Greg: I see a therapist regularly, and while it may be unhealthy to view therapy in a win/lose sports binary, I feel like I scored a big “victory” at my last session. She told me I seemed to be good at “living in the present,” that all-encompassing mantra that, to me, means the healthiest choice is to let go of what you can’t control in the “then,” and instead, find peace in the “now.” It’s something I’ve struggled with my whole life, which might explain why I responded so positively to the newest issue of Veil.
Basically what I’m saying is, if Dante needs to talk to someone, I can give him a number to call.
Picking up moments from the scene of carnage where we left off, Veil and Dante are on the run. Dante is in such a panic that he’s muttering out loud to himself, almost reminding me of Veil in the first issue. Veil, conversely, seems stoic and measured, calmly problem solving by moving a dumpster with her mind and talking with a surprising amount of syntactical competence (a minor gripe: given how little she understand language meaning in issue one, it feels rushed and jarring to see her so improved already). When Dante grills Veil over breakfast food at a diner, demanding she explain “what” she is, we cut to a vignette that may or may not help answer his question.
Cormac, whose hair looks like if the Joker saw a stylist in L.A., and Mr. Scarborough discuss an enigmatic business failure over an ominous pentagram. Lives and money have been wasted, Mr. Scarborough insists, and the only result has been Cormac’s failure. Cormac responds by drinking a red liquid, delivering a possibly Satanic incantation, and melting his would-be attacker to gruesome nothingness. Looks like whatever he’s developing (which could be what Veil has?) is working after all.
Then, in the present (?), Veil loses her cool, yelling at Dante that he’s “hurting her”. This attracts the attention of some cops (which is good!), who cuff Dante and lead Veil out of the diner (which is not so good!) with the intention of sexual assault (which is terrible!). When Dante and his arresting officer exit the diner, they find Veil has fled, leaving her would-be attacker (I’m sensing a pattern) frozen and shattered. The final image: Cormac, rendered in a sickly green, reciting another incantation, imploring one of the comic’s ubiquitous rats to bring him Veil.
I used a number of parenthetical question marks in that summary because there’s a lot I’m not sure about, and yet I still feel engrossed in, committed to, and onboard with the world of Veil. Toni Fejzula’s visuals continue to dip their toes in disparate definitions, existing in the liminal space between realism and surrealism, between what is beautiful and what is grotesque, and between clarity and ambiguity (there are moments in this issue where one eye of a character is entirely hidden in shadow, while the rest of his/her face is fully illuminated). Color patterns continue to function as effective scene dividers; while the hard-and-fast “meaning” of color choices escapes my consciousness, I appreciate the entirety of the diner sequence having a mustard yellow glow, versus the blunt greens and reds of the Cormac and Mr. Scarborough sequence. For a narrative world that, at the moment, seems to be defined by lack of definition, Fejzula provides a lovely counterpoint with his highly defined, if highly idiosyncratic, color choices.
Last time, Drew and I talked about ideas of sexual possession and gender expectations with some caution; Drew openly wondered if he made a critical error in focusing so heavily on it. This time, these ideas are so bluntly expressed it would be a critical error not to. From the opening existential chase (which is a new term I made up to describe when someone runs from the possibility of a threat rather than an explicit one), it’s obvious that Dante is not in control. However, whether it’s an internal set of values propelling him, or a continued satirization of genre tropes by writer Greg Rucka, Dante presses on and demands to find control, even if it’s entirely superficial. He plays angry detective at the diner, swearing sternly, demanding the “truth,” to regain a semblance of situational aptitude. He mumbles his game plan out loud, essentially begging for validation from everyone and no one. And even when Veil stuns Dante into stammering speechlessness by demonstrating her psychic powers, effectively taking control of the situation, Dante grabs her hand and continues to lead the way. Hasn’t he realized he’s out of his element?
In general, Rucka does not present a flattering portrayal of men, even our ostensible “hero”. In this argument, Dante walks perilously close to the “you were asking for it” line of reasoning that even the grossest of men’s rights activists would find troubling.
