That’s Really Super, Supergirl

One problem I’ve had with Final Crisis that no-one else seems to have had – or if they have, I’ve not seen them mention it – is the portrayal of women and the (lack of) portrayal of gay people.

Now, don’t get me wrong here – I’m not going to get all faux-outraged at the scenes where Mary Marvel and Supergirl are fighting or whatever. I think it’s perfectly obvious that that sort of stuff is as much a commentary on the ‘haunted vagina‘ type of superhero comic as anything else – if you’re unconvinced, then go back and read Bulleteer. Morrison knew exactly what he was doing there, and it’s very different from the way the same tropes were used in the execrable Countdown .

I’m less forgiving of J.G. Jones’ terrible cover for issue 3, which I’ve described before as Supergirl thinking “Oh dear, my mouth appears not to have anything phallic in it, and the closest thing I have is this finger. I wonder if *you* can think of anything I could use?”, but at least that wasn’t part of the story, and we did have a choice as to which cover we got (that was an issue where Holly went to the comic shop for me, and she was fairly horrified by that cover).

But there’s a deeper structural problem to Final Crisis, and one that’s inherent in the story Morrison wants to tell.

Basically, in Final Crisis, we are presented with two stories running in parallel. One is the story of Darkseid’s fall, rise and fall. The other, which has greater ‘cosmic import’ by the end of the series, is the story of Nix Uotan’s search for the love from whom he’s been separated by whole realities. Throughout what is presented as the main story, we are presented with love stories which reflect Uotan’s need to get back with Weeja Dell – J’onn J’onzz’ shouts “M’yriah!” (the name of his dead wife on Mars) as he dies, Hawkman wants to be with Hawkgirl and sacrifices his own life to be reincarnated in a world where she’ll love him, Superman travels through the Bleed and Overvoid to save Lois Lane. Almost every heroic character here is being presented as a man trying to get back to the woman he loves, in clear parallel to Nix Uotan’s own struggle.

I trust that, from that last sentence, you begin to see the problem. With a very few exceptions, male heterosexual love is presented as *the* motivating force for th’ whole whang-dang-doo multiverse, which means that because of the structure Morrison has chosen male characters get to be active, while female characters are *re*active. This also means that characters like Oracle – who given some of the themes of the story that I’ll be returning to tomorrow should have had a *much* bigger role in the story – are sidelined.

(Some of the comparative lack of female action may also be due to Morrison’s decision to take Wonder Woman away from the action for most of the story, because he doesn’t believe he has a good grasp on her character – understandable, as she doesn’t have one, or at least not a consistent one between writers.)

Also surprising is how much this reinforces heteronormative roles – odd for a writer like Morrison, who has introduced more gay characters to Big Two comics than any other writer I can think of. In a story that’s largely about the power of love, ‘love’ here is a strictly monogamous relationship between one man and one woman – the framers of Prop Eight would be proud.

What’s particularly galling here is that one of the very few female characters to have an important part in the action, the new Question, Renee Montoya, is gay, yet this is not as far as I can recall mentioned even in passing – in fact one could easily come away with the impression that the ‘Charlie’ she talks about (the old Question) is a former lover, rather than ‘just’ a friend. You’d think that given that DC are about to put Batwoman in Detective Comics, one of their flagship books, and that the Question and Batwoman had a romantic relationship in the past, there would have been a mention of this (someone’s going to point out one I missed now, aren’t they? I did check…)

This could not only have strengthened one of the few female characters to take a major part in the story, it would have helped get rid of the overpowering sense that in this respect at least Final Crisis, far from being innovative and new, is reinforcing a rather conservative world view.

Note, I’m not asking that the comic should have been turned into the left-wing equivalent of a Chick Tract, or for scenes of Batman/Alfred slash (heaven forbid), just that in a world where even the BBC thinks it’s reasonable to use ‘gay’ as a pejorative, it’s a shame when a writer who usually pays a hell of a lot of attention to subtext and buried cultural assumptions and who is generally on the side of the angels in these matters ends up inadvertantly sending the message that the love of men for women is the most important kind of love in the world. It’s not a terrible thing – if I can forgive Alan Moore the obsession with rape and sexual violence in his work, then I can certainly forgive this. And Morrison manages to write the female characters extremely well. It’s just that a very small amount of effort on his part (a couple of added panels would have done it) could have made the comic better in this respect.

Tomorrow, on to praising, rather than burying, what is still, after all, my favourite superhero crossover of all time…

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4 Responses to That’s Really Super, Supergirl

  1. Montoya’s sexuality is given the barest of passing mentions, when she talks to The Wall (also gay? unclear) and Taleb about how she found Overgirl hot “until she noticed the swastika”. But that’s really it, in the main series (mebbe something in Revelations?) – I do think a lot of the work Morrison’s done on Superman has been about, in some way, reclaiming male sexuality as a, you know, not-terrible and vile thing: empowerment, fertility, song, etc. Re: female-to-male desire, there is the ridiculously compressed, unrequited Super Young Team love triangle, but that’s about it.

  2. Does Zillo Valla’s quest count? I interpret her quest as trying, in part, to save Dax Novu from Mandrakk. There’s also Black Canary trying (and possibly succeeding) to free Green Arrow. But both of these are pretty far in the background.

  3. Oh yeah, and poor Julie Madison I suppose; it is pretty indubitably a heterocentric text, ultimately – I think – about the birth of the Fifth World.

  4. Here’s the thing: I’ve been doing a lot of reading into Morrison’s beliefs in chaos magick, Golden Dawn and Alister Crowley stuff (which, not surprisingly, also heavily influences Alan Moore in his own work). As I’ve read up on the different theories, I was at first slightly put off by the heavily heterocentric imagery, but when I looked back at what Morrison was doing with it, I think it’s arguable that he (and perhaps Moore as well) is trying to – as Beast put it – reclaim both masculinity and femininity as more transformative roles where the two are mutually compatible but not necessarily mutually exclusive.

    I thought this concept from chaos magick and Crowley was especially evident in Moore’s “Promethea” series, where the self is constantly attempting to return to the source of being, portrayed by phallic wands and swords and vaginal holy grails and chalices.

    So whether it’s The Flash and his Iris, Superman and his Lois, or Nix Uotan, I think Morrison is also concerned with this idea of the return to source, and that this return is somehow transcendent of space and time. I think this is all a very normative imagery, but I thought much of “Final Crisis” was either pointing this out or using it in an exaggerated way to contribute to the greater problem (most exemplified by Supergirl and Mary Marvel as the blonde bombshell of yesteryear and today’s; I can see a lot of Britney Spears in Mary’s look, and as I recall Supergirl has to rely on one of the guys to save the day). I don’t think Morrison is trying to resolve or offer solutions to this problem in “Final Crisis.”

    Then again, maybe something interesting will come up with The Question and Batwoman in “Revelations,” which I haven’t read.

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