DC Comics & The Destruction of Mary Marvel

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Written on 8:37 PM by Jack B.

I know this is long after the fact, but I just sat down this week and read (in one sitting) DC’s mega-crossover “Final Crisis”. As long as it was fresh in my mind, I had to write down what I thought (just a reminder to myself perhaps not to buy any more crossovers). I started with a paragraph and pretty much ended with an essay.

As a whole, while Final Crisis did not appeal to me, one thing in it just APPALLED me - the treatment of one the heretofore sweetest, nicest, most innocent characters in all superhero comic history - Mary Marvel. Not since Emerald Twilight (which for all its faults was to build up Kyle more than tear down Hal) has DC been so determined to completely undo a long-standing character’s core persona so drastically and apologetically - for no purpose seemingly than shock value - what’s more “edgy” and “cool” than to corrupt than the purest and most innocent hero in your company’s pantheon? Right?

To start with, and I think it be being kept in mind in going over what was done to her is that is Mary Batson/Marvel was one of the youngest Superheroes in the whole DCU. Depending on if she's Billy Batson's twin or younger sister she would be 15-16 years old, making her younger than most of the "Teen" Titans and younger than the new Supergirl. Maybe the writers and DC forgot this but the reader can't (and certainly the characters within the comic shouldn't have).
Considering that she's that age the fetishization and sexualization of an innocent 15-ish girl by (largely) middle-aged male comic writers was distasteful at best, just sick at worst.



From the the many "Dark Mary" preview shots highlighting her bust or the numerous panty shots within Countdown, the "Darkseid Mary" outfit in Final Crisis which was as revealing as possible (even it looked nothing like Mary Batson), Keith Giffen jokingly stating how he wanted Mary to lose her virginity to Ambush Bug, Kurt Busiek calling the new Mary "a tramp" at the Baltimore Con in 2007 (I don't know if he said in disgust or just another joke, it may have been a bit of both), to the female models dressed as "Black Mary" that DC had set up at Con Presentations, all served to sexualize a teenage character whose ethos had been opposed to that since her creation in 1942.



Going back to the words of those who engineered this change In an FC interview, Grant Morrison in a an interview about FC said: "Supergirl and Mary Marvel are in it. They have a big climatic battle to decide how femininity should be portrayed in superhero comics!" and I guess we know who's side we're supposed to be on - the new midriff baring Kara, Morrison also said "Mary Marvel…we’re going to take what’s been happening to Mary Marvel beyond all acceptable limits. I think fanboys should enjoy that one. There’s going to be a big definitive battle between Supergirl and Mary Marvel. Some seriously badass super-animals." Beyond all acceptable limits. Super-animals. Talking about two 15-16 year old girls. OK. Can anyone tell me what “fanboys” enjoyed that?


Then we have Paul Dini (who was the credited head writer on Countdown) saying "A character who stays cute, charismatic and funny isn’t very interesting. So, it’s better to put that character through some tests and see if they come out the way they came in, or if they undergo some changes that ultimately make them a stronger, more interesting character.".
WTF? So a cute, funny character isn't interesting? This from the man who brought us the DCAU character of Kara Kent/Supergirl, the animated Barbara Gordon/Batgirl and Harley Quinn? Exactly how did Countdown or FC make her stronger? She came out as de-powered as she went in and is now dealt with differently (based on Zatanna and Supergirl's reaction) by the other characters in the DCU.


I think it's telling that DC never did character destruction this to either of the male Marvels, in fact Freddie had his own mini-series where he did indeed become a "hero" and will be a member of DC's flagship book, JLA. One would think DC wouldn’t do this so soon after the Batgirl backlash where they ruined another character (one who had spent her entire comic series run being horrified of the idea of killing) into a stone cold killer so the male Robin would have an antagonist. The hurried ret-con that she was brainwashed by Deathstroke (and made no sense) was basically DC admitting they screwed up...yet here they do it to another female teenage hero right away? Was there anyone who asked for a darker, edgier Mary Marvel? Anyone? I can't find a single reader who liked the Countdown or Final Crisis Mary Marvel storyline.




Dini also said Mary would go through a "Hero's Journey" kind of story in Countdown but what did we get - at the end of Countdown she is redeemed by the Gods only to suddenly accept Darkseid's offer of power. What? Mary was always presented as naive but she was never stupid.

