Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
My psychologist (One Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel M.D.) says that maybe I write too much about sex in comic books. (She also says that I should listen to the voices in my head that say I should burn things and dye my hair green), but much to Harley’s chagrin here I am at it again. Maybe that says more about me than pop culture.
Anyone who has bought more than a dozen comic books in the last twelve rolling months has picked up at least one because of the cheesecake (of beefcake) on the cover. Comics also had a time of over expression after a period of forced repression. During the CCA crack down, comics were severely limited on what they could show. During the Iron Age of comics, when comic books stopped being retailed out of grocery stores and pharmacies and sold out off to their own specialty shops, they often acted like teenagers discovering their bodies for the first time.
And I know I have said this in many posts but I am basically a prude who is OK with sex, violence and cursing if they seem organic to the story and move the plot along. But also if it is appropriate for the intended audience. (Parent’s don’t take your kids to Deadpool!) Love is also an important component of life and can be great part of a story, but it needs to feel real, so it doesn’t derail the plot. And well it is harder to write of true feelings than just the physical deed.
One story that bleeds sex like life-blood through a sieve is Sin City. Every female character but Miho is defined by her sexuality. (Even Marv’s Mother’s core concept is that she is a mother) And this transfers to the movies. In The Hard Goodbye, Marv is willing to go to hell to revenge the death of his one night stand. In The Big Fat kill, the ladies of Old Town defend themselves as much with their sexuality as they do with their automatic weapons. The deference between Hartigan and Roark Jr in the Yellow Bastard is that he won‘t give into passions that challenge his moral code. A Dame to Kill For is the ultimate feme fatale story.
With the exception of the titular A Dame to Kill For, the sexuality (not the sex) is squeezed out the sequel. Another Saturday Night, reminds you how hard core Marv and the projects can be. It is good for what it is an introduction to the movie, The Long Bad Night (the gambler’s story) has Marcie but her story is more tragic than sexy. Nancy’s Last Dance is the virgin stripper decent into madness and obsession, it takes the gorgeous Jessica Alba and made her very unsexy. The finial two stories not only didn’t mesh with the originals vibe, sex was no longer symbolic. It was no longer an equalizer between men and women, it no longer separated a good man from a bad one, and it didn’t drive our anti-hero to tear down the status quo, it was just sex. Now I am not saying more sex would have made Sin City II a better movie, but it suffered because of its lack of symbolism.
Sex works best when it indicates something else other than just when a man and a woman fornicating. Take the (in)famous Calendar Girl Scene from Deadpool, where Wade and Vanessa celebrate different holidays in some graphic poses with Neil Sedaka’s Calendar Girl in the back ground. Yes it is a raunchy scene, as well as a funny one (When Lent comes around they are just reading books). But the most gripping part of that scene is not the lovers, but their apartment, through the holidays it gradually goes from Wade’s Spartan hole in the wall to the couple’s warm and inviting home. They have either renovated it or moved. It is symbolic of the progression of their relationship from lust to love.
The first and most symbolic time I ever saw a superhero have sex was in Superman II. Supes gives up his powers so that he could have a normal life with Lois. When General Zod invades he is forced to go back to the Antarctic and regain his powers. But he has to give up his love if he wants to be Earth’s defender. So he gives Lois that campy kiss and erases her memory. Now I admit that is dues ex-machina, and nowhere before 9or sense) has he ever had mind erasing kissing powers. But if you can get past the corn and cheeseball, it is symbolic of his powers eliminating the one thing that is a challenge to them, his love for Lois.
Comic books didn’t invent this whole love makes us mortal trope. There is an Ur example in the story of Enkidu. Inky was a wild beast man that even the half-god Gilgamesh couldn’t beat. But a priestess of Ishtar (Who was historically a sacred prostitute) seduced him and civilized him. He became a great hero but this path eventually leads to his death. The fact that he was now mortal and lying on his deathbed made him want to curse the priestess, but the gods told him he should bless her, because it is better to be mortal human than an immortal beast.
Despite the Scene in Superman II, I remember that I was genuinely shocked. When I first saw the scene in Tim Burton’s Batman where Bruce Wayne and Viki Vale slept together. To me this seemed to make Batman, less of a hero and more of a man. What really bothered me though, was that Bruce had sex with Andrea Beaumont in the Mask of the Phantasm. MotP may be my favorite Batman movie, it was based off of Batman the Animated Series. Now they didn’t actually show the animated act of course, but if you have had at least one symbols in movies class, you know what happens when a man and a woman kiss and the camera pans to water or a fire place and the next day girl is still in the stately Wayne Manor walking around in just a shirt. It was a good movie, the sex actually moved the plot, and it was under the radar, but still an animated Batman movie, is going to be watched by kids and I think it should have been left out.
