Millar v Millar: In Defense of Sexist Excess

My dispoable income is next to none.  Between funding the household and addressing healthcare and ancient house-care, Money for new comics and such is in short supply.  To make up for this, TJ and I go to the local libraries every week or two to gather up armfuls of comics of all different genres.  It’s a cheap way to dive into an interesting old series or explore the continuity of Marvel or DC.

Our recent pillaging voyage scored us a couple collections of Mark Millar’s “The Avengers” from Marvel’s Ultimate universe.  In that universe, the Avengers is a quiet black-ops team designed to take on problems the public team (the Ultimates) can’t.

I can say without sarcasm that Mark Millar puts together a team of real winners for these runs.  All sorts of wild cards that you’d never otherwise see in an Avengers title get thrown in – Blade, the Punisher, a perma-hulked gangster named Tyrone Cash (Banner’s former mentor), and a smattering of others.

The plot was decent enough, but not one of the best I’ve read.  I’m not a huge Marvel fan, but I’ve read Marvel works with much snappier stories.  The part that really stuck with me, though, is the rampant, unapologetic, and unconstructive sexism and misogyny wielded by most of the heroes.  Nick Fury is a serial womanizer, choosing his ex-wife (Black Widow)’s family members and friends as marks while they’re still married.  Tyrone Cash, Hulk’s mentor, became a drug kingpin who brings bitches along on black ops missions.  Blade flimsily screws a bunch of vampire hoes he supposedly doesn’t know are vampires (how could he not?):  after Blade kills a dozen vampire soldiers that invade his hotel room, the floozieferatus announce that all the fucking they’d been doing earlier was supposed to wear him out.  But Blade is such a proficient killer and fucker that he kills them and asks for more bitches next time.  And apparently someone on the team is a wife-beater of the non-Hanes variety.

But Millar makes up for it by championing the women heroes in the story.  Well… no, he doesn’t.  Black Widow makes no ripples and has no pull with the team.  When Hawkeye asks her about her divorce from Nick Fury, she flatly tells him about Fury’s seduction and buggery of her social circle, including her mom.  No big deal.  It doesn’t inform her actions, or Hawkeye’s, or anyone else’s, in any way.  And that’s one of Black Widow’s biggest scenes.  Although, she does appear as a prop for Tyrone Cash when he tells his bitches not to worry about the sexual tension between Widow and Cash.  She didn’t do anything about it.  But she was in panel! Making a face! So that was a pretty big scene for her. She did have that one scene where she had a chance to take a shot at the team’s target, but instead of taking the shot like a trained professional with a lifetime of experience, she talks to the rest of the team about what an awesome shot she has and how she’s going to it, unless somehow improbably the bad guy interrupts me while I’m running my mouth about the shot I should be taking! Oh no it happened!

There is one other strong female character: the blonde leader of the Ultimates team.  I mean, that’s huge.  She’s in a position of incredible power and responsibility.  And her leadership qualities really come through when she’s on-camera.  Wait… no they don’t.  All she does is complain about the rascally buggery do-gooder Nick Fury, who’s usurping her authority yet again! I guess Millar’s editors made him leave out the Bos Hogg cowboy hat.

But to be fair, Millar does make up for it by creating some likable pro-women guys for us to root for.  Like Hawkeye.  He is nearly compeletely neutral toward the ladies in that he does not actively disparage them.  Of course, he’s also painted as an unlikeable whiney spineless boy-scout will-less government lap-dog…. who is so brain-washed by S.H.I.E.L.D. that he can’t imagine doing something for himself… and who will only take a stand as an accessory to someone else’s agenda, an even then only if he can avoid all blame…

Okay.  Forget Hawkeye.  Let’s talk about the Hulk! Bruce Banner’s clone, I mean.  The one they call Nerd Hulk.  He’s semi-nice to women! He can stand next to one without saying a disparaging comment toward her or using her as an accessory.  We don’t get to see him do any awesome science stuff in-panel, because I guess we’d have to respect him and not chant “Nerd Hulk” and throw our Ho-Hos at his dumb green head.

