T’Challa & Ororo vs The Sexist Racists

May 30th, 2008 by | Tags: , ,

Let me start this off with a quote from Common’s “Sixth Sense,” just so that you don’t get what I’m saying twisted.

Some of that shit, y’all pop to it, I ain’t relating
If I don’t like it, I don’t like it, that don’t mean that I’m hating

Plain talk: Racists and sexists make for terrible villains.

Wonder Woman’s next big story arc is about the Manazons. They were introduced in DC Universe Zero over the course of three pages where a couple gods are sitting around and watching Wonder Woman. They reveal the Manazons and say something along the lines of “Never send a woman to do a man’s job!”


The thing with villains these days is that we basically have two types. One type has two or fewer dimensions. They cackle and kill and are basically evil. Depending on the writer, this is the Joker and Magneto. Their gimmick is that they are evil. If they are part of a group that once called itself “Evil” or “of Doom” or something like that, they are probably part of this group. This is a holdover from the days when (bang, pow) comics were for kids.

The other kind of villain is the kind who is more three dimensional. He has a goal beyond just wrecking shop, or at least some kind of personality that makes him more than someone who just wants to kill everything ever for whatever reason. Claremont’s Magneto pretended to be this guy, Lex Luthor is this guy, Two Face is this guy when written popularly, and Prometheus started out as this guy. They aren’t evil for evil’s sake– they are evil for a (occasionally good) reason.

Which one of these villains do you prefer? The nuanced one or the black & white one?

I don’t mind evil villains. Joker is frustrating, but fun when Harley Quinn is around to take away from the “RARR EVIL” stuff. But, I think that evil villains are a cheap writer’s trick at this point. With the skill of writers these days, we should be able to have villains that don’t instantly inspire revulsion in the reader. We should be able to mix it up.

I’m only picking on the Manazons because it’s the most recent example. Their gimmick is that they were put into action by two gods who straight up say that women are less capable than men. What decent person is going to be able to say “Hey, this guy is really interesting. I wonder what would happen if they win?”

What happens if the Manazons win? A bunch of women are banished to the kitchen, and even then, they know that men cook better, anyway.

What’s the point? Where’s the depth? Racist sexist villains are cheap. When’s the last time you were like, “Boy, the Red Skull sure is an interesting character! His methods suck, but I can understand where he’s coming from!”

Racism and sexism are bad words. This is partly why people who are (rightly or wrongly) accused of sexism or racism get so upset at the very idea of being such. The only people who accept those labels are people who will never change. Everyone would like to be past the use of them. Racists and sexists are Bad People. Who wants to be a Bad Person?

Tossing these traits onto a bad guy is just another way to make him more unlikeable without actually writing scenes that illustrate that. It’s telling, not showing, and it is cheap like a dinner at a friend’s house or a date at the communal TV room in your dorm. It’s lazy.

Seeing a brand new villain immediately go into “mulatto” or “whore” talk immediately kills any connection I might have had. Now, he’s just a regular old bad guy. A regular, old, uninteresting, boring, cliched, terrible bad guy.

Give it a miss. You can have bad guys without using these shortcuts. I can’t believe how tired I am of seeing cheap cookie-cutter villains. It takes me out of the story instantly. and it just feels hilariously lazy.

I’m not asking for a moratorium, but at least give me another reason to hate these dudes beyond “Ha ha, he said nigger.”

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7 comments to “T’Challa & Ororo vs The Sexist Racists”

  1. Personally, I’m waiting to see what they do with the Manazons (such a stupid name) and how Gail Simone deals with it. It seems less to me like a “hey look, sexism” thing (though it’s certainly there) and more of a “hey, 300 is popular, let’s have the Amazons fight some Sparta-type guys.” Both are pretty lazy plot lines, admittably.

    I’m glad you wrote in the last sentence, though. I’ve seen a lot of compelling villains be racist assholes. Garth Ennis writes some of them. But I guess the operative word here is “compelling.” There’s normally more to them than their racism, and a deeper evil inside.

    What exactly did you mean by the Red Skull, though? He seems to be a racist character that actually works; the “true believer” archetype. Red Skull seems justified as a character, because Nazism was such a major part of his history. Moreover, his bigotry is juxtaposed with a strong strategic mind. You’re not supposed to identify with him, you’re supposed to identify with the protagonist most of the time. For a truly maniacal villain, you’re supposed to step back and disagree/be horrified with their actions and thoughts to the utmost. Brubaker’s run is a great example of this. Or maybe I’m reading you wrong here, and you’re saying that if Red Skull was just a stupid racist guy, his appeal would tank real quick. If so, I’m with you there. Captain Nazi was and is a pretty bullshit character in DC.

