Friday, February 17, 2012

The Most Appalling Comic You Ever Read

Karen: We usually discuss comics we like here. Sure, we may come across a dud now and then, but all in all, we like what we read. But I came across a story so appalling recently, that I thought I would throw open a discussion of comics that you may have read that you found revolting. I'm not necessarily talking about graphics that sicken you, but rather a storyline that you found morally reprehensible. The book that spurred me to write this post was Gunhawks #1, from 1972. I'm not a Western comics fan, but this issue was included in Marvel Firsts: The 70s, volume 1 trade paperback. It's the story of a pair of youths, one black, one white, who both fought in the Civil War -on the Southern side! There's this rambling soliloquy by the black character, Reno Jones, that just turned my stomach.

Reno: You see, not all the plantation owners were cruel masters with whips and chains! The man who owned me, for instance--he was a good man--treated me like a son--clothed me--educated me!...My mother was the chief cook in the mansion, and the kid's father had me tutored right along with his own son...It was a happy life! There was never any mention of slavery...and all the blacks there came and went as they addition to being paid for their work!

aren: I don't know if it is willful ignorance at work here, revisionism, or some terrible attempt at putting a different spin on things, but whatever it is, it's horrible. I couldn't read any more of this crap. While I am sure some slave owners were less brutal than others, the fact of the matter is, they owned people. There's not much you can do to justify that or pretty it up. Black slaves did not have an idyllic life! What's even more odd about this tale is that it appeared in 1972 -the same year we got Luke Cage, Hero for Hire! Black culture was everywhere and yet we get this apologist drivel. It was written by Gary Friedrich, drawn by Syd Shores, and edited by Roy Thomas, and I think they all should have known better.

Karen: Another title that comes to mind in this category is the much-maligned
Avengers #200, where Ms. Marvel is mysteriously impregnated, gives birth in three days, is later revealed to have been mind-controlled into having sex with her assailant (ie. raped), and then at the end goes off with her rapist to live happily ever after. Her fellow Avengers act like a bunch of twits and let her go, even though they know she had been mind controlled. Fortunately Chris Claremont stepped in with Avengers Annual# 10 a bit later and thoroughly chastised the Avengers (and by default, the creative team on Avengers #200).

Karen: Are there any comics you've read that have made you feel appalled?


Inkstained Wretch said...

The one comes immediately to mind is Howard Chaykin's American Flagg! It was highly regarded in its time as a serious, adult comic, but it has aged terribly. It was all mindless violence and sniggering sex made worse by the fact that it copped the pose of being a high-minded satire. Chaykin's art was great and I'm no prude, but the comic was exactly the sort of thing that gives "adult" a bad name. "Adolescent" would have been more accurate.

While I didn't exactly think it was appalling, I've always thought that the first Denny O"Neil/Neal Adams GL/GA issue was horribly patronizing in the way it portrayed black people, however well-intentioned it may have been.

david_b said...

The only ones that come to mind are Avengers ish 200, the Shooter Pym saga, and the Mumy-penned 'Lost in Space' Innovation Comics in the 80s.

Mumy's final story arc was the family finally reaching Alpha Centauri, then being accousted by these tentacled aliens, split up and sent to different times/places. The handling was a bit too violent and gritty and totally against the flavor of the show.

Doug said...

Two examples from comics-based films that leapt to mind when I was reading Karen's draft of today's post come from the Tim Burton-directed Batman Returns and the Ben Affleck vehicle Daredevil.

In the Batman film there's a scene where our "hero" is in the Batmobile and a thug is coming upon the vehicle from the rear. Batman fires the engine, hard... and in turn sets the bad guy ablaze. Uh uh.

In the DD film, Daredevil is in a tussle in the subway and chucks an undesirable onto the tracks right before a train comes by. Uh uh.

In the post-Dark Knight era, I still wanted the heroes to be good guys.


Doug said...

Gary Friedrich is certainly getting some attention on the BAB this week!


Anonymous said...

Hi Karen. Regarding GF & RT, well, not that I want to accuse anyone of anything (...anything actionable, anyway), but they’re both from Missouri, aren’t they? This may be a European perception, but isn’t Missouri a famously racist state? Or am I the one being prejudiced and judgemental by even thinking of that? I’m not implying that they were trying to be overtly racist, just that their dial might have been set a bit low.

