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12 December 2011 @ 02:46 pm
impressions after reading Inferno - a rant.  

Like with other issues of sexism in comics, the problematic narratives revolving around female characters becoming dangerous and insane / evil (the insane=evil thing in itself would be very much worth the examination and could be easily seen as worse than gender issues, but I’m not sure I’m up to it) as a result of their power was something I’d heard of before I started reading comics; mostly revolving around Jean Grey, and a little bit around the Scarlet Witch with Disassembled and Decimation. Now that I’ve just read the X-Men storyline Inferno, I found it interesting to see how many characters are present in it which plays in various ways along those lines, and how really fucking bad it looks.

Now most of the characters in Inferno have more to do with a theme of corruption by evil than by insanity (though again, the two are too often seen as nearly equivalent), but power, though in not an obvious way, definitely plays a role in each one of those.

Those characters are Madelyne / Goblin Queen, Illyana / Magik, Lorna / Polaris & Warren / Angel. Two of those, Madelyne & Illyana, are placed right in the center of the story; whereas Polaris and Warren are more peripheral but still make an interesting counterpoint.

Madelyne is especially the character on whom the narrative revolve especially. Now, I suppose once they decided to bring Jean back, there was no real helping having to make do with her as a character long term wise. How they did it, on the other hand, is hardly helpful. To be honest, I have mixed feeling because I can’t say I disliked it. I love a good tragedy, and I love a good villain - and on those points this plays well. Madelyne has good reason to be hateful, and they make a big deal of her hatred in a way that is epic and cool. Even the fact that so much revolves around threatening her own baby kid isn’t something I disliked, because it’s epic and tragic in an awesome Medea way. I love that sort of shit. OTOH she goes down like a chump, which is annoying; and it reeks of getting rid of the bothsome character by making her as villainous as possible, including by playing on misogynist tones (BAD MOTHER! one of the most powerful trope that can be used to police what women do).

Power here plays in an interesting way, since Madelyne wasn’t really a superhero. However, she was an ally of the X-Men by then, even having gone as far as sacrificing her life with them to save the world not so long ago. In a way it is easy to think that if she had been a superhero - one with powers - there could have been more done to rescue the character as a positive one. But since she’s a civilian, she doesn’t matter as much to be that; even though she’d done genuinely heroic things previously. So in this case, she is only given power for the sake of being a threatening enough villain. (Obviously that’s a wide range issue with superhero stories, you’ve got to have a superpowered fight, so villains sometimes must be given a superpower regardless of how well it fits thematics or their characterisations). The narrative of Power Corrupts, though, is usually a pretty interesting one, and in this case feels introduced in a natural enough way. Again, perhaps it is only because it reminds me of Medea (a badass character if there ever was one), but the whole Goblin Queen thing is, in its way, pretty damn cool and epic (we could definitely have done without the stripperific costumes though, that… really doesn’t add anything good theme-wise). So in itself, while there are various issues with Madelyne’s handling, I could have rolled with it easily if not for the rest of the characters.

Which brings us to Illyana. Now, of course she’s a character I especially favour, so I’m going to be biased. The themes of Power Corrupts, and struggling for one’s own soul has been the very basis of her character from the beginning. But because it’s what the character’s always been based upon as a super-heroic character, up until then it was always about triumphing from those issues in a positive way. Which was awesome. Thematically, the idea that a character had undergone so much trauma can survive it, gains power from it and becomes a heroic character is something I find very powerful. And I find the way she is handled in Inferno to pretty much erase and undermine completely that narrative. Arguably this is meant to be still a positive role for her - she sacrifices herself to save the day. Arguably, this isn’t an actual death. She gets to become again her innocent self.

Arguably — I think it makes it very much worse. I’d prefer a genuine death by sacrifice to this re-youthenification bullshit, honestly. Yikes. The problem is that it conveys the idea that Illyana who did all those things, the Illyana who undergone all that trauma - is irremediably tainted and corrupted by it. That self of her does not deserve being saved, only the innocent self (in the sense of innocent of having suffered this yet) is worthy of it. She does not get to own her redemption, because her redemption is the condemnation of what she was. Metaphorically, what it means to people who could enjoy and relate to the character because they might have suffered from some trauma and struggled with them, is really fucking depressing.

