Archive for the ‘The New 52’ Category

Deconstructing “Red Hood and the Outlaws” – Part 2: Starfire


In this, the second installment of our three part series, we’ll be taking a closer look at the sole female member of the Outlaws, Princess Koriand’r of Tamaran, better known as Starfire.

Behold the book that set female empowerment (and continuity) back more than 30 years.

While my original intention was to provide detailed information about Starfire’s background, Red Hood did a pretty good job of summarizing the relevant details on the splash page where readers catch their first glimpse of her, so anything I have to say at this point would be redundant.

Take a long hard look at some of the only accurate information about Starfire to be found in this issue.

Also, since we already went over her initial encounter with Jason Todd last time and will be reviewing how she first met Roy Harper next time, that also reduces the number of potential discussion topics this time around.

Next to Amanda Waller and Barbara Gordon, Starfire is one of the biggest elephants in the room when it comes to the post-Flashpoint DC Universe due to her massive character derailment. In fact, since the number of things that were done wrong far exceeds the number of things that were done right, I thought it might be more useful to dispense with the usual format and instead directly address claims being made by message board posters , writer Scott Lobdell, and the comic book itself in order to see if any of them hold water.

Before we begin, I’d like to emphasize that I’m deferring to Marv Wolfman for the most part when it comes to providing evidence for all of my counterarguments. Since he  was not only her co-creator but also wrote pretty much every comic book she ever appeared in for an unprecedented sixteen years, I think he undoubtedly has the best grasp of who and what the character is supposed to be. Besides, I think he’s kind of sweet on her.

Well, he’s a lot more articulate than I’d be if I were in his place, that’s for sure.

Claim: “Starfire has survived intergalactic death camps.” – Scott Lobdell
Verdict: False

This is untrue by virtue of the fact that Starfire was never in a death camp. She was a slave, and the particular brand of slavery practiced by the Citadel was a bizarre hybrid of chattel slavery and indentured servitude, where individuals were sold to masters for one year. The only provisions were that the slaves could not be killed and that they would be reclaimed by their original owners after that period of time had elapsed. In her case, said owner happened to be her traitorous older sister Komand’r, also known as Blackfire.

And you thought that YOUR childhood was rough.

While it’s true that Starfire was condemned to death for murdering her fifth master and sent to a prison planet, she escaped while en route and never made it to her intended destination.

Claim: “Starfire has always been promiscuous.”
Verdict: False

While it may be hard to believe, the above statement is an outright lie and could only be considered even remotely true if you’re incredibly cynical, extremely sexist, or ridiculously moralizing.

As mentioned previously, Starfire was sold into slavery multiple times over a six-year-period before escaping to Earth. While she spared us the gross details, it’s not unreasonable to assume that at least some of her owners used her for their own sexual gratification. So unless your definition of casual sex includes (statutory) rape and sexual slavery – and if it does, you need some serious help – then she wasn’t promiscuous in any sense of the word.

In fact, since her introduction in 1980, she’s had exactly four confirmed sexual partners – Nightwing, Prince Karras, General Ph’yzzon, and Captain Comet – and was either married to or in long term relationships with three of them when intercourse occurred. The “odd man out” in this case is Captain Comet, with whom she was strictly friends with benefits. And even she suggests that what happened between them was the exception rather than the norm.

In space, no one can hear you scream (in ecstasy).

Moreover, being promiscuous, by its very definition, implies that an individual is less discriminating when it comes to choosing partners. Yet not only did Starfire gently turn down all of Changeling‘s creepy sexual advances from the start…

Shove it up your blowhole, you salaceous cetacean.

…but she didn’t once proposition either Adam Strange or Animal Man for sex even though the three of them were stranded alone on an alien planet for sixteen weeks during 52 (though the fact that they were both married combined with her own personal sense of morality and respect for relationship boundaries probably factored heavily into this decision). Hell, she even totally friend zoned the latter in Countdown to Adventure #7 (April 2008).

The coldest and loneliest place on Earth ISN’T Antarctica.

So, clearly, she has standards and prerequisites when it comes to men and won’t hop into bed with just anyone, which makes her behavior in Red Hood and the Outlaws seem all the more jarring and out of character.

I’m really not sure how this misconception about her being promiscuous became so widespread, but I can certainly make a couple of educated guesses:

1. There a lot of individuals out there who equate an enjoyment of sex with loose morals and promiscuity (which really says more about the finger pointers than it does about Starfire).

