Of She-Hulk, Romance and Soylent Green – The Latest on Gender and Genre

While I was away (photos coming soon), the controversies about gender and genre didn’t dry up. I already blogged about the all women Nebula winner slate and how the usual suspects are pissed off about that. If you can stand more incoherent ranting how women sweeping the Nebula is a sign of the end times or something, you can find it at the blog of a certain venereal disease.

But the Nebula (non)-controversy isn’t the only debate on gender and genre issues going on right now. For starters, some guy called David S. Goyer, whose screenwriting credits include the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, Man of Steel, the Blade trilogy, Ghost Rider: Spirits of Vengeance and the Nick Fury TV movie starring David Hasselhoff and who is supposed to write the script for the upcoming Man of Steel sequel and possible Justice League movie, decided to share his thoughts about superheroes and film adaptations of superhero comics in a podcast. Since he’s written rather a lot of superhero movies, you’d think he’d have something insightful to say about them. Or maybe not, cause have you ever seen any of those movies?

Anyway, Goyer managed to insult pretty much the entire core fanbase for his movies by first claiming that the Martian Manhunter was a goofy and unbelievable character and that only people who’d even heard of the character were sad geeks who’d never had sex in their lives. And this is the guy you want to write a Justice League movie? Really?

But it gets worse, because David Goyer decided to call Marvel’s She-Hulk, a character he thankfully hasn’t been asked to write, a “giant green porn star that only the Hulk can fuck”.

Of course, this is a horribly inaccurate view of She-Hulk and so the rebuttals came fast. At the Washington Post site, Alyssa Rosenberg declares that She-Hulk is a feminist superheroine and not a male power fantasy. Also at the Washington Post, She-Hulk creator Stan Lee points out what every comic fan as well as everybody who knows to use Google already knows, namely that Jennifer Walters a.k.a. She-Hulk was never intended as a love interest for Bruce Banner a.k.a. the Hulk*, because they are cousins. At the Daily Dot finally, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw notes that the true problem here is that Stan Lee still manages to have more progressive views on female characters at age 91 than David S. Goyer. Meanwhile, A. Lee Martinez offers his appreciation of She-Hulk.

Now Goyer reducing She-Hulk to a mere sex object offends me much more than “mainstream screenwriter says something stupid about comic characters” normally should, because the She-Hulk will always hold a special place in my heart, though not for anything the actual character did. For back in the late 1980s, a company named Comics Spain manufactured beautiful PVC figures of various superheroes. They didn’t have a lot of women, but one of the very few they had (along with Spider-Woman in her Jessica Drew identity) was She-Hulk. Later they also added Wonder Woman and Starfire. Since I’d been collecting PVC figurines since I was 2 years old, I was of course entranced by the beautiful Comics Spain figurines**. However, my budget was severely limited, so I could only afford a single figure at first. And the one I chose was She-Hulk. Not because I had any idea who the character was (though I could guess at a connection to the Hulk), but because she was a cool, tough looking woman, whose costume was much cooler than Spider-Woman’s.

The fact that I had no idea who the character was didn’t stop me from making up my own stories about the Green Lady as I called her. So I came up with an origin for her as well as a story about an essentially normal woman who suddenly finds herself with superpowers and ends up working with other superheroes (who initially mistake her for an evil alien), even though she finds the whole trappings of superherodom rather silly and also has the habit of getting people’s codenames wrong. Eventually she also has a romance of her own (with the Phantom, whose PVC figure I specifically bought to be her boyfriend). I loved this character and wrote approximately two notebooks worth of stories about her and her adventures. I recently looked at them again and for all their obvious weaknesses, there are bits that still make me laugh more than twenty years later.

Because I was curious, I eventually got some of the comics starring the actual She-Hulk (as well as Jade of Infinity Inc., because I initially got them mixed up and basically bought any comic with a green woman in it). I think the only reason I own some Fantastic Four and Avengers comics is because She-Hulk was a member (or if it was an X-Men crossover). I also have a nearly complete run of her solo series by John Byrne. But while I like Jennifer Walters a.k.a. the She-Hulk a whole lot (ditto for Jade), my first association when I see a green-skinned superheroine will always be the character I created so many years ago. I still have the figurine, too.

However, the biggest question raised by David Goyer’s outburst is how on Earth did a guy who obviously doesn’t know much about comics and has zero respect for either the medium or its fans get to write the screenplays to so many superhero movies? Until a few years ago, it used to be a common problem that superhero movies were often made by writers, directors and actors who had zero respect or understanding for the source material and mostly saw the films as an easy paycheck. But it seemed to me that this has changed, because of late we have been getting more and more superhero movies made by people who actually seem to enjoy what they’re doing whether they are longtime fans or not. So why does someone like David Goyer keep getting jobs writing the screenplays for superhero movies? Yes, the Dark Knight trilogy was a big success (though I don’t like it at all), but it’s not the be-all and end-all of superhero movies.

In other news, at The New Republic a literary critic named William Giraldi decided to take on the romance genre in general and Fifty Shades of Grey in particular. Never mind that Giraldi is approx. two years too late to the party, because the majority of posts about the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon on this blog date from April and May 2012, the article is also condescending and just plain terrible. Here is a taste:

Dreck of this stupendous caliber has a particular advantage over literature in that one doesn’t have to read all of it to surmise, accurately and eternally, that it is all uniformly awful and awfully uniform—romance novels, like racists, tend to be the same wherever you turn. It’s pointless to spend much time impugning these books as writing because they really aren’t meant to be considered as actual writing, the same way a Twinkie wasn’t meant to be considered as actual food.