OK back to sex as symbolism. How about that time in X-Man II where Mystique seduced the guard and injected him with liquid metal giving magneto a weapon he could use to escape. We see it again when Miss Blue tries to seduce a Vietnamese diplomat to get a chance to kill Bolivar Trask, in Days of Future Past. In ways it is a morality tale saying that you can create all kinds of protection but you can’t protect mankind from its most base desires.
The most graphic sex scene in a comic book adaptation is, in my opinion, the scene in Watchmen, when Dan and Laurie go at it, in his airship. It is an explicit scene overlaid with Lenard Cohen’s Hallelujah. This may seem like strange combination till you listen to the songs words and realize that despite its sacred sounding tone, the song is also about sex. But in this case it more symbolic than pornographic. When the government outlaws superheroes, Night Owl II becomes impotent not only as a hero but as a man. He is not restored until he risks dawning the mask on again. And in the end the only way the two lovers can continue as a couple is if they continue on as Night Owl II and Silk Spector II.
Now I have in at least two other post, talked about Jessica Jones. How one of the initial shocks of the original Alias series was that Jessica had sunk so low that she had annual sex in an attempt to feel anything. The TV show in an attempt to keep it PG-13, references this in a 3 second clip where when she is in bed with Luke Cage and flips on her stomach. A compromise that those not familiar with the source material might not have caught. But there is a true love that brings JJ from the brink of ruin and it is not physical.
A few months ago in Wizard World Portland actress Krysten Ritter said that she thought the core of Jessica Jones, (the series) was the relationship and love between her and her adopted sister Patricia “Patsy” Walker. They are both heterosexual but, familiar love can be stronger than romantic love. I feel that this love is where she finds the strength to become a hero and defeat the villainous Killgrave. Killgrave sees this as her weakness, he tries to control Patsy in attempt to control Jessica. But he also fines that it is a fatal mistake to mess with family.
Season two of Netflix’s Daredevil has raised the ante. Though not officially rated, I felt that the first season was a hard PG-13, the new one is a soft R. More swear words, and more blood, with the addition of The Punisher and Elektra. I am only on episode 6, but so far, it is not actual sex but sensuality that burns the scene. The scene where Matt touches Karen, and his enhanced senses can tell she is sweating and he can hear her heart beat faster, is one of the sultriest things I have ever seen on TV. But they are both fully clothed. Chemistry beats sex every day.
Another steamy scene from season two, was the flashback, when Matt and Elektra broke into the boxing gym. We have seen this trope so many times, where sparing turns to foreplay. Usually this turns my stomach. There is nothing romantic or sexy about hitting a woman. But this one was a bit different. They were so equally matched, that I was instantly repulsed.
A show where love is more interesting than sex, is Marvels: Agents of SHIELD. Skye hooking up with an old hacker boyfriend was immensely forgettable. As for Grant Ward and Melinda May being bed buddies, I could not care less. They admitted they were both just burning off stress, and there was no chemistry. It only became interesting when it was revealed that Ward was the traitor and his every move was calculated by Hydra.
But romance that is something else. I mean I had a hard time telling Phil Coulson from Harold “Happy” Hogan, in the Iron Man movies. He was just so dang generic. He didn’t become a human until Pepper let slip he had a thing with a cellist from Portland. This made his death even more moving. When he was resurrected in Agents of SHIELD, he couldn’t confront Audrey Nathan, because of what happened to him. It broke my heart. Phil she’s played by Amy Aker for heaven’s sake!
And don‘t get me going on Fitz/Simmons. Two geeks who are so in love. But when Leo Fits is the only man who could save Gemma Simmons’s new love, he swallowed his pride and went into another dimension to save Will. They only kissed once, it is a sweet school yard crush. But I have following SHIELD’s scientist‘s stories for over two and half years and can’t get enough of it, but I was glad that Ward and May’s sexy time ended after around six episodes.
A shout out goes to Agent Carter, Peggy is very much a modern woman but also a woman of the 1940’s. One morae that Captain America’s ex is breaking is the color line. There is some hard core chemistry between her and African American scientist Jason Wilkes. I know the interracial barrier was broken back when Kirk kissed Uhura, but in this time where racism sets quietly in the closet waiting to pounce, we are shocked at how others react to a black man and a white woman together, and then we see maybe we aren’t as advanced as a society as we think we are. Sometimes if written correctly romance can be as shocking sex.
As long as the comic adaptation wave last, there will be sex and love, let’s hope that the screen writers handle it a mature and interesting prospective.