2. In a related vein, many people consider premarital sex – something which she and Nightwing indulged in in spades – to be on par with promiscuity. Again, this is more of a reflection on the accuser than the accused.

3. Tamaraneans don’t have the same hangups about nudity that humans do. Moreover, since Starfire simply finds clothing restrictive and doesn’t attach a sexual component to her physical exposure, that makes her a more of a nudist than an exhibitionist.

Tip of the Day: Flying and going commando do not mix.

And it goes without saying that being a naturist doesn’t automatically make you a sex maniac.

4. Tamaran has been consistently and frequently described as a dichotomous, almost paradoxical, world whose inhabitants are ruled by their passions, and two diametrically opposed ones at that: love and hatred.

Wasn’t this the original introduction to “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”?

Note that romantic love or sexual desire isn’t being explicitly singled out here. And, as Starfire readily admits, this philosophy could be a double-edged sword.

Tamaraneans: Masters at tapping ass and kicking ass.

In fact, one recurring theme over the years was Starfire’s struggle with the more sinister aspects of her own nature as she tried to reconcile her Tamaranean penchant for bloodlust, violence, and revenge with the concepts of mercy, justice, and adherance to the law that her human teammates were attempting to instill in her.

Good lord, man, at least make an effort here!

In short, Tamaraneans believe in being honest to yourself and others about how you feel and allowing your feelings, positive and negative, to guide you. That’s what makes her species so proficient when it comes to making both love and war. But that doesn’t make them hedonists and it certainly doesn’t make them nymphos.

5. The mere act of dressing provocatively is often enough for people to brand you a slut since you’re allegedly “advertising your wares” and, by extension, looking to seduce someone. This is, of course, utter nonsense. While a case could be for at least some human women, Starfire is an alien as so many people are fond of pointing out. Therefore, automatically assuming that our social mores apply to her is contentious at best.

Talk about mixing business with pleasure…

With the exception of Dick Grayson, Starfire was never really seen actively trying to seduce anyone. Males just naturally gravitated towards her. And therein lay a large part of her appeal: in spite of everything she’d been through, she had a naïve, wide-eyed innocence, was sweet and pleasant to be around, and seemingly oblivious to the powerful effect she had on men. Hell, even people who were taking advantage of or had grudges against Starfire had nice things to say about her, from the professional pick-up artist who was being paid to seduce her by the H.I.V.E.

Since when do real supervillains bitchslap other men?

…to the women who were jealous of all the attention she was getting…

Yes, ladies, I wonder why the men are ignoring wonderful specimens of womanhood such as yourselves…

…to freakin’ Deathstroke the Terminator.

Talk about sizing up your opponent. Three sizes, even.

And if those kinds of people can agree on anything, there has to be some truth to it.

As for Starfire’s rather revealing outfit, there’re two perfectly reasonable explanations for it. First of all, Tamaran is a tropical jungle planet, so it makes sense that she wouldn’t be bundled up like some kind of space eskimo. Second of all, her costume is standard Tamaranean clothing and many people on her homeworld dress exactly the way she does. If she were the only member of her species to dress like that, then you might have a case. But check out the kind of stripperiffic outfits that her brother Prince Ryand’r

That’s one serious banana hammock.

…and her parents, King Myand’r and Queen Luand’r, wear.

Someone clearly took lessons at the “Captain Lou” Albano School of Rubber Band Beard Grooming.

Claim: “Tamaraneans are incapable of telling humans apart.”
Verdict: False

So humans are interchangeable sex toys that make you laugh? Well, that’s just peachy.

This claim (or retcon, as the case may be) is so incredibly stupid that I’m having a hard time figuring out where to start debunking it.

1. Tamaraneans are humanoid extraterresrials, have an identical number of limbs, fingers, and toes as our species, possess the exact same external sensory organs as us (right down to their sizes and placements), and are completely lacking in the exotic variations or distortions of any of these physical traits commonly seen in so-called “rubber forehead aliens”. In fact, Koriand’r was able to effortlessly pass for human just by dressing the part and donning a pair of oversized sunglasses to hide her large, pupilless eyes.

And while we’re on the subject of Tamaranian physical features, here’s a rather interesting (and relevant) exchange between Starfire and her original Earth boyfriend, Franklin Crandall:

Hey, if glasses can work for Clark Kent, they can work for you.

