Okay, so I’m going to discuss Amazing Spider-Man 700 and rape subtext and such, but of course if you had any sense you stopped reading at Brand New Day and don’t care. Alright? Spoilers ahead.

I’m assuming you know the basic premise of Superior Spider-Man. Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus switch bodies, Spidey dies in Ock’s, Ock survives as Peter Parker but is inspired by Spider-Man’s memories enough to become Diet Evil instead of pure Evil. Angel season five Evil, if you will. I don’t know, apparently we didn’t have enough comics about amoral motherfuckers acting like heroes.

They canceled Dark Avengers, leaving only the Dental Hygiene Avengers.

Plus, the never-ending font of stories that was a young, single Spider-Man clearly couldn’t go on forever. Things had to evolve to the next logical step: people switching bodies. There’s nothing your average comic book reader relates to more than Freaky Friday.

But you know, it’s comics, things will be back to normal just in time for us to finally be getting used to the new status quo. What gets me is that apparently (I haven’t read the comic, so I apologize if I’m misrepresenting the situation, but it’s been commented on by every article I’ve seen) there’s this subplot where Doc Ock/Peter is using the circumstances to try and get into Mary Jane Watson’s pants, since she’s in love with Peter Parker (who is now dead and, worse, has a bowl-cut).

Best-case scenario, they’re playing this for laughs with MJ narrowly and unknowingly avoiding rape by deceit–which, since this is Marvel we’re talking about, is still deeply ‘what is wrong with Dan Slott?’ fucked-up. I mean, if you wanted to play the situation for dark comedy, you could have Mary Jane pursuing ParkOck and him blowing her off because it’d be wrong to take advantage of her that way (and/or because he personally isn’t attracted to her). Worst-case scenario, they’re going there and when Peter inevitably comes back, they’ll use it as a stake through the heart of Peter/MJ. “I’m sorry, tiger, I just can’t look at you without thinking of what that monster did to me. I have to go now, my home planet needs me.” Which isn’t unbelievable, since there are, what, three major Spider-Man events with the sole purpose of getting us a Spider-Man who isn’t married?

People loved the Clone Saga so much, why not try it again with an even more obvious Madonna/Whore subtext?

Now obviously, the main thing is that rape is an overused plot device as is, and speaking as a fan, I don’t want the fucking female lead of the entire goddamn Spider-Man franchise in a rape plot. I don’t care if it’s the most well-told, sensitively portrayed, dramatic rape plot ever. I’m sick of ‘em. If I had my way, even the thugs who corner women in dark alleys before getting beat up by Batman wouldn’t be rapists. They’d just be saying “Hand over the purse, lady, or else!” Over the past fifty years, the comics industry has lost the right to have the keys to that car.

But even if the exact same plot were being done with a nothing character like Carlie Cooper, or there were an assurance by Joe Quesada that the situation wouldn’t go beyond queasy laughs (a real assurance, not like the time he said magic wouldn’t be used to restore Spider-Man’s secret identity), I wouldn’t want to see it. And at the risk of being that fan, I’d like to take our attention off the female side of the equation and, just for a moment, look at the dude involved.

Because Doctor Octopus is not a rapist.

Thought this is clearly the best choice for a honest and emotionally harrowing look at sex crimes.

I’ll admit, it’s been a while since I’ve read a Spider-Man comic and, obviously, I haven’t read every damn Spider-Man comic ever written. I’m not “THE Doctor Octopus fan” either (although I did know A “the Doctor Octopus fan” and she liked some of my fanfics). But I feel pretty safe in saying Doc Ock wouldn’t rape anyone. He wouldn’t allow his henchmen to rape someone. For several reasons.

First, while Doctor Octopus may not have a sense of honor per se, he definitely has a sense of class, almost fair play. In his first appearance, he beats Spider-Man, but instead of killing him, discards the boy like rubbish. Later on, he fights a weakened Spider-Man and unmasks him, discovering that it is “Peter Parker pretending to be Spider-Man” (as the assumption goes). Again, he spares the boy’s life. He’s not a mad dog killer. He’s a scientist. One with a superiority complex the size of Long Island, but still. He’s an intellectual. He doesn’t want to just beat people–he wants to defeat them mentally, outsmart them, out-strategize them. “I’m the smartest man in the world, damn you! I’ll damage a nuclear reactor just to show you I can repair it by myself! Then you’ll see my genius! Then you’ll see!”