Of course it also ties to power in ways that are problematic too. Innocent!child!Illyana is of course without the sorcerous powers of Magik (though I’d assume she’d eventually had her teleportation abilities), and usually so young a character isn’t given any agency in the story, she’d be merely an object for the sake of the stories of other characters - in particular, I presume, her brother (iow, a male character).

So that makes it two female characters at the centers of the story for whom holding power is irremediably a source of negative result.

Malice-possessed-Polaris only makes an appearance in the story, and her narrative isn’t done yet, which makes it harder to judge overall (for me, at least, until I read it the outcome ). Since I know in current days comics she’s still around, obviously she eventually goes back from it as a heroic character.The ties to power is also a bit more flimsy - it is suggested that the reason Malice bonded with her permanently is because of the interaction with her magnetic superpowers - but are still there. It’s mostly problematic in that it makes it a third female character who has been corrupted by evil in the middle of the story. Gee, thanks.

Which is all the more riling when you contrast it with Warren. At this point of his story, Warren has gone through most of the corruption effect already, and mostly in a positive way. Oh, he’s still a bit alienated from the other characters and acts all angsty and gloom because of it, but in Inferno he is unreservedly a heroic character. He even receives his new superhero name “Archangel” through the course of the story, as a validation that even after having undergone the influence of a corruptive power - one which made him a much more dangerous, and badass character as well as compensating with the previous loss of his native superpower (which lasted - what, five issues?) - he is still very much a positive one.

More than twenty years from then, I know there is an ungoing storyline which makes use of this as a starting point which appears much more radical (I would see very little potential for redemption from the story Rememder is telling, but perhaps I should not underestimate comics); and perhaps there has been other stories in the between that did things in a more nuanced way as well.

But as of Inferno, as it stands in this story, Power Corrupts narrative is an opportunity for female characters to be villains, to be righteously (if tragically) killed, or close enough to - whereas for male characters it is an opportunity for them to be more bad-ass and angsty characters. Joy.

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Jax: khr squalo big snarlimadra_blue on December 13th, 2011 08:03 am (UTC)
Haven't read the X-Men since 1999, but I'm peripherally aware of what's going on. I refuse to pick up another comic until Jean comes back, Scott acts like himself, and Emma is elsewhere--I never liked her character very much to begin with, as she hits all my pet peeves on female characters, but that they got rid of Jean and promoted her is enraging to me--let's get rid of the positive portrayal of a female character and replace her with every man's blonde dominatrix fantasy! Okay, rant over on that, sorry. I have Strong Feelings on this subject. I understand that some people (including you, judging by your icon) may view her more positively, but in all the comics I read, Emma was always designed for the male gaze, with little interest in writing (or drawing) her as real human being and not a manipulative sex toy. If they changed that since 1998 (Generation X had glimmers, but only glimmers), great, but I will always resent that they did that at Jean's and Scott's expenses, which will make me forever bitter to that character.

I read Inferno, and even have most of the comics from the series. It was quite fascinating, actually. I agree Madelyne's depiction was fascinating, despite its issues, but it felt cheap how they got rid of her. But I suppose with Jean back, they felt they needed to kill her somehow. I would have liked them to try something out of the box, but that won't happen. I always hated what they did to Magik, who I also loved. I kept hoping they'd bring her back and undo her youthening, but then they killed her with the Legacy Virus(or did they bring her back?). Poor Lorna was always depicted with issues, and I never cared for the Malice storyline. After the Dark Phoenix storyline, it felt like a pale shadow and a copy. And I always wanted Warren to fall apart more. It annoyed me that he comes out okay, but all the women are a mess. Especially because Warren has lots and lots of issues, especially over his wings.

