Not so long ago, I took a screenwriting class. And let me tell you, Internet, it was a tremendous amount of fun. We often watched and discussed classic movies, taking time to break down scenes and explain why they were so effective and popular. One of the movies we watched? Sixteen Candles.
I’ll be honest. The date rape scene in Sixteen Candles bothered me. It bothered me that it was played for laughs. It bothered me to the point that I actually spoke up in class about it. And no, I wasn’t the only one in class who was irritated by the scene. While those of us who were upset made up a clear minority in the classroom, three out of fifteen is still twenty percent. No creator wants to alienate twenty percent of his audience or risk twenty percent of his profit. It’s just not good business—which brings us to mainstream superhero comics.
Fans of mainstream superhero comics are a weird bunch, aren’t we? We laugh at blatant depictions of aggressive violence. We titter in amusement when bizarre sexual relations are alluded to. However, a nice chunk of us? Don’t want to see rape, in any form, played for laughs. Ever. In fact, many fans would prefer not to have rape mentioned in mainstream comics at all. References to sexualized violence upset them to a point where they are no longer able to enjoy the story being told. Rape gets in the way of escapism. The real world comes crashing down on the fantasy. I don’t read superhero comics for the same reasons that I watch Sons of Anarchy. The character I can so easily relate to? I don’t want to see her getting raped. That only reminds me of how easily it could happen to me. And that makes me feel less powerful. And if your superhero comics are making your readers feel less powerful? You’re doing it wrong.
In the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, the Chameleon disguised himself as Peter Parker and made sexual advances towards Peter’s friend and roommate Michelle. I don’t want to say that the Chameleon raped her; we don’t actually know if he had sex with her. For all we know, Michelle put the brakes on any intercourse because she believed that she and Peter had moved too fast on the night of May Parker’s wedding. Perhaps Michelle wanted to take some time to connect with Peter emotionally before she considered having sex with him again. Perhaps she’ll casually mention that next issue.
Attention Marvel: This is your out. You should probably take it. Because if Michelle did have sex with the Chameleon while believing him to be Peter Parker? Then she did not give informed consent. She was raped. And guess what? The ol’ Marvel fanbase isn’t going to be too happy about that. Basically, Marvel is going to get all the disgust I felt while watching the date rape scene in Sixteen Candles plus decades of carefully honed nerd rage pointed in its direction. Oh, look! It’s already begun!
And it has been averted! I know that some people think that Van Lente is not being truthful and that Marvel scrambled to change things at the last minute. Even if that is the case, I’m still pleased. That would mean that someone acknowledged the legitimate concerns of some fans, mulled it over, made changes, and felt that the readers were important enough to publicly address those changes. That’s a step up from the way things used to be. Hell, I still don’t know why all Marvel’s black women were showing up translucent a while back.