Posted by: Abhay Khosla on December 4, 2009
This one is not a review, really, so much as just a description of a Marvel comic book that was released in September 2009 called DARK REIGN: THE LIST — X-MEN #1. Spoiler warning!
Here is my first attempt to explain the context of this comic:
Marvel’s comics have been contributing to an ongoing “Event” storyline entitled DARK REIGN. Within that larger event, THE LIST was a smaller sub-event, marketed as follows: Marvel would combine its top writing and art talent (and also, some other people) on a series of one-shots that would feature pivotal moments in the ongoing DARK REIGN storyline. Specifically, it would feature the Green Goblin, the lead antagonist of the DARK REIGN event, attacking various key heroes of the Marvel Universe– those whose names he apparently kept on some kind of list.
DARK REIGN: THE LIST– X-MEN #1 was one of those one-shots, one dedicated to the popular X-MEN comic franchise. This particular one-shot was a success: it sold out at Diamond, went to a second printing, and was favorably reviewed on various internet websites including this very blog.
When the DARK REIGN event began, the character of Namor the Sub-Mariner had been revealed to be a part of the new Masters of Evil assembled by the Green Goblin. Thereafter, Namor quit the Masters of Evil and joined the X-Men during a crossover between the DARK AVENGERS and X-MEN that took place in a previous DARK REIGN sub-event called UTOPIA.
Here is the premise of DARK REIGN: THE LIST– X-MEN #1:
The comic opens with the Green Goblin angry that Namor has quit the Masters of Evil, and has instead joined the X-Men. As retaliation, the Green Goblin has decided to weaponize the horniness of Namor’s ex-wife.
Here is the dialogue explaining his weaponize-the-horniness plan: “She’s part human and part Plodex– the Plodex are some kind of alien race apparently– and when you mix’em up you get this. We’ve modified her to keep her perpetually in estrus which explains her rotten attitude… but the result is a genetic W.M.D.”
Estrus is defined as follows: “A regularly recurrent state of sexual excitability during which the female of most mammals will accept the male and is capable of conceiving.”
Here is a drawing of Namor’s Ex-Wife:
The monster is a canal with teeth, plainly invoking the classic image of the “vagina dentata”– the vagina with teeth. Wikipedia: “Various cultures have folk tales about women with toothed vaginas, frequently told as cautionary tales warning of the dangers of sex with strange women and to discourage the act of rape. The concept is also of importance in classical psychoanalysis, where it is held to relate to the unconscious fears associated with castration anxiety.”
In the monster genre, the origin of the monster frequently contains a warning to the reader. The Frankenstein Monster is a folly of science. Godzilla is awoken by the atom bomb. The Host is created by pollution the United States forces Korea to inflict upon itself. The origin of a monster is the part that speaks to the audience’s true fears.
The origin of our vagina monster? It’s a woman wanting sex. Sex makes women crazy and dangerous. The result of female sexual excitability is a “genetic W.M.D.”
(As the New York Times Magazine pointed out last week, the true facts are that the opposite is true: women whose sex drives diminish over time report suffering from a profound despair. Here’s psychologist Lori Brotto from that article: “I want to have sex where I feel like I’m craving it,” Brotto quoted from yet another file, giving voice to a desperation shared by many of her patients. “I want to feel horny. I want to want.”).
The obvious conclusion to draw from DARK REIGN: THE LIST– X-MEN #1 is that at the close of 2009, a woman with an appetite for sex is apparently the very definition of fear and horror for Marvel comic creators and their audience.
I would diagnose such a belief as gynophobia.
This is not a metaphor; this is not sub-text. This is the explicit text of the comic: “We’ve modified her to keep her perpetually in estrus which explains her rotten attitude… but the result is a genetic W.M.D.” This is page one. This is the establishing shot. Here’s a line of dialogue from page 2: “Her gonadotropic hormones make her so hungry she’s been driven insane.”
Later in the comic, the arrival of the giant vagina is heralded as follows: “There’s nothing to her but hunger and rage and… and hate.” Here is the punchline:
Here is a second attempt at explaining the context of this comic:
“Man Versus Castration Anxiety” has been a recurring theme for this generation of Marvel Comics “events”. The first major “Event” CIVIL WAR began when Captain America was asked to submit to the authority of a woman named Maria Hill.
Captain America then initiates an all-out superhero civil war rather than take orders from a woman. At the conclusion of the comic, Iron Man has won that contest; however, the comic goes bizarrely out of its way to assure the reader that the patriarchal order has been restored: the comic’s celebratory final three pages feature Iron Man forcing Maria Hill to get him coffee.
The CIVIL WAR can only truly end once a woman is put back in her “place”. CIVIL WAR was then followed by a comic called– oh God, here I go again— SECRET INVASION, in which an alien Queen attempts to institute a matriarchy on Earth. In response, the Earth’s superheros murder the Queen, specificially by repeatedly destroying the Queen’s head. In issue 7 of the series, her head is shot through with arrows. In issue 8, it is revealed that she’s survived the arrows, but then her head is blown off by the Green Goblin. In the same panel as her head being blown off is a drawing of Wolverine, poised to slice into her head with his adamantium claws.
The comic takes a perverse glee in damaging this woman’s head, basically. Freud often suggested that the head was a symbol of the repressed desires of the lower body, that is to say, he often associated the female head with a vagina. As David D. Gilmore explained in “Misogyny: the Male Malady”: “Freud wrote a paper specificially on this subject, ‘The Medusa’s Head’ published posthumously in 1940. […] Freud argues that Medusa’s head represents the vagina in general and the mother’s vagina in particular, the archetypal ‘hairy maternal vulva’. Here is the Oedipal terror displaced to the head: Medusa embodies both mother and woman, and the hairy vulva typifies incestuous temptation.” The SECRET INVASION can only end when the offending vagina has been destroyed.