I never liked Hank Pym’s treatment later on. I hated the fact that a heroic figure was turned into a wife-beating dickhead, but I also thought it treated the subject of him abusing Jan lightly, as if it was really just part of what was happening to HIM. All round bad idea, really.

Marv Wolfman’s treatment of Satanism in TOD got a bit iffy at times, I thought. A vampire is a mythological demon, so by all means show him callously taking human life, because...well, no one has ever actually died from being attacked by a vampire. But he first meets his wife while she’s being crucified by a Satan cult, in fact being burnt alive on an inverted cross to summon Satan, who is then due to impregnate her. It is actually integral to the plot, but.... Bloody Hell! Literally.

I felt that black characters were...well, blaxploited was actually the term, wasn’t it? This one is really difficult, because if Marvel had simply presented coloured characters as having the same life experience as white characters, it would have all been a bit too Huxtable and not reflected the reality of life for those people, so it needed to be done differently. At the same time, focussing wholly on and glorifying attitudes & practices that arise from situations that are forced on people, as if that is the sum or best part of their culture or potential is practically the definition of racism.

I liked it when there were coloured characters who didn’t need to be, they just happened to be Blade or Jim Wilson. Colour was never really mentioned.

I also have a problem when they use Nazis and concentration camps in stories. It can be done right. When Magneto took the stand in Paris and the first thing he did was roll his sleeve up, it was a real surprise and suddenly everything he had ever done changed in perception. I’ve seen it done well in a few other places (for some reason I seem to remember that strange Avengers story about the resurrection stone....been a long time though). What I hate is when the Skull or Zemo ham it up like cartoon baddies, but referencing circumstances under which real people actually died in horrible agony. I remember the opening page of that SVTU where the Skull and the Hate Monger are feasting at a table, while through the glass floor, their starving, emaciated victims look up at them. Kind of actually what happened !


Matthew Bradley said...

This is admittedly a tangent, but I feel compelled to point out that by most people's definition, the term "blaxploitation" was never meant to indicate films that exploited blacks, but rather exploitation films (which come in all colors, shapes, and sizes) made with, for--and frequently BY--black people. There is a big difference, especially when you consider the opportunities those films gave to African Americans on both sides of the camera. To pick a single, stunning example, those of us who love Pam Grier know she can be great in any movie, but would she have had the success she has if it weren't for COFFY, FOXY BROWN, and their ilk? This is not to say that blacks were never exploited by or in blaxploitation films, merely to point out that such exploitation is not intrinsic in the term blaxploitation itself.

david_b said...

Ok yes, slight tangent, but I LOVED 'Black Dynamite', which came out a few years back and was richly applauded at Cannes. Not so much a blaxpoitation film NOR a tongue-in-cheek spoof, but one done lovingly and authentically in the genre of those films.

It was very well done, and well received, definitely worth watching if you earnestly enjoy wonderful remembrances of those types of films.

Matthew Bradley said...

Sounds something like ORIGINAL GANGSTAS.

MattComix said...

The Ultimates vol.1

Doug said...

Uh, the Geoff Johns-penned Hank/Jan sex scene in Avengers #71?

Don't need that sort of thing in a superhero yarn.


Dougie said...

Not a Bronze Age example (more Plastic Age): Seven Soldiers/Mr. Miracle 3 where Shilo Norman is set on fire then apparently castrated.
Genital mutilation is something of a trope in Morrison's work; I think it's clearly implied in the Dollotron stories. It might all be very "Golden Bough" and mythic but actually, it's repellent.

humanbelly said...

I will never be able to recall the specific issue-- but back in the late 80's/early 90's run of the weekly Marvel Comics Presents there was an ugly, ugly Black Panther storyline, and among other atrocities, a man was hogtied around a bamboo pole, covered w/ a thick layer of clay (w/ a breathing tube inserted. . . so he could breathe and stay alive. . . and so his screams could be heard), and then slowly roasted alive over a bonfire. The baked clay was eventually broken open, and his liquified remains poured out.

