The Problematic Treatment of Titans’ Heroines [Spoilers]

In lieu of a standard review of Episode 2 and 3, I’d like to address a trend that has been bothering me in the new Titans thus far: The problematic portrayal of the female heroes. Many bloggers have already covered the disturbing behavior of Dick Grayson, and with Beast Boy so far barely getting any screen time (which needs to change ASAP, I’m stoked to see him more), there’s not much to say about the male heroes at this point. Hopefully, once they are more fleshed out, I will be able to discuss their portrayals, whether good or mad or neutral. For now, I’m going to focus on our heroines, Raven, Kory, and Dove.

Before delving in, I’d like to make a few distinctions. There will be spoilers for the first three episodes of Titans, so if you’re not caught up, I recommend stopping now. Secondly, my references to the comic book materials will be drawn solely from the Marv Wolfman and George Perez run on The New Teen Titans from the 1980s. As I am not as familiar with their iteration in the more recent New 52, I will not be talking about it. Furthermore, as a Progressive Feminist, this article will be written with that mindset. If you don’t care for that, you may wish to click away from this, rather than sending us hate mail. Much appreciated.

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I will first address Raven’s loss of agency. In the comics, Raven is the one who brings the Titans together. Knowing the arrival of her father, the dreaded devil Trigon, is imminent, she takes action, finding heroes with specific characteristics that will be able to take down the fiend. At first, she is portrayed as a woman with unshakeable willpower who is in control of her emotions. It was only later that we discovered that she was someone who needed help. She could be vulnerable and tender, and she truly loves her friends, despite her icy demeanor.

In Titans, the writers have opted for the inverse. Raven is, straight away, a damaged individual who needs protection. She’s basically helpless on her own. Even when she does “save herself” from dangerous situations, it is actually the dark spirit inhabiting her that takes action. Yes, Raven is much younger than she is in the comics. But I feel it would have behooved the show to show her as an old soul, with wisdom remarkable for her age. No, she doesn’t need to be perfect. It would make sense that she is less disciplined and more flawed. But, I would have liked to see Raven possess more agency, and more able to defend herself.

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Our next subject is Kory. Volumes have been written on the unfortunate wardrobe, and I fully agree it was a poor decision to dress her in such a way. It’s an odd choice, and led to a lot of PR problems that sadly dissuaded many from watching the show. It wasn’t worth it. Kory is vastly different from her comic book portrayal, showing almost no relation to the endearing but powerful alien girl we came to love. Don’t get me wrong, Kory is a compelling character in her own right, but if you’re going to do an adaptation of Starfire, you need to retain some of the traits that have made her such a classic character. Kory is all toughness, no heart. And that was what made us love Starfire: She beautifully juxtaposed a warrior identity with compassion. She could be filled with fury, she could luxuriate in a pool party with her friends, she could be tender with Dick, and merciless with her enemies. She was naïve, but she had convictions. This complexity is what made her beloved by fans.

Minor gripe: When Kory meets Dick, sparks should have flown. They’re one of the best couples in the DCU, and the show needs to do justice to that.

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Finally, we come to Dove. And my goodness, despite a good performance by Minka Kelly, and a comics-accurate costume, I have a lot of problems with Dove’s characterization. I’d like to first call your attention to the Women in Refrigerators trope, a term coined by veteran comics writer Gail Simone. I suggest perusing the page linked above, but the basic idea is that there are countless female comic characters who are mistreated in various abhorrent ways, often of a sexual nature, solely to provide motivation for the male characters. In Titans, Dove is not only weaker than she is in the comics (though her male compatriot Hawk is depowered as well), she is given a previously nonexistent sexual history with Dick Grayson, and is swiftly put into a coma before we can really get to know and care about her.

Why? What does this do to service the plot, other than to give emotional motivation to our brooding male heroes. It actually robs the story of an intriguing character. Okay, sure, she’s in a coma, which is TV code for “She’ll definitely positively absolutely be back soon,” but in the meantime, her absence is just a testament to the fact that writers often don’t care about their heroines, viewing them more as plot points than as active protagonists in their own right. I’m not saying writers don’t create complex, amazing female characters. I’m not saying such unfortunate treatment doesn’t befall male characters. I’m saying, by and large, these kinds of tropes are imposed upon female characters.

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Within her first episode, Dove gets refrigerated. Raven’s adopted mother, Angela, is also refrigerated in her first episode. Rather than develop her into Raven’s biological mother, Arella, whose actual name is Angela, they kill her off to motivate Raven. Arella, also a fascinating and powerful character, who stands against Trigon and leads the forces of Azarath, seems to be inconsequential in the context of the show.

