It's been difficult to hit the internet lately without coming across some mention or other of She-Hulk. Normally, this would be great - she's a terrific character, and one the Avengers movies could seriously do with. In this case, though, She-Hulk, aka Jennifer Walters, is in the news for all the wrong reasons, after a spectacularly ill-advised rant by David Goyer on the Scriptnotes podcast a little under a month ago.
Goyer, currently working on the script for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, referred to She-Hulk as, amongst other things, "the chick that you could f**k if you were Hulk", implying that her function within the Marvel universe is simply as an object of male fantasy.
The internet, of course, responded immediately, thanks in large part to TheMarySue.com transcribing the comments. Soon, comic luminaries started getting involved, culminating in the legendary Stan Lee implying that Goyer was "a nut."
Then, though, the controversy seemed to largely settle down - and Stan Lee even retracted his comments in a recent interview with PopStop TV:
I don’t want to get into a feud with David Goyer. I respect his ability, he’s very talented. I just happen to say, and I wasn’t thinking of him. I just happened to say, ‘Only a nut would think that about the She-Hulk.’ Unfortunately, that got printed all over the internet, and I probably made an enemy. I didn’t mean David Goyer was a nut, I meant only a nut would think that. Draw your own conclusions.
So, that's that. The matter's put to rest, right?
Well, not so much. If we take a closer look at everything that's happened, it looks as though all might still not be anywhere near alright.
David Goyer Puts His Foot So Far Into His Mouth He Can Taste Ankle
David Goyer's initial comments are worth reading, if only to get a full appreciation of how this controversy has blown up. After the podcast's host Craig Mazin had suggested that the "real name for She-Hulk was Slut-Hulk", Goyer launched into this tirade:
"I have a theory about She-Hulk. Which was created by a man, right? And at the time in particular I think 95% of comic book readers were men and certainly almost all of the comic book writers were men. So the Hulk was this classic male power fantasy. It’s like, most of the people reading comic books were these people like me who were just these little kids getting the s**t kicked out of them every day… And so then they created She-Hulk, right? Who was still smart… I think She-Hulk is the chick that you could f**k if you were Hulk, you know what I’m saying? … She-Hulk was the extension of the male power fantasy. So it’s like if I’m going to be this geek who becomes the Hulk then let’s create a giant green porn star that only the Hulk could f**k."
Which, looked at from a certain angle, is a relatively innocuous fan theory. Looked at another way, though, it's a pretty tight summary of all of the male power fantasies that Hollywood has a tendency to purvey - and not in a self-critical way. Goyer isn't analyzing himself, and wondering why he feels this way. He's redefining She-Hulk, a character created as a strong, independent woman, as someone defined by her gender and, Goyer suggests, her role as a sexual object. The fact that she's pretty much the best lawyer in the Marvel Universe went strangely unmentioned.
The Response is Deafening (and Strangely Silent)
The mainstream critical response to this? Livid, but not necessarily in the way you'd think. Kevin Smith's response to Goyer went like this:
You’re going to make comments like that, and you’re the person who is responsible for introducing Wonder Woman. That’s why there’s a lot of cats upset online.
Which is absolutely true. He also, however, quickly moved on from what he called "the icky girl stuff or whatever" to what he seemed to see as the bigger problem - Goyer's other contentious comments on that podcast.
Discussing J'onn J'onzz, aka The Martian Manhunter, and his role writing the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Goyer asked "How many people in the audience have heard of Martian Manhunter?” His response to those who answered positively? “How many people that raised their hands have ever been laid?”
Which is obviously a deeply offensive thing to say - especially coming from the writer of that particular film - but it's questionable whether it's in the same league as the Mad Men style misogyny of his previous comments. It's schoolyard bullying of the sort Goyer earlier suggests he was victim to, and it's clearly unacceptable - but it's worth noting that - and thinking about why - this anti-geek line was raised up as being problematic just as strongly as the sexist one.
Stan Lee Wades in, and Then Halfway Back Out
Stan Lee, though, who co-created She-Hulk with John Buscema back in 1980, was clearer with his feelings when he spoke to The Washington Post:
“I know I was looking for a new female superhero, and the idea of an intelligent Hulk-type grabbed me...Never for an instant did I want her as a love interest for Hulk. Only a nut would even think of that.”
Which is a valid point - and one that highlights that She-Hulk's identity is far more defined by her intellect than her gender - whatever her name might suggest. Lee, however, focuses more on Goyer's dubious implication that She-Hulk and The Hulk - whose alter-egos Jennifer Walters and Bruce Banner are cousins - were designed to be sexual partners.
Take another look at his later apology for the comment, though:
"I didn’t mean David Goyer was a nut, I meant only a nut would think that. Draw your own conclusions."
See how Lee doesn't actually apologize? He gives himself the out of reminding us that he didn't directly call Goyer a nut, but then reiterates that anyone who thinks the same as what Goyer expressed as his opinion is "a nut".
Even then, though, is Lee criticizing the general message behind what Goyer said, or just the implication of green, cousin-y incest? It's a little unclear.
In fact, it took acclaimed comic-book writer - and noted female - Gail Simone to actually come out with a strong, broad condemnation of Goyer's comments from the comic book world. Her lengthy, thoughtful and revealing twitter discussion of the matter is well worth reading here - and showcases the fact that to many, this isn't simply a case of Goyer making a tasteless joke.
What Does This All Mean, Though?
In short, though the Goyer furor has largely died down, this quietening doesn't necessarily mean that the issues have been resolved. As Simone puts it:
"It is no[t] new to have female characters undervalued and even ridiculed simply for being female."
It's an incredibly complicated issue, and Goyer may well be having his words taken out of their full context. It's possible that he is in fact deeply upset by the whole ordeal, and passionately believes in true gender equality, and in fighting sexism and misogyny wherever it appears.
What we know, though, is that what looks set to be the final chapter in this story is the news that a 92 year old man apologized to him for criticizing his comments.
Except, y'know, not so much.
[Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice](movie:711870), written by David Goyer, is set for release May 6, 2016.
What do you guys think? Should Stan Lee apologize to David Goyer?