Monday, 15 July 2013

Measuring The Movement #3

Or wait, you mean Vengeance Moth isn't the techie?
By Gail Simone, Freddie Williams II, and Chris Sotomayor; DC Comics

I've been trying out The Movement recently because I desperately miss the bolus of madness and empathy that is the writing of Gail Simone. Particularly, the writing of Gail Simone on an ensemble book of unstable, desperate characters. And by that I mean, I miss Secret Six. Still. Every week. I miss it. And so I thought I try out The Movement, a comic about a ragtag group of marginalized people fighting back, Occupy style, against the authorities that ignore them. It's not quite Secret Six, and it's still growing into itself, but The Movement is pretty good.

It's definitely winning me over.

In Movement #3, Vengeance Moth, a wheelchair using team member whom we have never seen in action, reveals that she is not the techie member of The Movement. And she does so in a way that points out that assuming every character in a wheel chair is a super genius is pretty problematic and dumb. She tells us, in a roundabout way, to check our privilege and stop being ableist.

And oh man! I was totally guilty of assuming Vengeance Moth was the tech-savvy force behind The Movement.

But, I think there is more to my assumption than just being ableist, and I think it might be worth unpacking.

If I'm being completely honest, I am a little guilty of assuming Vengeance Moth would be an intellectual character due to her mobility issues. A character in a wheelchair has certain logistical limitations that make them maybe not the best candidates for parkour-esque motion through a cityscape or superheroic brawls. But limited mobility doesn't interfere with a person's mind, so it makes sense that she could contribute to the team in other ways. And, I mean, there is a precedent for this kind of approach with wheelchair using characters: the two most prominent characters with spinal injuries are Professor Xavier, a powerful telepath, and Oracle, an information technology specialist and hacker. But this kind of assumption is still pretty shitty and limiting and ableist. It's certainly food for thought, and for what its worth, I'm sorry I made it.

(Incidentally, the assumption that wheelchair using characters have to have a passive role in a superheroic team is also pretty dumb. Cape comics are complete, unadulterated fantasy, and literally ANYTHING is possible. There is no reason why a character who uses a wheelchair can't also be a fight-'em-up superhero. I mean, Daredevil is a blind acrobatic vigilante. Or Calamity, an athlete who had both his legs amputated who uses prosthetics to be a superspeedster, and Supernaut, a paralzyed war veteran who pilots a walking tank, from The Order. Or Komodo from The Avengers Initiative, a brilliant life scientist who had both legs amputated above the knee who transforms into a lizard lady. So really, it is just as likely that Vengeance Moth is a powerful telekinetic who can animate her legs or that she can turn into a giant Mothra monster.)

However, I think there are very real story reasons to think that Vengeance Moth was the tech-savvy member of The Movement.

To understand why we have to go back to The Movement #1, starting with the cover. The cover to this issue shows us all of the core team members of The Movement (at least so far). Going left to right we have Catharsis, Burden, Vengeance Moth, Virtue, Tremor, and Mouse. If you look carefully, you can make out a wheelchair handle behind Vengeance Moth. This is actually the only indication that Vengeance Moth uses a wheelchair in this issue.

(Which, I totally didn't see on my first pass of this comic! Unless a cover is really great (like Hawkeye #8), I barely look at it.)

The Movement #1 quickly establishes that The Movement (the team) is tech-savvy. We see ancillary-Movement protestors wearing silvery masks with small cameras imbedded in them and hold up phones displaying "i.c.u" on them. The implication being that the protestors are recording, and presumably broadcasting, the actions of the police caught on tape. And this, I think, suggests a certain level of skill: someone had to assemble the masks, and set up the wireless recording/broadcasting infrastructure. And all of this seems pretty integral to The Movements plans, so important in fact that we see the above scene BEFORE meeting any of The Movement. Which, I feel, if only in the conventions of team comics way, suggests that one of the core team members will be good at computers.

So, assuming that one of the core team members, displayed on the cover is a tech expert, I read the rest of the issue trying to deduce who the tech expert is. And this is what is shown in the first issue:

Virtue: is the leader of the team, and the moral compass of it. She has psychic/emotion powers. While she COULD be the tech, there is no evidence for it, and adding that to her other story duties seems like A LOT. So I assume its not her.

Catharsis: is the heavy of the team. She is hot-headed, strong, good at fighting, and has mechanical wings. She seems also to fit into the role of advocating for a more direct, violent from of protest for the Movement. She also does not display tech skill and doesn't have the temperament typically associated with being a techie. Also, the idea of camera-masks seems much to passive for her direct approach to protesting. So I assume it isn't her.

Tremor: has the power to make earthquakes and vibrations. She is very reserved and advocates for passive, moral high-ground protesting. While I don't see any reason why she couldn't be the tech character, there is absolutely no evidence for it yet in the comic. So I assume it isn't her either.

Mouse: is kind of a mouse-guy, I think? He has the power to control rats (or maybe rodents). He clearly shows a big kind heart, loves his rats, and may also be part rat. He very clearly has a perspective that is quite alien to most humans and is quite rodenty in attitude. I think it would be very, very unlikely that he is the tech character as he seems not at all suited to that kind of thinking.

Burden: turns into a demon, apparently. He was apparently raised in a religiously restrictive household and blames himself for his transformations. He may also maybe suffer from schizophrenia? As such, it he does not seem well suited to being a tech specialist. But beyond that, he is recruited to the team during the first issue which takes place AFTER the tech infrastructure has been established. So it can't be him.

Vengeance Moth: does not appear in the first issue. By process of elimination form The Movement #1, she is likely the tech character. And her absence supports this: Vengeance Moth might not be in the fight depicted in The Movement #1 because her role is more supportive/passive... like a tech specialist. And when you finally meet her, realize she uses a wheelchair and looks an awful lot like dearly retconned-out Oracle, it just supports the assumption. I mean, she has spectacles (which are often used as a visual symbol of intelligence in comics), has a laptop sized backpack, and yeah, she uses a wheelchair (which is at least associated with Oracle, the most prominent information technology expert in comics), so she looks like she might be the tech character.

I guess what I am trying to explain here is that the shape of the comic suggests that Vengeance Moth is the techie and that, more than her use of a wheelchair, was why I assumed she was the tech specialist of the team. I mean, I assumed she was the tech expert before I even realized she used a wheelchair.

Of course, there is still one more, not story-related reason for thinking Vengeance Moth is a techie. And that is Gail Simone.  Gail Simone is the writer, more than any other, who brought to life Oracle, the former Batgirl turned tech-guru following a paralyzing spinal injury. Oracle,  a character who was removed from continuity by the DC reboot and who was never properly replaced. (And honestly, I still think turning Oracle back into Batgirl was a pretty misguided choice: Female-Batman is a much less interesting concept than woman-overcomes-horrific-experience/injury-to-continue-doing-good.) Vengeance Moth therefore, at least superficially looked like maybe Gail Simone was trying to reintroduce an Oracle like character back into the DCU. Which, would be kind of great, wouldn't it?

And honestly, after learning she used a wheelchair but before I learned her name was Vengeance Moth, I kind of assumed she was literally the new Oracle.

So while there are certainly ableist reasons for assuming Vengeance Moth has to be a supergenius, there are also compelling story reasons and broader comics contextual reasons for believing she is probably the tech specialist of The Movement.

Regardless, we should all check our privilege and try not to make assumptions, no matter how well founded.

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