I'll at least manage not rant about what they've done to another of my favorites, Jubilee. XD Sorry, I grew up with X-Men (Jubilee was my age when I started reading, and the main character of my introduction story, so there was instant bonding), so seeing how they keep fucking with my childhood only enrages me....
Anne-Elisa: scared Detrangere on December 13th, 2011 06:38 pm (UTC)
wow, you do have feelings on the subject. Yeah, I don't mind Emma so much, and I love many aspects of her. There are a few ways in which she is problematic, certainly, but I love the snarkiness, the HBIC-ness, the sense of very deliberate showmanship, the abrasive personality with some softer feelings that she hides well. I agree the way they put her and Scott together was full of fail - especially the with blessing from Jean so the world doesn't go to hell aspect (so much facepalm); but otherwise I actually find the Scott & Emma couple to have good chemistry. It's very annoying that one of the reason Jean still hasn't been brought back is the fact they want to keep the two of them together, though; but I don't blame Emma for that. It's not her fault the editors are fucked up.

It annoyed me that he comes out okay, but all the women are a mess.
Yes! that's exactly what pisses me off here. Grrr.

Haha, my lattest post on S_D was Jubilee kicking ass. But yeah, between the depowering and the vamping, it has been some rough time for Jubilee.

I kept hoping they'd bring her back and undo her youthening, but then they killed her with the Legacy Virus(or did they bring her back?).
Both. I know she died of the Legacy Virus sometimes in the late 90's or early 00's, but Illyana - or a version of her, it's a bit complicated - has been back since 2006 thereabout. She's currently part of the team in Uncanny. But at least they seem willing to move her in more directions right now (whether or not those directions are to your liking, I would not be able to know).
Jax: soul eater maka poutimadra_blue on December 13th, 2011 11:51 pm (UTC)
Ahahaha, sorry about that. I just needed to Vent. >.> Feel free to ignore my scary Strong Feelings. They're based on comics over a decade old. XD

I will restrain myself from ranting over all the problems I have with Emma's character (especially since I primarily work off the 90s version, which was especially problematic) because you're fond of her. I will say this, though: The character is emblematic of the issues I have with comic books. It's not so much a thing of "blame" for the editor's choices, but that the nature of her character (an archetype I hate to the pits of my soul) says very ugly things in light of how they shafted a strong, admirable, heroic female character in favor of a character that plays to the male "bad girl" fantasy.

However, it is perfectly valid to see some good in Emma and work her away from that. I just can't get past my issues with her, because any character development she's had since they hooked her up with Scott has come at the expense of Scott and Jean, both among my favorite X-Men. Jean is dead, and to me? Scott is dead. The Scott they're writing now is not the Scott I once loved, and I like to believe he's a Scott clone. Man, I miss the Scott Lobdell era. So, despite my Strong Feelings, I do not begrudge you and other Emma fans. I just personally cannot make peace with her, because her character happened to be the weapon that was used to destroy what I had always loved about the X-Men.

At least they still have Jubilee doing things. I'm really angry over the disempowering and then vamping of her character. What the Jesus Christ. About the only time I started to like Emma was when she was dealing with her female students in Generation X, and I had liked the tension between her and former X-Man Jubilee as teacher and student. Just when they were writing Emma in such a way that I could have learned to like her, they flushed the whole damn thing down the toilet.

*heads hurts* Well, at least they sort of brought Illyana back. *sighs* It's impossible to tell if I would like it. X-Men is a shot in the dark for me. I find it best to avoid the post-2000 comics.

Here's the part where you can laugh at me for my Strong Feelings. When I was a kid in the 90s, reading X-Men, I'd listen to the older fans grump about how they hated the changes, the new line-up, and the shafting of Kitty Pryde, etc. Many refused to read. I never understood them, as I loved the X-Men as they were. Now, I AM the grumpy older fan who hates how her pet characters got the shaft and the new line-up and all the changes. The circle is complete. I am the irrelevant, angry former X-Men fan of the Good Old Days of Yore. Go ahead and laugh. It's funny. Even I laugh, despite my Strong Feelings. XDDD
Anne-Elisa: *g*etrangere on December 14th, 2011 12:26 am (UTC)
wow I suck at linking, and at editing (my last sentence was meant to be about Jubilee, not Illyana).

