Assimilation. Misogyny. Erasure. Dismissal of PTSD. Negation of identity. Fridging of women. Segregation. Child and spousal abuse. Hyper-sexualized teenagers. An abuse victim as the butt of a joke. Prejudice. Racism.
I could go on.
What do all these things have in common? If you said they’re all terrible things, and they shouldn’t be used as non-problematic plot devices in writing, you’d be right. But more than that, these things are all present (and then some) in the Marvel comics currently being written by Rick Remender.
“But wait!” I hear you cry. “I haven’t heard anyone talking about this guy! These all seem like horrible things; shouldn’t people be talking about how bad they are?”
You’re right, people should. But they aren’t. And when they do, they get ignored, or shot down, or silenced.
So what’s Remender been writing? Some out-of-the-way series, right? If nobody’s talking about it, the comics he’s writing can’t be very important, can they?
Rick Remender is the writer of both Captain America and Uncanny Avengers.
And he needs to stop.
Rick Remender’s take on one of Marvel’s best-known and best-loved superheroes has certainly been an odd one. His comics are filled with tremendously poor creative decisions that only serve to further Steve Rogers’ man-pain and exacerbate his suffering (something about which Remender seems just a little too gleeful). Issue 1 began with Steve on a mission with Sharon Carter (Agent 13, and also his girlfriend, who sort-of-proposed to him at the beginning of issue 1). During the mission, he was pulled into an alternate dimension called Dimension Z, created by the crazed scientist Arnim Zola, in order for Zola to steal Steve’s blood to recreate the super soldier serum. Steve escaped, stealing an infant child from the lab in which he was imprisoned (and to whom the serum was being given). For the next twelve years, he lived in the wilderness of Dimension Z with the Phroxi (the native population of the dimension) and the child, whom he considered his son and named Ian Rogers. Steve was infected with a Zola consciousness virus (a virus that infects the recipient with a viral form of Zola’s mind, which then takes over the host), and had been holding it off for years when he learned that Zola planned to open a portal to Earth and infect the entire planet with said virus. In his preparations to invade Earth, Zola decided to slaughter all the Phroxi, steal Ian back from Steve using Jet Black Zola—yet another serum-enhanced child the same age as Ian—and brainwash Ian to love Zola and hate Steve. Ian viciously attacked Steve, who only defended himself and begged Ian to break the mind control. But just as Ian succeeded in regaining control of his mind, he was shot through the neck by a suddenly-appearing Agent 13, believing she was saving Steve’s life. Ian fell off the ledge where they were fighting, presumably to his death.
Sharon tried to pull Steve back to Earth, telling him it’d only been minutes since he left, even though it’d been twelve years for him. They joined forces with Jet Black Zola, who had an attack of conscience and was trying to protect the Phroxi from her father instead of kill them. In their group attempt to escape Dimension Z, they were attacked by a gigantic Zola construct. Sharon chose to jump on the construct and drive it into Zola’s battlestation, which she rigged with explosives to destroy before it reached Earth. She detonated the explosives while on the construct, killing it—and herself—in the process. Jet dragged Steve back to Earth, and the readers learned that Dimension Z would now be protected by a man calling himself Nomad. Obviously, Ian somehow survived, but Steve didn’t know that, and was now separated from his son by dimensions.
Back on Earth, Steve refused to talk about his experiences and losses in Dimension Z with either SHIELD or with Jet, and instead wanted to get Jet settled into life on Earth. Upon seeing his apartment (which, strangely enough, was filled with WWII memorabilia and Captain America-related items from the past, including—of all things—Nazi flags), Jet goaded him into burning it all by asking why he was telling her to let go of her past if he lived amid a shrine to it. (Which, incidentally, he had never been shown doing before.) Later, Steve finally talked about Dimension Z with Sam Wilson (Falcon), declaring that he no longer found meaning in the world now that he’d lost Ian. Sam recognized that Steve was in a tremendously fragile mental and emotional state and needed to take a break from the field work and talk to someone about what he went through. But Maria Hill called and insisted Cap come in to deal with Nuke, one of Cap’s old villains. Nuke had been annihilating civilian towns in Eastern Europe and planting American flags there, being directed by a man named Ran Shen (sometimes spelled Ran Shon, or else just lettered extremely poorly), who seemed to be a new supervillain calling himself “Iron Nail.” This “Iron Nail” is a wonderful caricature of the stereotypical “Oriental man who gains dragon powers” and desires to kill and/or incapacitate a vaguely defined geographical area of the world (i.e., the West).