While the sincerity of his statement is admittedly suspect since he was a professional gigolo hired by a member of the H.I.V.E. to pump her for information about her friends and colleagues, he may well be telling the truth about Tamaranean skin color being closer to bronze or gold – a not unheard-of skin tone in humans – rather than full-blown orange, which would lend her masquerade more plausibility. And even if that was a bit of a stretch back when this story was originally written, this might just be one of those rare instances where a lame excuse actually becomes more plausible over time. These days, most people would simply mistake Starfire for a spray tan junkie.

Simply put, since Tamaraneans and humans are pretty much physically identical, it’s no stretch of the imagination to assume that we’d both use the exact same visual cues to tell members of our respective species apart from one another. And whether or not we find their opposite sex members hot and bangable, of course. 😉

2. Even if you completely dismiss the aforementioned argument and assume some kind of “interspecies recognition barrier” is in play that makes it hard for Tamaraneans to tell humans apart, keep in mind that, even on Earth, people who spend an inordinate amount of time around large groups or herds of animals will inevitably pick up on differences in coloration, patterning, personality, and behavior between its members that less experienced individuals might not immediately notice. So, while it might take some time and a lot of observation, you’d eventually learn to distinguish one member of a different species from another. Starfire’s had the better part of five years to learn in the post-Flashpoint DC Universe.

3. While we’ve encountered our fair share of Tamaraneans over the last 30 years, all the ones we’ve seen have invariably had green eyes with no pupils and orange skin. And the only observable hair colors have been red, auburn, sandy brown, pink, and white. That’s one skin color and five hair colors. The ranges of human skin, hair, and eye colors are not only different from theirs, but far more diverse. When you factor in that no two members of the Teen Titans (other than Wonder Girl and Raven, who’re both Caucasian women with black hair and blue eyes) have the exact same combination of skin, hair, and eye color and gender – to say nothing of the fact that none of them sound or act the same – you’d have to be pretty damn stupid to not be able to distinguish them from one another after a while. In fact, since at least some types of pigmentation and complexions found in humans are unnatural to Tamaraneans, I’d say that it would make it even easier for them to tell us apart.

4. Some people have put forward the suggestion that the alleged Tamaranean “all look same” worldview might be due to poor eyesight.

Dude, even I can make out that plothole from here.

The fact of the matter is that Tamaraneans actually have better visual acuity than humans. Notice how Starfire has no problem whatsoever remembering and recognizing Mammoth, a supervillain and member of the Fearsome Five that she’d only encountered once before.

5. Even if we completely disregard everything you know about Starfire’s character and assume that she’s so emotionally detached from her surroundings that she simply can’t be bothered to learn how to tell us apart, the idea still doesn’t work since she successfully destroyed the tanks that were attacking her teammates instead of accidentally killing them herself instead, which would’ve been a very real possibility if she couldn’t distinguish one human from another. It would take a significant amount of coordination and planning to get around her “species blindness” in military and rescue operations. And let’s be honest: would you really want a living weapon of mass destruction hanging around that you weren’t 100% certain you could control at all times?

The bottom line is that, while this claim might seem to have some superficial merit, it can’t withstand any degree of scrutiny.

Claim: “Starfire is essentially a nuclear reactor with pretty much one power setting.” – Scott Lobdell
Verdict: False

You know, while I could go into great detail about just how bad that analogy is by pointing out that Tamaraneans are living solar batteries and don’t generate any energy themselves – to say nothing of the fact that both Starfire and Blackfire only received their abilities to fire Starbolts due to a botched science experiment conducted by the malevolent, sadistic Psions – that would be incredibly petty of me. To be fair, though, while this may have been true at one time, it no longer is now.

Since she was both a former slave as well as a member of a warrior race, when she first came to Earth, the words “restraint” and “mercy” weren’t really part of Starfire’s vocabulary and she used to fire her Starbolts full blast all the time. Though there was still the occasional mishap and her control could waver if she were angry or stressed, she eventually learned to regulate her power output when necessary in order to use them to stun living targets or knock back opponents with their concussive force.

Setting Starbolts to “stun”, Captain.

And it’s a damn good thing she did, too. Because, at point blank range, a powered-up Starbolt can blow a hole clean through a person

Looks like someone was unlucky while attempting to get lucky.

…or even counteract Darkseid’s friggin’ Omega Effect.

Looks like Starfire’s not easy on everyone’s eyes.

