A Little Positivity
by Travis Hedge Coke
I am depressed. It is two in the morning. Family members are sick. Work is as reliable as the tickets from a broken skee-ball machine. I have been in serious pain most of the past four days and can’t take anything too heavy in case it jeopardizes my chances with COVID-19 which, as a high risk person, I am constantly nervous about. Comics professionals I respect, whose work I enjoy, are openly referring to anyone who is glad the Land-O-Lakes mascot is being retired are slurs I won’t repeat or just stupid. Many of them are actively conversing as if Natives are not alive and online alongside them.
I am disappointed in them, in many people, and I am disappointed in myself.
There is a TikTok video someone posted on Facebook, behind the Messenger windows I have open because I whine to those who will listen, especially at two in the morning. In the video, the cosplayer Ødfel is dressed up both as Jean Grey and her clone, Madelyne Pryor. And, she is lip-syncing to Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen’s 1992 performance of Identical Twins.
Concurrently, while trying to bring up the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie on Netflix, I realize there are three seasons of Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir, somehow, and I do not believe I have seen more than two, and that’s my night gone. I already could not sleep, for the depression, the stress, and the fact my knee and my back are murdering me, but the Maddie/Jean skit and streaming episodes of Ladybug saving the day are going to be more welcome than just stressing, shaking, and feeling down on myself.
This is the power of comics beyond comics. It is, not to conflate the two too much, what superheroes can do best.
X-Men characters, Maddie Pryor and Jean Grey, are intimately and uniquely connected, but there really is not much history between them. Between men connected to them, but not between the two of them. Cyclops married both of them, and when he was married to Maddie, he pressed several others into obscuring that fact from Jean, in case Jean was still into him. This is played as not skeevy, but it’s skeevy. Cable, who often appears as an older man, or something a young man, is the thrown-into-the-future child of Cyclops and Maddie, while X-Man is the child of Cyclops and Jean from another reality, who for a long while dated a version of Maddie, who turned out to be actually another Jean.
I am, without checking, not sure if Jean and Maddie even have a conversation during the entire 1980s. Or, 90s.
We are allowed a little positivity, but just a little. As we’re saying this week, “for a treat.”
How great would it be, especially in X-Men comics where villains are frequently rehabilitated into heroes or at least, decent enough folks, if Jean and Maddie could have tea? If they could sit for a moment?
How great would it be if women in superhero books could have conversations with each other, and not be either sniping or a focus for conversation between men?
Miraculous is not based on a comic, though there are comics based on the animated tv show. Something I genuinely appreciate regularly, is that the protagonist, Marinette/Ladybug is more likely to talk to other girls about all kinds of things, as she is any boy. She has more conversations with other girls in any season than Emma Frost has had conversations that aren’t attacks with women in comics over the last fifteen years. And, Jean does not get much better. (Remember when Emma and a from-the-past young Jean became friendly for half of a single issue, then that was not really readdressed ever?). Ladybug did not even go five episodes before the superhero had conversations with herself, thanks to time travel.
Miraculous’ Ladybug is voiced by Cristina Vee, which helps pick me up by reminding me, as I am remind you, that Natives have a pretty good foothold in animation voice acting, from Vee to Cree Summer and Lorne Cardinal. I want to talk about that a lot more than I do even talented people who seem to believe the only Native Americans are on their butter packaging.
There is nothing wrong with white people, or talking to white people. There is nothing integrally wrong with women who prefer to converse with men, or women who only really socialize with men, but it is weirdly dominant in superhero comics and in children’s cartoons. From the Smurf’s tsunami of maleness to the dynamic of ninety percent of harem comedies, the five to one standard of men to women in superhero teams, even when the protagonist is female, there is a strong chance the surrounding figures will skew male. Almost all characters in American-made comics are still white, and when there are nonwhite characters, especially in corporate-owned superhero comics, they are surrounded by, nearly exclusively, white male characters. The “sorted by ethnicity” and “sorted by gender” team books are one thing, sometimes clicking, sometimes just a novelty, but Aero and Future Fight Firsts are a trip because they do not default white male perspective, in ways that, unfortunately, even Ewing’s great Mighty Avengers could and Priest’s Black Panther sometimes cynically, though fairly embraced. Birds of Prey gave weird weight to in-world men and their perspectives, and I still don’t know how to balance that appropriately with DC’s determination to reprint the comic with the error that makes Black Canary “100% straight.”
Even when Ladybug, who is of mixed ethnicity (just throwing that out here), is talking with boys or men, she is consistently bigging up women in her life. Bragging up her best friend. Telling some dude to be cooler to his daughter.
Tonight, Ødfel is my real world superhero, especially in her Twitter thread where she is pleased by comics writer and fun person Gail Simone noticing her TikTok video. The video is adorable, and heartening, but the social media conversations surrounding it are even more heartening. It reminds me that fandom is not all toxic, that what is bad in comics, what is flawed, can be corrected, can be adjusted, changed, bettered. A slidable scale does not mean it has to always snowball downward.
Things might improve. We can work towards improvement. Things can go up.
To that end, and in the meantime, we can talk.
A Little Positivity
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