Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Spoiler, assault, motivations and what could have been horrible clichéd, yet somehow works

As some of you more regular (ha! All 4 of them anyway ;) ) readers will know, I worked my way through the Robin series last year and I have been promising a couple of posts on the Spoiler. What with Christmas, New Year and work madness I’m only just now getting round to writing the damn things.

This first post will be looking at when Stephanie revealed her abused past to Robin, and I’m going to praise the way it was handled. Both the art and the writing, I think, did a pretty damn good job of examining what is a difficult subject area. By and large, the issue managed not to fall into cliché and was (mostly) sensible about it’s approach.
I forgot to take a note of the issue number so if anyone can confirm which issue this story is from, I would much appreciate it. It was written by Chuck Dixon, but again, I forgot to make a note of the art credits.

EDIT: Not written BY Chuck Dixon, actually written by Jon Lewis. Thanks to Nevermore for letting me know.

Now, the guy in the story is a paedophile, but I think the viewpoint given in the story is applicable to all people who rape or assault others. Not just men, and not just paedophiles, because I think all assaults are wrong and equally horrific, no matter the age of the individual victim.

WARNING: The story is potentially triggering. The guy in the story is a paedophile, but I think the viewpoint given in the story is applicable to all people who rape or assault others. Not just men, and not just paedophiles, because I think all assaults are wrong and equally horrific, no matter the age of the individual victim.

Context: Tim and Steph are out on a date, chatting and have ended up in a music store. Here follows the 7 pages (click to enlarge):

Lets look at the problems first. The 5th page, Tim’s response:
‘It’s just that you’re the second girl I’ve known who something like this has happened to! The only answer I can see is that all men are scum…’
Only two? Count your other female friends lucky then because I reckon 50% of my female friends have been assaulted at some point in their life.
And really? You think all men are scum? Do you count yourself in that bracket? Bruce? Nightwing? Ollie? Wally? Clark? Stating that all men are scum is an example of hackneyed dialogue and demonstrates a common kneejerk reaction that doesn’t help anyone or anything. I can understand why people do it, but it’s a stupid viewpoint.

Anyway, Steph answers:
'I’ve thought about that. I honestly think that men who have this… them are only a small minority. But each one who does it hurts a lot of different girls and boys.’

OK, so she’s pulled him up the all men are scum line, but in an equally crap way. I realise this could be Chuck Dixon’s personal political views getting an airing, and I’m all for seeing more politics in comics – it means I get to respond and debate. So, my response –
All the evil abuse in this world is not carried out by a small amount of evil men who then hurt many different kids. There are lots of people who do this shit, and guess what, they look normal, they look like you and I. They are not visibly monsters, we cannot easily distinguish them. I think that making out it’s only a small amount of evil men who do this ‘others’ the perpetrators and draws a line between us and them. Which is not very useful when you’re trying to stop this crap happening. Also, women rape too. But the way female attackers are treated would be a whole other topic and we could be here for days.

That simplistic viewpoint fails to take into account the structures and culture that allows this to happen. Look at the abuse in the Catholic church – someone high up made a decision not to investigate or bring to light instances of abuse, thereby giving implicit consent to what was happening. That means that everyone at every level of the church who didn’t speak up, who didn’t get the police involved, also gave consent to either what was happening, or the totally inadequate ways in which the attackers were dealt with. That’s a lot of people.

The message of ‘small numbers of evil men’ seems to be at odds with other (positive) messages in the text, that of Steph holding her Dad accountable. More on that later.

I can forgive the story the clichéd grooming dialogue provided by Jim Murray. It’s a fictional text and the comments re modelling, boyfriends etc codes the guy as a creep and lets us know what’s coming. The reaction from the man in the piano shop on the last page I can’t forgive though, because that’s just bad and lazy writing.

So now onto the good.

1) This assault is not used as a motivation for Steph becoming the Spoiler. Yes, one of her first jobs was tracking down the guy, but it has been stated time and time again that Steph became the Spoiler to get back at her Dad.
A woman’s experience of (in this case near) sexual assault was not used as a motivation for her becoming a crimefighter. Halle-fucking-lu-iah. That’s a bloody rarity.
And yes, I realise her dad was abusive, both to her and her mum, but I still think it’s worth highlighting that her near rape wasn’t what motivated her.

2) She holds her Dad accountable! She doesn’t blame herself! Damn right. I am so glad this was explicitly spelled out. There isn’t enough media out there where this happens. I am sure this is partly because she was a child of 11 when it happened, and maybe if she’d been an adult there would be dialogue surrounding the way she was dressed or acted, but that doesn’t make this specific instance any less valid.

3) She got away. She fought back and she got away. She fought back and she’s not a ninja, she was just an ordinary, scared little girl. I’ve written before how I hate the overuse of rape in fiction, it can seem like it’s a constant reminder that women are in danger wherever we go, and we should always be aware that at any minute someone might rape us. Fictional women don’t usually get away under their own steam, they always seem to be rescued (unless they’ve got powers, and even then that doesn’t always help, see Black Canary) and they don’t often seem to have much agency.
That doesn’t tally with my own experience. Women can fight back, we are not automatically gonna get raped if we go out at night and we’re not helpless.

So, for Steph to fight back, get away and take some sort of control I think is bloody fantastic.

4) Steph knew her attacker. Most people know their attacker. It’s nice for a story to recognise this.

5) I think the art and dialogue captures Steph’s terror and feelings wonderfully. From where she’s in school and hears male voices, to hiding under her bed (resourceful lass), to when she hits the piano in the store, and on the last page when we can see from her and Tim’s conversation that she has dealt with the incident and is able to move on with her life. A portrayal of someone who’s not been irredeemably scarred for life? That’s needed as much as portrayal’s of people who have been damaged for life.

So yeah, apart from the crappy evil men lines, overall I think this is a fucking awesome story and I think was handled really well. All the individuals are treated with dignity, and as well as working on a political level it also works on a story level too. Which is probably the most important plus point actually – it’s no good a story being a vehicle to showcase your political viewpoint if the story itself doesn’t flow and work. And if a story has questionable politics, well I’ll be turned off by it, offended and probably have a bitch on here. ;)


Louise said...

This is great analysis - thank you!

Saranga said...

Really? Thanks :)

Sea_of_Green said...

Good stuff! Well done, Saranga!

Anonymous said...

Huge Steph fan, and this is one of my fave issues. Nice post. But I should note it was written by Jon Lewis, not Chuck Dixon. Dixon left Robin #100. :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I did a post on the issue a while back if you're interested- made some similar points though mine is all positive.

Saranga said...

Thanks for the visit nevermore. I shall check out your post too.
And amend the writer too, I knew Chuck left the series but for some reason thought this one happened before he left. Doh.

Anonymous said...

Great job pointing out the positive and negatives in the panels! I've never read this one before The author got a little heavy-handed, but