Putting aside the tremendous issues with characterization that have been inherent in all of Remender’s issues of Captain America so far (Steve being stuck in the past and living amidst a shrine to himself, Sharon reduced to a lost love interest, Ian being cannon fodder, and so much more), there are handfuls of problematic things within every single issue. Many of them center on a core idea: reducing characters to one-dimensional stereotypes that are negative at best and horribly offensive at worst. Case in point number one: Joseph Rogers, Steve’s father. Not much was canonically established about Joseph Rogers up until this point, other than the fact that he died when Steve was very young and that he was an alcoholic. In Remender’s flashbacks to Steve’s childhood, Joseph is shown not only being a drunk, but being an abusive drunk, physically assaulting both Sarah Rogers and Steve himself. With this, Remender has not only reduced Steve’s father to the worst kind of Irish immigrant stereotype (as both of Steve’s parents were Irish immigrants), but is using this racist caricature of a character as someone with whom Steve identifies and whose behavior Steve explicitly excuses. Joseph Rogers isn’t the only racist stereotype in Remender’s comics either, as Ran Shen/Shon/whatever, the self-proclaimed “Iron Nail,” is the worst kind of “Oriental villain” stereotype, and seems more reminiscent of comics written during the Red Scare than a character from 2013. He gains his powers from a dragon, hates the “capitalist pigs” and wants to bring them to their knees, and repeatedly waxes rhapsodic about how he wants to “drive a nail into the heart of the West.” (For a villain who’s supposedly been trying to kill the West since 1969, he seems remarkably ineffective.) Instead of using well-written, compelling characters to drive the story and to influence the backstory of one of the greatest heroes in the Marvel universe, Remender has used racist stereotypes and offensive caricatures. Great.
Steve himself has been extremely poorly characterized during this run of Captain America, but not as much as he has been after returning to Earth. As a reader, I didn’t have a tremendously huge problem with Steve’s behavior prior to Captain America 11, though I did take exception to Remender having Steve identify with his abusive father and justify his behavior. But after his return to Earth, the true problems started: Steve is, and has been clearly shown to be, affected by PTSD due to his experiences in Dimension Z and the losses he suffered because of it. Yet, whenever help or support is offered to him, he refuses it. He refuses leave time, he refuses to talk to SHIELD staff, he refuses to talk to Jet, and he refuses to let anyone on Earth know about Ian’s existence except for Sam. Let me make this clear: Captain America is shown repeatedly refusing help for his severe PTSD and grief. What kind of message does that send to people who are affected with PTSD (which may be true for a larger segment of Captain America readers, many of whom are associated with the military)? That they should suck it up and deal with it on their own? That they shouldn’t need help? That they don’t need help? That it’s somehow wrong or weak to need or want help? This is absolutely unacceptable, and is both dismissive of and insensitive towards those who do have PTSD.
Remender also has significant problems with two other issues: women, and death. Sometimes both at the same time. The character of Ian Rogers was created, quite literally, to be taken away from Steve. He appeared for ten issues, was loved like a son by Steve, and was brainwashed, “killed” (except not really), separated from his father, and left behind in a dimension where time moves much more quickly, meaning that after Steve spent an hour or so back on Earth, Ian would be dead in Dimension Z time. Ian was created not to be a character, but to be a source of grief and isolating loss for Steve.
