The Man Who Would Know All

February 23, 2005

By Avi Green

When it comes down to the dreadful catastrophe of Identity Crisis, which I discussed earlier, let us not forget of course, that one of the leading problems overall, is that it was bigoted and misogynistic, depicting women as unable to defend themselves against violent attacks by men, being the ones guilty of doing bad things, acting insane and needing to be calmed, denying them the right to a voice on the subjects inside, or having them around in nothing roles that are otherwise just to make the men look good (although of course, even the men do indeed suffer badly here, and in the end, Elongated Man is made to look like he’s lost his sanity, to show only how much the writer really cares about even him. Right, go figure). Which is why, contrary to what some others have said that this miniseries is “well written, if wrongheaded”, I don’t bend over backwards and cut any slack. My verdict? Simply put, any book that treats its female protagonists as badly as this does – is simply BAD writing, nothing more, nothing less.

But that’s not all that troubles this by now very depressed comics reader.

If there’s something else I myself am disappointed in, it’s a man, or a reviewer, or a columnist, whichever description fits the best, who I once thought highly of, and now…I no longer can.

The person I speak of is a man by the name of Alex Hamby. He is the owner/webmaster of Hero Realm, an entertainment site mainly about comics that I once thought was very good, due to the fact that it reflected a lot of the viewpoints, idealistics and positions I have on comic books and what’s best for them. In a way, they were almost like the FOX News of the comics industry.

Alas, that was when co-founder George Berryman was there. Sadly, he has long since left, and now just runs a weblog on political topics called Alamo Nation.

While there’s certainly evidence to support that Mr. Berryman left his job at HR because of health problems, and he’s doing the right thing by concentrating on his health, there is also a very probable chance that Mr. Hamby may have kicked him out too, because he disliked his outspoken position on comics and even world affairs. And in a very appalling bias too, sad to say.

Which brings me to point to exactly what problem I ultimately ended up having with Hamby, on comics or otherwise: he inexplicably because disrespectful of anyone’s position that was in opposition to his own very selective ones, which included a] what people thought of Marvel Comics and what they did, b] Marvel’s mistreatment of Captain America, c] J. Michael Straczynski’s work on Spider-Man, d] the war in Iraq, e] on Identity Crisis, and even f] the industry itself.

In the end, I ended up having a really big fallout with Hamby and a few others there who voiced tiresome political correctness for the sake of keeping the cycle of violence and the miniseries going. But what really broke the camel’s back, and the main reason I left, was because of Hamby’s last two attempts at writing editorials in 2004. Actually, they weren’t so much attempts at editorializing as they were in aiming at easy targets – and at tearing down what’s not important (fanboys, arguments against violence in entertainment), and skirting around what is. He titled the columns as “Gut the Machine” and it was almost remarkable as to how he seemed, almost deliberately, to be trying to be as uncreative as is possible to be.

And what offended me most about what he was doing, to be more precise, was that he insulted a woman, even if it was only indirect, and then, after she tried to argue with him about the problems the industry faces today…he chased her away.

The woman I speak of is Gail Simone, the very talented humorist who worked her way up to becoming one of comicdom’s most respected members, writing mostly Simpsons comics for starters, then some Deadpool adventures, and now writes Birds of Prey and Action Comics for DC. She became famous for alerting the public to the problem of overly violent acts against women in comics with the excellent Women in Refridgerators website, which offers opinions and responses from various writers, artists and editors on the subject. She was once an avid supporter of the Hero Realm site, and isn’t that something – Alex turned against her. And here, I’ll be taking a look at what’s wrong with what Alex did, in both the first, but most importantly, the second column that he wrote.

The first one was called “Fanboys find no pleasure”, and in it, he tried to argue that comics fans only seem interested in looking for excuses to tear down on anything that they dislike. Like as if that was really important, considering that, after all, it’s only a comic book! There are much worse things they could be doing, and that he could argue against them for. But no, he’d rather stick to the peanut business. It was dull and forgettable.

