"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Friday, September 12, 2014

Rasputin: Gread Writing, but Still Women in Refrigerator Writing

Alex Grecian knows a lot about violence, and a lot about comics. His novels  about "Scotland Yard's Murder Squad" are well-received best sellers. His comic book, Proof, ran for over 28 issues. He's an avowed pacifist--which rings true; who better to write about the horrors of violence than someone who doesn't think violence is ever a good solution to a problem? His bona fides regarding comics and violent characters are obviously solid.

I also suspect he knows more than most folks do about the historical (and mythologized) Rasputin, given that his new comic, debuting in October from Image Comics, is set to explore Rasputin from new angles.  He certainly knows more about Rasputin than I do. I'd only run across Rasputin because of a smattering of interest in a few Russian plays and novels, and, of course, the wholly fictionalized account of Rasputin as a villain from the Hellboy comics.

When I saw Image's tweet about an article by Grecian about his new comic, I clicked--I don't love all of Image's books, but that's like saying I don't like all of the fiction in the library: One of Image's best attributes is that they choose to publish good stuff, regardless of genre. I wasn't surprised that the link took me to playboy.com--the tamest of adult men's magazines--Playboy seems to be in the midst of re-branding itself as feminist-friendly. I even thought, upon seeing the first art in the interview juxtaposed with a link to "22 Insane Profile Pictures from Russian Gals on Dating Sites" to be depressingly fitting: Did Playboy's algorithms have a sense of humor? 

Being a fan of learning about writers' processes at least since I used to read Kameron Hurley's blog, Brutal Women, which (among other things) detailed the process of writing her first book, I was glad to learn a bit about why somebody would tackle Rasputin in comics form, especially given the mountains of books written about the man. It was difficult to stick with Grecian's words, however, given the stunning art by Riley Rossmo was right there.  Scrolling down through the panels, however, I was taken aback by the choice of panels to appear in this article in Playboy.com. We're treated to a scene of intense domestic violence, and Rasputin's father beats his wife to unconsciousness and perhaps death right in front of the young man.  After his father leaves, Rasputin then heals his mother in a dramatic fashion in the final panel we're shown.   These few pages of the comic, especially within the context of both Playboy and the recent video involving Ray Rice, made me immediately think of Women in Refrigerators phenomenon:
The term describes the use of the death or injury of a female comic book character as a plot device in a story starring a male comic book character. It is also used to note the depowerment or elimination of a female comic-book character. Cases of it deal with a gruesome injury or murder of a female character at the hands of a supervillain, usually as a motivating personal tragedy for a male superhero to whom the victim is connected. The death or injury of the female character then helps cement the hatred between the hero and the villain responsible.  
On the few pages we're given, we see the beginnings of the "hero" (or in this case, anit-hero?) Rasputin, as he is immersed in the violence of the villainous father, and heroically saves his mother's life.  I'm not going to show the mom getting the shit beat out of her by the father here, but you can check it out at the original post.  I think Rasputin looks remarkably superhero-ish here, which seems to be something of the point of this new book.

Given the information I had, I tweeted the following:


Which led to the following discussion:

Regardless of the rest of the issue plays out, the choice to show these particular pages on the Playboy site seems inappropriate at best to me.  Even if the rest of the book shows that this isn't a case of Women in Refrigerators, as a preview, this is (great) art showing a husband beating his wife to a bloody pulp on the floor; the power of such images seems like a poor choice for a set of preview art--in a culture where dudes like Ray Rice exist, we need to give context to any art that shows domestic violence against women, context that by definition can't be given in a preview, probably.

So does the rest of the book show my intuitions were wrong or unfair? What about "the actual story"? Well, even though it seemed the offer of a preview read wasn't on the table any longer, Grecian's agent at Image was kind enough to reach out and send me a preview copy, asking for nothing else but an objective review, and to avoid any spoilers. I read it last night, letting it sink in, and again this morning. It's a well-written book, with art to match. I'll probably pick it up in October, and give it at least a few issues to see if it's for me.  That said, it is textbook women-in-refrigerator comics. Rasputin's mother is there only as a plot device--her beating motivates Rasputin later on to be less-than-kind to his father a bit later on in the book. The father is more fleshed out--we know infinitely more about him than we do about his mother.  Later on, the adult Rasputin we see briefly in this first issue is still affected by his now-dead father, appearing as a ghostly figure. 

Does his mother's beating give emotional resonance to the protagonist? Mabye--but that is central to the whole point of the women in refrigerator concept: Harming/killing women characters is too often done in comics as a shortcut to add emotional resonance--it's a shortcut that has been used so often that volumes have been written about it. Can harm to women characters in comics be done in a way that is not an example of " 'friging'? Of course. Mignola's Hellboy and B.P.R.D. comics are full of women characters who come to harm, but they're not examples of 'friging because they're allowed to actually be characters, not there just to motivate the (usually male) protagonist. Here, we're not given much about Rasputin's mom to work with.

So it turns out this is a solid first issue, and also a prime example of Women in Refrigerators. It didn't have to be both.

No comments: