raping women to raise a demon army, and he refers to them as his “brides?” That is gross. Marv Wolfman, I’m calling you out: that is gross, and now I think you are gross as well.) On top of that shit salad we get the upsetting croutons of suicide, what with most of his victims killing themselves in “horror and disgust.” There is literally a half-page spread of Trigon and his cronies going for a little stroll, taking a walkabout if you will, against a montage background of pregnant women dead at their own hands.
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(I’m not reproducing that horror)
I want to speak intelligently and objectively about this issue. I want to discuss why I’m so angry, what I found upsetting, maybe open up the discussion again about the way women are treated in comic books. I’d even like to move on from the subject and talk about how weird it was to end the issue with a full page close up of Arella pleading with me personally to help her, or how the whole thing had a sort of dated, 70s gore-fest feel to it.
But I can’t.
I can’t get over how upsetting and horrifying I found this issue. I can’t get over how angry I feel, or how unnecessary the whole thing was. Demons are the personification of evil, and there are no horrors they won’t do. But this, especially considering the industry’s long struggle with depicting women, is tasteless, crass, and a waste of my time spent reading and now thinking about it.
Patrick, you tend to have a cooler head than I in the face of these sorts of situations, maybe you can take a longer view in this instance and speak more intelligently than I on the issue.
Patrick: “Patrick, you’re more likely to defend fictional rape than I am – say something good about this story.”
What an impossible set-up! Look, I think we can agree that this thing is a total piece of shit – even if you can look past it’s maniacal obsession with imperialism via interdimensional, interspecies rape, there is nothing here that motivates the character besides being evil. Trigon’s evilness is such a stupid fucking dimension of the character and yet it seems to be the only thing Wolfman is interested in. Let’s take that opening sequence as an example: the Divine try to pacify Trigon with their big Evil Battery. Or whatever you want to call it.
But Trigon is SO EVIL that his EVILNESS is TOO EVIL for the EVIL HEART to handle. Evilness is a source of strength somehow, like Trigon rolled exceptionally high on EVIL when they were making up his character sheet. I mean, come on, even D&D knows to let you select your alignments and that there are nuances within evil. The idea that one dumb supernatural entity is objectively, measurably, demonstrably more evil than another is playground-level stupid. And then the rest of his quest is just about getting “eviler,” as though he just needs a few more Evil EXP. so he can level-up. Seriously. Here’s his sole statement of purpose in the issue:
He hungers for more evil? The fuck does that even mean? Wolfman seems to think that this makes the character compelling enough as it is and that his quest for evilness should be self-evident enough, so that’s all we get.
And I guess that given those parameters, serially raping women to death does fit in with the MO of this character. But why the fuck would anyone want to read that? Further, why would anyone want to write that and ask for CAFU to draw it? The art is pretty competent, and appropriately horrifying throughout, but reading it is a totally joyless experience.
Shelby, you know what I’m reminded of? Enter the Void. For those fortunate enough to miss this one in theatres, Enter the Void is a film by Argentine filmmaker Gaspar Noe. It’s a nearly three-hour long movie that’s filmed from the single-take, first-person perspective of a drug dealing American ex-patriot living in Tokyo who dies an hour or so in. The camera stays behind his eyes right up to the point that he’s killed and then it drifts aimlessly throughout his miserable life, revisiting the car accident that killed his parents, and eventually shooting out as sperm into his own sister’s vagina so he can be reincarnated as his own nephew. It’s meandering and sonically assaulting and ugly at every fucking turn. The film is technically impressive, and there are few cinematic images that have stuck with me as long as those conjured in Enter the Void, but it is a singularly unpleasant experience – a masturbatory exercise in inflicting misery on an audience.
That’s mostly how I feel here – except I can put the issue down after 10 minutes.
The only value I can see in the issue is that super strange final page: Arella pleading to the camera for someone to help her slay Trigon. Maybe this creative team had their hands tied, and there’s only a Trigon issue because there’s a market for a Trigon issue. Whatever the intention, the message we can walk away from this issue with is clear: we can stop
Trigon Trigon if we take responsibility for the media we take in and their depictions of gleeful violence against women. This was a piece of shit. Tell DC. Tell your friends.
