Diary of a Comic Book Goddess: Women in Refrigerators (WiR) Edition

I wrote this little piece a while back and, as I’m a little slow in terms of transcribing my Gail Simone interview (squee!), I thought I’d post this.

Women in Refrigerators (WiR) is the name of the list compiled by Gail Simone – with the help of her comic book buddies – of “female comics characters had met untimely and often icky ends”.

The name, incidentally, comes from a scene in Green Lantern #54. Kyle Rayner comes home and finds that his girlfriend, Alex DeWitt, has been killed and stuffed into the refrigerator by his nemesis Major Force. The name and the incident have since been used to describe the disproportional dispowerment, maiming, and death of various women in superhero comic books and how these incidents are usually used only to motivate the male characters into action or as a plot device to explore how these kinds of tragedies affect the male characters.

Now, before you get all uppity and point out that bad stuff happens to men too, I’ll say, “Yes, it does.” But WiR is different in that, when it happens to female characters they (unlike the men) are never allowed, as male heroes usually are, the chance to return to their original heroic states. And that’s where we begin to see the difference.”

For example: Batman has is back broken by Bane. With a little bit of Bat-willpower (and a lot of paranormal help) Batman manages to regain full use of his legs and go on to defeat Bane and save the day! Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) gets shot in the spine by the Joker and is paralyzed FOREVERMORE. I should also note that Batman’s back was broken during a heroic battle with Bane whereas Barbara opened the door to an apartment door. (And then, to add insult to injury, was undressed and photographed by the Joker  — photos which are then shown to her father, Commissioner Gordon in an attempt to drive him insane). Barbara Gordon becomes a prop in some sick play to drive her father crazy and to propel Batman into action against the Joker.

Okay, maybe this is a bad example. Babs did go on to become (thanks to John Ostrander and his wife Kim Yale) Orcacle who is a superheroine in her own right (and not just a Bat-sidekick). I mean, any attempt to “cure” Babs now would be met with disbelief and a lot of fans who would revolt. (Nor, do I share the sentiment that Babs is somehow less than she was becuase she’s a wheelchair user, which just proves that when you can’t dismiss a character based on his/her race, gender, and/or sexuality, you can say that they’re somehow inferior based on his/her disability.)

Just because I don’t think you can quite grasp the unfairness of it all unless I repeat it: Batman is injured during a heroic battle, completely recovers (which, to be fair, comes from a telekinetic duel between Shondra Kingslover and Benedict Asp), returns and vanquishes his nemesis. He clears Batman’s name and takes his rightful place as protector of Gotham City.

Barbara Gordon, on the other hand, is injured opening the door and is then photographed (while bleeding on the floor) in various states of undress in a devious plot to drive her father insane, is left – because of her injuries –  permanently paralyzed. Oh, and she only becomes an awesome character because we were lucky enough to have a fabulous husband-and-wife creative team who said, “Oh, hell no” at Len Wein’s decision to give Alan Moore permission to “cripple the bitch!”

So, where am I going with all this? Well, other than hopefully inciting some righteous feminist rage, I needed to talk about this in order to segway into this next bit. I’m a huge fan of Something Positive and (the artist/writer) R.K. Milholland has a great little side project (which, in my opinion, isn’t updated enough) called Super Stupor. The comic details the lives of several superheroes and villains and the wacky adventures that they get into. (I’d also recommend the first issue of the Super Stupor comic — it is made of win and cookies and rainbows and puppies). In one of his early strips, Milholland explored the phenomenon of WiR and kind of turned it on its ear (the original strip is found here):

Shelley Smarz is a life-time comic book fan and a comic book scholar. She’s currently finishing her MBA at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON. She’s trying to establish a schedule when she’ll regularly update, but business school has this really annoying habit of getting in the way. In her spare time, she knits and crochets inappropriate kawaii amigurumi body parts…we’ll let you guess which ones. Her current list of superheroine girlcrushes are: Oracle, Phoenix…damn, I guess what she told Gail Simone IS true – she does have a thing for redheads!

Shelley Smarz
Shelley Smarz
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