Just horrible, horrible images. I wish I'd never seen this story, 'cause they're planted permanently in my psyche' now.


J.A. Morris said...

In addition to Avengers #200, I'll say West Coast Avengers #42 and the issues that followed are appalling because they destroyed everything great about one of my favorite characters-The Vision.

And it really bothered me that it was Byrne, who was one of my favorite creators at the time, who destroyed Vision, Scarlett Witch, their kids, etc. "Even and android can cry"? Naaah, that's like saying a toaster can cry.

Equally appalling was the whole 90s Spider-Man "Clone Saga". This was the storyline that literally caused me to stopped collecting comics.

humanbelly said...

Omigod! How have we missed the whole "Gwen Stacy bearing Norman Osborn's love child" storyline???

It was apalling on several fronts!
1) A complete, tawdry, unnecessary degredation of a beloved, departed character.
2) A horrible, self-indulgent retcon for the sake of sensationalism and conveniencing one small story.
3) A really UGLY set of unjustifiable personal circumstances-- regardless of the characters. Just. . . just bottom-feeding story-telling at its worst.

Ugh. I remember literally throwing that issue across the room. . .


Dougie said...

Even more heinously, perhaps, that Black Panther sequence is lifted wholesale from the Cornell Wilde movie "The Naked Prey". I saw it on tv when I was about ten years old and it haunted me for decades.

BTW, those verification codes are a bloody nuisance!

david_b said...

Humanbelly.., I felt the same about the 1st Appearance of the Gwen clone way back in '74..

I felt like it was a big slap in the face from actually 'caring' about a character who died, then happens to show up a year later.

The House of Ideas lost authenticity in one fell swoop.

And a 'true believer'.

Yes, I mentioned the new coding yesterday. Shouldn't there be an easier way for us bi-focal types to prove we're NOT robots..??

Lorne Thomson said...

One that springs to mind is a 90's issue of Guardians Of The Galaxy featuring art by Herbe Trimpe.

The art was so hideous, with poor old Herbe trying to copy Rob Liefield's style that it made it unreadable.
Mind you I did almost cry with laughter reading it as it was some of the worst art I'd ever seen in a comic ( and this was the 90's!!).

Fred W. Hill said...

I remembers the tiny ads for the Gunhawks in Marvel Comics whenever they came out in 1972, just one of several titles that all came and went within just a few months, including 3 with female leads -- Claws of the Cat, Night Nurse and Shanna the She-Devil. I didn't read any of them but reading your comments about Gunhawks now, Doug, I wonder what the reader reaction at the time was and if the mag was around long enough for any to reach the letters pages. I'll give Freidrich & Thomas the benefit of the doubt that they weren't racist but it was certainly a lunkheaded idea. They probably thought it was novel & clever to have a black cowboy who fought on the side of the Confederacy, and while there may be a shred of historical truth, maybe it was even based on some anecdote Friedrich read somewhere, the vast majority (99%?) of slaves or former slaves who fought at all during the U.S. Civil War did so on the side of the Union. They wanted to preserve their freedom and to help free those still enslaved.
I stopped collecting Spider-Man long before the Norman/Gwen love scene, although I did see images from the scene, and, yep, that's one that truly appalled me. Just another indicator for me that with the close of the Bronze Age, Marvel Comics morphed into a New Universe where everyone pretended it was the same one we all used to read about and mostly love. In the new age, however, nearly everyone acted out of character, even those long deceased but either brought back from the dead or viewed in flashbacks. Maybe Jim Shooter actually succeeded in foisting a New Universe on Marvel before he was given the boot, just not the one that bore that sobriquet.

Anonymous said...

"Or am I the one being prejudiced and judgmental by even thinking of that?" Yes.

starfoxxx said...

Okay here's my easy jab at Bendis----he just doesn't respect years of characterization; everyone talks like a snarky Spider-man; Iron Fist and MS Marvel are NOT comedians!----I could go on and on.So ANY Avengers comic written by BMB.

Also, ULTIMATES 3, with the weird relationship between Wanda and Pietro--- anyway, an issue into that series and I haven't read anything ULTIMATE since.

I always hear/read about the controversy of AVENGERS #200---but I was 8 or 9 when I first read it, and it just went over my head.