Rape would be beneath him. The province of a common thug who can’t control his impulses. Doctor Octopus is a visionary, a genius! If he bested Ms. Marvel in combat and put some gadget on her that drained her power, could you see him molesting her? No! He might put her in some exotic experiment/death-trap, or hold her as a hostage towards the eventual destruction of those interfering Avengers, but rape? That’s for lesser men.

Men with less majestic hair.

Secondly, Doctor Octopus would almost certainly be morally opposed to rape. It’d be going a bit far to describe him as a feminist. I have as hard a time seeing him lecture on Rita Mae Brown as I have seeing him deliver a Bendis!Dr. Doom style “shut up, you fat cow!” meltdown; most likely he’d be somewhere in the middle. But I think someone like Otto, who is both very smart, very aware of what it’s like to be persecuted, and has been romantically involved with some pretty strong women, would be fairly enlightened when it comes to the subject. Sure, both men and women are inferior to the brilliant mind of Doctor Octopus, but they’re equally inferior! Perhaps a cheap hoodlum would denigrate a woman because of her gender, but Otto Octavius is not the Shocker! No, the killer robots guarding his island fortress will be programmed gender-neutral, and destroy interlopers of both sexes!

Why is this important? Well, metafictionally, Doctor Octopus is a big fucking deal. When I stopped reading Spider-Man, he’d been reduced (like most of Spidey’s rogues) to a punchline, a bunch of jokes about pudgy bellies and bad haircuts. After all, he’s not as sexy a villain as Norman Osborn, who not only killed Peter’s first love, but lives to launch complicated schemes against Spider-Man’s personal life–a writer’s dream, in other words. Ock was pretty much relegated to the backburner, ‘that other mad scientist who Spider-Man doesn’t really care about.’

It was like the writers had trouble taking this guy seriously.

So would I be eager for a storyline to either A. make Doctor Octopus a real, credible threat to Spider-Man or B. try something new and make Doc Ock a hero/anti-hero? Sure, there’ve been worse ideas. Here’s the thing, though. Rape won’t do that.

Obviously, it makes a redemption arc nigh-impossible. If there are some sins you want Doc Ock to redeem himself for, there’s been plenty of fuckery he’s gotten up to over the past fifty years without the need to add fifty goddamn exclamation points to that sentence by having him rape the leading lady.

Moreover, this isn’t The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. I’d question the whole point of making a character a rapist just to redeem him, given how eager the real world is to justify rapists. And then there’s the ability to make such a story engaging and credible–I mean, this is a Spider-Man comic, right? Now you’re going to tackle a story that our greatest living auteurs would probably dismiss out of hand? I know (bam! pow!) comics aren’t just for kids anymore, but still, there are some story lines The Wire can do and Adolescent Power Fantasy-Man can’t.

But let’s say Doctor Octopus is going to end up being a villain again, even bigger and badder than before. Surely, him doing really unconscionable things in Spider-Man’s body would just make him a better villain, right? And more heinous villains always make for better stories. That’s why there are so many great movies about that Dutch guy who kept his daughter as a sex slave and none at all with villains who are understandable and sympathetic in their evilness.

“I’m just saying, audiences would be more involved in his character if he kicked a few dozen puppies.” – Mark Millar

Quick, name some really great, awesome, badass, popular supervillains who are also rapists.

Not easy, is it? I mean, I’m a pretty big comic book fan, but I can’t really think of any. There are “worst of the worst” villains, but even there, it’s usually more implication or subtext. You don’t see Dr. Psycho or Sabretooth literally planning a The Accused movie night. The big exception is Dr. Light, but that was a plain and clear misfire. Before Identity Crisis, he had a niche. He was a comedy villain, a C-lister, someone you could use for a story that wasn’t sturm-und-drang. He was the Shocker, in other words.

After IC, he’s radioactive. He was supposed to be the big crossover villain, an A-lister, an ousted king reclaiming his throne after those awful writers who weren’t Brad Meltzer made him a joke. Only he wound up an even bigger joke. Dr. Light literally couldn’t go through a sentence without talking about rape. Like that was his only personality trait. And no one wanted to read that. No one wanted to buy a comic where, if the bad guy won, he didn’t put Batgirl in a trap she’d cleverly escape, but put his penis in her vagina.

