Archive for January 20th, 2009

Bitch, please: Laura on Cerebus #3

According to Deni Loubert’s introductory publisher’s note, “Dave wanted to do an issue where Cerebus was with a female since the inception of the comic.” Although there’s been some discussion about whether the succubus in the previous issue already dabbled obliquely in gender politics, any potential subtlety gets traded for a sledgehammer with the introduction of the first major female character, Red Sophia.

Basically, it’s Dave Sim taking on the ladies for the first time, so you know it’s going to be good.

A stand-in for Red Sonja, the flame-haired, chainmail-bikinied female counterpart to Conan the Barbarian, Sim’s Red Sophia is essentially a millstone placed around Cerebus’ neck while he does yet another terrible mercenary deed for a bag of gold.  This time, he contracts with Sophia’s father — a powerful wizard — to find the man who besmirched her honor, and torture him to death for his crime.

Pay attention, because the words “besmirch,” “honor,” and “torture” all take on markedly different meanings by the end of the issue, mostly because Red Sophia is not so much as a fierce female warrior as she is a sexually-obsessed, histrionic woman-child secretly longing for a man to dominate her– and ready to give her a good smack when she needs it.

In the original series, the character Red Sonja was brutally raped as a teenager by the mercenaries who killed her family, and her wish for vengeance granted by a goddess who gave her extraordinary fighting skills — on the condition that she never give herself to a man again sexually unless he bested her in combat.  There are some weird implications — especially in the context of a rape victim — of a woman needing men to prove their ability to dominate her to win sexual favors, but it’s still not as unsettling as Dave Sim’s take.

As he said in his 2004 Onion AV Club interview, “When I did my parody, Red Sophia, I extrapolated that this poor, magnificent warrior woman was probably getting unbelievably horny waiting for someone to come along who could beat her. It does seem more resonant today now that the ‘ballsier’ feminists, much to their consternation, seem to be having difficulty finding men who are interested in—or capable of—going mano a mano with them.”

issue-03-01-belovedWhile Sophia still possesses Red Sonja’s equivalent fighting skills, there is far more emphasis on her sexual aggressiveness – at least, once she realizes that Cerebus is capable of going “mano a mano” with her — and how irritating it is to Cerebus. Again, while the concept of a heroine as rape victim seeking men to dominate her is disconcerting to begin with, it’s kind of more disturbing to twist that character into a desperate, oversexed idiot who begs to get beaten, and is spurned by her love object at every turn.

The underlying idea, as Sim says above, is that if women are going to take on traditional male characteristics in a relationship – e.g. being aggressive and initiating sex – they shouldn’t be surprised when men find them unappealing.

When Sophia finally challenges Cerebus in battle he bests her handily, and decides to teach her lesson; when “a tempting and rotund target presents itself… the flat of Cerebus’ broadsword painfully introduces Red Sophia to professional swordplay.”  Yeah, that’s right.  He spanks her with his sword.

issue-03-05-ass-shot

And while the obvious phallic analogies of sword spanking are giggle-worthy, it might be more important to note that Dave Sim has publicly advocated the spanking and physical punishment of adult women by their husbands:

issue-03-08-muzzleTo me, taking it as a given that reason cannot prevail in any argument with emotion, there must come a point – with women and children – where verbal discipline has to be asserted, and if verbal discipline proves insufficient, that physical discipline be introduced. Women and children have soft, cushy buttocks which are, nonetheless, shot through with reasonably sensitive nerve endings.

I believe that those buttocks are there for a very specific purpose intended by their Creator… When the point does arrive when the amusement value has exhausted itself or good manners and chivalry have been stretched to their limit, “That’s enough,” spoken firmly, distinctly and above a conversational tone – with women and children – should be sufficient. If it proves insufficient, measured blows to the buttocks – “measured,” to me, meaning blows which, cumulatively, leave no mark which endures longer than, say, an hour or two but which will make sitting down an uncomfortable proposition for a comparable length of time, blows which are an inescapable consequence of failing to heed the verbal “that’s enough” seem the only sensible way to evenly balance the unfair advantage emotion has over reason.

Now suitably chastised in the method Sim recommends for irrational, emotional women, Sophia instantly does a complete 180, submits to Cerebus completely, and attempts domesticity inside a tent that resembles a giant vagina, prattling endlessly at her new “master.”  And oh shit, she makes him granola, the food of choice for vapid oversexed hippie girls everywhere.  For maybe the hundredth time this issue, Cerebus basically looks at her and says, “Bitch, please.” 

Back to the plot! issue-03-16-cover-face When Cerebus and Sophia finally find the handlebar-mustachioed man who “besmirched” Sophia’s honor (by stealing a glimpse of her bathing, apparently), we discover a simpering lovestruck weakling who only has eyes for Sophia. She reacts violently and absurdly to the situation until Cerebus finally just pushes her out of the way so the menfolk can talk — during which his dialogue bubble seriously covers up her face.  I mean, wow. This issue is like every feminist media studies professor’s worst fucking nightmare. 

Ultimately, Cerebus realizes that the only way to shut up a woman is to clock her, which he does, and when the limp-wristed lady-boy who loves Sophia gets upset about it, Cerebus pretty much laughs in his effeminate face and starts getting ready to torture him, per the terms of his employment.  While considering the most terrible and horrific cruelties to inflict on his victim, Cerebus suddenly realizes what would be the worst punishment of all: marrying Sophia, and being forced to spend the rest of his life with her. 

Wah wah wah.

Next issue: Death’s Dark Trend