Sunday, April 28, 2013

I Didn’t Hear You Correctly, Did I?

    While this article may not be within the realm of video games, I would still like to take time to comment on comics when I feel the need arises.  It is important to note that comics are another section of the ‘geek’ subculture to which games are also bound. Also, as I refer here to those characters existing within the Batman/Gotham DC Universe, it is important to know that just like this franchise, comics and games have had a border-crossing relationship for years.

    A while back I began reading the Gotham City Sirens, I got the whole set after enjoying the first few and I have been slowly working my way through them since.  After a group discussion about the interesting article by Rebecca Demarest, ‘Superheroes, Superpowers, and Sexuality’ I decided to take another look at the first issue.
Gotham City Sirens #1 - All in the Title, Isn't It?
To set the base for this discussion, I would like to first note on an interesting point put forth by Demarest. The concept of Inherent vs. Gifted Powers in the realm of comics is interesting and diverse, leading to a bounty of beloved or disputed origin stories.  She states “the women heroes are rarely ones to have inborn powers; they are usually gifted to them” while “the men on the other hand have inherent powers”. This is obviously not the case for every female or every male (an example being the X-Men), but it leans towards truth for the majority. Issue #1 of Gotham City Sirens begins with a narrative by Catwoman, so I will first attempt to elaborate on this anti-hero.

    Catwoman has a developing origin story. She was a prostitute who broke free from her old life.  In some she is a mafia boss’ daughter, and in others she is the daughter of a drunk. In Demarest’s understanding of Catwoman’s origins, “Catwoman’s…skills were taught to her by a karate sensei and a boxer, both of whom she was introduced to by a third party. She worked her butt off during her training, but it was still an integral part of the story that she did not get to where she was by herself, she had help”.  In this way, or even if looking at Catwoman as a product of Mama Fortuna’s training, Catwoman’s abilities are ‘gifted’ to her.
Poison Ivy- Just Out for a Jaunt

Poison Ivy, a villaness and eco-terrorist of the DC Universe, is one of the Siren trio.  For this series she has thrown off most of her criminal activities, and at points even treads along the line of anti-hero. Her powers are certainly ‘gifted’.  In both her modern and Silver Age origin stories she is injected with a serum/poison by another person (maliciously). It is this ‘gifted’ serum that gives her the abilities she posses as a villainess. (It should also be noted that in the modern origin story, the serum also makes her unable to bare a child.)

    Last, but never least, is Harley Quinn. At one point in Harleen’s life she was a prominent young physiatrist working a difficult but prestigious job at Arkham, but sessions with the Joker twist her into a gag-hammer toting, laughing lackey.  It is only through her ‘awakening’ by the Joker that she has initiative to take to villainy. Through her origins, she is the definition of a Barnacle character and while she already possessed the physical attributes to act, it is only through Jokers ‘gift’ of initiative that she steps onto the villain stage.

Harley Quinn - Poor Girl

    So, for these women, within the Batman/Gotham DC Universe, they fit the majority of the ‘gifted’ powered women. Demarest, calling on a contributor from the book Cultural Anthropology: A Problem-Based Approach, in this case Robbins, recalls ideas from linguist Robin Lakoff, stating that Lakoff “was one of the first to draw attention to the way that a woman’s identity in society influences how she speaks” and Lakoff says that women are “constrained to minimize their expressions with…tag questions…rising intonations…the use of hedges…[and] indirection”  (Robbins 2006: 205). It is this sort of language I examine Gotham City Sirens #1 for.

    While the appearance of this super-trio certainly falls into the stereotypical skimpy outfit and attractive figure, I am relieved to find that their speech patterns do not. Catwoman, while introduced as weak due to a recent injury, uses very assertive and sarcastic phrasing, similar to many primary young male supers.  She makes clear statements, and her use of questions is not meant to minimize her assertive statements. Poison Ivy has similarly assertive speech, with a slightly more sexualized overtone due to her inherent appeal based abilities. Harley Quinn, portrayed as childlike and still love struck, speaks mainly through the use of questions, tag questions, and assumed rising annotations, being the main fall-gal for the ‘feminine’ speech patterns.

    I believe that the reason behind the strong use of language by two of the main characters in Gotham City Sirens #1 is due to the need for strong central characters within the main cast. Having two strong voices can and will lead to interesting conflict, and the edition of a less assertive voice allows for comparison as well as the creation of dependent and engaging speech.

    There are many other facets of Demarest’s discussion of the difference between male and female supers in comics, including relationships and appearance, and the article is well worth a read for those interesting in the topic.  There is also an ongoing column over at Comics Bulletin discussing differing takes on DC’s gender issues that is well worth a read.  In the future I may examine some of DC’s New 52 for these patterns, although I know already that the New 52 has made a few mistakes with its female supers.


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