Jet Black Zola has also become quite a problematic character for Remender, as he keeps forgetting something quite important about her identity: her age. Jet Black Zola is fourteen years old. And yet, inevitably, she is shown wearing nothing more than strategically placed straps wrapped around her body (similar to Leeloo in The Fifth Element) as her battle armor. (An example of it can be seen here.) On Earth, the only outfits she’s been shown to wear are her battle armor and a strapless bra paired with underwear. In Captain America 12, there are panels that focus on the faces of the two male heroes in the scene (Sam and Steve) while focusing on Jet’s underwear-clad ass. And as each issue passes, Jet looks less and less like a fourteen-year-old girl and more like an adult female, complete with instances of attempted seduction and generalized femme fatale behavior. It’s worth repeating: she is fourteen years old. Not only is hyper-sexualization of a child who’s barely into her teens off-putting, to say the least, it’s not even a remotely acceptable use of a young female character in what’s supposed to be one of Marvel’s most important comics.
And let’s talk about Sharon Carter. Agent 13, the grand-niece of Peggy Carter, one of SHIELD’s most capable and dangerous agents, and a fearsome fighter and spy in her own right. Tough, strong, independent, not afraid to stand up for herself, and always willing to speak her mind. Partner of Captain America in every sense of the word, both on the battlefield and off of it. Sharon Carter, who’s due to appear in a Marvel Studios film in April 2014, entitled Captain America: The Winter Soldier (I’m sure you’ve all heard of it; it’s kind of a big deal). Sharon. Carter.
Who, apparently, can’t think of a better plan to defeat a giant Zola robot and blow up a battlestation than to jump on the giant Zola and then blow up the battlestation, herself included, to save Steve’s life.
Right. Because, you know, forcing the giant Zola into the battlestation and blowing it up remotely wasn’t an option. Or outrunning the giant Zola, then blowing the base. Or blowing the base from back on Earth. Or anything else.
Apart from how ridiculously out-of-character Remender’s Sharon happens to be, the treatment of Sharon and of her death is appalling. Sharon dies in issue 10. Since then, no character in the entirety of the Marvel comics universe—those in Captain America included—has mourned Sharon’s loss. Characters have expressed their sympathies to Steve at her death, but not one character has mourned Sharon because she was Sharon, not because she was important to Steve. The closest we’ve come is with Sam Wilson and Maria Hill, both of whom knew and worked with Sharon for a long time. Yet all we get out of them is standard expressions of sympathy to Steve, as they’re sorry for his loss. Sharon’s death has not been acknowledged anywhere else in Marvel’s comics; whether that’s due to other writers not agreeing with her being fridged or simply because Marvel hasn’t seen the need, we don’t really know. Sharon is no longer a person, she is a loss. She is yet another way to cause Steve pain.
I, for one, have had enough of that.
For all that Remender tends to default to killing characters to make his books shocking and thus “likely” to get better sales numbers, he’s been doing an abysmal job with Captain America. Readership of the comic dropped by over 50 percent between issues 1 and 3 (from 123,667 sales of issue 1 to 59,836 sales of issue 3), and dropped nearly another 50 percent between issue 2’s 64,377 sales and issue 12’s 38,684 sales. That’s a drop in readership of almost 70 percent from issue 1 to issue 12. In October 2013, Captain America sales were outsold by titles such as Deadpool Kills Deadpool, Kick-Ass, Hawkeye, Superior Spider-Man Team Up Special, and the interestingly named Afterlife with Archie. One of Marvel’s flagship titles was outsold by a comic about Deadpool killing alternate versions of himself and something named Afterlife with Archie. These numbers don’t speak to the qualities of these other comics (as I am a die-hard fan of Hawkeye), but the titles above are and have never been intended to be flagship comics, no matter how great they might be. A flagship title typically sells around 60 to 80 thousand copies per issue—at minimum—while Remender’s Captain America run hasn’t hit those numbers since nearly a full year ago, in December 2012. The fact that the sales numbers show miniseries comics and smaller, more niche comics outselling a title that is as iconic as Captain America indicates a major problem. Clearly, whatever Rick Remender is trying to sell us in Captain America, fewer and fewer people are buying it.
He needs to stop.
If you thought Rick Remender couldn’t top his problematic writing in Captain America, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Uncanny Avengers has been a problem since its beginning issues and shows no signs of stopping any time soon. Despite dropping a whopping 80 percent in readership since issue 1 (and 60 percent between the first two issues alone), its sales numbers remain in the sixty thousands, which are more than enough to keep it going. Even when it probably shouldn’t.