Claim: “Starfire has always been a sex object.”
Verdict: True

The definition of “sex object” is pretty broad. If you’re asking whether or not Starfire was the Teen Titans’ resident eye candy, then the answer is yes, no argument there. However, there are degrees of sexual objectification, a notion that is lost on a lot of people.

The best way to illustrate this point would be to compare and contrast the contemporary presentation of a centerfold in Playboy with one from Penthouse. In both cases, the model is being sexually objectified, no argument there. The key difference here lies in presentation, and the gap between the titles is pretty significant.

Playboy makes an attempt to humanize the woman. She fills out a data sheet in her own handwriting where she provides her full name (or at least a pseudonym), some personal information, speaks a little about herself, and even three private pictures of herself at various stages in her life. While the spread contains nudity, the photos are generally tastefully done, avoid crotch shots for the most part, and the accompanying article, while coquettish and mischievous in tone, gives readers some greater insight into her personal life.

Compare and contrast this with Penthouse‘s current style, where the model is referred to only by her first name. While the quotes and vital stats sections provide personal information, a significant amount of them are devoted to her intimate life and erotic fantasies. In addition, the pictures are somewhat more degrading and overtly sexual in nature, with a lot of “butterfly spreads”. Though the centerfold isn’t thoroughly dehumanized by any means, there is a definite difference in emphasis compared to Playboy.

In other words, anyone who considers this approach to sexual objectification…

This scene is both top heavy AND text heavy.

…to be identical to this one

Did we really even need words cluttering up our porn at this point?

…isn’t looking hard enough. In the former case, the cheesecake is incorporated into the narrative organically while, in the latter, it’s more blatant and up front. There a big difference between sexual imagery being incidental to the story and threatening to eclipse it.

And while we’re already on the subject of sexual objectification, this is a much better way of expressing female empowerment…

Grayson’s a possessive little Dick, isn’t he?

…than this could ever hope to be:

Has she been stealing alien pickup lines from “What Planet Are You From?”

According to an anonymous source, there were several female DC Comics staff members who agree with that assessment:

“There were a handful of staff, mostly other women, who believed the writer was trying to equate being a strong woman with being, frankly, a slut. No one said that the writer was misogynistic, just that perhaps he was writing from a male perspective.”

This is made even more embarrassing when you consider that the former scene appeared in The New Titans #99 (June 1993) – eighteen friggin’ years ago – and somehow still manages to be more flattering towards women than the latter.

The Continuity Verdict

Here’s a little thought experiment for you.

Remember the old Batman television series from the 1960s? Try mentally replacing Cesar Romero’s Joker with Jack Nicholson’s Joker (or Heath Ledger’s Joker, if you’re so inclined) in every episode he appeared in. Now have your substitute Joker demonstrate the murderously insane personality that he did in the movie he appeared in but have all the other characters behave exactly the way they did in the original version of the show. I mean, they’re clowns in purple suits with green hair and chalk white skin who make jokes and laugh a lot, so a little behavioral shift shouldn’t affect how events in those episodes played out, right? Right?

“Batusi your way out of THIS, you flying rat.”

Good god, Scott Lobdell, what the fuck were you thinking?

You can’t just completely flip the personality of one of the Teen Titans’ core members by transforming her from an incredibly-affectionate-yet-occasionally-violent, monogamous sweetheart with sex appeal who pretty much considers Earth her home to an emotionally detached engine of destruction who has casual sex with her teammates when she’s bored and doesn’t believe that she’s welcome on our planet, then claim with a straight face that the team’s legacy is being respected. There’s no way in hell those stories could’ve happened anything like they did in the old continuity when Starfire’s behavior is so far out of whack that I can’t even hold the comic book straight. The interpersonal dynamics would’ve been thrown completely off, to say nothing of the fact that she’d probably end up as the team’s designated bicycle: everyone would be taking turns going for a ride.

This version of Starfire is not only an insult to the character’s legacy, it’s also an insult to her fans and the intelligence of DC Comics’ established fanbase. Either you have absolutely no understanding of the character that you’re supposed to be writing or you’re using Flashpoint as a convenient excuse to flush three decades worth of character development down the crapper just so you can completely overhaul her entire personality into something that can be shoehorned into your story in order to make it work. I’m not sure which one of those is worse.

