December 29, 2013

Generally, I stay out of Internet blurts, but when a fellow ‘professional’ chooses to air her views on my work quite so publicly I feel constrained to respond/defend myself (just as publicly) . Essentially, Mairghread Scott (whose work I’m only passingly familiar with, so I cannot and anyway would not comment on how qualified she is to sit in judgement of mine), has elected to retcon my take on the character Arcee (in Spotlight: Arcee, part of the IDW G1 continuity) in some fashion. Just for starters, I hate retconning. The idea of taking something firmly established as in-continuity (in the the issue itself and plentiful collections) and saying, ‘oh wait a minute – we didn’t mean that, we meant this’, is insulting both to the original creator(s) and the fans who shelled out the money to buy it in the first place. It’s almost like saying you wasted your money, sucker. But for Scott to  (wrongly) accuse me of apparently setting out to be offensive to women  is the kind of personal attack that really needs a response. Thankfully, I was spared having to break down the illogicality and blinkered assumption of Scott’s attack by a poster on the TFW2005 boards, who so eloquently redressed the balance. So thank you jenbot1980. I’ve reproduced your response below, in full. I don’t have your permission, so please contact me if you wish me to remove it and I will (same goes for TFW2005). But I really appreciated your distanced and measured (and well analysed) look at Spotlight: Arcee and my intentions behind it. Jenbot1980’s response follows, and you can look at Scott’s digressions in the TFW2005 thread here.

From TFW2005 boards:

<<Until now I’ve not registered on the boards, I’d been content to browse for news and enjoy the comics and toys without getting too involved. Earlier today my BF got quite irritated with this story and I’m afraid so did I because I’m a little tired of being spoken for. I think he was worried if he posted that his comments would be viewed a certain way which I thought was silly but then I read some other comments on this board and others so what follows is mainly from me but some is from both of us. A bigendered viewpoint if you will…

The issues I have with Furman’s choice is that we don’t exist in a vacuum and the suggestion that 1. women only exist in aberration

This would be a legitimate point were there any male TFs. Yes Arcee is an aberration and if they had made her male or if any other gendered robot were to appear it would be abnormal because they are WITHOUT GENDER. There is only one (presently) and she’s a she. Extrapolating the one instance of gender assignment in robots to “women only exist in aberration” is a totally pointless argument when men don’t exist AT ALL.

being a women is inherently traumatic

I’m sorry but this is so far from hitting the point at all. Being assigned a gender that you do not feel is the one you should have is traumatic as any transgender person could tell you. I’ve seen mixed reactions to this and while it isn’t directly relatable to a human issue there’s enough here to reflect in part that experience. As one of my best friends was born female but is transitioning to male I see neither sex as better or worse, the problem is feeling trapped. Yes Arcee was made female but the point is the thing that caused her trauma was the fact SHE WAS EXPERIMENTED AGAINST HER WILL. If they had made her male or female the result would have been the same. She was made a gender in a race of the GENDERLESS. To extrapolate that “being a woman is inherently traumatic” is to read into it something which is plainly not there. If anything it is a metaphor for gender confusion not something that is anti women. Where she a man the same issues would exist.

3. being a women has any correlation to mental illness are extremely upsetting.

But that isn’t the case. It is never said that she is mentally ill because she is female (and I’m disappointed anyone would make that leap), she experiences trauma by being made to feel different because she was artificially made different. The gender she was assigned is incidental to the nature of the offence. That she was assigned gender made her the way she is, not that she was made female. Again were “she” a “he” the story would play no differently. She isn’t really used to explore in any way what it means to be a woman, she is there to explore the CONCEPT of gender not to pursue an agenda about a PARTICULAR gender.

Do I think Furman was trying to make a statement about human women with Arcee’s origins? No. In fact, the largest share of blame lies with the tokenization of women in the brand in general. If Arcee was one of many women transformers and she became female in this manner, it would not be an issue for women writ large (although still troubling for the transgender community). It is because she is the ONLY women (and that this story ensures that she will ALWAYS BE the only woman) that Arcee’s story becomes untenable.