Then in FC, she is basically made into an unrecognizable character to make Supergirl look good, and saved by Freddy (who abandoned her in the first place). So now she was back to Mary Batson, but no, in JSA she's back to Black Mary (and yet is still drawn as Darkseid Mary) in a story we know to be set after FC because she mentions her corruption by Darkseid. Then she is saved by the JSA. She basically ends the whole process where she began, accept now she is looked on differently and with suspicion by everybody in the DCU (if present continuity remains intact). This sounds like no version of the "Hero's Journey" (see the writings of Joseph Campbell for details) I've heard of . In the time span Countdown and FC supposedly take place (either days or weeks DCU time) Mary wakes from a coma, is abandoned for no reason by her loved ones, is kicked out by Zatanna when she goes to help, corrupted by Black Adam, by Eclipso, by Darkseid, falls into the ocean, is made a quasi-slave by the Amazons, taken over completely by DeSaad, de-powered, re-powered, de-powered again, beaten up by Donna Troy, Wonder Woman, Black Adam and Supergirl. Mary is corrupted no less than 4 times, if you count her JSA appearance (by Eclipso, Black Adam, Darkseid and Black Adam again) and saved by others, never by herself.
There is nothing “heroic” about this story.





Also, in order to destroy Mary Marvel and make her "dark", they also had to have several other characters behave out of character as well. Let's look at the sequence of events, Mary falls into the sea the minute she is de-powered and is in the hospital in a coma. She is abandoned by the brother who has not only loved and protected her but looked for her for years - would Billy really do this? She is then told basically to "get lost" (was paying her hospital bill a consolation prize?) by her oldest and best friend, Freddy, so he can do his own hero-ing. Would Freddy really do this? Despite being a minor with parents (unlike Billy she was not an orphan but adopted by Nick and Nora Bromfield), she comes out a coma and no one is there (!) and she leaves the hospital alone. Would her parents really do this? She travels to Gotham alone and seeks help from Zatanna. Now Zatanna has been established as one of the nicest and soft-hearted people in the DCU, the friend to all, even post the ret-conned Identity Crisis mind-wipes. Since then we’ve seen Zee guilt-ridden, ashamed and apologetic (particularly to Batman and Catwoman). Yet in Countdown we have a Bizarro Zatanna (written in part by Paul Dini of all people!). Zatanna takes Mary in to her “secret home” and starts teaching her in magic. Mary, influenced by Eclipso, goes nuts on Zee and she is tossed out of Zatanna’s house and not allowed back in - ever. Zatanna, one of the Sentinels of Magic, one of the few people in the DCU who (presumably) know who Billy Batson and Mary Batson really are, tosses a troubled 15 year old out without finding out what’s up with her. Yeah, OK. Then we have a bizarre scene where at a super-hero shindig Zatanna is talking trash about that ungrateful “brat” Mary Marvel, and at the same time magics away some alcohol the underage Supergirl and Wonder Girl had sneaked into her glasses. We are expected to believe that Zatanna of all people cares more about the drinking habits of Supergirl and Wonder Girl (both older than Mary) more than she does the "bratty Mary" - a lost 15 year old girl who just got out of the hospital, who was once one of the most powerful beings on Earth, who is (in Zatanna's words) a magical savant in how fast she learns and who is being influenced by the Spectre's opposite number, Eclipso (how else would the supposedly powerless Mary have the power to overwhelm Zatanna?). Would Zatanna really do this? We also have Donna Troy (who knows something about confused identities) calling Mary "evil" and trying to beat her down (rather than reason with her). Once Mary overcomes Eclipso (and how many heroes could do that?) she is washed up on Themyscira and is basically turned into some kind of drudge to be ordered about by Catwoman's former sidekick, Holly, and the Joker's former moll, Harley Quinn