But he’s likeable! He… dresses nice! And has nerdy hair! And… is pretty much a useless nerd-child who throws fits and can’t join the Ultimates because – in Captain America’s words – he fights like a ‘lady scientist”.  And when he gets turned down for the Ultimates he runs away from home without leaving a note and joins the cirus (just kidding.  Kind of).

Okay.  Nerd Hulk’s out.  The guy at the intersection of Likeability and Semi-Decent Treatment of Women for this comic is the Punisher, of all people.  He treats women well because he never interacts with a single one.  Ever.  Not during his killing spree, and not during black ops.  He does cool stuff and has a personal code, and he removes himself from treating women badly because they’re invisible to him or something.  Yay, Punisher!

I took my grievances to my comics exorcist, Shelby.  We’ve been friends since high school and we work together, so I pull him from playing Dominion on his phone now and then to talk comics for a while.  He thought it was silly that I objected to all of this while being a fan of Mark Millar’s Wanted, his vision of a universe where villains had long ago defeated the world’s superheroes in battle and now rule the planet on the down-low.  The script is full of rape and murder and myriad horribleness.  So if that was so much worse, why did the Ultimate Avengers bother me so much?

The answer, we agreed, is that in Wanted the rape and degradation were part of the world intrinsically.  We were seeing that universe through the eyes of a newcomer, so the world itself was a major character in that story.  The horribleness could not be separated from the core concept of the book.  Slaughtering a building full of people and raping the survivors as a way for supervillains to blow off steam: that makes sense to me.*

InUltimate Avengers,the sluts and misogyny are all ancillary.  None of it has anything to do with the plot.  And none of it makes an impression on any of the characters.  It doesn’t advance the story.  The women don’t object, or don’t have the voice to.  The men who don’t participate don’t object.  None of it matters to the mission at hand, or even to the characters, and yet it gets a lot of panel-time.  It’s all gimmicks and shock, at the expense of imaginary ladies.  The book’s message seems to be “Effective men also treat women like shit.  If you’re not treating women like shit, you’re probably ineffectual and unlikeable.  Unless you’re a women, then you’re guaranteed to be ineffectual.  Unless you’re the Punisher.”

*My other observation is that the depravity in Wanted is equal opportunity.  When the main character talks to his female mentor/lover about the horrible things he’s done to feel better, she says “Hey, whatever! I’ve done worse.  Don’t worry so much.”  So there’s no real gender binary there.



4 responses to “Millar v Millar: In Defense of Sexist Excess”

  1. I think the appeal of Mark Millar is that he IS A GIANT NERD. He’s a member of the community he writes for, and that isn’t always a good thing. The geek culture, especially in comic books, is filled with misogyny that mostly stems from the fear of women that so many geeks seem to have. It’s strange to think about, actually. There is so much anger and resentment towards women in the culture because of the lack of women in the culture… of course women are pushed away from the culture because it is over prevalent with misogyny and sexism.

    The entire industry is desperate for more talented women to get involved in it at all levels. The problem with that is, that for women to really break through in an industry like that, they have to be better than the men in it. It’s stupid, but it’s true. Anytime you have to break barriers and stereotypes, the only way to do that is to be better than everyone enforcing them.

    It’s too bad that most comic execs are guys like Millar, who just aren’t able to see how much the entire industry would benefit from bringing in more talented women.

