Starfire and the Need for Corporate Responsibility in Comics.
Much like Pony and the protagonist, Tales of Adequacy does NOT approve of drug use. Furthermore…I’m not too happy seeing it in comics, which are often a medium that is assumed to have a younger skewed target audience. Used effectively, they can be a a solid storytelling element that shows real character struggle, ethical dilemma, and growth. I get that. DC isn’t doing that here.
I actually struggled with whether I should run the panels above. The fact is…I DON’T like what DC is doing, and panel one is cribbed DIRECTLY from their artwork. This is a far cry from the Green Lantern/Green Arrow cautionary tale, or the non code approved Harry Osborn story.
I’ve commented before on DC Comics’ less than favorable treatment of the Starfire character in the New 52. Since the reboot, she has been amnesiac, promiscuous, and generally bloodthirsty and unlikeable. This is a complete 180 degree turnaround from the gregarious, friendly space princess with a positive attitude and a loving demeanor that Wolfman and Perez created in the early 80’s. In the current issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws, despite having a close relationship with Roy Harper, and thus some kind of knowledge of the dangers of drug use…we see Starfire injecting intravenous drugs.
Good thing that there’s not a Comics Code anymore, right?
I backtracked to attempt to find some kind of coherent characterization for this. Way back in Issue No.32, terrorists tried to nuke Washington DC. The Outlaws were on their way to stopping them when Kori (Starfire) was drugged up in that whole alien-slavery thing which has led to her subsequent drug use. The team then head to Louisiana, where the terrorist group was hiding out, only to find a building of Venom-infused lackeys ready to beat them up. Kori jetted out with Roy hot on her heels but was effectively roasted by Kori’s out of control flames. Jason, meanwhile, is getting his head handed to him by the Venom junkies when he decides to take some for himself, which is where we end up now.
So…every single member of the comic book’s cast has some kind of drug problem. Just putting that out there. I thought I was reading superhero comics, not watching Trainspotting.
Bringing us to the content of issue No. 36. Starfire’s own troubles take her to a wretched hive of scum and villainy, and I was super confused at first when a bunch of humans knew she was a Tamaranean. It turns out that this was some kind of alien opium den, where she delves further into whatever extraterrestrial embellishments she prefers. Whatever…this B-plot serves no other purpose but to point out that Starfire, one of the book’s heroes, is coping with her emotional problems related to her sister through IV drug use. Further…it’s not like the book is criticizing this AT ALL.
I have a serious problem with that, in a mainstream superhero book. I have an even bigger problem with the fact that Starfire also appears in Teen Titans Go, and animated series expressly aimed at children. I want to clarify that…AIMED AT CHILDREN. So…it is entirely possible that a young person looking for more stories or information about their favorite character will suddenly encounter promiscuity and drug use….as things that character does.
about three years ago, when this new incarnation of Starfire was “imagined”, fantasy author Michele Lee asked her 7-year-old daughter, a fan of Starfire from the Teen Titans animated series and comic books, what she thought of the version appearing in Red Hood and the Outlaws. Her daughter said, “I mean, grown ups can wear what they want, but … she’s not doing anything but wearing a tiny bikini to get attention. […] I want her to be a hero, fighting things and be strong and helping people. […] Because she’s what inspires me to be good.”
Right? That’s an actual kid, reading. That’s the future audience of comics, in whatever medium they are, print or digital. Not only is DC writing a book with both inconsistent and poorly motivated characters, but the licensing efforts here, where one arm of the company is marketing to children, and the other arm of the firm is marketing to…an “edgier” consumer…they are almost incoherent in their approach. Check out this infographic I put together:
That really should bring us on point. The Teen Titans Go! version is intentionally adorable, the clueless pretty girl who you wanted to have be your friend when you were a kid. The New 52 Version is an intravenous drug user who is dressed for a night on the town in Amsterdam.
I could understand if DC wanted to do something “edgy” that had a point. They have had plenty of success with those kinds of stories in the past. Here though, it just seems one more gratuitous plot point that is “controversial” for the sake of it, without looking more closely at the possible negative access points that represents to the youngest consumers. Sadly, parents don’t tend to leaf through their kids’ comics, so it is not that far fetched an idea that topics best left for health class might be introduced earlier than one would like.
“Snowbirds Don’t Fly” is a two-part anti-drug comic book story arc which appeared in Green Lantern/Green Arrow issues 85 and 86, published by DC Comics in 1971. The story was written by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams, with the latter also providing the art with Dick Giordano. It tells the story of Green Lantern and Green Arrow, who fight drug dealers, witness that Green Arrow’s ward Roy “Speedy” Harper is a drug addict and deal with the fallout of his revelation. Considered a watershed moment in the depiction of mature themes in DC Comics, the tone of this story is set in the tagline on the cover: “DC attacks youth’s greatest problem… drugs!”
So…my point is simple. It is POSSIBLE to handle these story elements responsibly, and with real insight. However, at the beginning, you need to have two things: first, a story arc that has a purpose, and a point to using that story element, and second, a respect for the characters that you are handling. I think a big part of the flaw with Red Hood and the Outlaws is a lack of respect for the characters, most egregiously demonstrated in the treatment of Starfire.
By no means am I suggesting that flawed characters have no place, nor that we should not use those types of characters in comics. I am, however, suggesting a kind of corporate responsibility in cross marketing of those characters that I am just not seeing. To wit: on television, John Constantine is never shown smoking, because smoking is BAD. However, the same company, which uses television to market Starfire and the Teen Titans to kids, is somehow fine with her shooting smack in a mainstream comic.
Pony and I are beside ourselves with disappointment here.
Next Issue: Thanksgiving, Moisture Farms, and Tusken Americans!