For those who don't know (because there are quite a few...let's be honest, not everyone reads comic books) Captain America #22 came out last week, and there was a bit of an uproar on social media that resulted in calls to fire the author, Rick Remender.
At the heart of the argument was that Remender wrote Sam Wilson (beloved by many after Captain America: the Winter Soldier, where he's played by Anthony Mackie) having drunk sex with a woman that many readers understood to be 14 years old. That specific claim is not the case (the character is in fact 23) but even after that clarification, people were upset.
Here's the thing: the scene depicted was not, in fact, statutory rape. Jet, the young woman in question, has been in a dimension where time moves faster than it does on Earth (comic books, remember?) and so rather than being in her early-to-mid teens she is in her early twenties. I'm not going to argue that point. If you would like a good break down of the timeline, I point you here.
But you have to admit that it's confusing. The fact that there's a single solitary line clarifying her age wasn't quite enough to explain precisely what was going on. On top of that, Remender doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to writing female characters and having recently fridged* Sharon Carter, he's compounded the bad blood he's built up with the "non-core" (read: white male) readers.
Sam Wilson is the first African American superhero (Black Panther, who predates him by three years, is African). And Anthony Mackie is Sam Wilson's biggest fan. He's been lobbying to be in Marvel movies since the very beginning, he's clearly invested in the industry; he's one of the few people involved in comic book movies who's been outspoken in his support of a Wonder Woman movie. I'm so fucking excited that the fandom has embraced a stand-up actor and a character of color with so much enthusiasm, which makes this whole Remender debacle feel that much more distasteful.
Sam Wilson is (obviously) a black man. And depicting a sex scene this confusing, this firmly entrenched in the gray area of consent with a person of color in it is unfortunately fraught. It is a reflection of the negative stereotypes of black men as deliverers of sexual violence onto white women. That racism is a reality that has to be dealt with and Remender's apparent inability or unwillingness to recognize it is frighteningly concerning. Remender painted a man who is by and large an upstanding, dependable character into the corner of being cast in a terrible shadow that is not his.
And that doesn't even touch on the fact that Sam is the one who's hungover the next morning and apparently has a hazy memory of the preceding events, that there's a question about ability to consent on both their parts. If Sam was the more sober, then he falls back into the trap of being a black man advancing inappropriately on a (much) younger white woman. If, on the other hand, he was the more inebriated and it was she who took advantage, there's the additional negative trope of a seductive young woman preying on an unsuspecting older man. Given that her father is a villain, it would be an easy trap to fall into.
Let's not forget that, while trapped with Captain America in Dimension Z (I am extra angry at Remender for putting me in a position where I had type that), Jet was positioned a surrogate daughter to Steve Rogers. Isolated from everything they've ever known, they became a sort of family in the decade-plus before they got back to their original timeline. And Sam is a contemporary of Steve's. They're buddies and allies, though thanks to Captain America's trip to the freezer they aren't the same chronological age. This would be like Stella McCartney sleeping with Ringo Starr. Is it illegal? Immoral? No. But the power dynamics between a man who could easily be a father figure and a woman who's been trapped in a dangerous, isolated world for ten years don't need to be further complicated by the near-familial relationship they might have had with one another, had they been in the same dimension.
I am not trying to argue that characters cannot be flawed. Flawed characters make for good stories, stories worth reading and learning from. What all this background has been about is to prepare you for the absolute horseshit that came out of the mouths of readers, editors, and writers after fans began to complain about the issue.
Tom Brevoort, an editor and the SVP of Publishing at Marvel, accused fans of "using rape" to further their "agenda." (I wonder if he's related to George Will?) [I happily stand corrected on the following point but am leaving it intact for transparency. Brevoort's objection was unclear and I had difficulty finding more information about this issue. To clarify: "Peter"/Doc Ock and Mary Jane did not have sex but some readers believed they did, thus Brevoort's comment. Original content begins here—He dug his disgusting hole deeper by using the example of the outcry over an issue of Superior Spider-Man where Mary Jane believes she's having sex with Peter Parker, but is in fact bumping uglies Doc Ock in Peter Parker's body (COMICS, everybody). You know what that is? That's rape. MJ consented to sex with Peter Parker, and thats NOT the man she was having sex with. When you impersonate another person in order to have sex with someone, that is rape (though only if they're married, in the state of California)]. Further posts reflect his sincere belief that most of the people complaining haven't read the issue in question (I have, for the record). He genuinely seems to believe that this is just because of some "haters" while continuing to espouse the thought that rape is a serious issue...just not serious enough to understand that while what happened in CA #22 may not have been statutory rape, it may have been rape anyway, and is certainly problematic especially within the context of Remender's other work. But that's ok because he's very respectful, guys.
Kieron Gillen, who is often lauded for the way he writes young people and young women in particular (his run on Journey into Mystery and Young Avengers are really great, in my opinion). But this morning he posted on his Tumblr a response that said, in part, that he was a coward for not defending Remender sooner. Gillen is known for wanting to interrogate the media, and the people behind it. And he is right in that his assessment says no one should be threatened over their work or opinion on a comic book. But he is incorrect in his understanding that the drive to fire Remender was solely concentrated around the understanding that Sam raped Jet; he is incorrect and insulting to state that the goal was "born of such clearly malicious grounds...born of a lie, and a lie aimed to deliberately hurt an actual human being." Gillen, let there be no mistake here: the fans did not throw Sam under the bus, your friend did. Remender has been lobbying for "most hated" spot in comic writers lists for a while now. Stiff competition, let me tell you. And this was just the straw that broke the camel's back.