As DARK REIGN’s primary antagonist the Green Goblin was a male, one might have worried that the theme would not continue into present event. Luckily for Marvel Comics: DARK REIGN: THE LIST- X-MEN #1. The Green Goblin is not only an evil man with evil man plans, but he also literally has his own vagina. He was just waiting for the right moment to unleash it onto the Marvel Universe, apparently.
Here is how the comic concludes:
Namor the Sub-Mariner’s ex-wife is seen on various pages munching men to death. Accordingly, Namor the Sub-Mariner murders his ex-wife, rips off her head, and throws her severed head through a window at the Green Goblin.
Vagina dentata myths typically end with the teeth being destroyed, and the vagina made safe at last for penis. That seems to be what’s happened here: Namor has apparently kept the bottom half of his wife’s vagina-body, presumably to have sex with it at his leisure. Note that Alan Davis has reinforced the Green Goblin’s hermaphorditic nature by his positioning of the severed head: Green Goblin is all man for the top half; all woman for the bottom half.
(Unfortunately, the reader doesn’t get to see how Namor leaves the scene after throwing his ex-wife’s severed head through a window, but– whatever the reader devises in their head about how that scenes goes would probably be too hilarious to top).
Here is a Third Attempt at Context:
This is the second time that Namor has apparently murdered his ex-wife; and to be clear, not A ex-wife, but this specific ex-wife. From Wikipedia: “When [Marrina] became pregnant, the Plodex DNA reacted to her condition by turning her into a savage beast in the North Atlantic Ocean, a Leviathan. Namor was forced to slay her, impaling her with the Black Knight’s enchanted Ebony Blade.”
Namor being forced to kill Marinna, his ex-wife who has involuntarily become a savage sea-monster…?
That’s been done before.
Dude: motherfucker’s a re-run.
What the what now?
Obvious caveat: a wikipedia summary isn’t the same thing as reading the Walt Simonson comics from 1988 referred to in the Wikipedia footnotes. There may be some quite rational explanation for why the motherfucker would seem to be a re-rerun, and a Wikipedia page isn’t enough to draw any hard conclusions from. And hell: being reminded of the Simonson-Buscema-Palmer AVENGERS run isn’t the worst thing that can happen to your day. The Kang/Dr.Druid shit in that run was fucking crazy-ass, says me, age 12.
Here are Two Digressions about Television and Movies:
Digression #1: No physical confrontation ensues after Namor throws his wife’s head through a window. There’s no conflict for a physical confrontation to resolve; the story has attained an equilibrium: the comic has begun with Green Goblin threatening to castrate Namor; it ends with Namor threatening to castrate the Green Goblin. What’s interesting to me here is that the Green Goblin has a “witty comeback” to having his own ruined vagina thrown at him:
Green Goblin does not actually respond in any meaningful way, but only quotes the catchphrase regularly repeated by the bad guys of telvision’s the PRISONER. Green Goblin is evil, inter alia, because he says dialogue that evil people on television say.
Digression #2: The story of DARK REIGN: THE LIST– X-MEN #1 is also basically a story about a strange foreign man (Namor) who teaches his nebbish American cousins (the X-Men) how to tame the fairer sex (vagina monster)
This is essentially the story of YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN, Adam Sandler’s hit 2008 film about a Israeli super-agent (Zohan) who teaches nebbish American Jews (Nick Swardson) how to tame the fairer sex (Emmanuelle Chriqui). At the conclusion of UTOPIA, Namor joined the X-Men to live on an island nation that X-Men fans appear to be taking to be a metaphor for … the state of Israel. Coincidence… or Zohan?
Well, okay, that one’s probably coincidence.
The next panel is a giant monster head flying through a window.
Here is a Fourth and Final Attempt at Context:
The comic was created by Matt Fraction, writer of the independent comic CASANOVA (which was not published in this calendar year), a comic often described as “psychedelic.”
Also published this year: various mediocre Batman comics written by Grant Morrison, writer of the psychedelic comic classic THE INVISIBLES.
J.H. Williams, prior to 2009: PROMETHEA. J.H. Williams in 2009: BATWOMAN.
Paul Pope prior to 2009: HEAVY LIQUID, say. Paul Pope in 2009: ADAM STRANGE comics.
December’s not over, but I’m going to go ahead and declare 2009 a victory for my fellow squares. Poindexters, and materialists. For those keeping track at home, that’s squares: 1,000,000 billion. Heads: zilch.
Here is a Link to the Crusher:
This doesn’t really have anything to do with DARK REIGN: THE LIST– X-MEN #1, but I just love the Crusher.
Here’s the part where I just throw my hands up and says “Marvel Comics are TOO good”:
Namor the Sub-Mariner’s ex-wife Marrina didn’t take his last name, at least on her Wikipedia page. She’s not referred to as Marrina the Sub-Mariner. Her last name?
So an argument can be made that Namor must kill his ex-wife, repeatedly, not only to resolve his and the audience’s castration anxiety, but because the Marrina character is an embodiment of Namor and the audience’s insecurities over the size of their manhoods. Marrina mocks the audience, by her very existence, and so that existence must be ended through loving male violence. TWICE.
True believers, we will agree: Marvel Comics are TOO good.
Here are two quotes I saw today that I want to conclude this one:
“I always believe in following the advice of the playwright (Victorien) Sardou. He said, ‘Torture the women!’ The trouble today is that we don’t torture women enough.” — Alfred Hitchcock
“As for suffering: I believe that there are fewer people than ever who escape major suffering in this life. In fact I’m fairly convinced that the Kingdom of God is for the broken-hearted.” — Mr. Rogers