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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Panther's rage



So, I gather that the Black Panther is getting married to Storm, and a great many people are upset by it. Even avid, obsessional DC partisans have taken a lesson from this development, and apparently, their lesson is, Reginald Hudlin (current Panther scribe) must never be allowed to write anything in the DC Universe.

Me, I... well. It's not that I don't care. It's just... well... okay, I don't care. I enjoyed Black Panther when Chris Priest was writing it, not because Chris Priest was a great writer, but because he was a good one and he was respectful of the character and the character's history and because, for that brief period when he was writing Panther and Busiek was writing Avengers, the Silver Age lived again at the Marvel Universe... for a little while, before they went away and the darkness came rushing back in again.

The current Black Panther I know nothing about. If he's marrying Storm, well, honestly, it just doesn't matter to me; he's not my Black Panther and this isn't my Marvel Universe.

Oh, I can get overwrought about it if I let it catch me in an unguarded moment; if I relax and let myself forget that the Modern Age isn't my age, that it is peopled largely with brutal, moronic parodies of the characters I once knew, whose exploits are largely created for and consumed by shallow, provincial, spoiled, overstimulated perpetual adolescents, well... yeah, then I can get a little pissy, I grant you, at the thought that T'Challa, King of the Wakandas, is for some reason passing all rational understanding getting hitched to some frickin' Claremont mutant with utterly retarded, completely unworkable powers whose personality varies from panel to panel and who, other than relative epidermal content and continent of birth, has as much in common with with him as an open toed sandal does with a boot-jet...

But... nah. No. For the most part, I really just don't care. This isn't my Black Panther, and no All New All Different X-Man means much of anything to me. So let 'em get hitched. At most, it just leads me to wonder what happened to the days when being progressive meant promoting interracial relationships, when Misty Knight and Danny Rand were pushing the envelope, and why is it that the Black Panther, if he's going to get married, has to do it with the only black female superhuman anyone has ever heard of in the entire Marvel Universe?

It's like Sisko, on DEEP SPACE NINE. He's surrounded by human babes, alien babes, shapeshifting babes, holographic babes, cybernetic babes, he's the friggin' commander of the entire space station and a studly looking piece of man-ass, he clocks frickin' Q right in the coconut, you know there wasn't a dry pair of panties in the Alpha Quadrant when he did that, and does he ever get laid? No. For three solid years, he's holding his load, getting tenser and tenser with every passing second, so obviously in need of a blowjob he practically has backed up semen dribbling out his ears... but apparently, he has to wait until the only frickin' African-American woman for fifty parsecs around finally shows up in his docking bay before he can get his rocks off.

T'Challa wasn't that bad, at least, not under Priest he wasn't... we know he got laid by at least one white chick, although Priest did depict that relationship as being a fairly furtive and unhealthy one. But, apparently, if T'Challa is going to get married, it can't be to a white woman, or an Asian woman, or an Innuit woman, or a Polynesian woman, or some hot Filipina or some bootylicious latina or even a Kree or a Skrull or a Shi'ar, oh no. If T'Challa is going to get married, he has to marry a black woman, because otherwise he's betraying his race, or some such shit.

So, okay, it bothers me a little.

But, still, as I've noted, this ain't my T'Challa, and to my way of feeling, it ain't the real Black Panther. So marry him off to some frickin' mutant with moronic powers. I don't care.

But still, I think the debate/uproar has raised some interesting points. In an interview, current Panther scribe (and apparently, President of BET Entertainment) Reginald Hudlin says --

Why did you choose T'Challa's first love over his ex-fiancee, Monica Lynne?

RH: Because Superman should be with Wonder Woman, not Lois Lane.


Well, that's an interesting opinion. Wrong headed, dumb ass, completely pig ignorant, and entirely retarded, but, still, interesting.

Where do I begin? Okay, let's try here --

Wonder Woman should be gay, or at least, bisexual. Why? Leaving aside her upbringing (although I hesitate to; if any culture would have raised an infant to lesbianism, certainly it's the one on Paradise Island/Themascyra), the simple fact is, one of the things that has always crippled Wonder Woman's sales is the fact that they constantly couple her up with a man, and the biggest audience demographic in superhero comic books -- teen age boys -- isn't comfortable with how that always works out.

It's the power dynamic that kills her. When she dates a non super powered man, her boyfriend is repeatedly put into the typical supporting character/romantic interest role, which is to say, he's always getting kidnapped or otherwise endangered, and needing to be rescued by his babe. Teenage males hate this, and, frankly, on an emotional level entirely beyond the reach of my intellect, it makes me queasy, too.

If she dates a super powered man, well, either the guy is boring and nobody cares and there's not much point in introducing an element into your series that nobody is going to care about, or the character is cool and Wonder Woman becomes a supporting character in her own book.

Best possible solution -- she dates a chick. Whether non powered or super powered, another woman simply doesn't annoy and repel potential male readers the way seeing Wonder Woman date (and infrequently rescue) a male romantic interest will.