But that’s one more female TF than there is any male ones so again this argument is completely redundant. It actually misses the point completely. This is like arguing for more male or female sailing ships. They are referred to as she but they are not female. There is a very legitimate argument to be made in comics writ large but not in a comic that doesn’t have gender. There is no gender so arguing for one thing or another is totally pointless. You can make arguments where the fiction has established it early on like in the newer shows but its never really made sense in G1 and it makes no sense in the IDWverse at all where they are plainly devoid of gender. Any attempt to introduce more ACTUAL female characters (as opposed to FEMININE) is only going to require the introduction of male characters which is as redundant a pursuit. I have no desire to see male TFs either just to be quite clear. There might be ones that look male, female, like a wolf or whatever but that doesn’t mean they have to actually be those things. Were this any other continuity (Prime, Animated, etc) I don’t think either of us would care that much because there’s a certain amount of representation their already. But Windblade feels cobbled together by committee and pasted into a continuity where it doesn’t fit.

Hopefully John, James and I have come up with a way around this Gordian Knot that will satisfy the fan-base, but satisfying-or-no, the most immediate imperative is to ENSURE this story does not continue to keep women readers, fans and characters at arm’s length from the brand. I’ve often said that everyone should feel that they are allowed to like Transformers and it is my complete and utter privilege to take this next step to make that happen.

I fail to see how female readers have been in any way distanced by the brand because of genderless robots. I cannot become a truck but have not felt like that distances me from the brand. The number of female attendees at TF conventions increases all the time so I’m not entirely certain how what is already there is somehow insufficient. I have always loved TF as has my BF. He also liked She-Ra and I didn’t. I loved the boy Carebears and he didn’t like them at all. I like exactly what TF is, that’s WHY I LIKE IT. James’ run is being rightly lauded and it had been done by using metaphors not direct correlations. Cyclonus and Tailgate’s early relationship can be viewed as a metaphor for a domestic violence situation but it is not literally that. To view the characters as LITERALLY one gender or another and take that one thing to emphasise when they are robotic, millennia old, transforming, energon consuming non biological life forms is to needlessly pick one aspect of HUMAN existence and try and apply it over any other. I just cannot see a reason to create more of any gender to TFs in a continuity where genderless is the norm at all except for political reasons. I want more female representation in comic books and TV and film with HUMAN BEINGS in them, that’s where something needs done. Though even then I find myself slightly torn because honestly when a comic launches to a clear agenda the market never sustains it and the book gets pulled which sends the wrong message.

TLDR version: Arcee’s origin is offensive because we don’t have any other female origins to balance it. We’re working on it, stay tuned.

There aren’t any male origins to balance it so the argument is completely flawed. If how Arcee reacts to her situation is the problem then that is no more resolved by having another female character or even a hundred more. She is still going through what she is going through. If her situation is no longer a problem because there are more female characters then honestly too much has been read into Arcee to begin with. And realistically the perceived problem would be more readily resolved by having her accept her gender. So I really cannot get behind that justification at all.

PS To fans that still claim Transformers are asexual: Academically, you have legitimate standing, but practically, ask yourself this: Jazz has been voice by actors from three different races over the years. If, in the next video game, Jazz was voiced by a woman, would you feel the character had been changed at all? If so, you do not perceive Transformers to be asexual. If not, you are a rare, rare bird indeed.

If three different races made no difference why would a female voice? Let’s deal with this direct – a cartoon is somewhat reliant on a human being to provide the voice so its pretty much impossible to deliver a robot that doesn’t sound like one or the other. Generally the audience has come to be familiar with character sounding one way and that can mean people feeling jarred when one particular actor isn’t playing their favourite character any more, that’s nothing to do with gender. But if we’re really after genderless equality then why not lobby for Jazz to be played by a woman? Every NEW fiction it’s easier to place more female characters from the get-go, to have a better mix and have whatever you want (especially as there’s work to be done in making toys a bit more interchangeable) but in a G1 continuity where there have been established parameters forcing these aspects in are unwelcome. If you changed 1984 G1 Jazz to a woman voicing him/her yes it would jar because he’s been established with a male actor. But start a new show today and make him voiced by a female then sure, why not?