Redartz said...

Not a bronze age story, but I'll mention it anyway: the recent storyline in Amazing Spiderman in which the Lizard ( Curt Connors) eats his son. Overall, I've enjoyed this title the past couple of years, but this particular story really bothered me. Yes, it showed Connors' greatest fear come true, but was it really necessary?

Anonymous said...

DC series "Millennium." First off, the character "Extraño" was every negative gay stereotype brought to life. I can only imagine how much self esteem damage that one caused for some kid.
I was offended by Extraño back in 1988 when this piece of crap comic came out. Even more so later in life when I had gay friends come into my life.
The were other horrible stereotypes for other characters too. The series itself stunk without the awful social statements.
Extraño's first appearance was issue #2. That same issue "Snow Flame" a Super villain that gained his powers from using cocaine. Oy. *face palm*

I am a Liberal minded woman. I don't believe in prohibition and support marriage for all. But that Gay caricature and cocaine origin appalled me on a base human level. Not because of what they are, but how they were presented. Still pisses me off to this day. Sorry.

Also Avengers 200. I thought of that the instant I saw the thread title.

(Star trek TNG did an episode called "The Child" that was basically the same thing. *facepalm*)

I love comics. They have had a positive place in my life 99.9% of the time. Great topic, love the conversation.

Karen said...

It's nice to sit down after a very long Friday and see all the great comments on this post. I can't respond to all but I wanted to remark on a few.

Richard: I don't think it was any kind of overt racism on the part of Friedrich or Thomas. I think they really probably thought it was a great unique twist but it just comes across as ignorant and insensitive at best. Also just a note -here in the states, the term 'colored' is considered derogatory, so you might want to avoid using it.

Matthew: good point about blaxploitation films. They may not have been the highest quality but they did provide a lot of work for African Americans in the film industry. I still love Coffy, Blacula, Shaft...but I love the 70s in general!

Davd: Black Dynamite is fantastic!

JA Morris: Agree with you completely about Byrne's deconstruction of the Vision. It destroyed the character and he never recovered.

Dougie/David: Sorry about the verification code. I don't think there's anything Doug or I can do about it, but I will check.

Fred: I think your assessment of the Gunhawks situation is probably the right one.And, uh, I know Doug has been writing the lion's share of posts lately, but actually I wrote this one!

Redartz: I had not heard of that Lizard story, but it IS appalling.

Anonymous: I recall nothing of Millenium EXCEPT that horrible Extrano character. Yeah, let's make the gay man the weirdest most jacked up character ever. Just terrible. I also recall TNG's "The Child," a truly wretched episode. I can't even cut it slack for being a left-over script that was used during the writer's strike. That script should have been chucked in a trash can.


Edo Bosnar said...

I didn't really have anything to add to this, because the first comic that popped to my mind when I saw Karen's title was "Avengers 200" - and I could really think of no other comic that was appalling in that same way Karen is talking about, rather than simply digusting, scaring or grossing me out in some way.
But now that TNG's "The Child" came up, I have to say, I was appalled by that one too. For the longest time, I was actually convinced that someone in the Star Trek writing crew had actually plagiarized Avengers 200, until the dawn of the internets when I learned it was actually a leftover script from that abandoned Star Trek project in the late '70s.

Fred W. Hill said...

oops, sorry about the misatribution, Karen! Coincidentally, this morning in the NYTimes website, I read this interesting article about a free black militia from New Orleans that tried to fight for the Confederacy and the obstacles they faced:

The Confederate government was not too keen on arming blacks (free or slave) to help in the war, at least not until the last few weeks when their cause was clearly lost and they were just plain desperate.
BTW, apparently the first comic to star a black character was a western, Lobo, which lasted only two issues published in 1965 and 1966. Distributors throughout the nation, but particularly in the south, refused to even display it. Fortunately things had changed considerably just a few years later when Marvel came out with Hero for Hire which did much better.

Chuck Wells said...

I agree with you & Claremont on the whole Avengers #200 treatment of Ms. Marvel; she deserved better.

As far as the Gunhawks, I always felt like what the writer tried to do could have been handled in a much better way. It really did come across as too cumbaya in its depiction of the "happy" slave background.

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