I would like to sum this up by saying, I don’t hate everything about the heroines in Titans. I honestly think the show is worth checking out. As I mentioned earlier, Kory is an intriguing character, and, while she’s not our Starfire, she could go to some very interesting places. Raven could grow into a stronger, solid character in her own right. And Dove is comics accurate and likable. As I said, the show has potential.

All that said, my biggest complaint is the way Raven drinks her coffee. There’s a handle there for a reason: So you don’t burn your hand holding the ceramic cup. Because coffee is hot. Drink your coffee like a normal person, Raven! Jeez. Also, Raven likes pineapple on her pizza. It’s canon. Get it together, people.

(I have no life, help me.)

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Iron Fist: Is Danny Rand on the Autism Spectrum? [No Spoilers]

With the recent news of Iron Fist‘s cancellation, it’s sad to look back at the two seasons we were given and think about what might have been. While it was certainly the weakest of the Netflix-Marvel collaborations, the nonetheless holds the potential to be as amazing as the others, should he be taken down the right path. The time seems ripe for speculating where the character could go from here, if this iteration is kept alive within the Marvel-Netflix universe, or even brought into the larger scale of the MCU. How could Iron Fist find his footing again?

One of the first things that struck me, when I first watched Iron Fist Season 1, was how different Danny Rand was from the other heroes he shared his universe with, and not really in a good way. He was a typical straight white male from a wealthy family, like so many superheroes, including but not limited to Batman, Iron Man, Green Arrow, Reed Richards, and Ted Kord. Compare this with the other three members of The Defenders: Matt Murdock, a blind man, Jessica Jones, a woman who suffered sexual abuse and PTSD, and Luke Cage, a black man living in the impoverished Harlem. It would make a lot more sense if Danny was also a minority of some kind.

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YES. I know what you’re going to say. “The SJWs have to shoehorn in minorities in everything.” Look: If a tactic is working, DON’T CHANGE IT. The Defenders work GREAT as a group of minorities. It’s just part of the cocktail that makes these characters all so compelling. Furthermore, Marvel Comics made their name by publishing comics that catered to subcultures, minorities, and the disenfranchised. Perhaps the most famous example of this are the X-Men, who themselves are metaphors for racial minorities, LGBT+, and anyone else rejected by mainstream society. So, if you want the SJWs to get out of Marvel Comics, you’re decades too late.

The Netflix version of Iron Fist was not well-received by fans, who criticized the writing and performances. Danny Rand comes off as an oblivious, disconnected, inconsiderate jerk. But, what if there was a reason that Danny has issues with his social interactions? What if there was a reason Danny doesn’t understand the way he acts comes off as rude? What if there was a reason Danny can’t communicate properly?

What if Danny Rand is on the autism spectrum?

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Danny shows a lot of behaviors associated with Asperger’s, a condition on the autism spectrum. Symptoms of Asperger’s include difficulty with social interactions, trouble empathizing with others, and a need for calmness and routine. Even Danny’s constant word-vomiting about K’un Lun and his defeat of the dragon Shou Lao, despite peoples’ reactions, mirrors the way people with Asperger’s can be hyper-obsessive over one particular subject. He tells anyone he meets that he’s “the immortal Iron Fist,” unable to understand that no one knows what that is.

Yes, all of these things could have alternate explanations. After all, Danny did leave the typical world and spent the majority of his life in K’un Lun. And he did fight the dragon Shao Lao, which is definitely something to be proud of. Why wouldn’t he want to talk about it often? This crystallization could account for Danny’s childlike demeanor, but it also doesn’t really explain everything. After all, it’s not like people don’t mature in K’un Lun. Why wouldn’t Danny be a more disciplined person, able to speak politely, be patient, and empathize with others?

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Iron Fist makes a lot more sense if you believe Danny is on the autism spectrum. All the other Defenders and their supporting cast are either disabled, mentally ill, or minorities. If Danny was revealed to be on the autism spectrum it would make his character more sympathetic, and give representation to people on the spectrum.

So, Marvel, if you want to hire me, I’m great at revamping problematic characters…

(Editor’s note: I also came across someone on Reddit who had similar thoughts. The thread is worth reading, in my opinion.)

 

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‘Titans’ Episode 1 Review [Minor Spoilers]

As someone who’s read DC comics since she was 8 years old, I have been following the development of the new Titans series since it was announced. As the train wreck progressed, it became more and more cringey and painful as a fan to see some of my favorite characters ever being mutilated beyond recognition. The horror. It got to the point where, after hearing the first reviews, I had decided I was no longer going to give it a chance.

After a couple of beers, I changed my mind.