And this is comic fans we’re talking about! Men who can be so stupidly misogynistic they will literally yell at attractive women for putting on skimpy costumes from fiction nerds like! That’s possibly the stupidest thing that isn’t airing on TLC. You’re saying no to boobs because girls don’t have a secret decoder ring, idiots! It’s like turning down a free chicken sandwich!

“Aww, thanks for this chicken sandwich. Wait—did you give this to me because you like my hair or because you like my tie?” “Because of your tie, why does it even—” “GET THEE TO A NUNNERY!”

It’s called X-Pac Heat. When a villain is so hated that fans don’t even want to see him get beaten up, they just want him to not exist (preferably because someone punched time or whatever). At a certain point, it just makes the hero look ineffectual, pathetic even, to have a villain walking out of a revolving-door jail and shitting pure evil. Even the Joker isn’t immune to that, and at least his ridiculous level of homicide can be played for black comedy. But you’ll notice DC knows better than to make him a rapist.

There’s something… un-playful, universe-breaking, about a villain who flounces around prepared to violate either a hero or a hero’s loved ones. There’s a reason DC killed Dr. Light off (for good, even!) not long after Identity Crisis. Authors can be so dead-set on making their work dramatic, making the stakes higher, making the villains more evil, that they forget people read this shit for fun. What’s less fun than rape?

I don’t read comics about him either.

And I don’t want to see that happen to Doctor Octopus. It’s a petty reason, I admit, but c’mon—he’s Doc Ock! He’s been with Spider-Man since the beginning, they’re practically a comedy duo now! If the endgame here is to give Spidey and Ock a personal hate-on for each other, there’s plenty of ways to do that—Ock futzing with Peter’s personal life, using his privileged status as Spider-Man to betray and hurt, the list goes on and on.

Ten years from now, when Peter’s back in the spandex and Doc Ock has robotic tentacles again, and Spidey’s trying to stop his arch-nemesis from turning New York into a giant computer, the subtext of the scene should be “I don’t want New York to be a giant computer!” not “I’m sure gonna punch this guy for raping my girl!” Just the sight of it in the rear-view mirror automatically turns a fun, quippy adventure into a dour exercise in self-seriousness. No more making fun of the Beatles haircut or the spare tire now; Ock’s too big a threat. After all, he raped someone.

Maybe that’s what Marvel wants. Hey, whoever said comics should be fun?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1619749064 Lydia de Leeuw

    “That’s why there are so many great movies about that Dutch guy who kept his daughter as a sex slave”
    I’m pretty sure you mean Austrian.

    • http://www.facebook.com/matthias.kepplinger.7 Matthias Kepplinger

      I love me country. Hitler and child molesters. We are so well liked throughout the world.

      ‘Wanders off and cries for a bit’

  • diracproject

    Maybe a partial issue is that you have to convince people that rape-by-fraud is an actual thing. Unless they actually know what they’re doing, and are trying to go for the kind of emotional story as covered by Deadpool getting tricked into sleeping with Typhoid Mary because she used tech to disguise herself as Siryn. Deadpool was incredibly crushed by that moment. Of course, Deadpool was a main character and would serve as the agent of his own fate from that moment. Doing such a thing with an important character, albeit a side character, turns that character into a prop for others. If MJ does get violated, is she going to get revenge? Or just mope in the corner and have her honor avenged? The whole “woman as vessel of honor for community” thing that I know a lot of people in my area decry about what they see as improper philosophy or religious edict when done by people they consider to be “un-American” is somehow okay when turned inward.

    That rambled more than I thought it would, but I’m not sure how to pare it down. Ah well.

    • Kickpuncher

      That’s kind of my reasoning on not using rape in comics. If the editor-in-chief of the entire comic company doesn’t know what rape is (as proven by their own statement), then they should focus on some of the other 16 billion things that can happen to a woman.

  • Skippy the Wonder Beetle

    Assuming Dan Slott has the sensibility not to do a rape storyline, the way he’s depicting MJ now as an incentive for Ock to be a better man is still pretty sexist. MJ is being offered up as a reward basically, which is a pretty tired (and wrong) way to depict women. The story hasn’t seemed exactly interested in her POV so far either, which furthers dehumanization