Oh, I’m pretty sure you could write yourself out of the corner you’re in with the standard explanations for such things (brain damage, mind control, mental trauma, erased memories, Jason Todd being either a liar or misinformed about Tamaraneans, etc.), but I’m not going to hold my breath. And I’m definitely not sticking around to find out whether you do or if this was all part of some nefarious plan to screw with our minds and boost sales by generating controversy from the outset.

Ye gods, I need a break from this series before my head asplodes.

Join me in the near future when I’ll be spotlighting the third and final member of our antiheroic triumverate, Roy Harper. See you then…

UPDATE (2012.09.30.): An interesting coda on this article from a comic book legend.

Basement Dwellers, Open-Mindedness, and Whining on the Internet


Ever since the following panels appeared in last week’s issue of Justice League International #1 (November 2011) by Dan Jurgens, Aaron Lopresti, and Matt Ryan, it’s been making the rounds on message boards and Internet forums.

Subtlety, thy name is DC Comics.

This is, of course, an obvious reference to the continuing online debate over whether or not the 2011 reboot of the DC Universe was a good idea.

In all fairness to Dan Jurgens, his mouthpiece in the above exchange, Booster Gold, is quite clearly advocating the position that it’s the job of the writers to win over the unhappy members of the fanbase by producing a quality product. In fact, many online posters have been openly mocking the haters and claiming that, if you happens to be offended by this line, that’s only because it hits a bit too close to home. If you take a closer look at the subtext in the aforementioned panels and the latter argument as a whole, however, there are several unfortunate implications that may or may not be immediately apparent:

1. Basement dweller: This is an ad hominem attack, pure and simple. An attempt is being made to link dissenting arguments with a negative lifestyle in order to discredit them, the assumption being that someone who is an (implied) basement dweller could not possibly come up with legitimate criticism. This is, of course, ridiculous.

2. Open-mindedness: The base assumption here is that all ideas have equal merit and should thus carry the same weight when it comes to making decisions. Again, this is pure drivel. If a patient develops cancer, he can choose to either undergo chemotherapy or hope to be healed through the power of prayer. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that both options most definitely don’t deserve the same amount of consideration.

3. Whining on the Internet: It is widely assumed that complaining about something on the Internet is inherently useless and pathetic and therefore automatically beneath consideration. This is the same flawed argument that’s being made in Point 1 – i.e. guilt by association – and, as with most things in life, how seriously you’re taken depends on what exactly it is that you do. Ranting, raving, and engaging in character assassination on a message board, for example, is an exercise in futility while making clear, concise, logical, and well-researched arguments on a website and spreading the word through social networking is far more productive and stands a far better (albeit admittedly limited) chance of appealing to the masses and making your voice heard. (And in case anyone’s wondering, that link was an attempt at self-deprecating humor, not ego-stroking.)

4. Ignoring the protestors: Let’s make one thing clear: DC Comics is not a democracy. Anyone who’s in a position of power over there did not acquire it by the popular vote of the fanbase. They were hired or appointed. As far as I know, most of the decision-making lies in the hands of a six-member executive management team, specifically Jim Lee, Dan DiDio, Geoff Johns, John Rood, Patrick Caldon, and Diane Nelson. Whatever they say goes, and, while they might take the opinions of longtime fans and their own in-house creators into account, they do so at their own discretion and are under absolutely no obligation to do so.

That last point, I believe, lies at the heart of why fans are so vocal and upset: over the past ten years or so, several unpopular decisions have been forced through due to executive meddling that have been detrimental to fan-favorite characters. While Hal Jordan‘s return to the role of Green Lantern and the revival of the Green Lantern Corps has been a tremendous success, others such as the Flash and Green Arrow have suffered tremendously, with increasingly desperate attempts to fix the very messes that editorial mandate created in the first place only making things even worse. Unfortunately, the only options fans have to voice their displeasure are either complaining on major online message boards in the hopes that the Powers That Be at DC Comics will listen or to vote with their wallet and stop purchasing anything unless conditions improve.

And since the former is being widely dismissed by parties on both sides of the issue as the ravings of comic book fandom’s lunatic fringe, I guess there’s only one choice left, isn’t there?

Congratulations, DC and Dan DiDio, you’ve succeeded in dragging this closed-minded basement dweller into the new digital era of comic books. I will most definitely be reading more of your titles in the future than I have in the past 27 years of collecting.

I simply won’t be paying you a dime for any of them.

The Internet, after all, has far more practical applications than simply being a place to whine. 😉

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