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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

HIGHLIGHTING ANXIETY PT. 2

This article for THE BEAT is my source for the following remarks of film-scripter David Goyer:


Goyer: I have a theory about She-Hulk. Which was created by a man, right? And at the time in particular I think 95% of comic book readers were men and certainly almost all of the comic book writers were men. So the Hulk was this classic male power fantasy. It’s like, most of the people reading comic books were these people like me who were just these little kids getting the s**t kicked out of them every day… And so then they created She-Hulk, right? Who was still smart… I think She-Hulk is the chick that you could f**k if you were Hulk, you know what I’m saying? … She-Hulk was the extension of the male power fantasy. So it’s like if I’m going to be this geek who becomes the Hulk then let’s create a giant green porn star that only the Hulk could f**k.


Now, though I've often caviled against elitist remarks by critics, whose dominant aim is to persuade readers to read "better stuff." Goyer, a sometime comics-fan himself, is no critic, or even much of a thinker, despite his inappropriate use of the word "theory" above. As far as I can tell, his remarks are merely a means of attention-getting, a common enough practice in the world of self-publicizing, the primary object of the podcast in which the remarks were made.  Making inflammatory remarks for publicity's sake, however much they may or may not be the speaker's real beliefs, is a tried-and-true strategy older than the comic-book medium itself.


Goyer's remarks had the usual effect: triggering objections from fans who didn't like what he said, and keeping his name prominent in the blogosphere. One may object, of course, that a scripter who has become a Big Deal in terms of adapting comic books to big-budget movies hardly needs such publicity. So it's possible that on some level Goyer doesn't just want publicity for his own projects; that he wants to castigate certain aspects of the genre by which he's currently making a living, as a means of convincing himself that he is "above" such politically incorrect content as "male sex fantasies."


I hardly need point out the self-serving superficiality of Goyer's "theory." The only significance of Goyer's screed is that it once more points out the seeming desperation of those who would ascribe "negative compensation" as the defining characteristic of whatever they happen not to like.


Happily, one of the posters on THE BEAT defended the remarks of Goyer and others in the podcast, giving me the chance to make this response:


The problem with your interpretation, as with those of Mazin and Goyer, is that you’re assuming that a character like She-Hulk can’t also be a power fantasy for any male readers. only a sex fantasy, which speaks poorly for your view of your own gender, if you are indeed of the XY persuasion.
(I assume from the way you start off your post– “Women love Power Girl,” and so on– you do admit that female heroes, even scantily clad ones, can be power fantasies for women.)
The fact is, though, female heroes are not only sex fantasies for men, any more than male heroes are only power fantasies for their male readers. There are a small number of male heroes, particularly the Hulk, who are not particularly attractive and who may be judged as almost pure power fantasies. But the great multitude of male heroes are also sex fantasies in the sense that they are designed to be thought of as “handsome” or “studly.” The hetero male then identifies with the character getting action because of his hot bod, his chiseled chin, etc.
Conversely, it should be obvious that hetero men can and do identify with female characters in the sense of power-struggles. She-Hulk wins most or all of her fights for the same reasons the Hulk does; nearly nobody wants to see the main character beat down.
Some female characters sell the sexual aspect more aggressively than others. She-Hulk, though, is not a particularly good example of this syndrome. But people will see what they want to see.
By way of supporting my above claim-- that She-Hulk was not automatically grounded in the appeal of "good girl art," I cite the remarks of the character's first regular penciler, Mike Vosburg, on the subject of She-Hulk's attractiveness:


The oddest thing about that book was that [inker] Frank [Springer] drew really beautiful women, I drew really beautiful women, and yet, the She-Hulk was never overly attractive.


I would concur with Vosburg's appraisal, that both he and Springer could draw attractive women very well, but that for whatever reason, the art of the original She-Hulk magazine was not conceived as "good girl art," as evinced by this example:









In stating this I'm not saying that no male-- or female-- reader ever derived sexual pleasure from this iteration of She-Hulk. I'm only saying that the art here is not oriented on "selling" the character's sexuality. I don't think any fan will doubt that when Marvel Comics wanted to sell sex, they generally knew how to sell sex.








So if anything, despite the character's artfully ripped clothing, the original SHE-HULK comic book does seem poised more to offer the character as a "power fantasy" than a "sex fantasy."  Later iterations could, and did, sometimes place more emphasis on She-Hulk as a "FBB," or "female body builder," which may also have offered sexual titillation.  But even in these versions, the titillation-factors would not necessarily exclude the possibility of hetero male readers identifying with the character's struggles with her assorted opponents, as opposed to seeing her as a "giant green porn star that only the Hulk could fuck."


I'll note, though, that this notion of the sex-object's supposed inaccessibility has been expressed in other venues: I recall one poster who was convinced that the beauty of female stars on some STAR TREK show "proved" that the target audience was convinced in advance that they, the Trekkies, had no chance with such women.  Just as with Goyer, this is merely an ad hominem attack on such fans, rather than any sort of sustained analysis of the mechanisms of psychological coping.

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