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I can say many terrible things about the first episode. My main takeaway, however, was that it was surprisingly not as agonizing to watch as it appeared from the trailers. Mind you, this is just the first episode. There is plenty of time for it to go downhill, especially with the DCEU’s track record. But for the first episode, I was prepared for the worst and was surprised that it wasn’t entirely loathsome. Like I said, there are a lot of terrible aspects to the show that I can bemoan all day (and I will do so in a minute), but, overall, Titans’ first episode isn’t as bad as the CW superhero shows like Supergirl and The Flash, but is nowhere near the lofty level of the Marvel-Netflix series that it aspires to match.

The first thing we must get out of the way is this: These are not the Titans you grew up with. And I don’t mean that in the cool, edgy way. I mean it in the “they made no effort to retain the aspects of these characters that make them who they are” way. The characters visually barely resemble their counterparts, and the same goes in terms of personality. Let’s go character by character and pick them apart.

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Dick Grayson straight up mutilates and, from the looks of it, potentially murders some thugs, which will no doubt add fuel to the “Batman and family don’t kill” controversy. Yes, in the comics, Dick has a lot of resentment towards Bruce. He can be dark, obsessive, and driven, like his mentor. But Dick will never be Bruce. He retains his humanity, whereas Bruce will purposefully discard it in order to reach his objective. The difference between the characters is the prioritization of their feelings and empathy.

Raven, as far as the first episode goes, has exclusively been called “Rachel.” I don’t care, I’m calling her Raven in this article. My main complaint about Raven is that she seems to have been aged down considerably, after having started out her existence as one of the older Titans. I feel that this naive, overly-emotional take on her doesn’t suit the character. For those that don’t know, there is an actual story-related reason that Raven doesn’t express emotions and it’s very, very freaking important. I don’t hate Teagan Croft as Raven, but I feel she is too young for the role. Raven, in Titans, comes off as a Goth Tumblr blogger who writes about how nobody understands her and does Photoshop portraits of herself with her eyes oozing blackness. The portrayal is juvenile and one-dimensional.

Starfire, who so far has been referred to by the alias “Kory Anders,” is just … not Starfire. Anna Diop looks beautiful, despite the terrible things the wardrobe department did to her, and she does fairly well in her role in the episode. But the character is not Starfire. Instead of the strong but naive and free-spirited girl we know from the comic books, Kory Anders is a femme fatale with amnesia, embroiled in a plot more easily likened to a spy thriller than to a sci-fi superhero story.

Beast Boy appears for maybe a minute out of the entire first episode, so I can’t do much analysis on him, which is a shame, because out of the entire cast, I’d say I’m happiest with their choice for Beast Boy, and I think he will be the closest to his comic book counterpart, which will be a welcome change of pace.

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The writers for the show don’t seem to understand what makes these characters great. Raven’s Soul Self makes an appearance in the show, but its nature is completely inverse from its nature in the comics. In the show, it is a representation of Raven’s inner demon, whereas in the comics, it’s the opposite: The Soul Self is the pure part of Raven, whereas her body is evil. Dick Grayson is portrayed as a gloomy, disillusioned brute, which is a shame, because he’s the only one who got a good costume. Starfire just isn’t Starfire.

So now that we’ve established the characters we are dealing with, we can delve into the plot and script, and the pros and cons therein.

The central conflict so far is: Everyone is looking for Raven, while Dick is trying to protect her. This is almost like an inversion of the 1980’s Titans’ origin story, wherein Starfire arrives on Earth, pursued by the Gordanians, and Raven brings the team together to help her. The shifting of the power dynamic, changing Raven from the authoritative position, to the victim in need of protection, to me, diminishes her. And for clarification, in the 1980’s comics origin, Starfire is not diminished by needing help, as she is still an active participant in the fight against her attackers. Raven in the 2018 TV show, is mostly running away and looking for help.

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I’d say, other than character portrayals, the worst part of Titans is the dialogue. Conversations are generic, uninteresting, and unrealistic. They do not keep you engaged and tend towards the predictable. There is nothing truly clever or shocking, though it tries very hard to be both. Some of it makes no sense whatsoever, sounding very little like anything that a real person would say. (“I don’t care about your emotional problems!”) I’ve heard people praise Titans for its use of humor. In the first episode, I can say, what I did see of humor was very little and very cringeworthy. I’ll let you know if that changes, but for the meantime I’m going to put a big red “NOPE” stamp on Titans‘ use of humor.

The main villain of the first episode appears in what is probably the worst scene of the entire hour. His dialogue is pure, uncut exposition, literally explaining what the viewers are supposed to feel about him and his allies. At the same time that we’re told too much, we’re also not told or shown anything that will actually make us feel invested in him or his cause, one way or another.

