Monday, August 12, 2013

What Mark Millar Doesn't Get


Could fill a lot more than one blog post as proven by Millar's recent tone-deaf comments concerning depictions of rape versus violence within his work. But two very different views of one comic in particular may shed a little light on what Millar and many more still don't get.

A few years ago when I still worked full time at Graham Crackers Comics, a lot of our time was spent talking about comics. A shocking pastime for comic shop employees, I know. We talked about what we liked more often than what we didn't, though we would oblige any customer that asked for our honest opinion (haunted vaginas and pentagram boob tassels - apparently there is a place in the world of comics for books like Tarot). Healthy debates about the merits of comics and creators thrived. Was the work of Alan Moore still the benchmark to which we compared the best of the best superhero titles? Was the ending of Final Crisis satisfying for anyone? Are there really readers out there that have read and disliked Preacher

Top sellers were sure to be discussed, especially if they were receiving an upcoming movie adaptation. Casual readers would come into the store looking for these books and with their curiosity comes a lot of questions. When Mark Millar and J.G. Jone's Wanted was adapted for the big screen, the trade paperback was re-released with a special movie variant cover. We saw a lot of those books cross our counter, with Anegelina Jolie's photoshop disaster worthy manipulation gracing every cover. Much like its poster, the film bares little resemblance to the source material, so any time customers would ask about the comic, we'd be sure to let them know that it does not include a society of ancient weaver assassins. This is a story where the bad guys win and the protagonist never makes the leap from villain to anti-hero as the trajectory of the book implies. 

Wanted trade paperback movie variant cover, Mark Millar says something stupid, Top Cow, Wanted comic
Poor J.G. Jones did not draw these tangled human appendages

In one of our Tuesday morning discussions, a co-worker of mine asked what I thought of Mark Millar and I said that I enjoyed his  licensed character work for Marvel and DC, but found his original concepts often had questionable uses of violence, particularly sexual violence. It felt like there was no editor sending feedback challenging these choices, so every ill advised decision made it into the final story. It's such a prevalent trend in his work that it makes one think that Millar's Civil War might have been a very different story without a PG-13 constraint. The conversation shifted to Wanted and I said that I found it greatly disturbing how Millar used rape in the story. My co-worker looked at me a bit puzzled and said, I don't remember there being a rape in that book. Think about that for a minute. The main character rapes someone and it is forgotten.

I refreshed my co-worker's fuzzy memory and reminded her of the brief use of rape in the story. After having discovered that he is the son of one of the world's most prominent super villains, the main character decides to embrace his legacy by embarking on a crime spree. He then complains to a fellow character that he is disappointed his rape of a movie starlet didn't make the evening news. It's a brief moment in the book, and the rape is not depicted. It is a flippant remark that readers like my co-worker (and many more I'm sure) would have read and quickly forgotten.  Imagine how different the Wanted film would have been had James McAvoy's character bragged to Angelina Jolie about raping someone.

Millar has attempted to justify his use of rape within comics as a means to demonstrate the truly depraved nature of evil characters. But clearly this lazy insertion of rape as plot device had the exact opposite of intended consequences for Millar and the audience; readers could literally forget it even happened in Wanted. The only part about this interaction that feels authentic is that no one in the story is phased by this information. Mark Millar doesn't see the difference between rape and decapitation, so why should his characters?

No matter what terrible thing a creator makes a character do in a story, it is a decision made by the creator. Context matters as much as the actions depicted, and the frequency of said actions within the real world cannot be disregarded. If a person is mutilated in front of a crowd of people, there will be no debate as to whether the victim "wanted it". A victim of gun violence will not first be asked if they were drinking, by themselves, or what they were wearing. Women don't often worry about a drunk acquaintance attempting to cut off their head.

Sorry Mr. Millar but you might not know the difference between rape and decapitation, but 1 in 6 of your female readers know the difference all too well. I couldn't find any statistics on the prevalence of decapitation, though your readers with first hand experience in that area are most assuredly non existent. 

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