Hey, just wanted to lead with a quick note: this is going to be more of a Serious Topic ™ than what I normally address on the blog.
I know this comes very late. I know that Captain Marvel comes out in about a month. I’m excited for it! I’ve loved pretty much all of the Marvel movies, I own all the Marvel movies, and I’ve watched all of them except one multiple times. I’ve watched all of the TV shows besides Inhumans, many of them multiple times. On top of that, I love Carol Danvers. She’s been one of my favorite super heroes for a while now.
And I’m very, very concerned about the movie.
See, Marvel, as much as I love them, doesn’t exactly have a phenomenal track record when it comes to the women in their movies. Nor does it have the best track record when it comes to Carol Danvers in the comics.
So, I really, really hope Marvel doesn’t traumatize Carol Danvers.
Why am I concerned about this? Well…if you go really deep into the MCU, to the point where you’ve watched them all dozens of times, there’s a trend that begins to form. A disturbing trend where, for a woman to be allowed to kick ass (in terms of ability to do violence), have a major role, and have a backstory, they have to undergo some kind of trauma – and that trauma entirely defines their personality.
Don’t believe me? Let’s check it:
Iron Man 2: the first woman in Marvel to kick ass in the MCU appears, Black Widow. She seems relatively untraumatized up until Age of Ultron, when we get more backstory.
Thor: We do get a badass here in the form of Sif. She actually never does get traumatized, but we also never really get much backstory for her. However, we do get some backstory, so I’m willing to let her be an exception. A terribly underdeveloped exception.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Three main female characters: Skye, Agent Mae, and Agents Simmons. Agent Mae is the biggest ass kicker of the bunch, and has a massive trauma the season hints at constantly. Skye: learns to kick ass over the course of the season and has a huge (traumatic) mystery involving her parents. Agent Simmons: is a scientist and does not kick ass until well into the later seasons.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Two major female characters, both of whom are defined by their shared hatred for their adoptive father Thanos, both of whom were spared the destruction of half their species – and I cannot think of something more traumatic than planetary genocide.
Age of Ultron: We meet Scarlet Witch, aka Wanda Maximoff, who spent days buried under a building waiting for a bomb to explode. We also finally get a backstory for the Black Widow, a backstory that involves forced sterilization. (We’ll talk about that later, I promise.)
Ant Man: We meet Hope Van Dyne, who has serious trauma stemming from the death of her mother before the movie. To make matters worse, she’s not even allowed to kick ass in the movie – she has to wait three years for the sequel to kick ass.
Jessica Jones: We are going to talk about Jessica Jones in a bit here. If you’ve seen the show, you know Jessica has gone through all sorts of trauma – as does her sister Trish. If you haven’t…it’s still a really good show, I’d check it out.
Runaways: The three female characters are, as follows; raised by a cult, has dead parents, dead sister, and relatively untraumatized. That final one, by the way, does very little ass kicking on her own, instead relying in fights on her psychic link with a Velociraptor who does the fighting for her. The Velociraptor, by the way, is female and relatively untraumatized, and we do know her backstory (she was cloned) so if you’re keeping score at home, that’s fourteen women in the MCU so far who can kick ass, are major characters, and have backstories, and the only one that’s untraumatized is the dinosaur.
Thor: Ragnarök: We meet Valkyrie, who is a badass who drinks a ton…and was traumatized by Hela killing most of the Valkyries. Damn. Also, Valkyrie took the place of Sif, so instead of getting backstory for her we just got a new, more traumatized woman.
Black Panther: Three major female characters that can kick all kinds of ass, and the pattern breaks down here. Finally. The major female characters are all untraumatized, and it was a blessed relief.
I’m sure I missed some – I didn’t touch on Colleen Wing, who was raised by a different cult, or Elektra, who is Elektra – but you get my point. It wasn’t until 2018 we got a film with multiple ass kicking women who weren’t traumatized, and a lot of them we don’t have backstories for still, so I’m kind of leery of giving Marvel too much credit for them yet.
This is a problem. I know in the superhero genre, it’s common for characters to have trauma. Batman and Spider-Man are defined by dead parents, Tony Stark has a major drinking problem, and so on and so forth. But I can also name a ton of men in the MCU who kick ass and aren’t traumatized. Captain America. Thor. Hawkeye. Vision. War Machine. Falcon. Nick Fury. Three of those are just from Phase One. Some of them get traumatized, but it happens on screen in the course of being a superhero. They don’t need to be traumatized to kick ass. They get traumatized because they engage in big fights. Trauma isn’t backstory for them, it’s a natural outgrowth of what they were doing as part of fighting and kicking ass.
Jessica Jones is a big example here. Her entire first season is about her trauma. Her entire personality is defined by her trauma. She was mind controlled, sexually assaulted, and is now trying to piece her life back together from that. And I want to be clear here – there’s nothing wrong with a story about that. There’s a reason it was critically acclaimed, because it was a good story and it handled the subject matter well.