Then, we have Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons clucking her tongue at Mary's "decision" to go back to the darkside but we had nothing more than a single panel of Hippolyta and Mary together in all of Countdown, despite the fact that Mary once (as Hippolyta herself) had the "strength of Hippolyta" as one of her powers. No, except for that one panel, the Queen ignores someone who had such a close connection to her - until after the fact. Would the Queen of the Amazons really do this? We have Jimmy Olsen (no stranger to superheroes and monsters) calling Mary a "monster". We have Wonder Woman (the least offender) saying she had heard about some of Mary's problems (before cracking her arm). So the word about Mary is out, other heroes (including Freddy) have heard a teenager who is as strong as Supergirl is out there and troubled and no one, NO ONE, tries to talk to her - until she become possessed by Darkseid. This point is highlighted in one scene in FC where Supergirl tells Mary "it's not too late to talk" at the exact same time as she's blasting Mary with her heat vision. Why would anyone getting blasted in the face by heat vision want to talk - even if they weren't possessed by one of Darkseid's minions? This is followed by Supergirl (a character who spent much of her own book running from her cousin because her mind is pre-programmed controlled to want to kill him and she's disgusted with herself because of it) saying that she IS going to “break” Mary’s neck (even though she supposedly knows its not Mary). Would Supergirl as written in her own book do this? Black Adam, yes. In FC, Freddy stops him from trying to kill Mary but BA knows it's not Mary, he's the first one to say "she's possessed" and that DeSaad is controlling her. It's entirely in BA's character to kill Mary rather than let her be controlled. But it's not in Supergirl's. Nor is in Supergirl’s character - one that wears a somewhat revealing costume and makes jokes about being jailbait in her book - to say the line “You? Calling ME a slut?”, meaning “How dare Slutty Mary say anything about me?” But why would Supergirl say this, she knows this is not Mary, she knows Mary was not a slut, who is she talking about - who does she think she is talking to?




Then, all of a sudden, we have Freddy save Mary. She's returned to normal, crying she'd never say the word again .... only to have Black Mary/Darkseid Mary (it's tough to know which) be all "dark" again in JSA, as if Mary had learned nothing. And now she has to be saved by outside forces again. At least this time we have Stargirl say out loud that she knows Mary is not in control - to be offset by the opening narration in JSA #25 where Atom Smasher wonders at the fact that afterwards Billy would not criticize or say anything bad about his sister - why should he? She was possessed! Is this the new DC status quo - Mary, as a creature to be judged by other characters?


So how, lacking DC not even acknowledging the damage, can the character of Mary Marvel salvaged? I’m sure a good writer could do but I don’t think one will be given that great an opportunity. Something tells me sooner rather than later that Billy Batson will return to his place as “Captain Marvel” and we know that Freddy seems to have high-enough fans that he’s getting used more in books than Billy is. But Mary? Based on her recent treatment I don’t think DC cares enough. Sure, this may be one of those story lines like Evil Hal Jordan, Assassin Batgirl and the slaughter of the JSA in Zero Hour (for the crime of being too old) which DC slowly starts to back away from and where the people responsible start to say they had been fans of the character “all the time” and it had just been X (some recently fired editor) who made them do it. But unlike Hal or Cassandra or even the JSA, Mary is not part of a franchise DC cares enough about to make any ret-con change.


I know what some people would say: "You're lucky she's appearing any where at all". But I don't feel that way. I would rather she never appeared, or was moved out of the DCU or was killed to become a "Black Lantern" than for a character who has represented goodness and light, a role model for teenage girls for over half a century (pre-dating almost all of DC's other female superheroes) turned into some kind of "edgy and dark" male fantasy. It's ironic that in light of Infinite Crisis, which was kind of a promise by the superheroes to the dying Superman, that the kind of hero that he believed in still existed, that DC would do this to a heroine I think we can all agree Kal-L would have admired. Mary’s not even my favorite character (that would go to Hal Jordan and Supergirl), but I always liked the idea that a character with the personality and sweetness of Mary could co-exist in a world with the Batman and the Joker. And now that's gone.. and for what ...character-wise she's right back where she started before the first issue of Countdown shipped, except now she's been tarnished - in the eyes of the other members of the DCU at least. Most readers, however, smarter than DC Editorial, will probably just pretend the Mary Marvel in Final Crisis never happened.




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14 Comments

  1. Anonymous |

    The long and short of it is, DC doesn't want us to have nice things.

    Thank you so much for your very thoughtful essay. I absolutely adored the Mary Marvel of the Fawcett days, and of the Superbuddies, and I was (and still am) devastated by how she's been handled of late. Senselessly ruining her character (not to mention her emotional health) has been the last straw for me, and I've given up on the writers at DC. Your essay summed up exactly how I feel about it perfectly. Thank you!!

     
  2. Jack Bennett |

    And thank you for your comment! Glad to see I'm not the only one who felt like this. As a matter of fact, I'm probably going to rewrite this one a little (if I have the time) to make it more coherent instead of just an over-the-top rant.

     
  3. Steves |

    Fantastic points.

    I've only slightly familiar with this Black Mary and all of this, but it sounds rather deplorable.

    Of course I enjoy the character designs and all that, but I certainly forgot how old she is supposed to be.

    It's rather unnerving how a rather pure character can be corrupted for, as you state, no real good reason. :/

     
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