Recently Chuck Dixon came under fire for a scene in Batman and the Outsiders where he portrayed the character Thunder as “oversensitive” because she was offended when Batman referred to her lesbian relationship with Grace as a “special relationship.” At the time, Batman was berating her as not worthy of being on the team.
Now, putting aside the characterization and motives of Batman, and even the motives of Dixon in this scene I have to wonder what the editors were thinking when they let the scene get through. Actually, I have to wonder what they were thinking when they set this entire issue up. They have considerably less female heroes than male heroes. They have very few gay heroes (6, I think), and even fewer gay heroes who have been actually used in the past year. They have very few black heroes, and have had to dig around to diversify their major teams. And they have a team that was established by a writer who has trouble keeping his liberal politics from affecting his storytelling.
So what do they do? They find a writer who has trouble keeping his conservative politics from affecting his storytelling and have him relaunch the book. They use many of the same characters established by the liberal writer, in the hopes of keeping the liberal writer’s fanbase. Already they should have thought twice about that. But no, the editors approved.
That writer decides to cast the lesbian black character as the one who is expected to prove herself worthy of inclusion on the team, despite her being shown as an asset under the previous writer’s pen. A move likely to piss off all three demographics. They should have maybe talked to him about that. But no, the editors approved.
This writer sends a script through that describes the homosexual relationship in the book as a “special” relationship. He then has the greatest detective in the DCU claim he doesn’t notice sexual attraction, setting up the lesbian black character as one of those “overly offended PC types.” This writer has had trouble in the past with statements about homosexuality and fan reaction to those statements, so it is going to look very bad politically. Whatever his actual motives are, the characterization in that scene is guaranteed to piss off fans of both characters. They should maybe have considered editing the script for a less politically loaded word. Even just dropping the adjective and saying “relationship.” But no, the editors approved.
Then when choosing the preview pages, they decide to cut the scene off at exactly the point where the offense happens. This is guaranteed to annoy a large number of readers before they buy the book.
Now, all four of these very bad ideas may have seemed completely innocuous to the editors. Or they may have deliberately set things up to piss off a loyal fanbase in the hopes that controversy would sell more books.
Either we are dealing with rampant stupidity or a complete and utter disregard for their readers beyond the contents of their pocketbooks.
Cynically, we all know which we’re dealing with here. We all make jokes about fans who react to storylines as though they are designed to personally piss them off, but at some point we need to face facts and realize that entertainment is designed to evoke emotions. This is the point of writing. There are honest ways of doing this, skillful characterization and narration, a well-crafted plot. There are sneaky ways of doing this such as hiding things from the readers and dropping surprise twists at the end of every issue. There are joyful ways of doing this, ways that take your reader out of her real world frustration for a few minutes and make her live in a better world. There are respectful ways of doing this, ways that remind her of the horror and pain of every day existence but do so in a way that creates empathy between the reader and the writer. There are ways of making us want to buy something so we can be angry, sad, happy, scared or whatever the writer wants the reader to feel. They are ways of making horror and misery an escape.
And there are disrespectful ways of doing this. There’s ways of reminding people of shit they have to deal with every day. There are ways of preaching at the reader even though you know they don’t view things the way you do. There are ways of insulting the reader metatextually when you are supposed to be setting up a rapport with them. There are ways that make the reader pissed off at the writer and not the character or the situation in the story they’re supposed to be pissed off at.
From what I gather here, we’re supposed to be annoyed with either Thunder or Batman. A number of readers are instead angry at the writer. There were at least four chances to prevent that anger and redirect it at the characters and neither the writer nor the editors took the opportunities. Instead, it suggests that all concerned acted to increase that anger and provoke an outrage to sell books.
Which, when you think about it, is more offensive than any offhand interview comment.