- Posted by Johanna on March 14, 2010 at 3:56 pm
- Category: Superhero Reviews
- PUBLISHER: DC Comics
First up was a review for Superman Man of Tomorrow #14. I don’t really remember that, either the issue or the writing. Apparently, it was a focus on Riot, a kind of villainous Multiple Man, and overall, I didn’t like the story for numerous reasons. I also submitted a letter to the editor responding to a previous review in which I made a call for less plot summary and more analysis, especially of the art.
But the part I remember, and the one I want to reprint here because I’m still fond of what I was trying to do, was my review of Superman: The Last God of Krypton. It was published at the very end of the issue as another letter to the editor. It was my attempt at psuedo-academic symbolic analysis, and given that the story involved an ice goddess trying to kidnap and marry Superman, the ground was fertile. Here’s my letter:
I had an interesting reaction to _Superman: The Last God of Krypton_. Perhaps it was just a grad school flashback, but I found myself doing a textual analysis from a woman’s viewpoint. Please bear in mind that this is not any sort of comment about the creators or speculation on their attitudes; I’m simply reacting to the events and symbolism of this comic book as a societal artifact, as if I found it in a time capsule.
This analysis is kind of an academic free association, a treasure hunt of ideas, if you will. Some of the book’s events started me speculating on what terms like “ice goddess” mean in our culture (mostly because any woman besides Lois who touches Superman gets killed), and then I started noticing certain links and associations popping up once I started down that trail. Let me reiterate: I am not suggesting that any of the creators put any of this in on purpose, or that they set out to talk about this subject.
Ok, for those of you who didn’t read it, here’s what happens. A previously unknown Kryptonian ice goddess (wearing a low-cut swimsuit, strangely enough) appears and vows to kill the only living survivor, Superman. At the Daily Planet, an anonymous bimbo (wearing a skirt that would better serve as a belt) throws herself at Clark, leading Lois to jealously reclaim her husband. Clark changes to Superman in the ladies’ room, and the ice goddess shows up looking to kill him. But upon seeing him, she changes her goals: she must have Superman as her mate! She kills the bimbo to demonstrate her powers and runs away.
After Lois has changed into a white turtleneck, Superman takes his wife to the Fortress for safety. The goddess, currently trashing Metropolis, has revealed another power: to command any man to do her will. Superman kisses Lois goodbye before heading out to confront the ice goddess. When he finds her, she kisses him and forces him to his knees in tribute to her. Then she wears him out physically by tossing him around in a fight before they fly into the sun. He rejects her, she tries to kill him, and she is revealed to be a literal demon. Lois appears and saves the day in a robotic battlesuit, tossing the villain into the sun.
Now, let’s interpret some of these symbols. The villain is overly cold (you might say frigid) but aroused by Superman’s overwhelming masculinity. The ice goddess is able to control men against their will. This power includes affecting their body parts without their agreement, i.e. a metaphor for the forbidden woman causing an unwanted erection. Additionally, the “bitch goddess” is a cultural stereotype based in men’s fear of aggressive women, especially sexually aggressive women.
This goddess demands Superman’s sexual performance (she wants him to mate with her) and bends him to her will. She wears him out physically until he is saved by his marriage partner, enveloped in an androgynous shell of her husband’s construction that makes her appear as a non-sexual being. Also, Lois is covered up through most of the book (long pants, long sleeves), but the women who have exposed themselves (revealing cleavage or wearing short skirts) are killed. (These events evoke the excuse of “she asked for it”; the reader is led to feel that they get what they deserve.)
Moreover, Clark is empowered, becoming more potent, after entering a dark, enclosed space belonging to women (under his wife’s guidance, of course). The slut who dared to intrude on the sacred bond of marriage is punished by being killed. The chaste wife (her white shirt symbolizing purity) ventures out from her husband’s domain only when contained within another contraption of his devising.
Summing up, the plot of this comic can be described as the wife rescuing her husband from the illicit lure of an affair. The message I take away is that sexually active women who go after what they want are dangerous, ugly creatures to be feared, and they must be destroyed. After we’ve gawked at them for 90% of the comic, of course.
Well, that’s probably not what your reviewer thought. I hope this alternate viewpoint has at least amused you.
Back on Usenet in those days, a female comic reader was a rare and unusual thing, which explains the many caveats I included in my post. The KC editor took a positive note while disagreeing with my interpretation, responding, in part, “I like the message that a husband and wife can be equal partners in defending their family, or in defending all of humanity.” However, that wasn’t the end of it. The next issue featured an anonymous letter criticizing my letter for being “pretty explicit — enough to make me, a married woman close to thirty, rather uncomfortable. Now this is, of course, a matter of subjective opinion, and I’m sure there are many people out there who would disagree. Still, I can’t help feeling that the “adult” nature of that particular letter was out of place in your newsletter, which (while you may have never specified it to be as such) has always seemed to me to be a family newsletter.”
Reading it now, in a time period where anything and everything sexual and excretory are fodder for network sitcoms, her concerns seem quite quaint. I suspect the words “frigid” and “bitch” caused much of the consternation, as did my explicit consideration of sex in the scope of Superman. (Quite a time capsule, isn’t it, now the Justice League is part of rape stories?) The editor did defend my piece’s inclusion:
Superman also has a very diverse group of fans spanning all ages, beliefs, and backgrounds, and sometimes people with a different point of view can see things in a story that some of the rest of us can not. Even if I did not agree with all of her observations, Johanna’s view of _Last God of Krypton_ was well thought-out and well backed-up. For that reason, I think that her opinions deserved to be heard.
… Some of our readers don’t think the letter was appropriate for KC, and some of our readers thought that I treated the letter poorly in my response to it. It would be very easy for me to respond by deciding not to publish any such opinions anymore, but I’m not one to believe that there are many good absolutes in this world, and I also don’t think I want the responsibility of deciding for *all* of our readers what is or is not appropriate for all ages.
I didn’t write any more for them after that. It seemed the easiest way to avoid making people uncomfortable. There were only five more issues after those two — the internet was expanding, and assembling a whole bunch of pieces into a monthly emailed newsletter wasn’t the way people wanted to go. There wasn’t any formal explanation that I could find as to why Jeff Sykes quit doing it, but I imagine that life simply got in the way of the immense amount of work involved. I’m sorry I caused them controversy at the time, but looking back now, it’s a fond memory of how young we all were.