Writing about fictional characters it’s easy to say ‘they’, ‘he’, as though these people really existed. But the choices ‘they’ make are made for them – by directors, actors, artists, costume designers, writers, editors, marketing departments… This becomes much more obvious when all those external forces are reduced to a single guy with a camera. Edy Hardjo is that guy this week, and his creations have been seen all over my social networks, and yours too I am guessing. As with all comic adaptations – canon, fanon, headcanon, et al – what you take from the images depends on what you bring to the table. For example, for me Wolverine reduced to jelly by Black Widow’s kiss (image 12 in the series) is just disturbing. Surely she’s more of a daughter figure? I also feel like we are getting into the great Squirrel Girl debate all over again. But then again, if you’re over 140 years old, you’re going to have a hard time with ‘age-appropriate’ anyway. I’m a Buffy fan, so far be it from me to deny Doreen her agency!
Something that does bother me about this series, however, is the continued objectification of the female heroes.Not for the viewer by the camera, but within the image by the other heroes. What kind of working relationship can someone have with a team who spy on her in the bathroom?? I find the choice of ‘spies’ interesting – the Hulk is certainly Banner’s uncontrolled side, but he is motivated by rage. I always thought of the Hulk as kind of a-sexual – I mean, he’s a rage-fueled destruction machine, no? Spiderman behaving childishly? Well, expected. (Sue me, Parker fans) But I think Thor and Logan know better!
Thor should have his old fashioned chivalry going on, for sure. And Logan has seen one too many women shredded by his enemies on their way to him, has fought in a mixed team in the Avengers and X-men. He’s just plain old enough to know better than to disrespect a comrade. For a series that relies so much on characterisation for its humour, these images fall short.
Most of the photographs rely on a bit of context for the humour. Spiderman taking a selfie rather than helping out? Funny! Logan lighting his cigar from Ghost Rider’s skull? Expected, disrespectful, definitely funny. These are not gendered gags, they are just full of recognisable character traits. And there’s a lot to like about Edy’s take on superhero masculinity; undercutting the expected heroism with a fear of rodents, a likely to be overly-competitive game of hopscotch, a glimpse into a DC/Marvel stand off in the canteen. The details are fantastic – a running gag about Hulk and his lollipop is really rather sweet. I love the ingenuity and team work on display in the mousetrap.
My question though, is where’s Black Widow’s character expressed? Why are the only stories these figures are being made to tell about the female characters dependent on their sexuality, and particularly in its positioning as defined by the male characters? I am glad that a wider range of masculinity is explored here, but is humour the only possible response to alternative super-masculinities? Is the mousetrap funny because they’re heroes, or because they’re men? It really shouldn’t be the latter…
Sorry for the interruption of service, we suffered an internet outage here at the Institute these last few weeks. Problem is now resolved, and normal service (for a given value of normal) resumed.