Nothing Says "Escapist Fantasy For Girls" Like....
...an attempted gang-rape scene.
In Sword Of Sorcery#0 featuring Amethyst, no less. A comic supposedly aimed at an all-ages female audience.
No, really! I'm not making this up!
Things began innocently enough. There was the introduction to lead Amy Winston. Then there was Amy's new high school. Then there were the other students, including the mousy Beryl.
Then there was the ever-present football player rapist. (Apologies to Butthole Surfers.)
It's a common trope in fiction: Popular jock asks out unpopular nerd girl for no apparent reason. And asks her to meet him in a secluded spot. As Jerry Seinfeld would say "This can only end badly." It's a ruse. There are two directions this can go, one of which is that the secluded spot is not-so-secluded, and the jock humiliates her in front of a whole group of people by, say, pouring a bucket of cow's blood on her, Carrie-style.
That's one direction. Unfortunately, writer Christy Marx chose the other.
You can guess where this is going. You've probably seen where this went. I'm not going to show you.
In fairness, they don't get to actually carry it out. Amy, using her Buffy-like fight training, prevents the rape.
Let me point out that Amy is on the scene in the first place because she strongly suspected that this exact same scenario would go down. And yet she didn't think to actually tell Beryl her suspicions in advance. Which makes Amy a strong contender for this year's "Gee, Thanks For The Heads-Up, Jackass!" Award.
In any event, Amy rescues Beryl and then, frankly, I'd already stopped giving a crap after that point. The art was pretty, I guess. But that scene just took me completely out of the story.
It wasn't the sword and sorcery or young adult fantasy motifs that turned me off, nor was it that a young adult female was the lead character. I've been enjoying books with all those elements combined, notably Amelia Cole And The Unknown World and Kevin Church's comic Wander, both from Monkeybrain Comics. Neither of which have any rape references.
So why did Marx and DC include one here? Was it lazy shorthand to establish Amy as a strong female character? Was it a maladroit attempt to make the comic more "edgy"?
Or was it an ill-advised homage to the original mini?
In fairness, I have to admit that I've only read 2 original Amethyst appearances. One was the Crisis On Infinite Earths appearance, and the other was an 8-page insert in a Legion Of Super-Heroes comic which featured a giant-sized Duplicate Boy beating the living shit out of Colossal Boy at a ski lodge. So I was genuinely surprised to find out from Tangognat that that the original Amethyst mini also had a rape attempt in the first issue. So maybe Marx was referencing that.
But there are two problems there.
First, the original attempted rape scene was something creators Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn admit was a very big mistake. Mishkin specifically says that if they had to do it over again, they would exclude that scene. So why repeat the mistake in the rebooted version? You didn't see Kelly Sue DeConnick open her first Carol Danvers Captain Marvel arc by revisiting the fucking Marcus storyline, did you?
Second, and more importantly, that original scene was in a comic from 1983. And while an attempted rape scene in a superhero comic may have been novel back then, it's been done AD NAUSEUM in the 29 years that have followed. Especially in the last decade.
It's like the fallback to include rape and sexual assault in a modern story or backstory involving a female character. The rape or sexual assault attempt is used as shorthand to establish the female character's "tough-girl" bona fides. I can think of several times this has been used in DC's New 52 comics, notably Voodoo#1 and the infamous Mera-centric issue of Aquaman.
Rape and attempted rape are also overused as a motivator in female characters' origins. I was reminded of this again when I picked up Hawkeye#2 and saw it featured Kate Bishop. Kate, a former member of the Young Avengers, was an ordinary rich girl who was motivated to train herself in combat and weaponry by....yup, you guessed it....her past rape. Even worse, the "rape-as-motivator" trope has even been applied to older female characters who already had really strong motivations to begin with. Like Black Cat. Apparently her existing motivation of "My dad was a legendary cat burglar and I loved him and wanted to be like him" wasn't enough for Kevin Smith, so he added 100% more rape to her backstory. (Hawkeye and Defenders writer Matt Fraction, to his credit, has skipped over these past rapes when writing both Cat and Kate.)
The overreliance on rapes, rape attempts, and rape threats is the lazy creators' (and editors' and publishers') attempt to scream "Look at us! We're doing mature subject matter! That means WE'RE mature!". But all it does is make them look like arrested adolescent jackasses.
Especially when they show such little restraint that they do it in comics that are supposed to be targeted towards women and girls. Many of whom live in fear of rape or sexual assault in real life. Some of whom have already been raped or sexually assaulted in real life. Now imagine their disgusted reaction when they buy Sword Of Sorcery#0, hoping for some escapist fantasy but finding a trigger instead.
The worst part is that I'm not particularly confident that the Big 2, particularly DC, will change their ways on this. Why not? Well, let me put it this way: If it feels like I've made this rant before, it's because I have. YEARS AGO. And it feels like it's only gotten worse.
And now that means there's yet another comic that I should have been able to recommend to women and girls that, frankly, I just can't. All I can say is "Skip this and read Amelia Cole instead". And that's just sad.