Yes, because reading and enjoying romance novels is just like racism. Honestly, there aren’t enough eye-rolls in the world.

It goes on like this, as Giraldi blatantly offends everybody who ever cracked open a romance novel, while he tries to cram every exotic term he knows into the article in an ill-fated attempt to show how clever and educated he is. Now I have made no secret of the fact that I don’t care for Fifty Shades of Grey and in fact feel that the trilogy’s enormous success was a step back for the romance genre. But blanket-insulting a whole genre, a female dominated genre at that, as well as its readers and writers just makes him come across like a misogynist jerk.

Naturally, an article as clueless and offensive as William Giraldi’s also drew plenty of responses. At The Washington Post, Alyssa Rosenberg takes on the sheer misogyny of Giraldi’s article and points out that canonical literary classics (which Giraldi believes women should read instead of romance novels) are often pretty damn unfriendly for women whose role in such books mostly is to suffer and die. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has a lengthy rebuttal complete with videos and animated gifs. They also point out that the biased and clueless coverage of the romance genre in many mainstream publications makes specialist bloggers more relevant. At The Radish, Natalie Luhrs not just quotes the wonderful Joanna Russ (because you can never quote How to Suppress Women’s Writing enough), but also points out how absolutely beyond the pale Giraldi’s refusal to use E.L. James’ pen name (apparently, he is offended she chose the surname “James”, because it is “sacral” to him) and instead referring to her by her legal name is.

Finally, the New York Times reports that Soylent Green tastes pretty appalling. Yes, this is not a joke. Some enterprising engineers really invented a protein drink that is supposed to offer all the nutrients the human body needs and decided to call it “Soylent”, because apparently they wanted people to either gag or make “It’s people” jokes, whenever they spotted the product on a shelf.

*That said, Bruce Banner as portrayed in the Avengersverse movies absolutely needs a love interest. Either Betty Ross from the comics or someone else, e.g. Maria Hill or Sif or a new character. Though I suspect that Black Widow and/or Pepper Potts are working on fixing him up with someone as we speak.

**Googling Comics Spain figurines makes me so angry about those I don’t have such as the whole cast of the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon (I only had two characters). Apparently, they also made a Doctor Strange and Candy Candy from the eponymous anime, which I loved as a teen. I never saw those figurines at all.

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10 Responses to Of She-Hulk, Romance and Soylent Green – The Latest on Gender and Genre

  1. Merrian says:

    Jodi McAlister also wrote a response to Giraldi’s piece: http://momentummoonlight.com/blog/uniformly-awful-and-awfully-uniform-how-not-to-engage-with-genre-fiction/ In her take down of the awfulness that is Giraldi’s misogyny Jodi makes this important point “when you focus on sneering at a text and making fun of its readers, this is what you miss. You miss what a text does”. This applies to all of the hit and miss approaches to criticising genre fiction not just romance.

  2. James Davis Nicoll says:

    *That said, Bruce Banner as portrayed in the Avengersverse movies absolutely needs a love interest. Either Betty Ross from the comics or someone else, e.g. Maria Hill or Sif or a new character. Though I suspect that Black Widow and/or Pepper Potts are working on fixing him up with someone as we speak.

    I’d love to see their pitch to their friends on this. “Hey, want to date a bright guy who is also a giant green rage monster who at any moment could snap and wipe out the town he is in?”

    • Cora says:

      I suspect they might leave the bit about the green rage monster out for the first date. Though a double date involving another Avenger might be in order, just in case something goes wrong and Bruce throws a fit.

  3. Daniela says:

    However, the biggest question raised by David Goyer’s outburst is how on Earth did a guy who obviously doesn’t know much about comics and has zero respect for either the medium or its fans get to write the screenplays to so many superhero movies?

    It’s Hollywood. Who cares about the fanbase as long as they buy the tickets and the merchandise. That’s the only reason I can come up with. It’s the same reason why they had someone who openly admits to not getting Star Trek (and not really liking it) direct two movies and ruin the whole franchise.

    • Cora says:

      And now he’s being handed Star Wars on a silver platter to ruin that franchise, too.

      • Daniela says:

        Hm, although george Lucas already did a good job of trying to ruin his own creation. But yeah, I’m fearing the worst.

        But I’m actually dreading the third Star Trek movie.

        • Cora says:

          I agree that Lucas already did a pretty good job himself ruining Star Wars, but I fear that J.J. Abrams will chop up the pieces and dance on its grave.

          As for Star Trek, I refuse to watch the Abrams travesties.

  4. Great post, made me all angry at Hollywood again for all the things I love that they ruin. Stupid studio execs that don’t understand and just see dollar signs.

    • Cora says:

      I think that’s the main problem here, that a lot of studio execs neither understand nor respect the source material and thus don’t know what to do with it. However, the Dark Knight trilogy made a lot of money and this guy wrote it, so let’s give him more superhero films. Meanwhile, no one checked how awful many of his other films were.

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