  2. Yeah, if Red Skull was just a regular old nazi, I think he’d be much more boring. However, he’s got the benefit of 40-odd years of history to help him out. It’s kind of like the Joker– if he just appeared and his gimmick was “Clown who kills people,” he’d be pretty one dimensional and boring. However, Morrison’s interpretation of him as a guy whose personality changes constantly, and the current one is genocidal, is interesting.

    I don’t necessarily want to identify with villains (though that can also be pretty good!), but having them be compelling is key.

  3. I think the compelling thing about many bad guys comes at the point when we can identify with them, and I think this may be the origin of the villains who are “dark opposites” of the heroes- by creating someone who represents what the hero could have turned out like if circumstances were different, a kind of short-cut happens as the reader identifies with the protagonist who identifies with the antagonist.

    This kind of thing is incredibly difficult to pull off when the antagonist has qualities that wither the reader doesn’t possess, or doesn’t want to admit to possessing, and certainly doesn’t want to analyse. I doubt there are that many writers on the planet who are skillful enough to pull off the trick with a Nazi antagonist, never mind within the comics industry. That’s not to say it can’t be done, more that it’s very difficult and isn’t going to be anywhere near the pleasant experience of reading within the superhero comfort zone.

    After Schindler’s List, Spielberg said he’s never be able to use “Comic book Nazis” again in his films, his reasoning being exactly why this type of villain is so difficult to use. An unengaging one-note charicature is all that can be reasonably used, as to engage or analyse at a less superficial level rapidly becomes disrespectful to real-life suffering when approached with the kind of characters who wear brightly coloured tights and punch out space aliens.

  4. I’m torn. I agree with the sentiment, but at the same time I’m sort of convinced I enjoy villains that are, for lack of a better means of expressing myself, depthless. I still like, say, Predator or the eponymous Aliens in those movies. Guys like Juggernaut, the Wrecking Crew, and Spider-Man 3 Sandman also work for me. Sometimes it’s just cool to have dudes who rob banks because they want money and like having nice things. I also like Rasputin from Hellboy. Or Darkseid in JLU and Batman/Superman. He’s a big alien overlord who does evil and wants to conquer.

    And I like Brubaker’s Red Skull. He’s probably the only nuanced villain I can think of right now. I don’t really like a lot of Ennis’s villains, or Ozymandias from Watchmen. Luthor’s kind of hit and miss for me. I like the Venom-injecting crazy ‘I wear that stick’ Luthor of Superman/Batman and the Luthor of Red Son.

    The Liberators of the Ultimates were villains I liked. My one grievance with them is that Crimson Dynamo kind of went crazy at the end for no real reason. I can buy the Colonel going all-out to kill Captain America, and Perun had the sense to surrender. They weren’t nuanced, but they had a veneer that made it like they weren’t just bad guys, even though, really, they were. And the Chi’tauri worked out okay for me too.

    Maybe it’s just I don’t demand as much from my stories. I’m not quite to the point where I’m really after more.

  5. Currently reading the old 1980s Suicide Squad run and I’d like to put forth Captain Boomerang as a nuanced racist.

    He’s racist but it’s not his schtick…he’s a an Ozzy who chucks boomerangs. Sure, the actual character is a pretty bad stereotype of all the bad parts of white Australia but he’s also got some great depth for a unlovable sociopath.

    Ostrander knocks it out the park with issue 4 about a super team dealing with a racist icon. Everything from Boomerangs observation that black people commit street crimes and white people commit super crimes ‘We’re different ain’t we? I mean, I don’t see no bloody abo bein’ an artist like ol’ Chronos here, can you?’ and even Bronze Tiger’s observation that the only ‘criminals’ in the squad are white to Deadshot’s (masquerading as William Hell) speech (penned by Rick Flagg):

    ‘Only one way to do that. You got to stick together, and I mean ALL together…what’s the best way to keep you under control? HATE! Keep you separate from those you should have something in common!’

    Even Flagg’s note that the speech wasn’t Patriotic, it was a self-interest form of democracy is great.

    Enough gushing. Good point about the Wonder Woman arc. (I remember so many kids shows as a kid that had the groan inducing ‘Boys are better than girls – no they aren’t – girls beat boys at whatever they are best at – it’s like cultural emasculationmania.) Come to think about it Digger was pretty sexist as well but that’s another Boomerang observation for another time.

  6. Yeah, I see what you’re saying but, well, some people are just racist/sexist/selfish and kinda simplistic and if they got super powers, they probably would become villains, so I see having at least some villains be `one note’ as kinda realistic. They cant all be tragi-villains. Also, being `evil’ doesnt stop someone from having some admirable traits. Hitler, Mao, Stalin were all `good’ politicians and public speakers, for instance.

  7. I get what you mean. A couple of years back in the falcon or black falcon miniseries by Marvel Comics, Electro made a cameo. In the series it was decided he would make some racial comments just because he was in a book with an African American hero after no history of it.