Any objections to Wonder Woman being gay, besides "ICCCKKKKKK!", I'll listen to, but I've thought this through, and it works much better than any Wonder Woman/male paramour dynamic I can come up with.

Beyond this, it has two other merits -- (a) we can do it nowadays, for perhaps the first time in the history of comics, and if we're going to have a gay superhero, why not make it an A lister?

(b) it will be fabulous for her sales, and she could use it.

Now, there are those who might object that it's wrong headed to worry about Wonder Woman's appeal to teenage boys, when in fact, she could be the best selling comic of all time if only somehow, someone could find some way to make the character appealing to teenage girls.

Certainly, if a serious eitorial attempt was made to turn the Wonder Woman title into a comic book that would appeal to a potential female target demographic, with an emphasis on natural, nuanced characterization and more subtle and complex social relations than male audiences normally care for, one could almost certainly pull off the typical Wonder Woman/Steve Trevor relationship. Any title, even a superhero(ine) title, aimed at the chick market is going to be short on battle and long on prattle (sorry, couldn't resist) and the fact that Wonder Woman could wad her boyfriend up one handed and pad her bra with him isn't going to be particularly important.

And that might be an interesting discussion to have. But I doubt anyone at any major comics company would ever greenlight such a radical departure from the Boy's Town norm, so all in all, I'm just going to say that, given the givens of superhero comics in general, and the cultural zeitgeist at this moment, matching Wonder Woman up with a female love interest is an idea whose time has come. It would generate a great deal of buzz, boost sales enormously, give DC mad points for being progressive, and certainly, if we want to try to make Wonder Woman into a title more for women than for men, that particular target demographic isn't any more (or less) likely to object to a girlfriend for Wonder Woman than superhero comics' traditional predominantly male audience will.

Another point people seem to be bringing up a great deal in this 'debate' -- if that's what it is -- surrounding Panther's upcoming nuptials to Storm is that it's somehow degrading to Storm for it to happen. The Panther, after all, is now and pretty much always has been a second string carrier, someone who, when he was in AVENGERS, was little more than a (forgive me again) spear carrier, and whose own individual titles, while generally generating a great deal of buzz, have never sold particularly well. He's got no cross media presence, although I guess there's an Ultimates Black Panther in the recently released cartoon, or at least, there's someone who looks like one on the DVD cover, and I've been hearing about a BLACK PANTHER movie featuring Wesley Snipes being in pre production for at least ten years now.

Compared to this, Storm... well, she's been in three successful movies, and she's a member of a team that has, at various times, supported nearly as many monthly titles as characters like Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man. She is, or so I read, pretty much the Marvel equivalent of Wonder Woman.

To me, though, that just seems sad, and it does point out something that the Marvel Universe lacks -- any A list superhuman women, at all.

Think about it. There are plenty of superheroines in the Marvel Universe, but how many of them have their own series at any given time, or have had their own series at all over the span of the MU's existence? The majority of them originated as The Inevitable Girl in some Silver or Modern Age superteam; the rest of them -- all of them I can think of at the moment who have now or have had their own titles in the past -- are distaff versions of more powerful male predecessor superheroes, like Spider-Girl, Ms. Marvel and, most notably, She-Hulk.

Storm clearly falls into the Inevitable Girl category, and pointing out her cross media exploitation, as well as her near constant presence in many very popular team titles, as justification for her being 'Marvel's version of Wonder Woman' is extremely deceptive. Storm does very little and contributes pretty much nothing significant to any of the X-Men movies. She's clearly there as the token minority in the middle of all that whitebread; for that matter, that's pretty clearly the role she served for years if not decades in the X-Men comics themselves, once the only other ethnic minority members were dropped (Sunfire) and/or killed (Thunderbird).

(I do understand that Kurt Wagner is an inhuman appearing blue skinned elf/demon thingie; however, it's always been pretty clear to me that if he'd been born a normal human, he'd have been about the most Caucasian one imaginable.)

Storm's constant presence is owed to her token stature, not her worth as a character. And her 'popularity', as such, is pretty much nonexistent, from what I can see. If any one character carried the X-Men movie franchise, it was Wolverine, and he's been doing most of the heavy lifting in the comics titles for the last thirty years, too. Comparing Storm to Wonder Woman is pretty much specious; I hit the local geek shop at least once a week, and I've yet to see a Storm piggy bank, lunch box, or beach towel in there anywhere, while Wonder Woman is plastered over dozens of different pieces of merchandise.

Storm's status as a token brings me back to my previous point -- the reason she's being paired up with the Black Panther is the same reason she gets written into every X-Men spin off franchise, and she keeps showing up in the various comics -- she's a two-fer. When you put her in a property, you get two minorities for the price of one; you fill in the Inevitable Girl slot, and you also get your token minority, too, so you can cast the rest of the characters from hot Caucasian OC types without worrying too much about being picketed by Al Sharpton.

Wonder Woman is a much better, and much better marketed and therefore more recognizable, character than Storm is. However disturbing various features of her character design may be when closely scrutinized, and however questionable her ability to carry her own title would be if she hadn't been propped up by the peculiar requirements of DC's licensing arrangement with the estate of William Moulton Marston for decades on end, still, it remains an undeniable fact -- any real attempt to compare Storm to Wonder Woman is specious at best... nearly as specious, come to think of it, as comparing the Black Panther to Superman.

