Monday, April 9, 2012

More misogyny from Marvel: Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk

When I mentioned to a friend how misogynistic this six-comic volume was, he said, "Comics were always that way." But this goes beyond the standard superhero imagery to something more awful.

I read the first issue of Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk, written by Damon Lindelof and illustrated by Leinil Francis Yu, when a student loaned it to me. Evidently, the comic experienced severe delays in its production; as a result, I saw no more of it until ordering this collection from the library. The first issue, in which the Wolverine from the Ultimate Marvel Universe is torn horizontally in half, seemed like a parody of a Marvel comic, since, Wolverine merely responded to this violation by going off in search of his legs (which he could smell half a mile off). The Hulk in the Ultimate Universe is a more brutal, careless version of the Hulk most of us know; in the comic The Ultimates, the Hulk was all id—including the libido left out of the standard Marvel version—and I appreciated that they'd taken the potential for harm coming from such a character more seriously. However, the Ultimates are also a more depressing team to read about, as all of the characters, including Captain America, seem damaged and unpleasant.

To the book at hand, though: As with the Ultimates books, no character fares well, male or female. Since it's established that neither Wolverine nor the Hulk can be killed, there's no sense of actual danger. The only character with whom you develop a little sympathy is Bruce Banner, but he's something of a whiner. There's one interesting moment in which a child lama suggests to Banner that it's the Hulk who turns into him, not the other way around—but rather than using that (clearly incorrect, in terms of origin) intriguing idea to explore the character, the notion is dropped, as is the wise Buddhist, as the comic jerks forward in its narrative.

There's the usual kind of objectification of the female form, which every woman portrayed voluptuously, but even this veers into parodic (or self-parodic) visuals. One woman's shirt nearly flies off when she reacts in surprise; in the next frame, she's buttoned up again. The women treat each other rather badly, as they both seem to be competing for Bruce/Hulk.

Then there's the issue of the little Tibetan town. When Wolverine arrives, he notices the women are missing. Turns out, they're all hanging with the Hulk. Rather, they're hanging on the Hulk. Whereas the men in the town all appear to be ordinary humans, all of the women are, evidently, voluptuous and of child-bearing age. For no given reason, they've all draped themselves alluringly around the room where the Hulk sits in lordliness (though doing nothing, it seems, except staying out of the way of the unconcerned Buddhist monks in the next room). There's no suggestion that the women are there against their will. Not a one of them speaks or reacts. It's hard to know who to blame more, Lindelof, the writer, for devising this sick male fantasy, or Yu, for his singularly single-minded view of Tibetan womanhood.

The book is profoundly stupid in many ways, but the outright and extreme misogyny strikes me as something Marvel shouldn't cotton to. I guess the appeal of having one of the creators of the plotless TV show Lost (whose writers never managed to write a decent episode for Kate, perhaps unsurprisingly) overwhelmed them, as well as the desire, once the book fell behind in production, to at least put out something, no matter how awful.

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