Uncanny Avengers began as a combination team between Avengers and mutants in the wake of Charles Xavier’s death at the hands of the Phoenix Force-possessed Cyclops (Scott Summers), as a way to foster human-mutant goodwill and positive interaction. Of course, all of that went south pretty quickly, as the Red Skull decided to steal Professor Xavier’s brain and somehow merge it with his own. This gave him the powerful mutant abilities of the Professor and enabled him to cause all sorts of ruckus and violent anti-mutant sentiment in the general public. However, things came to a head in issue 5, where Alex Summers (Havok, who just so happens to be a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed male who looks just like any other human on the street) stated in a public press conference that he saw the word “mutant” as divisive, almost as a slur, that is used to separate people from each other, and wanted to be viewed as a person first, as “just Alex,” instead of as a mutant. While the intentions behind the speech seem to be good—Alex wants those with the X-gene to be seen as people, not monsters or villains to be met with fear and hatred—the execution of the speech gives a different message entirely.
Alex: “Having an X-gene doesn’t bond me to anyone. It doesn’t define me. In fact, I see the very word ‘mutant’ as divisive. Old thinking that serves to further separate us from our fellow man. We are all humans. Of one tribe. We are defined by our choices, not the makeup of our genes. So please, don’t call us mutants. The ‘M’ word represents everything I hate.”
Despite the intentions, Alex’s stance on mutants comes off as one that advocates assimilation and erasure for individuals who belong to minority groups. With this speech, Alex visibly and deliberately rejects his identity as a mutant (and is able to do so easily, given his outward appearance lets him pass as a “normal” human and gives no clues to the fact that he’s a mutant), asks people not to call him a mutant, and equates a term that defines who and how he is with a slur. He gives the public no way to identify this part of himself, implying that he doesn’t want to be defined by it, and wants the rest of the mutant community to do the same. Identifying as a “mutant” divides the population, he says, and it’s best to not divide it at all, and just call everyone the same thing in order to solve the problem.
Because it’s divisive to be who you are. Because being “divisive” is bad, and preventing this division is more important than being true to who and how you are. Because if a part of your identity makes other people angry, you need to get rid of that part and pretend you’re no different than everybody else to make everyone happy. Because you have to assimilate to be acceptable to society. Because you have to deny the part of yourself that makes people upset—you have to erase it.
If mutants are taken as a stand-in for all minority groups whose rights have been repeatedly oppressed, as they often are, these statements become very problematic. “I’m not a mutant, I’m human” becomes “I’m not gay, I’m human” becomes “I’m not black, I’m human” becomes “I’m not a woman, I’m human.” It asks those who fall under these marginalized minority categories to deny one part of their identity to gain the “better” identity, the one that everyone ascribes to. It wants the less desirable identity be ignored, because it’s upsetting to other people and therefore should be hidden. It suggests that being “mutant” and “human” are separate things, as if being a woman or black or gay or anything else could be a separate thing from being human as well.
Remender claims to have identified with Marvel’s mutants at a young age because of being alienated for who he was. But despite how he may have felt and been treated as a child, Remender comes at the issue from a place of privilege. Rick Remender is a white, cisgendered, heterosexual male. No matter how he acted or what he liked when he was young, those four things automatically put him at a different level from anyone who belongs to the LGBTQIA+ community or to any other minority group that constantly has its rights trampled on. Rick Remender’s identity will never be denied him the same way that a trans* person’s or a bisexual person’s or an asexual person’s identity might be. Rick Remender will never be told that his race, gender, or orientation is problematic and makes people uncomfortable. Rick Remender will never be told that he cannot be who and how he is because it’s unacceptable to other people. He cannot understand the mutant metaphor from the perspective of the people with whom it most closely resonates.
When those people reached out, expressing reservations over Alex’s speech or anger about the message being conveyed, Remender’s response via Twitter was clear.
