Friday, August 22, 2008

Captain America #41 Review

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Penciler: Steve Epting

Captain America #41 gives us part seventeen of the epic story, "Sharon Carter in the Refrigerator". I kid, of course, but Brubaker's current arc is starting to arouse mine and others' ire at the way that Sharon Carter is being treated in Captain America. She has been a prisoner for over a year now, was stabbed in the womb last issue, and now has apparently lost her baby. Several years ago, Gail Simone famously compiled a list of various violent events that had occurred to female characters in comics called "Women in Refrigerators", titled after Alex DeWitt, Green Lantern's girlfriend who was killed and stuffed in a refrigerator. Many different comic creators responded, ranging from the dismissive ("such things happen to male characters, too"), to a wide variety of possible explanations from sexism to creating drama by harming the lovers of usually-male protagonists. Simone herself decided to remain neutral, leaving the list to speak for itself.

I'd like to give Brubaker the benefit of the doubt. He is responsible for developing one of the most interesting female characters of the last decade, Renée Montoya and generally shows respect for his female characters. Brubaker is one of the few writers who can generally get away with decompression. His attention to detail and ability to write engaging battle scenes and dialogue don't make the reader feel like he should be "get on with it" as one usually does with authors with decompression. I genuinely believe that he is using Carter's captivity for dramatic purposes, and not intending any misogyny. He has put many characters through terrible ordeals, and even killed his protagonist.

However, when dealing with the extended captivity of a female character, a combination of decompression and attention to detail is a terrible combination. Instead, the incarceration of Sharon Carter has become gruelling, endless and far too specific. Moreover, the violence has recently become far too intimate. The addition of specifically female violence, the stabbing of Sharon in the womb and the causing of a miscarriage (something that can only happen to women), has accidently turned this story into the worst refrigerator incident since Karen Page.

Authors often underestimate the danger of violence against women in a visual medium. For whatever reason, many men have a misogynistic streak. There is a part of them that enjoys seeing women hurt. Depictions of violence against women, especially when they become almost constant as in recent Captain America issues and when they are specifically female violence that can only happen to women, are in danger of attracting the wrong sorts of readers and bringing out the worst in the readers they already have. I am in no way arguing for censorship, à la Wertham. I am merely suggesting that Brubaker needs to be more careful.

Unfortunately, the continued torment of Sharon Carter mars what is otherwise a very good book. Early in the book, Falcon and Bucky need to make a very difficult moral decision as to whether or not to allow the Red Skull to capture the Grand Director and to use him as bait. Their solution, "We'll rescue him later", comes across as somewhere between funny and pragmatic. There are other great character moments. Doctor Faustus's explanation for trying to free Sharon Carter makes a sort of sense, as he is so proud of his "work" that he cannot stand to see Sharon harmed. The Red Skull's disgust at being trapped in Lukin's body is starting to drive him a little insane. Finally, Sin's decision to kill the senator so as to prove herself to her father follows perfectly from her character.

Other moments are quite funny. I love the discussion of why on Earth the Red Skull would have a base in Albany. I mean... Albany? Why not just hide out in Hackensack, New Jersey. They decide not to bring S.H.I.E.L.D. into the rescue of Sharon because they don't want to cause Natalia any more trouble (and presumably because Bucky is in love with her), only to find her flying overhead. When the Skull's agents capture the Grand Director and say, "We have captured the flag", I actually laughted out loud.

Brubaker is a great writer, by far one of the best in comics. However, his usual strengths of detailed story-telling are working against him in his continuing torment of Sharon Carter. I usually very much enjoy his detailed, intricate stories. However, this has been going on for far too long. He needs to get on with it.



IslandLiberal said...

This is a nice blog.

I think, actually, that the implication of this issue is that Sharon actually got her hands on the knife and stabbed herself, since there wasn't any prospect of getting away; hence, as she says to Faustus, she killed her kid so the Skull couldn't get his hands on him, and had hoped to kill herself too.

I think the length of Sharon's ordeal has worn a lot of people down, and we're really getting to the point where she needs to strike back (which should be next issue, anyway). The whole "fridging" thing I find very complicated (and, as a man, it's often something I feek awkward arguing about), but as to "female specific" violence, I don't think writers should ignore the physical differences between men and women; women can get pregnant, men can't, acknowledging that fact (though, obviously, unborn kids in jeopardy are a very old dramatic device).

Daniel said...

I hadn't caught that implication, but looking back on it, it does seem to be ambiguous as to who stabbed Sharon. That's interesting, though I don't think it reduces the "refrigerator" factor to have her stab herself.