Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
Comic books are targeted for a male audience, so it should shock no one that they often contain well endowed and scantly clad women. This is seen especially on their covers in an attempt to entice more buyers. Large breast on women are so common in comics that it has been termed ‘The most common superpower.” (1) From Power Girl’s ‘window’ in the front of her uniform to Caitlin Fairchild’s ‘femininity’ enlarging when she gained her powers, cheesecake art is a fixture in modern comic books. A classic example is Mystique who can make herself look like anything or anyone she wants, and she has chosen blue skin and D-cups as her defacto appearance. Now I appreciate that comic books are a visual medium so this can be understood if not forgiven to some extent. Ands it has been rightly argued comics are not the only entertainment source that use women’s physiques to sell their merchandise, just look at movie posters to see another examples.
More serious issues arrise with the treatment of women in comic books. Many comic books have an undercurrent of misogyny and violence towards women. This came to a head in an issue of Green Lantern, when GL Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend was killed and he discovered her body stuffed into a refrigerator. Torturing and killing heroines in comic books have become such a common place event, that female comic book writer Gail Simone has even complied a list of way that female characters have been unceremoniously killed off, and posted it on her website called Women in Refrigerators.(2) .
Recently the controversy over how women are treated in comics has resurfaced. DC offered amateur artists a chance to have their work published in a national selling title by having them submit a picture of Harley Quinn trying to kill herself. (3) As spin control DC explained that this was supposed to be a dream sequence but to many this exemplified that attitudes in comics towards women had not progressed since the refrigerator incident.
Though not as heinous, but still egregious is when female characters are there only for eye candy, when characters are salaciously drawn but have no depth or purpose, and they do very little to progress the storyline. Now it is true there are many male characters in comic books that fall into this category as well. Also there are many characters of both sexes in all mediums that are badly written (I am looking at you TV). But comic books have been singled out for it’s often two dimensional portrayals of female characters. So I am going to post articles on ten females in comics that are more than skin deep. And the first on this list is Marshal Carrie Stetko.
Name: Carrie Stetko.
Creator: Greg Rucka.
Appearances: Whiteout, Whiteout II: Melt
Occupation: US Marshal.
Quote: ‘…The Ice and I we’re kindred sprits now, we don’t care.’
On the surface the original Whiteout story is the investigation of the first murder in Antarctica. What sets this above just being a police procedural in an unusual setting is the main character Carrie Stetko. A US Marshal who has been literally exiled to Antarctica, a place where by UN mandate she is not allowed to carry a gun. Where as most comic book women are tall, lanky and buxom, she is squat and big boned, with a face full of freckles. Strangely enough I find her real world looks rather attractive, because she looks like a real human being. In fact I had to have someone else point out that she wasn’t considered that good looking.
Her appearance and the fact that she lives in place that has a one to four hundred female to male ratio, and the fact she had never shown any interest in any of her male counterparts, has earned her the label of being a lesbian, by the other polar residents. In the story this is emphasized in a series of almost kisses, with her partner a blonde female MI-6 agent Lilly Sharpe. As well an ambiguous ending in the original Whiteout with Carrie and Lilly staring out at the Arctic Ocean and Carrie thinking she would ‘…Keep warm.” This innuendo is contrasted to some extent by the fact that we learn that part of her back story is that she watched her husband suffer, waste away and die, form a terrible form of cancer and that in Whiteout II she takes a male Russian agent as a lover.
But that is part of the brilliance of the story and the character. It’s not Carrie’s sexuality that is the important factor, its how others treat her and how she responds to them that defines the story and Carrie herself. She never takes the bait. She neither denies nor confirms the rumors; she wants to be judged only on her ability to do her job.
It’s her ability and her near encyclopedic knowledge of Antarctica and its dangers that finally wins over her detractors. Between the first and second story she goes from the outsider, to a true member of the fraternity of explores on the ice. Even a harden veteran Russian official referred to her as ‘Our Cowgirl Carrie’. Through out the second story she lectures the reader about the history and perils of Antarctica, in the same way Michael Wesson gives a voice instruction on espionage, in the TV series Burn Notice.
The first graphic novel was made into a movie. I haven’t seen it but it is my understanding that there is some significant changes book. First of all bulky plane looking Carrie is now played by Kate Beckensale, an actress so hot looking, you would think her mere presence would melt the polar snow. Another change is that Carrie’s partner is no longer a female MI-6 agent but a male UN inspector. This eliminates any possible lesbian subtext. It could also be an attempt by the movie’s makers to draw in more male viewers, who might avoid a movie with two female leads.
Finally in the graphic novel Carrie looses her pointer and index finger on her right hand. I understand that in the movie it is now her left hand’s pinky and ring finger. This may not seem like a big deal but it goes form her losing the two most used fingers on her primary hand, to the least used fingers on her least used hand.. Basically the film version takes a possible career ending injury and makes it a minor wound.
Anyone would forgiver her after such a major disability if she just gave up. But Marshal Stetko continues on. She never gives up, not on her case, not on her job, and not even on Antarctica itself. If anything she becomes stronger and more determined by her injury.
For her integrity, determination and arctic survival skills, Carrie Steko is defiantly a character who is more than skin deep.