The second one, in which the column had three titlings for three of its sections (including "Rough Cuts/Ouch", and Weapon X/Save as..."), was even worse. In the first section, he seemed to be trying to promote Martin Abel's Rough Cuts in the silliest manner possible. In the second, he seemed to be trying, not very convincingly, to urge people to help save Marvel's Weapon X series, which has hopefully been cancelled since then. And in the third section, which can be read below, and which'll be one of the focuses of this column of my own, that’s where he really ended up flubbing, and I must say that this is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read. Take a look below for more:

WOMEN IN REFRIGERATORS/MEN IN BURNING BEDS (BY ALEX HAMBY)

I had intended to talk about Gail Simone's Women in Refrigerators concept in great detail. I'm still working up a list of male superheroes who've been depowered, abused, murdered or sodomized against their will. Amazingly there are male spandex-clad people who have endured all of the things the women-folk of comics have endured. I guess the substance of what will eventually be that column can be distilled down to: If women can't handle being involved in a world where giants travel across the cosmos to eat Earth as a snack food, then it might be best they get off the ride. Being a super hero or having sex with one is a dangerous gig...there is the constant threat that they'll get cut up into small pieces and shoved into a salad crisper. It sucks, but I don't think it's misogynistic. Maybe Gail should pull the stick out and get over it.

Tragedy makes good drama. In a medium dominated by male writers it is easy to understand why these kinds of stories would be prevalent. I can easily see how seeing a woman or a child hurt in fiction would evoke horror and a reader's desire to help end any such suffering. Making a reader feel is the end goal of any story and writers from Meltzer to Byrne should be commended, not condemned, for making us jaded comic readers feel something.

Oh, and before I move on, wasn't it Gail Simone who broke both of Black Canary's legs, tied her to a bed and tortured her? Erotic though those images might have been to the likes of Dr. William Moulton Marston, it's still the same thing Ms. Simone was complaining about male writers doing. Two wrongs and such don't make a right, but they keep your name in lights and get you good projects.

Now I'm in trouble.

It’s not often I get treated to something as dull as this. But when I took a look at it, that’s when the mystery surrounding Hamby slowly started to unravel.

(The other two parts of this 3-sectioned column included a smutty looking opinion that featured what seemed like pornography, including a porn picture that he himself may have drawn, and a “Save Weapon-X” campaign that was quite forgettable too. Maybe he could stand to find something better to campaign for, like saving Robin’s late father, Jack Drake, and even Spoiler?)

For one thing, the biggest problem with what he did here is that it smells of something like, “everybody, please, please, PLEASE read our website, I BEG of you!” Which might be understandable if it hadn’t been for how he dumbed down the editorials other than his own, reducing them to little other than promotional advertisements. Most of the columns there now don’t last too long and thus are otherwise just guest columns. Very little is left to challenge the mind and offer what to think about. The only part there that still manages to maintain my interest is J.R. Fettinger’s Spidey Kicks Butt columns, and to access those whenever updated, all I really need to do is turn to his own website, which I strongly recommend for the avid Spider-Man fan.

Right now, however, let us take a special analytical look at the paragraphs of the would-be opinion column section featured above, and see what’s wrong with it, at least if anyone can stay awake long enough. ‘Cause I can’t. Heck, I’m on the verge of falling asleep already as I write this.

“WOMEN IN REFRIGERATORS/MEN IN BURNING BEDS”

First, the title of this section of the column: the part that really annoys and disturbs me, or at the very least, distresses me, is that he may have gotten the burning beds part from…me! To say the least, I once brought up in a discussion held two years ago regarding sex in comics the 8th issue of The New Teen Titans Vol. 2, which featured a scene with Thia, the sinister sun goddess, burning her husband to death in their bed after he got her pregnant, since she saw no further use in him. (She thought that Lilith Clay was her long-lost daughter from that time, and told her all about this.)

Let us just say that – I am not amused.