Which brings me back around again to Hudlin's original point, which I have to admit, makes no sense to me at all. I'm not even going to bother debating whether Superman should be with Lois Lane, or with Wonder Woman, because the comparison is just ridiculous. At base, Hudlin seems to be saying that super powered characters should only ever marry other super powered characters, which strikes me as being a fairly idiotic notion. (Not least of which because, in this context, well, T'Challa actually has no super powers.) But for him to indicate that he somehow regards the Black Panther as being a Superman surrogate... honestly, I can't see how this makes the slightest amount of sense at all.

But then I realize that this is the same guy who said "All characters change. Or else Batman would have died of old age by now and Spidey would be middle aged." And I realize, once again, that this isn't my Black Panther, I shouldn't expect him to be written sensibly, and, well, he isn't being, so... whatever. Have him marry Storm. Or Wonder Woman. Or Superman, I suppose, if they want to set the wedding in Massachusetts, and really see some fan uproar...

5 Comments:

At 11:33 AM , Blogger CalvinPitt said...

Heh, yeah, Hudlin. I think I figured out that his Black Panther wouldn't be for me when a) he changed that WW2 meeting between T'Chaka and Captain America from "brief scuffle until they put aside their differences and talk" to "Black Panther gives Cap a beatdown", and b) when he decided that the Black Knight would be really eager to take part in a "Crusade" against those damn Panther-worshipping Wakandans. I'm thinking "Waitaminute, the guy's already fought in an actual Crusade - for five years -, you expect me to believe he wants to repeat the experience?"

And you're right, T'Challa could have any woman he chose, although I think Monica turned him down because she didn't want to deal with his mom. Heck, Hudlin had him run into Shang-Chi, and after the Master of Kung Fu turned down a nice Asian girl his father offered as a bride, Shang suggested Panther go for it. Turned her down, though he was polite about it.

What I can't figure out is if Black Panther and Storm had some deep, long-ago connection that made them right for each other, why the heck it took him as long as it did to getting around to asking her. You'd think she'd be at the top of the list. But he talked to Monica, and hit the New York club scene with Cage, and chatted up Captain marvel/Photon/Pulsar/whatever her codename is, then the Shang-Chi thing, and I think after that finally Storm. Why am I trying to rationalize Hudlin's work?

I'm curious what you'd think about this. Greg Rucka, who wrote Wonder Woman for awhile, said that in his opinion, she has no sex life. She's made out of clay and so she apparently doesn't have primary sexual characteristics (despite clearly having secondary sexual characteristics).

 
At 2:58 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

I haven't heard anything good about Hudlin, no. But I haven't read anything first hand, either.

After I finished this article, the truth burst on me (sometimes I'm slow) -- Hudlin can posture all he wants about how Superman belongs with Wonder Woman, but what this comes down to is generating buzz. If the Panther marries Monica Lynne, he gets a three line squib in Comics Journal -- "New BLACK PANTHER scribe Hudlin is having King of the Wakandas join small group of married superheroes". Something like that.

On the other hand, if T'Challa marries Storm, well... we see how THAT results.

Without admitting it, this is probably what he meant with the Superman/Wonder Woman thing. Superman marries Lois Lane -- okay, that's a story, but it pales in comparison to the headlines and furor if Superman marries Wonder Woman.

One could argue it's the writers job to try to help a title's commercial success, but I'd say it's his or her job to do it by writing good stories, or at least, commercial ones. When the writer is making huge story and characterization decisions solely on the basis of how much it helps sales, there's a problem.

 
At 3:12 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

Oh, and as to Rucka's theory on Wonder Woman -- it's an interesting one, and a defensible one. I've long said that Wonder Woman shouldn't have a bellybutton, and would like to see them show that (maybe a bikini shot) and have someone in the JLA ask her about it, so she could explain "Well, I'm a homunculus, so I don't have one".

However, as to her not having any sex drive at all, while, again, it's a logical idea and a supportable one, I wouldn't do it as a writer or allow it as an editor, for one simple reason -- it makes the character less interesting. Which is never a good idea.

 
At 2:28 AM , Blogger Bane said...

I want to like Marvel again... i really do.


Sigh...

 
At 5:01 AM , Blogger Highlander said...

You have to pick your spots carefully, at both DC and Marvel. DC has a few more writers I'll read... Johns, Rucka, Simone... than Marvel does (in fact, about the only writer I'm still reading at Marvel is Kirkman).

I really yearn to buy more Marvel books. I really, really wish that someone I could stand would take over on AVENGERS, or FANTASTIC FOUR, or SPIDER-MAN, or CAPTAIN AMERICA, or... well, anything, besides MARVEL TEAM UP.

But, more and more, the Modern Age simply isn't for me, and that's okay. There are still Lee/Kirby FF issues I haven't read, and more Masterworks volumes coming out every year...

 

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