I don't begrudge you your feelings about Emma.

When I was a kid in the 90s, reading X-Men, I'd listen to the older fans grump about how they hated the changes, the new line-up, and the shafting of Kitty Pryde, etc. Many refused to read. I never understood them, as I loved the X-Men as they were. Now, I AM the grumpy older fan who hates how her pet characters got the shaft and the new line-up and all the changes. The circle is complete. I am the irrelevant, angry former X-Men fan of the Good Old Days of Yore. Go ahead and laugh. It's funny. Even I laugh, despite my Strong Feelings. XDDD
Hehe. Well, I'd laugh but chances are I'll get to the same point in 10 or 20 years XD
Yeah, coming into it right now, I tend to accept things at face value so it is very different. I actually love a lot of stuff in the status quo (despite how much I loathe the whole Decimation storyline which has shaped the whole second half of the 00's to current).
Jaximadra_blue on December 14th, 2011 01:15 am (UTC)
Hmm, I like Jubilee's BAMF development, at least, but wish they'd left her with her mutant powers. However, there is one thing they could drop, and that's Jubilee's 90s costume. XDDD

Why don't you like Psylocke? Poor girl did have some issues, certainly, but it seemed she was becoming stronger when I left, more independent. Did they undo that, too?

Maybe all of us just like the status quo of how things were during our entry points, who knows? We'll find out in a few years. ;)
Anne-Elisaetrangere on December 14th, 2011 01:28 am (UTC)
My issues with Betsy:
- She's a ninja. I dislike most ninja on principles.
- Errr, the whole extremely awkward racial thing with her being a white, Brittish woman permanently using the body of an Asian woman? It's just icky.

I actually rather like the Betsy in the 80's era stuff!! But in modern stuff I feel rather meh about her.


LOL, yes.
Jax: ff13 lightning gorgeous faceimadra_blue on December 14th, 2011 01:34 am (UTC)
Ahahaha, I like ninja okay. I agree the racial thing is icky, but I also find it extremely confusing. I don't even know what to think about it. As a child, it never phased me, but I will admit as an adult, I dislike the idea of a white woman taking over the body of an Asian woman. It might bother me less if they left Kwannon alive to deal with the reverse situation.

Betsy in the 80s era was good, and I liked some of her storyline in the 90s, bits and pieces here and there. The Crimson Dawn developments were intriguing, but then I recall that they then subsequently put her on a bus to nowhere. XD I always felt Betsy had potential, but sadly, nobody ever wrote her living up to it.

I confess that my favorite X-Men storyline is the Age of Apocalypse. >.> Don't judge me.
Anne-Elisa: *???*etrangere on December 14th, 2011 01:38 am (UTC)
but I will admit as an adult, I dislike the idea of a white woman taking over the body of an Asian woman. It might bother me less if they left Kwannon alive to deal with the reverse situation.
Yes, and yes.

I always felt Betsy had potential, but sadly, nobody ever wrote her living up to it.
TBH, I don't find her written badly currently either. She's one of the strongest character in UXF for example, asides for the whole deal with Fantomex crushing on her which annoys me (because Fantomex is who I usually list as least favourite X-Men character)/


I confess that my favorite X-Men storyline is the Age of Apocalypse. >.> Don't judge me.

I'll need to... read it first before I start judging you on that account? I'm sure you'll be useful to me once I start asking for recs for 90's stuff though!!
Jax: soul eater maka crona walkimadra_blue on December 14th, 2011 01:45 am (UTC)
I don't know what UXF is? I know in my time, I kept waiting for this great, awesome thing for Betsy to come about, and it never quite did, but she had some interesting turns. And I admit that I adore Kwannon's character design.

Ahahaha, let me know what you think of Age of Apocalypse. I thought it was awesome, because the writers, in the space of this little AU storyline, felt free to cut loose and shake up the status quo in a good way. And that made it awesome to me. They built this whole history and society for it, and it was just great.