“I had intended to talk about Gail Simone's Women in Refrigerators concept in great detail. I'm still working up a list of male superheroes who've been depowered, abused, murdered or sodomized against their will. Amazingly there are male spandex-clad people who have endured all of the things the women-folk of comics have endured.”

Admittedly, I really don’t know if he ever did intend to discuss it more in depth (as of this writing, he hasn't) but either way, that’s no excuse for the way he handled things, which, to say the least, looks almost like it’s boiling over with subtle hatred. Someone please pass me the aspirin.

If there was ever any “list” it was only a topic on which he asked if other posters could offer him some examples of superheroes who underwent the same treatment as women. I myself added something I knew of (Barry Allen’s getting assaulted by Big Sir towards the end of the Flash’s first volume) without even realizing Hamby’s true intentions.

I felt that he’d taken advantage of me. But aside from that, the main problem is that he’s just chortling away without providing any genuine facts to back up his argument within the column itself, and then, none of the examples provided by the other posters were enough to really fortify what he said. Nor for that matter does he provide any points from within WiR itself to strengthen his argument on why he disliked that particular website either.

If anything, while there are some male superheroes who’ve undergone depowerings and murder, there are far too few who’ve undergone the abuse and sodomy that Hamby speaks of so smugly. And what’s really wrong with his argument aside from that is that it runs the gauntlet of saying that violence against anyone innocent, whatever their sex be, is %100 okay/legitimate, and is absolutely okay for entertainment. Or, that all such violence is entertaining, is that it?

Whatever. But the fatal flaw about his argument is that it totally obscures the fact that there have been more than enough incidents involving violent attacks in comic books that have been very, truly bad on an artistic level, and have done nothing whatsoever to add to the story.

“I guess the substance of what will eventually be that column can be distilled down to: If women can't handle being involved in a world where giants travel across the cosmos to eat Earth as a snack food, then it might be best they get off the ride.”

Fine, what about the men, then? Can even they really handle it? Plenty can, but there are also those who can’t. Who said just women have this problem?

And to say that anyone just shouldn’t bother to read/watch the items in question, especially when it happens to be something they care about, is simply to justify what’s currently being done to it, and to tell the opponents, “we don’t care what you think, or if you’re not going to stick around. We’re enjoying this and don’t want any of your interference. If it goes down the drain in sales, well then, boo-hoo, cry us a nice cold bath.” In other words, the opinions of those who take offense do not matter, and they have no right to protest what’s being done to their favorite comics universes, no matter how much damage could end up being done to it, even in sales. Or, it matters not if it fails in the end, just as long as it’s around for “us”, then that’s what counts.

In other words, it’s a classic act of selfishness by the ungrateful would-be fan.

“Being a super hero or having sex with one is a dangerous gig...there is the constant threat that they'll get cut up into small pieces and shoved into a salad crisper.”

Oh, I get it. In other words, Hamby was saying that it’s not worth it for a woman to be a super-doer, is that it?

It goes without saying that his way of saying that there’s constant danger of being slain for having a relationship with a superhero, or being one as well, is exaggerated without offering up any genuine proof of that, and stinks of Room 101 talk. In fact, the way he puts it, it’s as if this were really real life!

“It sucks, but I don't think it's misogynistic. Maybe Gail should pull the stick out and get over it.”

Maybe it’s not misogynistic, but, it most certainly is superfluous. It may have been since the late-80s, or the early-90s, but since then, and certainly since the time that Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend was stuffed into that horrible refridgerator, quite a few discriminations against women have been cropping up in comics, and now, it’s getting really out of hand. Plus, where exactly did Gail or any of her contributors actually say that this was all misogynistic on the site? To say the least, all Hamby was doing was putting words in her mouth, and being plain disrespectful too.

But here’s where the fatal flaw really comes into play here: “pull the stick out”?

It’s one thing to disagree with someone else’s position. And it’s another to go around “straw-manning” against the opponent in the argument as well. But to make even an indirect insult against someone who never wished our overly-concerned-about-his-personal-masculinity Mr. Hamby any ill, is, quite frankly, sending any argument he could have here down in flames. Does he really think he’s getting anywhere in convincing anyone with his classic argument by saying that?

