The Cliffs of Insanity: Superheroes On Television Still Need Work

AgentsShieldWard
Agent Grant Ward of S.H.I.E.L.D., copyright Marvel Entertainment & ABC Television.

WARNING: HUGE SPOILERS, EVEN FOR DOWNTON ABBEY

Welcome to this week’s installment climbing the cliffs of insanity, where I take a trip through some superheroes on television. We’ll touch on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Arrow, Gotham, and Flash.

I was liking S.H.I.E.L.D. Now I’m sort of angry about where the show is going and definitely angry about the rape of Agent Ward and how it’s played out so far.

I liked Arrow last season, liked the beginning of this season but now I’m getting bored. However, Barry Allen was great when he guest-starred on Arrow, so I’m hoping the upcoming Flash series will be one to watch.

And Gotham? Gotham is like someone reached into my head and create a show just for me.

But first, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Ward.

Agent Ward was raped on this episode. Lorelei, an Asgardian escapee, took over his mind, made him fall in love with her, and the spent a night having sex. This is non-consensual sex. This is rape.

It’s not a place I expected A0S to ever go. I’m not thrilled it did, simply because the show has been very PG since it started and I began to assume it was always geared to an all-ages audience. However, having gone there, I hoped the show would deal with the implications of what happened to Ward.

No, instead, he was the one apologizing and no one seemed to be concerned about his trauma. In fact, May slugged him.

It’s possible they will deal with Ward’s trauma sometime later this season but there were no indications of that in this episode. Instead, it showcased the double-standard regarding male rape, that men are always happy to get some, and if the women is beautiful, they can’t be traumatized. Even though it was clear Ward is more than a little attached to his lover, Agent Melinda May.

It reminded me strongly of how Tom Branson’s situation was handled in Downton Abbey this season. The scheming maid plied Tom with whiskey and then snuck into his room for sex. She had full knowledge that he was drunk and took advantage of it.

In both cases, if the genders were reversed, there would be an uproar. There certainly was one over Anna’s violent rape in that same episode of Downton Abbey. Imagine if Melinda May had been grabbed by Loki and hypnotized into having sex? Uproar! I suspect the only uproar over male rape would be if the raped happened by another man. Say, if Loki had raped Hawkeye in The Avengers as well as mind-controlling him.

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Instead, several people I spoke to this week shrugged off Ward’s rape. Hey, the big hunky agent had some hot sex with a hot villain. What’s the problem?

In Comics, Women, and Rape and Women, Television, and Rape, I wrote that much of problems associated with depicting rape in popular entertainment centered around rape not being about the victim but how the *man* reacts to the rape. Downton Abbey‘s rape was handled exactly that way, with everyone worried about Bates killing someone rather than how Anna was coping. It was all about Bates. Tom’s situation was at least about Tom, rather than someone else.

But it looks like Ward’s rape may be more about the reaction from May and, if so, would follow in that pattern.

That’s extremely disappointing in a show that I’ve come to enjoy, especially since I watch it with the whole family.

(And we won’t even mention the murder of those two guards either, though at least the show was handling that…)

And onto a certain emerald arch…

Arrow writers, you have failed this show.

First, I confess, I have a horrible fangirl SQUEE! happening every time the Arrow and Black Canary go into action together. Omigod, Arrow and Canary are riding a motorcycle together after the bad guys. SQUEE. Arrow and Canary exchange weapons mid-fight. SQUEE. Arrow and Canary talk morality together. SQUEE.

Well, you get the picture. But I need more than that. New York Times Bestseller Author details some of the reasons in this great post about Arrow’s storytelling.

For me, while failure is probably too strong a word, the storytelling certainly has lost its way.

I’m in the minority, at least among comic fans, because the consensus among them seems to be “greatest superhero show ever.” (I think they’re underestimating original Bionic Woman, myself.) They love the nods to the comics, they love the superhero action, and seem to forgive a number of incredibly idiotic plot developments like Moira’s trial for genocide being over in ONE DAY and then a bank backing Moira’s subsequent run for mayor.

And, of course, that’s putting aside Oliver’s refusal to talk to his mother after she confesses a secret that he’d already said wouldn’t change his mind about her. I suppose you could argue it’s character development but not if we’re back to last year’s relationship all over again. That’s going backwards.

Basically, the show is giving a lot of fanboy SQUEE moments too, so it’s forgiven by fanboys and fangirls.

But those moments aren’t enough. The first season had a very specific focus and character arc for Oliver and those closest to him. The overall single Big Bad gave it focus. This season was supposed to be about Oliver’s journey to becoming a hero. But the Big Bad is diffuse this year. Yes, there’s Slade Wilson (love you, Manu Bennet), but there’s also Merlyn lurking about, and then we lost focus dealing with Laurel’s ridiculous breakdowns, Diggle’s been pushed to the side, and what the heck happened to Summer Glau and running Queen Industries?

There’s a lot of stuff going on, it’s halfway through the season, and it’s not getting any more coherent.

Give me more than a SQUEE show, okay?

Grant Gustin as the Flash, show copyright Warner Bros. & DC Entertainment
Grant Gustin as the Flash, show copyright Warner Bros. & DC Entertainment

Let’s hope Flash does better. In the meantime, everyone is debating the Scarlet Speedster’s costume.

And now to a show whose very concept made me lose my mind, in a good way…

Gotham. Without Batman.

Yes, I realize that will send most people scratching their heads because what kind of show can you make set in Gotham City without Batman.

You focus on Jim Gordon and his battle against corruption in the years before Batman.

I have a thing for police shows and I especially love the cops in superhero fiction. Gordon is my favorite among those. Since the publication of Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, Gordon’s role has slowly become more prominent in the Bat-universe and, while he had some dumb moments in the recent Batman films, he still came across as a strong character and now one firmly rooted in public consciousness as something of an action hero.

Gotham-TV-Show-Fox-Logo
Gotham logo courtesy Fox.

A superhero police procedural with a strong season-long arc about Gordon trying (and somewhat failing) to take on corruption all by itself is a strong concept for television. And the casting has me excited, as they’ve gone outside the box to create a diverse cast, even race-bending Sarah Essen and giving Barbara Kean, Jim’s fiancee, an actual job as a doctor. (In the comics, she’s just a long-suffering wife who eventually divorces him.)

Fox, which will air Gotham, has this summary of the show’s plans for the first season. Gordon (Ben McKenzie) starting out as a detective, paired with Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), and investigating the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne?

Hell, yes.

And I will  just cross my fingers and hope the show brings more quality writing and characterization than S.H.I.E.L.D and Arrow.

Writer, Mom, Geek and Superhero. though usually not all four on the same day. Author of the award-winning Phoenix Institute Superhero series and the steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract.