When Good Comics Go Bad: Even Black Panther Can’t Fight off the Genre’s Rape Culture

I didn’t think I’d be writing this here.

If anywhere, I thought I’d review Black Panther in my role as an historian. That I’d be joining the others talking about talking about the clever use of class, or what it means for Wakanda to be both the most advanced and fictional of countries. Or to talk about the representations of a comic full of POC…

I did not expect anything to bring us here.

For all the reviews critiquing the pacing and even the verbiage, I think that Black Panther #1 is a fantastic story in many ways. It is true that I had to read it twice before I truly appreciated the pacing, but I thought it read well even on the first read. It’s just that I caught the pace exactly the second time and it was beautiful. Gripping.

I want to be able to recommend the comic without reserve – and I DO recommend it, but with one caveat…the one that brings us here.

And I am going to try to limit my spoilers, even though I have waited a few weeks in the hope that most of those who would be bothered by them would have managed to find a copy of the book and read their hearts out by now. But I know some of you are still waiting, so I will do my best. But do know, I am going to spoil one story arc. But only one.

Aneka.

I am deeply troubled by Aneka’s story. Not that she is part of a lesbian superhero couple. That part if taken alone is pretty rad. But it cannot be taken alone, and the setup for it is completely embedded in rape culture in a way that we are implicitly asked not to examine. So naturally we are examining it.

A key component of Aneka’s arc builds around both toxic masculinity and rape as a character motivator. Both of which are terrible. The trope of men standing up for women’s honor and doing as ” father and brothers should have” is used. And women only acting if someone else does not do it for them.

Then, when a member of the Kings court first talks to and then meets out a guilty verdict – if we are looking at this seriously – for serial perpetration of sex crimes against women and children, she is sentenced to death?

Because anarchy? Because woman acting in place of man? Really?! Why would this be considered vigilante justice? The reasoning is poor. Even worse, what is the point of having these women and children be brutalized anyway? To motivate Aneka to act so she can then be imprisoned and we can have two new heroes? (The answer to that is, “Yes.” By the way.) Gross. Worst motivator. Or is the argument supposed to be that women and children are ALWAYS brutalized in war? Because, yes, again. They are. But that isn’t really compelling for this story-line. And if that were the point then something really needed to be included to reference both that fact and its entirely fucked up nature.

No. It was a case of not even thinking of the fact that victims matter. That they matter as more than plot devices. That someone else’s pain isn’t just a momentary motivator.It was hyper-masculine. It was dismissive. It was rape culture. In a good comic it had no place.

(But who knows, maybe the next comic will address all of this more. Hope remains.)

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