“Tragedy makes good drama. In a medium dominated by male writers it is easy to understand why these kinds of stories would be prevalent.”

And sometimes even victory makes for good drama too. But either way, not always does tragedy make for drama, and certainly not when said tragedy is dealt with pedantic terms, as Identity Crisis does. Does Hamby really think he’s convincing anyone, what with the way that Meltzer just sweeps the whole subject involving the rape under the rug as the story lumbers onwards, and gives it almost no other mention, if at all, later in the book?

The most hilarious thing about all this is where he says that the medium is dominated by male writers, and, that because they’re male, that’s why these kind of stories are around! Yeah, right. As if a woman isn’t capable of writing similar stories, both good and bad, and in Hollywood, if you know where to look, you’ll find them. Just take a look at Kathryn Bigelow, who directed and wrote Point Break with Keanu Reeves. Jarringly violent, and it was all helmed by a woman, more or less.

And the most peculiar thing about it, is that at the same time that he writes his very pro-male diatribe, he insults male writers everywhere by implying that because they’re men, they’re interested solely in violence. Go figure.

“I can easily see how seeing a woman or a child hurt in fiction would evoke horror and a reader's desire to help end any such suffering. Making a reader feel is the end goal of any story and writers from Meltzer to Byrne should be commended, not condemned, for making us jaded comic readers feel something.”

If I were new to the scene, I’d have a hard time understanding who or what he’s talking about, since he refers to Brad Meltzer and John Byrne by their last names only. And his use of the word "jaded" ("having seen all this before") is also an incredible display of faulty logic here. While at the same time, he’s actually doing them more harm than good (and since when did Byrne actually - and literally - deal with violence against women, if that’s what he’s implying here?). And can he really see what readers with the opposite viewpoint from his can? Or does he?

Furthermore, how can the scene have any real impact if it’s being told AFTER the character in question is dead? And if we the audience are not shown, from Sue Dibny’s very own personal viewpoint, how she feels about being violated? And if, worst of all, the whole topic is largely ignored later on, much like the tragedies of Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg?

That’s exactly what Hamby, in all of his foolish little biases for the sake of arbitrariness, fails to touch upon in what he writes here. And is exactly why his very dull column is a failure.

And even the part about our being “jaded” should be enough to tell us all that’s something is wrong. Aside from the fact that he's going a long way even with that assumption, after reading that part, let me just say that I'd like to see as many more villain's headquarters in comics going up in flames as possible for years to come at the end of the stories being told.

“Oh, and before I move on, wasn't it Gail Simone who broke both of Black Canary's legs, tied her to a bed and tortured her?”

No, but it was Meltzer who tried to pull a sadistic act upon her in the form of Deathstroke, in a scene that read like bad fanfiction, and you could almost wonder if Meltzer was playing a role known in the world of fanfics as “Murphy Stu”, a phrase used to describe when the writer de-facto inserts himself into his own writing (in the case of a female, the phrase is “Mary Sue”), and the action, and here, it’s almost as if the writer was body-hopping, like the really twisted version of Slade’s own son Jericho, who passed away in 1991.

But more on topic, let me point out that, while in Birds of Prey’s Of Like Minds story arc, the villain Savant does break poor little Dinah’s legs, it was not depicted graphically, and, contrary to what Hamby exaggerates, Simone did not write the villains as beating the Black Canary viciously every ten minutes during the time she was being held hostage in Savant’s estate. No, and the only part where Dinah suffered any kind of pain at the hands of the villain while tied up, was when the henchman Creote struck her – in an off-panel story part – on her neck near the vocal chord, temporarily paralyzing her Canary Cry, and other than that, it was obvious that she wasn’t as put down by that as the villains must’ve hoped. No, she remained adamant and unafraid throughout, and even got loose by herself later on, and managed to stun Savant, taking him by surprise, momentarily, until Huntress and Oracle could put a stop to the menace.