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?
Patrick, that was definitely not the setup I intended; I merely meant that you are better than I at being outraged and still being able to speak intelligently about it. But your right, it was an impossible setup because there is little here worth our intelligence.
Enter the Void might be the only film that enfuriated me not for its content, but for it mere existence.
This is another comic that demonstrates the stunningly different way in which I read comics than you guys.
I honestly wasn’t upset or disturbed or bothered by its content. I was upset, bothered, and disturbed by how boring and dumb it was. I couldn’t figure out how this was a Teen Titans’ villain or how Robin or whoever was supposed to fight him, or how he was even going to be in a story with super heroes. That’s what bothered me.
I notice when I think, “I wouldn’t want my 12 year old niece reading this,” (and I think that nearly every DC and Marvel comic on the rack should be able to be read by my 12 year old niece) and I thought that during this, but I don’t actually get worked up by a fictional depiction of a fictional entity doing bad things to other fictional entities. Maybe I deal with enough non-fictional entities doing terrible things on a daily basis that I don’t sweat the fiction. Maybe I’m just desensitized.
In the end, I was much more bothered by the shitty story than the fact it was a shitty story about a super evil demon raping its way across the galaxy.
Honestly, that doesn’t sound so different to me. If this issue was a quiet meditation on interesting characters or compelling themes or had anything insightful to say about anything, then I don’t think we would have focused so much energy talking about serial rape. I mentioned this in my piece, but Trigon has no motivation, which leads me to believe that the spectacle of rape, murder and suicide was the whole point of the issue.
I mean, right? When there’s nothing smart, fun or challenging about the way a story is being told, you’re just left with the story itself. And if that shit’s morally repugnant, y’all best believe we’ll take it to task for that.
I think we’ll all agree that rape is morally repugnant, but is depicting it also immoral? I appreciate that it’s a sensitive subject, but I think it’s pretty effective at demonstrating just how horrible Trigon is (way more than if he was kicking puppies or something), while also offering a plausible explanation for how a character so horrible could have a half-human daughter in the first place.
Well, maybe this is just where I opt out then. Trigon’s journey from Evilest creature in the galaxy to serial rapist is principally boring. I don’t mind seeing characters doing horrible things, and I totally see the parallels between Trigon and someone like Genghis Kahn (who also raped his way to conquest), but I don’t see the value or the fun in reading this story. Depicting rape might not be repugnant, but writing an issue around it without any kind of commentary sorta is.
Oh, I totally agree that this issue was boring — and I’m not going to offer any excuses for that — but I’m not sure the repulsiveness of Trigon’s actions really need to enter into that conversation. Like, it was actually very effective at establishing Trigon as horrible. The problem is that it treated that as an end unto itself, rather than as a setup for actual character work.
Right, but like, if Trigon was an awesome skateboarder and the issue was just about him skateboarding, we could pan it for being stupid, etc. we could draw the logical conclusion that they just wanted to show off some cool skateboarding. It’s hard to shake the icky feeling that Wolfman and CAFU are stoked to show us this cool demon rape.
Depicting rape in fiction is not inherently immoral. Fiction (even far-fetched fiction) is a reflection of life, and just like rape is a terrible thing that happens in life, it is a terrible thing that happens in fiction.
If we look at this issue from a purely fiction writing standpoint, it would appear that excessive rape was used as a lazy way to show that Trigon is evil. “Rape is evil, right? So, a LOT of rape means someone is REALLY evil! Run with it!” Wolfman went with quantity of rape instead of quality of evil character development.
I have a hard time looking at this from an objective, writerly only standpoint. This issue does not exist in a vacuum; I can’t separate this from the long history of horrific depictions of women in comic books. I also can’t get behind the “show a guy is evil by having him rape some chick!” mentality; to me, it reflects an unfortunately cavalier attitude that a lot of people have about this issue that threatens women (men also, but mostly women) every day.
Plus, Patrick is right: what is there in this issue to talk about, other than rape? It’s basically the only thing that happens.