Within the comic itself, Rogue is the only member of the team who consistently presents an opposing opinion to Alex’s. In fact, her opinions are more reflective of the views of the general public who don’t agree with the message of minority assimilation and erasure. In a team full of Avengers and mutants, including such members as Wolverine and the Scarlet Witch (two of Marvel’s most famous mutants), no other character besides Rogue has a problem with Alex’s claims. In fact, when the team debates the topic in issue 9 during a training room simulation, the entire rest of the team gangs up against Rogue, backing up Alex’s viewpoints and shooting Rogue down.
Wanda: “Alex didn’t tell anyone not to be proud of whom he or she is. Don’t extrapolate your own version—listen, and speak to, what the man actually said.”
Wanda is even used as a means for the author himself to say “Go back and read it again, you’re not getting what I’m trying to say, and if you’re getting something else out of it, you’re wrong.” Within the team, Rogue is completely alone in her disagreement with Alex’s views, despite other Marvel writers using their own characters to stand up for mutant and minority representation in their books. (A wonderful example of Kitty Pride taking apart Alex’s speech showed up in Brian Michael Bendis’ All-New X-Men a few weeks before Uncanny Avengers 10 came out). The only other people who have issues with Alex’s viewpoints are—you guessed it—the “bad guys” of the series, as a great speech is given to Banshee in issue 12 about his anger at Alex selling his own people out and Captain America not doing enough for mutants when he of all people should know what it feels like to be hated (being the son of Irish immigrants in the 1920s and 1930s). Here’s the kicker: Banshee is a Horseman of the Apocalypse for the Apocalypse Twins, hence an antagonist.
The issue has been taken even a step further, as the Apocalypse Twins showed up in the comics and declared they would be performing a mutant rapture to bring all the mutants to a planet of their own, because separating the humans from the mutants was the only way to save both groups. Currently, the Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man both seem to be endorsing this plan and helping them enact it. So basically, segregation is being touted as their answer to everything. Great.
And if advocating assimilation, erasure, and segregation weren’t enough after giving the opinions of people who are fighting for the end of discrimination and prejudice to a villain, Remender actually uses an abuse victim’s trauma as the punch line of a joke. In issue 12, Janet Van Dyne (the Wasp) struggles to say the word “ant” when comparing the size of the Twins’ ship to the original Apocalypse, and subsequently gets teased for stumbling over it by Alex. Jan was romantically involved with Hank Pym (Ant Man) for a long time and even married to him, but it has been shown in comics that he was physically abusive towards her, at least once if not more than that. If Jan is still so traumatized by her relationship with Hank that she can’t even say the word “ant,” that is not something for which she should be made fun of. Like any traumatic or triggering situation, it is not something that should be treated as comic. Yet there it is in issue 12, being treated like the punch line in yet another one of Remender’s string of not-that-funny jokes.
Remender’s treatment of the mutant metaphor boils down to telling people who have been constantly discriminated against because of their differences that their identities are negative and divisive things, and they shouldn’t identify themselves in that way. It’s easier not to rock the boat, so people whose identities would rock the boat should bury those identities as deep as possible, so as not to upset everyone else.
This is not okay.
Rick Remender needs to stop.
** ** **
Author’s Note: Directly after this article was published, Uncanny Avengers 14 was released, which included the graphically violent deaths of both the Scarlet Witch and Rogue. For a more in-depth discussion of that comic, you can read the comic reviews for the week of November 27, 2013.
For an up-to-date summary of Remender’s atrocities in Captain America as of July 2, 2014, chujo-hime’s Tumblr post is a great place to start, and includes links to other sites and posts talking about some of the issues more comprehensively.
If you’re a reader—and buyer—of Marvel comics, I strongly encourage you and any other comic readers you know to let Marvel know how you feel about what Rick Remender has been doing in his comics. Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org (don’t forget to mark any letters as “okay to print”), and ask them why women’s deaths keep getting thrown around as cheap plot devices. Ask them why they think the way Remender treats his female characters is acceptable, because it is not. Ask them why they continue to employ a writer who fridges women, who continually uses damaging racist, sexist, misogynistic stereotypes as if they weren’t problematic, and who advocates assimilation and erasure of minority identities. Ask them how they can endorse a writer who thinks he can explain away statutory rape.
I thought it seven months ago, and I still think it now: Rick Remender needs to stop. But more than that, Rick Remender needs to go.