The soundtrack is painfully disappointing, despite being composed by Clint Mansell, whose scores so beautifully enhanced such films as Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain. His work on Titans comes off as derivative and dull.

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So, overall, what do I have to say about Titans’ debut episode? It’s bad. It’s not good. But it’s not the absolute steaming pile of garbage I expected. It’s not as bad as the DCEU’s big screen disappointments like Suicide Squad or Justice League. It’s slightly better than DC’s CW series The Flash and Supergirl, mostly thanks to its ability thus far to stay away from hackneyed romance plots and soap opera drama, both of which plague the CW series. With time, the willingness to cut out the weak parts, and temper the better aspects, Titans could potentially be good. It’s nothing to write home about. The costumes are still awful, the script is laughable, and the concepts are poorly executed.

What would it take for me to say Titans is good? The characters need to be better developed. Convince me these aren’t just some emo-tinged fan fiction versions of the complex characters created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. Show me that there’s true respect for the source material. Give me a killer version of Trigon, Brother Blood, or Deathstroke. Really make me believe you know what you’re doing, show runners. Prove me wrong, that this show will slowly devolve into a dumpster fire like the rest of the DCEU.

Also, please stop with the wigs.

 

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Netflix’s ‘Maniac’ Review (No Spoilers)

With such hit series as Stranger ThingsBlack Mirror, and Ozark to live up to, Netflix is under a lot of pressure to release the next great dark horse success. With Cary Fukunaga of True Detective and Patrick Somerville of The Leftovers as the director and creator respectively, you could expect great things from their latest effort, the limited series Maniac. The only problem is, you could expect a lot of bad things, too.

I could not have been more blown away by the first three episodes of Maniac. Stylistically and thematically, it heavily draws on the works of Philip K. Dick, the mind behind Total Recall and Minority Report. Like Dick’s stories, Maniac plays on themes of paranoia, isolation, and insanity. Our story follows two characters, Annie and Owen, who are both struggling with mental illness and family conflict. Their paths lead them both to a trial for a new pharmaceutical that promises to eventually do away with therapy, by resolving peoples’ psychological issues through induced dream-like experiences. During the course of the trial, we learn about the skeletons in Annie and Owen’s closets, and attempt to resolve these issues by going over them.

Again. And again. And again. And again.

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For at least five episodes, as the trial goes into the “B pill” testing phase, they go over the same information, and the plot goes nowhere. While the first three episodes do a good job of setting a tone, constructing a world, and getting us invested in our characters, all the episodes in the middle completely undo that. Rather than making good use of the world they’ve already done an excellent job in establishing, Maniac goes off in haphazard and pointless directions for no apparent reason other than to do something ‘wacky,’ because, apparently, going on inexplicable and self-indulgent tangents is a proper substitute for actual substance these days.

While there is some tongue-in-cheek humor established early on, by the middle, the series has gone off the deep end into over-the-top goofiness. It’s a true shame, because Jonah Hill and Emma Stone are better in this series than I have ever seen them before, and really proved that they have grown as performers since they appeared together in 2007’s Superbad and can deliver grown-up, mature, and compelling performances. While they still give good performances in the episodes after, it loses much of its impact in the flood of irredeemably lame gimmicks. By the ending, the series has regained some of its form, but, overall, it’s just a completely different show by then, and I hardly care what happens to the characters.

 

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Besides the terrible excuse for humor, the episodes in the B-pill phase have another inexcusable flaw: They essentially present us with a mystery to which we already know the answer, rendering the investigation next to pointless. And, in case we somehow didn’t get the “metaphors,” we’re given a lengthy exposition scene, explaining to us in unnecessary detail exactly what it represented. For clarification, but without spoilers, here’s what we sit through: First, we witness the back story of our characters. Then, we sit through a “dream sequence” full of metaphors for the back story that we just witnessed. Finally, the character explains their back story again, and how the metaphors tied in with it. This recycling of information over the course of multiple episodes is mind-numbingly boring, and absolutely killed my interest in the characters, their struggles, their development, their resolutions, etc. As much as I had empathized with them previously, I now just wanted to get to the end of the series so I could be done with it.

It’s a tragedy to see something as amazing as Maniac‘s first three episodes lead into something as trite, dull, and uninspired as its remaining episodes. What could have been a masterpiece ended up just a lot of failed potential. I wish I could whole-heartedly recommend this series to you. As it is, I’m left warning you ahead of time, you’ll never get to see the ending to the amazing story you’re presented with. Instead, you get to watch a so-stupid-it’s-offensive sketch show with some sci-fi wraparound.

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