I have plenty of recs for the 90s. Some people found the desire to shake things up every year or so with some big storyline, like the Rise of the Phalanx, tiresome, but I often found those storylines fun. And it has the best of the Jean/Scott (Jean's name deliberately first ;)) era.
Anne-Elisa: winetrangere on December 14th, 2011 03:03 am (UTC)
UXF = Uncanny X-Force, the title which is exploring Angel actually going evil due to the Death persona which i was referring to in my OP, and which I'm mainly reading because it features Deadpool and actually has good characterisation of him (be still my hearts!). Incidentally it also addresses a lot of AoA things which leave me thoroughly confused XD

Oh, I intent on continuing posting my reactions to stuff I read, so I undoubtedly will for AoA as well.

I still have all those 80's stuff to read before I get there! gimme a minute!! :)
q99q99 on December 13th, 2011 11:06 am (UTC)
I wonder what the first time we had a "Male hero go mad with power" story.

The biggest one I can think of is Hal Jordan, though he's far from the only one.
Anne-Elisa: *g*etrangere on December 13th, 2011 06:39 pm (UTC)
It's a good question, are we limited to comics? Ancient mythologies has a few instances I believe ^^
Ronch Ronch Ronch: X-Men: Me Myself and Isandoz_iscariot on December 14th, 2011 12:07 am (UTC)
Now, I suppose once they decided to bring Jean back, there was no real helping having to make do with her as a character long term wise. How they did it, on the other hand, is hardly helpful.

IIRC the "Scott leaves Madelyne and she turns evil" thing was an editorial mandate that Chris Claremont wasn't happy about (he thought Scott abandoning his wife and child ruined the character, which I agree with tbh). So even though Inferno kind of represents the worst aspects of Claremont's "woman possessed/turned into an evil dominatrix" trope and goes pretty over the top to make Madelyne into a "Bad Mommy from Hell," I find it interesting that she still comes across as really sympathetic? I wish she could have taken her revenge on Scott at least (god I hate Scott). Then she and Jean could go get coffee and talk shit out.

But yeah, totally agreed w/ your point about Warren. Alex is also "corrupted" and becomes Madelyne's Goblin Prince, but of course he lives and gets more dead girlfriend angst. Because men always survive these stories and become more ~tragic~ and ~badass~ but the women are just crazy harpies who need to be put down. (See also: my rage every time there's a "oh noes, Jean might go Dark Phoenix again and we'll have to kill her!" moment with Cyclops and Wolverine.)
Anne-Elisa: eyerolletrangere on December 14th, 2011 12:36 am (UTC)
pertinent icon is pertinent! XD

IIRC the "Scott leaves Madelyne and she turns evil" thing was an editorial mandate that Chris Claremont wasn't happy about (he thought Scott abandoning his wife and child ruined the character, which I agree with tbh)
I'm not surprised.

I find it interesting that she still comes across as really sympathetic?
Yes, I agree. Overall her story is heartbreaking, her whole world crumbles around her, she has no past and no present that isn't a lie. And even then she starts trying to be helpful until the demons manage to get their hooks on her through good intentions. And even then, she seems more intent on telling them how much it all hurt her than actually hurting them. She has a lot of dignity (which is impressive, in that outfit XD)

Then she and Jean could go get coffee and talk shit out.
LOL, yes!!

Alex is also "corrupted" and becomes Madelyne's Goblin Prince, but of course he lives and gets more dead girlfriend angst.
True. I didn't include him because I didn't see him so much as corrupted as... conned in? Like, he doesn't really seem to change in term of who he is, he just decides to follow her and then sticks to his decision.

Because men always survive these stories and become more ~tragic~ and ~badass~ but the women are just crazy harpies who need to be put down. (See also: my rage every time there's a "oh noes, Jean might go Dark Phoenix again and we'll have to kill her!" moment with Cyclops and Wolverine.)
YES! It's so icky. I don't give a shit about your manpain Logan & Scott, go get over yourself or something. Grrr.