The show still puts her through an immense amount of trauma for the events of the show to happen. It made her entire personality about being traumatized. We get some brief scenes showing that she was a bitter, antisocial loner before the events of the show – and find out that was due to the death of her family in a car accident. Yet another trauma. Jessica Jones is trauma personified.
I guess this wouldn’t bother me if Marvel had built up some credit before doing this. Sure, Jessica Jones was a great show and I loved it, but it was still incredibly problematic given the MCU’s history of traumatizing women.
And that really worries me when it comes to Carol Danvers.
So, here’s a bit of comic book history.
Avengers #200 was coming out. It was a big, landmark issue for the series. The brass at Marvel wanted to do something big to celebrate. And with all that, what did they come up with?
Carol Danvers was pregnant. We’re going to ignore the fact that pretty much every time a woman has a major issue devoted to her, it always seems to be about trauma, pregnancy, or marriage. That’s a problem, but that’s a wider problem with popular culture. See, Carol Danvers had no idea who the father was. It was a big, mysterious thing, as Carol Danver’s pregnancy progressed at an absurd rate over the course of the issue.
Then the baby was born and was able to helpfully give us the backstory of its own origins.
Strap yourselves in, this one gets gross.
Carol Danvers had, at some point recently, been kidnapped by long running Avengers villain and time traveler, Immortus. While Carol was captured, Marcus – who was Immortus’ son/chrono clone…it’s confusing, doesn’t matter. Marcus used Immortus’ super advanced technology to brainwash Carol into falling in love with him. They conceived a child. That child was Marcus, who had used the conception to be born into our world. After it’s revealed that Carol Danvers was brainwashed, raped, had her womb hijacked into an interdimensional portal, and then gave birth to her rapist…she, still clearly being mind controlled, rides off into the sunset with Marcus to get married and, presumably, live happily ever after.
No, I’m serious. The way the comic, and the Avengers, present this whole thing is as a love story. There is no mention made by anyone as to how absolutely screwed up this whole thing is, no one ever talks about the fact that Carol clearly did not consent to any of this, nothing. The comic book, and the Avengers, basically go “awwww,” and that’s the end of that.
If you’re a comic book fan wondering why Carol was hanging with the X-men for a little while, well, writers who realized how gross the events of Avengers #200 were got involved and had Carol call the Avengers out for completely ignoring what happened to her.
Avengers #200 has become emblematic of everything comic books do wrong when it comes to women. It’s not quite as famous as the Women in Refrigerators incident from Green Lantern, but it’s definitely up there.
Now, do I think Marvel is going to do a story line where Carol goes through any of this? Do I really think that any single part of the Avengers #200 story line is going to end up in the MCU?
Of course not. The people at Marvel aren’t stupid. The backlash would be immense of they tried that.
However…the trailers to Captain Marvel have made it very, very clear that she – at the very least – has had some degree of alteration done to her memory.
So, I’m worried.
Please, Marvel, don’t traumatize Carol Danvers in her backstory. Don’t suggest the women need to be broken to become awesome, and don’t suggest that women need to be broken because they are awesome.
And if you’re going to do something traumatic to her, at the very least, ask “would we do this to a man?” Would you have a male character that had undergone forced sterilization or a male character whose central character art comes from surviving rape? Maybe we should have those storylines. Those are things that could happen to men and are never addressed in any fiction, and maybe it would be good for popular culture to address that, and perhaps it would be good to address it in the largest franchise on the planet right now. The MCU has made over 17 billion dollars from ticket sales alone, they could take those risks.
But they’re not.
Yet they’re willing to do it to women, so ask yourself if you’d do it to a man instead. And if the idea of making one of your male heroes go through something like rape horrifies you, then maybe you should ask yourself why you’re okay with it happening to anyone.
6 thoughts on “Dear Marvel: Please Don’t Traumatize Carol Danvers”
Yeah, Avengers #200 is a messed up comic book.
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It really is. Such a disappointment that no one involved in writing it saw how messed up it was.
Timely and unsettling post. I didn’t realize how rampant this practice was in the superhero universe (although the pernicious obsession with women’s reproductive systems as plot devices, in any genre, infuriates me).
Can I get your thoughts on something? I’m revising my third novel, and the heroine is a military veteran with PTSD. I’m attempting to convey that people with psychological struggles can still succeed, but now I’m concerned about reinforcing the trope you’ve described! Do you see any differentiation between this type of portrayal and the toxic trauma trope, or not really? Perhaps I have an opportunity to subvert it!
I think it’s really about balance overall. There’s so very, very few untraumatized women in the MCU, it gets draining and repetitive. I’d really suggest if you want to handle that subject matter – in addition to researching it carefully and even try talking to people suffering from PTSD to get their experiences – just making sure that you balance it out so you’re not writing all trauma, all the time.
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Oooh, I absolutely loved that post! So very true! Thank you for sharing!
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