“Erotic though those images might have been to the likes of Dr. William Moulton Marston, it's still the same thing Ms. Simone was complaining about male writers doing. Two wrongs and such don't make a right, but they keep your name in lights and get you good projects.”

And neither do three, Hamby. And it hasn’t gotten you any farther than your chapter in Dead@17 so far either. Which, having read the plot for, really doesn’t intrigue me as much as I’d probably want it to.

“Now I'm in trouble.”

I would have to figure that he intended the whole mess on purpose, just so that he could purposely insult someone over a big nothing, and maybe he did. But either way, he certainly did get into enough trouble…to lose me for one as a member of his audience at Hero Realm.

Some time later, after leading a very one-sided argument and discussion with Mrs. Simone on the forum he set up on the site for his columns, he told her to go away, and wouldn’t speak to her anymore. It’s a shame he did so, since it’s really a bad thing to reject the friendship of someone who never, not once, wished him any ill.

I wrote to him some time later in October, giving him a rebuttal for what he had done, and told him that he should apologize for his blatant insult. And wouldn’t you know it – he would not. While I don’t have the letter itself here that I sent for starters(though one thing I tried to tell him in it was, "do you know that this could end up weighing against you even more, by telling a popular and respected writer that she's no longer wanted around the site?") I do have something most interesting that he said in reply, and will present it here below. To begin:
Hamby: You do realize I'm not going to read all of this, right? C'mon, most of this I didn't care about when you originally droned on about it. I surely don't care about it weeks after each event has passed.

Green: No, but you could at least apologize to Gail Simone for insulting her with that ludicrous monstrosity that you wrote, and then telling her to skedaddle. Must I point out that it was exactly those kind of biases that you displayed, for example, that ended up disappointing me and some others with HR?

Hamby: Avi, you need to develop some sort of means to entertain your mind that doesn't involve nagging me with long, boring and pointless diatribes.

Green: Heh. And you need to be more creative in how you write an editorial, not just some notebook sketch that looks like it got edited with a chainsaw. I know you can do better.

My point is – you're letting your personal biases get in the way of how you run the site, and it's wrecked your credibility – and the site's – as a result, including those Gut the Machine "articles" you wrote.

I used to like the site much more until late last year. My question is – can you do anything to fix that?

Your choice, of course.
So, what did he have to say in response to that, you ask? Here’s his answer:
Hamby: This email is so brief. How it must have pained you to not go on and on with some stupid ramble that would be ignored.

Frankly, I don't give a **** if you like the site or not. My life does not depend on entertaining someone as clearly lost in reality as you are. For years this site has seen nothing but growth and the departures of Thik, George, Willi and you have done nothing to change that fact. We have done quite well for ourselves despite the bull**** you're dealing out here.

Now, as for the final part of this: I'm not apologizing to Gail. I like her. I read her work. You simply don't put up a site implicating a trend where there is not one and allowing for any allusion to their being a sexist plot behind it. She said it herself when she said I was not the only one to take issue with the site. Others saw the same thing I did but probably didn't laugh as they commented on it. I did. I found the site, very much like I find you, absurd.

Now, Avi, go get laid.
Well, I was on my way to my ladyfriend’s house anyway.

In any case though, for someone who first admitted that acts of violence against women and children is evident in entertainment, it’s amazing that, when retorting to me…he contradicted his own argument of yore...and threw it out the window.

And if he really does like and read her work, well, it’s really hard to tell, especially when he doesn’t even seem to publish any reviews of her books on his site anymore. As of this writing, shortly after what happened in August, he stopped posting any, for at least 6 months.

Having written this up, let me just say that in spite of what he did, and that I’m colosally disappointed with his blatant actions, I wish him no ill. Yet at the same time, I won’t be missing him. As I vaguely recall telling a co-webmaster of his during Christmas, I can’t and won’t pledge my loyalty to someone who confuses vulgarity with creativity, and who sets a bad example by going the lowest of knee-jerk routes, period.

