“The Spirit of Hatred or the Spirit of Love”:

The American Superhero Comics of Mark Millar, Part 27

The last stand of Lady Jane, from Swamp Thing #167 by Millar, Hester, DeMulder et al.

Continued from last week.

Other aspects of Millar’s closing tilt at Swamp Thing were less praiseworthy. Though the final arc appears to show little of the swaggering misogyny that saturated his earliest work for 2000AD, the playing out of both plot and theme are largely left to the story’s many male characters. This is particularly obvious when it comes to Millar’s warring Lodges. Opting not to represent female Masons from either mixed-sex or women-only lodges, Millar ended up packing his cast with a considerable number of magically-adept blokes. By contrast, conflict and in particular combat for Millar’s few powerful and brave female characters prove to be a distinctly catastrophic business.  Where even the more dastardly of the book’s male antagonists survive to prosper in the new millennium of empathy and peace, the earth elemental Lady Jane is burned horribly to death in her final battle. Even though Swamp Thing’s daughter Tefe does succeed in spectacularly defeating The Word, she’s then dismembered by her father in what’s perhaps the run’s most disconcerting sequence. Those women who do manage to reach the promised land at the story’s end have either, like Abigail Arcane, decided to passively trust to faith or, like the messianic Star-Child’s mother Maggie, been protected by the powers-that-be.  Though Millar’s tale doesn’t lack for interesting female characters, it is at its heart a story about men and men’s redemption.

The murder of Tefe, from Swamp Thing #170, by Millar, Hester, DeMulder et al.

The arc given by Millar to the Star-Child and his unwitting mother is a clear example of this, and of far more disturbing matters too. Created, it appears, by the deplorable elemental Parliaments and their allies in the womb of an unknowing New York “virgin,” the Star-Child was intended to be the “first of a new more intelligent species” that would soon replace humankind.  In what’s an obviously appalling and protracted assault, the foetus is imposed upon its unsuspecting host without the slightest suggestion of consultation or consent. It’s a violation that Swamp Thing at the height of his corruption enthusiastically embraces. Yet for all that the gestating creature is presented as a fearsome prospect for humanity, the conspiracy’s transgressions against the mother are entirely ignored. Her voice is conspicuously and – to say the least – disturbingly absent from the narrative.  As such, she exists only as the briefly-shown form in which a monster is growing, and her experiences and rights are entirely absent from the page.

"Madonna & Christ-Child?," from Swamp Thing #171, by Millar, Hester, DeMulder et al.

When Swamp Thing later rejects the scheme to eradicate humanity, he takes it upon himself to transforms the foetus – again without any discussion or assent from the mother – from an inhuman creature to a messiah for the 21st century.  Yet at no point does Millar discuss the fact that Maggie has been once again horrendously exploited without any trace of a say in her own fate.  It’s a particularly sinister business, given that, in her only extended conversation in the book, she was given to declare that she hated kids and wanted nothing to do with maternity. Yet somehow Swamp Thing’s decision to unilaterally alter the nature of the child is depicted as a noble and admirable act rather than the continuation of a horrifying programme of abuse. The boy that Swamp Thing creates is, we’re assured by a rehabilitated El Senor Blake, “born to unite the world”, and Millar’s script suggests that his mother’s rights and previous wishes are, as a result, entirely irrelevant. Philip Hester’s art even depicts the silent, dozing mother, slumbering in the company of her newly-born child, in a distinctly beatific light; that she’s assumed the role of the mother of god seems to be the clearest of messages. That she’d be more-than-happy to be so supposedly blessed appears to have been taken for granted by Millar.

Evil Swamp Thing collaborates in Maggie's abuse, from Swamp Thing #171, by Millar, Hester, DeMulder et al.

The six male Masons who are present at the birth regard the occasion as nothing but the cause for “celebration.” Regardless of whether they’d collaborated in the mother’s impregnation or not, the once-warring sorcerers are now united in anticipation of the blessings that the Star-Child will bring. But the truth is, allusions to Mary and Jesus notwithstanding, that the Star-Child’s mother has had her body and her life brutally commandeered by both the elemental Parliaments and then the supposedly heroic Swamp Thing. Though the latter is presented by the end of Millar’s run as a totally reformed character, his actions towards her suggest anything but. Despite claiming to now be without “the last traces of my human ego”, Swamp Thing has thought nothing of reducing Maggie to the status of a choiceless incubator.

Even with the birth completed, her future appears to one in which her options are at the very least severely constrained. As Millar writes;

“The Star-Child has been expected for a number of years, and careful preparations have already been made for his future.”

Once again, nothing at all is mentioned about his mother’s involvement in these ominously “careful preparations”, and, once again, her role is presented as that of the passive, helpless, silent, and obedient servant.  As if all of that wasn’t disturbing enough, Millar then lets it be known that the “girl” has named her child “Alec”, after Swamp Thing himself. It’s as disturbingly close as can be to a rape-victim respectfully and gratefully naming the resulting child after her rapist.

To be continued.

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Colin Smith is currently Q Magazine’s comics columnist and blogs at Too Busy Thinking About My Comics and on Tumbler.

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