  2. Matt, you bring up many over-arcing concerns about the whole of the industry that I didn’t really intend to touch upon. I just wanted to talk about a Millar comic that suprised me by being quite a stinker. After all, I’m a fan of Kick-Ass and Wanted, so I was unpleasantly suprised. But since you did open up a few cans of worms…

    Oh! Mark Millar’s popular because he’s a nerd. Being a nerd myself, and having several feminist nerd friends and acquaintances, I don’t see what that has to do with sexism, sorry.* You may have meant he’s a “typical” nerd (again, I’d disagree: see above) or an “old school” he-man woman hating nerd from that fabled time before girls read superhero books. The former I throw out; the latter I find insignificant, not because that group is small in size, but because a good story in this industry must, nowadays, reach wider audiences than just that.

    But! Let’s imagine a world where misogynist men *are* the only audience for this book (I’m not saying that’s what you’re claiming, Matt; I know that it’s not). It still wouldn’t be an excuse for bad storytelling, in this medium or in any other. If you replaced all the sexist moments in Millar’s Avengers with butt jokes (and I argue this wouldn’t be too hard, since the sexist moments had little to do with the plot), you’d still have a poor story with a lot of unneccessary asides, right?

    Lastly. I’m not arguing for an absence of sexism or horribleness in comics. But if you’re going to play with these “big guns”, they’d better mean something. And I’m not here to say that there should be a quota of woman creators in the industry. The ones we do have are pretty fucking incredible, which goes in line with your theory. May Fiona Staples ever be employed! While we wait for female comics creators to get the respect they deserve, I’ll settler for more woman-positive men.

    *For the record, this gaggle of feminist/woman-positive nerds ARE ALSO PART OF THE COMMUNITY MARK MILLAR WRITES FOR.

  3. For the record, that gaggle of feminist/woman-positive nerds is not part of the AUDIENCE that Millar writes for, even if they are part of the community.

    The truth of the matter is that Millar, like all writers, is writing for himself and people like himself. Which literally means that he’s writing for the protagonist of the Kick Ass comic books, who, by the way, also has a rampant hatred for women, although much more justifiable as the most influential woman in his life has him beaten nearly to death and then sent him phone-video of herself performing oral sex on another man.

    Which is, you know, excellent story telling that really had an important place in the plot of a kid that decided to be a super hero. I guess it gives us a reason for every character that Millar writes to be a woman bashing psychopath, given the context that Kick Ass is suppose to be semi-autobiographical in nature.

    My point is that these things aren’t considered part of the storytelling. Writers like Millar (and editors like Alex Alonso) put the story and characters as secondary to the ultimate goal of fantasy fulfillment. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, BUT, they are growing more and more out of touch with members of the community that aren’t the stereotypical woman-hating nerd.

    It is bad storytelling, and it is bad for the comic book industry. It’s going to kill it slowly as those basement-dwelling-anger-nerds become rarer and rarer, and the industry will either evolve (best case scenario) or collapse to feed it’s core audience more and more (most likely scenario).

    Either way, I wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel and DC lost their position as the biggest comic book publishers in the not-to-distant future.

    ******************************************************************************************************

    That being said, I thought it would make Captain America a bit more interesting character if he acted like he was actually from the 1940s, you know calling women broads and things like that. It would play up his “man-out-of-time” angle…

    That doesn’t work if he’s surrounded by characters exactly like himself, or worse.

    So, I share your disappointment, but not at Millar, because he’s that guy anyway, but at Alex Alonso for letting Millar keep putting out this lazy garbage. At least they shoved him to the Ultimate Avengers, which is like a fifth tier line at Marvel right now.

  4. Sounds like we’re mostly in agreement, Matt. I don’t remember the scene you describe in Kick-Ass, but something very similar happened in Wanted. I’m not against this sort of character development (characters that are “wrong” but believable are enjoyable for me), but it delights me when writers have more than one way of constructing a character. It’s interesting to see just how limited this very famous writer’s approach can be. And to see the same lazy method applied to half a dozen of Marvel’s most famous heroes in the same title was disappointing.

    And your idea for the Cap isn’t a bad one. If Millar had gone that way – convincingly – that might have been believable and cool. His Cap reads like a fratboy dudebro and not a Man Out of Time.

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