And thus, as of this writing, the only thing about HR that interests me, is the work of the much more sensible J. R. Fettinger, who once wrote a much better essay on the treatment of women in comics, back in 2000. In fact, having taken a look at the updated version of the file, wow, here's something that deserves some special attention of its own, since it has something to it that's vaguely reminicient of the controversy surrounding Identity Crisis:

"Soap operas. Surely, I don't have to go into much detail here. Infidelity, rape, murder, kidnapping, bondage - in many cases brought to you by women for women. In fact, those of you with long memories probably remember how the classic soap opera romance of Luke Spencer and Laura Webber on General Hospital first got started. Luke was originally a bad guy who kidnapped and raped Laura. After Luke and the actor who played him, Tony Geary, became insanely popular, all mention of the rape was conveniently forgotten, and the scene was actually reshot for flasback purposes and Laura referred to that time as "when we first made love." My own mother, who was as much a sci-fi freak as a soap opera maven (so I give her a little credit for impartiality at times) was very much offended at this blatant revisionism because it equated a brutal and violent demonstration of power to lovemaking between consenting adults - which are two entirely different things. Years later, someone must have recognized how blatantly offensive this was, and in order to create anger and conflict between Luke and his son, the incident was returned to its original form, where Luke did indeed rape Laura, and the character was forced to deal with the implications of his horrible crime. Still - the point I was making - it just wasn't male writers and producers who signed off on this revisionism!"

When reading this over a short while ago, in its updated version, it suddenly occurred to me that, in some ways, Identity Crisis suffers from something vaguely similar, though in slightly the opposite direction: that Dr. Light, as depicted in this miniseries, was arbirtrarily retconned into committing an act of rape, when here, it doesn't take a genius to tell that a character first created in the Silver Age was far too honorable for something like that.

In the case of Luke Spencer and Laura Webber, it was the other way around that the story that took place was arbitrarily changed. But what really does come as a mystery to me how and why a character who committed a crime as serious as that would end up becoming popular with anyone, though today, things may have (hopefully) changed. Naturally, I'm going to have to remember H. L. Mencken's famous argument about how "nobody's ever gone broke by underestimating the intelligence of the American public," which also applies very strongly in an argument like this one too, but even so...these kind of things are really astonishing.

Whatever, I'm certainly glad that the producers of General Hospital thought wisely and fixed the damage they caused. I can only hope then, that DC will wisely think the same thing.

Plus, a special comment of my own on all this: I don't know about Fettinger's family, but my mother, while she has watched some soap operas with elements like these, began to find them alienating later on, and you know why mainly? Not just because of the "retcon" that was worked into a television series, in this case, regarding the subject of rape on General Hospital, but also because a lot of these said soaps resorted to female stereotypes (scheming plotters, psychotics who're willing to threaten another woman's family members to achieve their goals, or even just plain jerks) as a way of conveying their flimsy plots every day, week, month. Not that this part actually refers to that, mind you, but even so, it's amazing that when taking a look at it a short while ago, the thought of soap opera stereotypes hit me in the head like a comet.

The arbitrary changing of Jean Loring's own character history is shockingly similar in some ways to what was done on General Hospital years ago, just like it is to turn Dr. Light into something he wasn't, but either way, to say the least, this is but one thing that points out how far Meltzer, with DC's permission, went to far as to reduce Jean to a stereotype similar to what my mother eventually found insulting and alienating about soap operas, such as The Bold and the Beautiful, which began on CBS in 1987. She used to watch it quite often on Israel TV Channel 2, but years later, gave it up, because she simply couldn't take it anymore.

I can only hope that, just like the damage done to Sue Dibny and Dr. Light, the damage done to Jean Loring too can be repaired.

To conclude, I am in great debt to J. R. for his thought on these kind of subjects. Hopefully, his thoughts too can be of great help in combatting these incredible miscues being conducted by an industry that seems to think it can literally get away with ripping off its own audience via marketing-through-overhyping deception.

Copyright 2005 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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