If that many fans were confused, if that many fans couldn't see his intention in her aging. If that many fans were uncomfortable with that scene, the appropriate reaction is not for your (male, older) staff to double down and make things up about the people who are trying to voice their concerns. This is not a protest "born of a lie": it's a protest born of a thousand little previous cuts and a totally understandable misreading of a still highly problematic scene.
Since last week, the young woman that started the hashtag (I am hesitant to link to her blog or her Twitter because I do not want to invite more hate onto her) has suffered insults, threats, and doxxing at the hands of (mostly) male fans who are leaping to defend Remender. And this is, in part, her message to her attackers:
I have been called a moron, a slut, an ugly bitch, a dumb cunt, a racist, and every other colorful, cruel, and sexist insult in the playbook.
I've been threatened with rape, been told to shut up, and been told explicitly that my opinion doesn't matter.
I've been accused of trying to ruin someone's life.
I've been infantilized, condescended to, pat on the head and told that my money doesn't matter, that I was hysterical and irrational, that I was making too much out of nothing, that I was a prude.
I've had to answer the question "did you actually read the book?" more times than I can count, and every time the question's asked with that cruel, invisible "sweetheart" at the end.
I've lost an incredible amount of respect for creators whose art and writing I enjoyed.
Been sent unsolicited pictures of stranger's genitalia (i.e. dicks) by direct message on Twitter
Received more than one offer to "cure" me - i.e. "fix" the fact that I'm queer
Had my personal and identifying information - including name, age, location, and photograph - posted without my consent or knowledge as the butt of a post insinuating that I'm "hysterical" and that I have a "vendetta"
Tell me again that the glorification and excusing of rape in comics doesn't feed rape culture in real life.
Tell me again that it's "fiction".
Tell me fucking again.
She goes on to discuss her actual motivations (which fly in the face of both Brevoort and Gillen's assumptions) and is repeatedly reminding all of her friends to stay anonymous as much as possible, fearing for their safety. Sadly, her story is not a singular one.
Janelle Asselin, who has worked in the comics industry as a professional for years, wrote a piece for Comic Book Resources about why she didn't like the cover of a new book. Solidly written with fair criticisms about the art and the way the characters are portrayed, since that's all you can tell about a comic book just by looking at the cover. She was also in the middle of compiling some really interesting data on how women in the industry are treated by men, particularly male professionals who often act as gatekeepers when it comes to young, amateur (female) creatives. Sound familiar?
And after her piece on CBR went up, she got rape threats. On her blog, Asselin outlined the behavior of some of the professionals and fans contacting and talking about her.**
"...of course implying that I'm not a real professional in this industry. Which is still by far not the worst of what I got. I was called a whiny bitch, a feminazi, a feminist bitch, a bitter cunt, and then the rape threats started rolling in."
The fact that Asselin is still getting threats months later when trying to do more research on comic professionals is appalling.
Extra appalling? Many of the people who are now defending Remender were championing Asselin's cause when she first spoke out about her treatment. Gillen helped to spread the word, he and Brevoort both tweet with Asselin. And The Mary Sue***, a blog where Asselin contributes who rallied behind her cause after the CBR fallout, posted simply that "No, Rick Remender Did Not Write Falcon Having Sex With A 14-Year-Old In Captain America" without exploring the further implications of the problems with the issue. Their title is factually correct, as is the body of the post. But it's disingenuous at best to pretend that this isn't an issue in every sense of the word. (Fair warning: do not read the comments on that piece.)
So what makes Asselin worth protecting but this fan who wants Remender off a book worth derision? Is it because Asselin is a professional in the industry? Both of these young women became the public face of a much larger discussion, (to use an admittedly flawed metaphor) a Joan of Arc paving the way for the army that followed. But all of the male creators out there who are rallying around the "but it's a lie" excuse to Remender's behavior are ignoring the very real and (generally) respectfully expressed concerns of fans in favor of protecting one of their own, all while crying that they aren't being respected properly and their fans threaten women with rape.
So this is me calling them out. As someone who has supported their careers, I'm disappointed in Keiron Gillen, Ed Brubaker (who Godwinned it and then deleted the tweet), and Mark Waid. As a survivor of sexual assault, as a woman who has had men grab me when I've been drinking and then been told I'm "crying rape", I'm angry to the point of increased blood pressure at Tom Brevoort. As a reader, I'm sad that The Mary Sue hasn't really shown the full extent of the problem here. As someone that wants to work in the industry, I'm ready to fight this fight until it's done, but resigned to the fact that it probably won't happen in my lifetime and that posts like this may hurt my career prospects. I want all these men and women who are supporting Remender in this moment without fully understanding the concerns being expressed by readers to understand that they are acting on profoundly internalized misogyny and sexism. That they are just as guilty of discounting and offending young women as they say they aren't. That they shouldn't reply to "As a woman, this makes me uncomfortable" with "But I write for women!" That they are, in this moment, acting as misogynists and rape apologists; not because Sam and Jet's sex was statutory rape, but because readers were confused and upset and hurt by the dubious or non-existent consent portrayed on those pages and because their response was irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst.
No matter how many times you tell people to stop threatening to rape women who have opinions on the internet, as long as you are willing to discredit, ignore, and brush off those same women you are not at all being the ally you like to think yourself to be.
*I understand this is up for debate given the malleable definition of "fridging", but enough people have pointed it out to me that I feel I would be remiss if I didn't include it.
**Brett Booth in particular, the artist responsible for the cover, acted pretty much exactly like you'd expect a man who has "Neutral on everything else for fear of losing job, 'cause I'm publicly shamed to conform." in his Twitter bio to act.
***The Mary Sue is having its own issues right now after a merger with Geekosystem that left several of their new male contributors crying "misandry" and a Reddit AMA that caused many regular readers to bail.