Veil’s response is reasonable: it’s not her fault; it’s just who she is. The other side of this coin, however, seems to be an ugly masculine counterpart. When literally anyone with a pulse sees a woman like Veil, no matter what state of dress she’s in, the response is a desire for possession and dominance, both sexual and non-sexual. It’s not the male’s fault; it’s just who he is. I understand the world of this comic is stylized and non-realistic to a degree, but this relentlessly single-minded masculine brutality feels overdone to the point of becoming banal. Before the random cop did anything out of the ordinary, my sardonic thought was “Wouldn’t it be something if he tried to assault Veil, too?” Lo and behold, he can’t seem to help it.
Having said that, I don’t want to undersell how much I enjoy this issue, and how much I find these portrayals of gender politics genuinely interesting rather than glaringly flawed. What say you, Patrick? And does our antagonist’s name, Cormac, bring up any loaded significance for you?
Patrick: You think Cormac’s going to use his pentagram powers to freestyle a dystopian novel? Having never actually read The Road, I only know that it’s an incredibly grim book, and McCarthy famously improvised the whole thing, allowing his narrative subconscious to shock and horrify him. Oh, and I guess I also know that there are marauding bands of cannibal rapists, which is obviously the worst thing ever.
Greg, like you I was struck by how ubiquitous sexual assault is in this issue. Rucka is wielding that narrative tool so recklessly that I wonder if that is actually the point. I mean, just check out how cavalierly one police officer knowingly accuses his partner of raping Veil.
Moment’s later, he’ll enduringly refer to his partner as a “horny son of a bitch.” Guys, that is GROSS. Honestly, more than the act itself (or even the attempted act itself), horrible though it may be, takes a back seat to the presumed inevitability of it. It’s as though Rucka’s putting the lens on rape culture, rather than on individual attackers and victims.
Let’s take the instance of Veil refusing her food in the diner as an uncomfortable example. Greg makes a pretty convincing parallel between Dante’s rationale in the previous scene and sexual assault apologists, so maybe we’re already primed to think that Dante’s being shitty. Also, we have that memory of him grabbing her by the wrist and pulling her through that dark alley. So, what exactly sets off her outburst in the diner? Is it the sight of the cops? It reads to me like she’s hungry, expresses that she’s hungry, and then Dante offers her some food. That’s when she says she’s being hurt, and can’t understand why Dante is doing this to her. There’s even a heartbreaking “I thought you liked me!” thrown in there for good measure.
Okay, what’s happening here? Veil is clearly experiencing something, something that she hates, and feels that her trust and vulnerability have been violated. Is she projecting herself into the future and sensing the inevitable assault from Officer Hitch? Or is she being attacked psychically somehow? She does that have spy-rat on her shoulder and/or running around in her clothes… Unfortunately, the scene reads like a false accusation of sexual assault. My friends, if you want to go down a depressing google rabbit hole, do a search for “false rape accusation statistics” — the numbers are shockingly erratic, but the editorial voice that accompanies many of these numbers is even more upsetting. The variables that come into play determining what is and is not an “unfounded” rape charge is stomach-churning. Also, very few of these studies or articles get into the statistical relationship between unreported sexual assault and false claims of sexual assault, giving almost every presentation of false claim statistics a pro-rapist bias.
This medium doesn’t have the best history with the concept of sexual assault. It’s always a controversial storytelling device — and you can trace that controversy back from Watchmen, through Identity Crisis and right up into the New 52. I don’t know what it is, but the comic book fan community can’t ever seem to use these moments in stories as flashpoints for positive discussions. Again, if you want to explore horrible google rabbit holes, look up the fan reaction to the attempted rape in the first issue of Sword of Sorcery. We — as a fan community — are bad at having substantive conversations about sexual assault. Rucka casts a light on that shortcoming, largely by beating us over the head with the most uncomfortable concepts and forcing the reader to decide what it means.
Getting around to Greg’s question: are the gender politics interesting or flawed? The answer is a thrilling “both.” As a springboard for discussing topics we’re all awful with, you couldn’t really ask for a more provocative piece of fiction.
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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?