I pose the question back, if Arcee had been made male would there be the same reaction or reading into? Would Furman’s portrayal have been offensive then? If so then the issue is to do with the application of ANY gender and the resolution would never be the creation of MORE of ONE gender.

And I feel this is crucial, in the comics there is no voice, they can sound however you want them to sound. Yes there are pronoun issues but ultimately it comes down to the limitations of the reader and how jarring it is to use “it”. I’ve heard people say they hear a woman when they read Starscream, some say an effeminate sounding man and some that he only sounds like Chris Latta to them. For that matter I know a lot of people that just hear their own voice when they read. In a comic you hear what you want to hear. In a genderless society you are free to ascribe whatever you want to the character. Honestly if imagining Prowl speaking in a woman’s voice changes your perception of that character entirely then I would argue the problem is in the eye of the beholder. To me that’s Prowl. If it had been a character SOLELY defined by an animated medium then there’s maybe justification for that, as I’d struggle to imagine Blacharachnia with a male voice, but G1 has been defined more on the page than on the screen.

Surely the whole point of a science fiction concept such as a genderless race is to step outside of human prejudice and look at characters by what they do and not what gender they are? Arcee was unique and faced a unique problem which doesn’t directly correlate to either a typical human female problem or even a transgender or cisgender or any other situation that a human being may experience. But we can draw a fuzzy line to a wealth of human experience, or we can label it offensive and sexist and miss the point entirely.

I feel the point has been missed completely and while I’ve been happy to support Scott on BH because I was genuinely happy to support a female writer in TFdom even though I (we) haven’t actually enjoyed much of it, I won’t be doing the same here. I like myTF‘s like I like my coffee… Of no gender whatsoever.

Fair enough if you are a man or a woman and you want that represented but one of the things that annoys me is that I am somehow magically represented by the loudest voice. We are not all the same and we do not all desire sameness. I’ll tell you what I want to buy by buying it. And Hasbro won’t be getting any money for Windblade toys from me (us). I may have picked up the 1st issue had I not read the author’s statements but not now.>>


December 17, 2013

Can it be? Is that the final countdown I hear, as Regeneration One ticks towards its 100th — and final — anniversary issue? Oh yes, issue #97 (and part 2 of the final story arc of the series that kick-started everything TRANSFORMERS is today) hits the stands this week (Wednesday December 18th). The War to End All Wars continues, as the mysterious (and long-absent) Senator Jhiaxus makes his presence felt. And how! If you’d prefer to have no more tantalising teasers (and the odd spoiler) thrown your way, then cease and desist now. If you’d like your appetite whetted even further, read  on. Okay, so we all know Rodimus Prime has a bunch of stuff he needs to fix (as revealed in our revelatory issue #0), and chief among them is a certain Cybertronian senator who not only deleted himself from Cybertronian history & everyone’s memory but also stole vital secrets (of life and death no less) from the Underbase mainframe. Phew, and now he’s back. But does he come as friend or foe? How does Rodimus Prime deal with a force committed to the grounding Cybertronian principle of Universal Order? Is there other stuff going on too? Of course… and, as usual, Grimlock and the Dinobots are in the thick of things. Since they rose from the underground depths of Cybertron, no one’s quite known what to do with the planet’s primordial ancestors. Well, the new Cybertronians of Jhiaxus’s second generation empire do. And the only thing standing between them and a total purge of these ancestors are the Dinobots! Oh yes, and there’ s the return of a certain… well, why spoil everything? Go see for yourself. You’ll be happy you did. Full preview for the issue can had here.