Dissent & Respect: Learning From the #FireRickRemender Uproar

I've been dreading this. I just want to write about anything else at this point. When a big controversy erupts in comics, I feel a weird sense of duty, a responsibility, to address it, as if it's somehow disrespectful to act like the thing isn't going on. I want to write about fun things; that's where I want this column to go. I'm tired of being angry and I want to move on -- and then I remember that the fact that I can move on is part of my privilege of being a white man, and I feel even worse. I want to write about anything else right now, but my thoughts on this whole -- thing -- have been eating my brain alive since Sunday night.

So yeah, "Captain America" #22 features a scene where Falcon drinks wine and has sex with a new character named Jet Black. Introduced as a child in the series' opening arc, readers have seen Jet age more than a dozen years over the past twenty-odd issues, and she states she's at least 23 in this issue, but a lot of readers felt that the age declaration coming so close to the time that writer Rick Remender decided to have her become sexually active felt -- icky is an incredible understatement. This led to fans thinking that Falcon had been turned into a statutory rapist, and a viral campaign against the writer (#FireRickRemender) started. Robot 6 has a rundown of the events.

Honestly, I did not even know this was a thing until Mark Waid tweeted a link to a blog post detailing how Jet Black has aged over a decade since her debut at the beginning of Rick Remender's "Captain America" run. All of that math seems legit, and I thought that reading that post would preemptively protect me from getting swept up in another outrage mania. It didn't, of course. I should know better by now.

I've done a lot of reading on this; I have not been able to look away from the Tumblr hashtag for a while. I suggest everyone do some reading up on this as well. I saw too many Tumblr posts from people readily admitting that they haven't read any of Remender's "Cap" run and also had no idea what was going on -- but they still felt the need to weigh in on things. I mean, am I a hypocrite for now admitting that I also haven't read the run? But I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what this is all about. If you're not going to power through 22 comics, at least read some of the well-written arguments on both sides.

Kieron Gillen broke down the matter well on his Tumblr, acknowledging that this campaign was not born just out of one misread scene, but of a string of grievances one person has regarding Remender's work -- something that a lot of people online fail to notice. But he also explains why he felt the need to defend Rick in this specific case, since the hashtag was "aimed to deliberately hurt an actual human being (while simultaneously throwing a fictional character under the bus)." I agree with everything Gillen says in his post.

Graphic Policy posted a pretty comprehensive run through of the events, but it wears its bias proudly with the title "Rick Remender and Faux Outrage." I'm wary of calling anyone's outrage "faux," especially if the outrage was enough to start a whole thing online. To support their headline, Graphic Policy framed the context of her initial post by citing her Tumblr bio, which at the time said she's "living a Rick Remender hate life." I could write a whole other piece about the aspect of comics culture that defines itself more by what they hate than what they love -- and that's a really toxic way of practicing fandom, in my opinion -- but even within that context, the original poster's follow-up thoughts, expressed in a post written on July 8, offer a much more detailed breakdown of her ongoing problems with "Captain America." The problems go back a ways, hence the "hate life," and run much deeper than a perceived kneejerk reaction to a misinterpretation of one scene in one issue.

I was introduced to this controversy through bunch of comic book writers defending Rick Remender by using a hashtag I had not seen before. Since I came into it once it had already hit the "here's all the reasons why this campaign is so logically flawed and dumb" phase, I naturally felt the urge to side with that side. I still do side with that side, as far as this one incident goes. I do think Jet Black is at least 23. I don't think Remender would lie about her age. I do think that characters should make mistakes. I don't think that characters' actions reflect the closely held beliefs of their author. I do think it's weird that the creative team felt the need to reassure readers of Jet Black's age immediately before a sex scene instead of a few issues prior. I do think it's gross that female characters still parade around in incredibly revealing clothing. I do think that the term "statutory rapist" should not be thrown around lightly. I do think this whole thing is a mess.

That was a digression, one I took to display just how frustrating this whole thing is. Back on point -- I kept waiting for anyone that was not a white male to chime in with their thoughts. The #firerickremender tag became overrun with Rick's colleagues, every one of which I saw was a white male, circling the wagons to defend him.

And there's this Tumblr post, one that addresses the wagon-circling, and one that I just read before writing this piece. Actually, before I read this Tumblr post, I was going to force myself to write about anything else, but hey -- things change. The common thread with this post Carnival of the Random and the originator's response post I linked to above is sexual assault.

Another round of clarifications, because man oh man do I feel like I'm walking through a minefield. First, anyone making sexually charged threats or threats of any kind towards anyone for any reason, I have no empathy for you and you are actively making the world a worse place to live in. Next, I am not mad at comic book creators for defending Rick Remender at all. I don't think writers should feel the need to please fans all of the time lest they be violently removed from their paid position. I passionately support writers loudly correcting a claim that has no logical basis. I really agree with another one of Kieron Gillen's blog posts, one that asks why anyone would even think that Marvel -- a company "owned by Disney, publishing PG-rated comics" -- would ever throw in a statutory rape scene. That is kinda preposterous, people.

I'm not saying that comic book creators should remain quiet while one of their own is attacked, but I also wouldn't mind seeing a little bit more understanding and empathy shown to the "attackers." Because there's one thing that white male comic book creators can't understand in the same way people that identify as female can, and that's sexual assault -- either as a reality or as the threat that looms over them every single day. I know we're all hung up on this current hashtag, but #YesAllWomen, a hashtag created by women to expose the disgusting experiences they have to endure every day in our patriarchal society, was not so long ago. That's the world that people that identify as female live in. From my reading, as someone that's never had to worry about date rape, or having something slipped into my unattended drink, or just walking home alone late at night -- seriously, just watch this "Daily Show" bit, please -- Falcon and Jet Black's scene is a-okay because she's of legal age. But I'm willing to admit that I don't know everything, and the fact that a lot of women found the scene in question to still be ill-conceived makes me want to listen to why it can viewed that way. Honestly, I want a civil discourse on both sides; I don't want one side rallying troops and pitchforks and demanding a person's job be taken away, but I also don't want the people in power with hundreds of thousands of followers waving off the complaints of people that have read a scene differently because they have different life experiences.

See? This stuff is complicated.

This is where I sum things up, right? Ugh, yeah, almost 1500 words later, yes, this is very much the place to sum things up. To sum it all up: it can't be summed up. It's way too complicated. I don't think the accusations leveled against Remender regarding "Captain America" #22 should have taken on this insane life. I think this new culture of weekly outrage fostered by the echo chambers of Tumblr and Twitter is exhausting and can be a waste of time. I ran across a post from someone urging people to not read "Storm" -- the very first ongoing series for the most prominent woman of color in all of comics -- because the OP assumed that Greg Pak is a white man, when he's actually half-Korean and one of the loudest voices for diversity in comics.

See why Tumblr can be so frustrating?

But, on the other hand, I love that everyone gets a voice in these matters, and that super hero comics are being questioned so relentlessly because they're growing and reaching new audiences of people coming from different backgrounds. The one thing all comic people have in common is that we're passionate about this stuff. From Tumblr fans to professional writers, we all want to see this medium make it out of these current growing pains as a fully functioning, level-headed, pretty cool adult. Next time, I wouldn't mind seeing a bit more empathy coming from both sides.

So in conclusion, it's possible I'm even more confused now than I was before. But at least these thoughts can stop eating my brain. I hope.

Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio.

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