Feminism

Carol Danvers Deserved Better: Avengers #200

In 1980, Marvel was gearing up to celebrate its 200th issue of the Avengers and writer David Michelinie and then Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter were having a hard time coming up with the proper storyline for the event.

What they decided on, featuring Ms. Marvel (now Captain Marvel), Carol Danvers, was one of the most disgusting acts possibly seen in comics. (Continue on with caution, triggers for rape/impregnation below.)

They arranged for Carol, one of the most empowered feminist characters Marvel had ever created, to be kidnapped, raped–and forced to like it–and impregnated. Not stoppping there, they also decided for the pregnancy to progress in three days, ending with Carol birthing a baby, Marcus, that would then grow up super rapidly to become an adult who, plot twist, ends up being her rapist, a time traveler?

That’s right. In celebration of 200 issues of the Avengers, they make Carol give birth to her own rapist.

Who, by the way, she then falls in love with, again?

No-longer-a-baby Marcus explains to Carol and her crew of supposed-to-be-loyal Avenger friends that he wooed her for weeks on his planet, aided by a handy bit of mind control machinery, until she gave in and was “his.”

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[Comic panel: “Finally, after relative weeks of such efforts–and, admittedly, with a subtle boost from Immortus’ machines–you became mine.”]

Despite Carol not remembering any of this and still being under said mind control, the rest of the Avengers accept this as totally logical, romantic, and fair and leave Carol with Marcus.

Now, I came upon this little story while working on my research, specifically reveling over how Carol Danvers is a feminist researcher’s dream and an inspiration to us all. You can see how this discovery would halt that line of thinking slightly.

This story was over 30 years ago, and yet it has all but been wiped from most tellings of Carol Danver’s history.

Of course, that happens a lot with comic books–especially the awkward or cringe-worthy oneshots by an errant writer. (Example: That time Professor Xavier was in love with the MUCH younger Jean Gray or that time Harley Quinn killed between a dozen and hundreds of kids.) The point is that it’s pretty common to pretend these blunders don’t happen and either ignore them or later find a way to retcon them from the canon.

When a writer does something so egregious as have a character raped, forced to carry a child to term (even if it only took 3 days), then fall in love with that child–her rapist…that’s not so easy to sweep under the rug.

Perhaps more horrifying than the actual act, however, was how her team responded. They were happy she was having a baby–no matter that it was freakish and she had no recollection of having sex, a clear red flag. They were happy to abandon her with her rapist-son as well, with Thor conveniently sending them back to Limbo with his hammer, like a free honeymoon flight.

Hawkeye feels somewhat conflicted for a few valiant seconds afterward, but the comic wraps up with an optimistic line and voila, the big dramatic plot happening of Marvel’s Avengers #200 is done–Carol is out of the Avengers. How convenient.

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[Comic strip: Iron Man and Hawkeye. Hawkeye: “I can’t help it, Shell-head. I just feel rotten. If I hadn’t destroyed Marcus’ machine…” Iron Man: “–Maybe things would have happened the same way, Hawkeye. There’s no way of knowing. We’ve just got to believe that everything worked out for the best.” Hawkeye: “Yeah, I guess you’re right. That’s all we can do. Believe…And hope that Ms. Marvel lives happily ever after.” He holds her mask in one hand.]

Later, Carol gets to confront the Avengers and shame them properly, of course, and all is supposedly well but the damage is still done and will one day lead to Carol’s alcoholism.

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[Comic panel: Carol Danvers, crying. “Wanda, I never wanted to see you–any of you–again. I hated you. Because when I needed you most, you betrayed me.”]

The mind-boggling probability that this trash was able to get through decreases when you consider the Comics Code was still in effect at the time (albeit more relaxed than twenty years prior). Did no one, from the writers to editors to the very code appointed to protect the sanctity of women and American values, think there was an issue?

Even the writers of the comic seem reluctant to take credit: Jim Shooter claims he doesn’t remember any of the writing process, despite being listed as editor-in-chief and co-writer.  (He did, however, sincerely apologize and agree it was a “travesty” of an issue.)

Carol Strickland wrote the appropriately-scathing The Rape of Ms. Marvel in a fanzine shortly after Avengers #200 was released. In the piece, she calls the current state of comics into question, indicting Shooter, the Code, and all involved in approving the piece. She even says that Carol’s rape is a deliberate punishment for being an empowered character in the world of comics.

“It is a fitting end to this male fantasy. A desirable woman/mother figure is raped and then chooses to be the lover of her rapist/son. Raping is manly. Women love to be raped. Perversion is wonderful for kids and other people of taste to read.”

It gives me chills to read such unabashed, unapologetic no-bullshit calling out.

Chris Claremont, Ms. Marvel’s creator, would go on to try to rectify the situation in Avengers Annual #10, even thanking Strickland for her harsh words. At the time, though, it does seem that Strickland was the only one properly upset.

Violence against women in comics as a plot device was not new in 1980 and it hasn’t gone away since. Gail Simone’s Women in Refrigerators is an internet catalog of women who have been violated in one way or another as a plot point–often for drama or character development of a man. Rape–the ultimate theft of a person’s power and autonomy–seems to be a popular threat, especially for women who dare to be empowered.

(For more information on this, see “Empowerment as Transgression: The Rise and Fall of Black Cat in Kevin Smith’s “The Evil That Men Do”” by Michael Kramer or “Sexual Assault in Comic Books and Reinforcing Rape Myths” by Tammy Garland and Kathryn Branch.)

Furthermore, despite everything Claremont did to to try to fix things, the word “rape” is never used, despite that clearly being what happened.

We see this deliberate avoidance of the word “rape” still today, in media everywhere. Netflix’s Jessica Jones is one of the only pieces that comes to mind where the word is used boldly, unapologetically, to hold the rapist accountable.

In a world where 68% of rapes go unreported and only 2% are ever prosecuted, stories like Avengers #200 cannot be swept under the rug. In this world where victim blaming rape culture still has people believing drugs, previous consent, a relationship/marriage, clothing means a woman “deserves” rape or worse, that it isn’t rape in that case, we need stories like this as good examples of what not to do. We need this story to be told and grimaced at for just how painful it really is because it’s more comfortable for people to say “sexual assault” than “rape” and it should not be a comfortable situation.

Carol Danvers deserved better than that storyline, and accountability for changing the status quo on rape says we should not forget it.

 

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