Since late 2017, sexual harassment has been dominating cultural discussion in Hollywood and the media. Men are using their positions of power to exploit women and cover up heinous acts. Unfortunately, the comic industry is not immune to this, and has been hit with a string of high-profile incidents.
Not counting exclusionary hiring practices or purposefully sabotaging series from the starting line, which is no less problematic but more of a business concern; the incidents we know of are enough to give us pause and make active rectifications.
Starting from the top, Eddie Berganza’s pattern of misconduct as an editor of DC Comics. Allegations against Berganza have been around for decades, reported on in depth by Buzzfeed here, which could explain why so few women work on Superman titles, and gives weight to the rumor that Berganza was blackmailing someone at DC to keep his job. Regardless, DC finally fired him last year. AV Club has a great post detailing that, and why DC isn’t off the hook yet. The fact that he’s being dismissed by DC Comics now, after years of misconduct, demands more than a late firing. By letting Berganza engage in this behavior instead of firing him at the start, DC enabled his behavior and is complacent to the harm inflicted on his victims. How they handle the company going forward is up to them, but I hope they find some restitution.
In the same vein, one of DC’s most prominent showrunners (and an occasional writer for the company) has himself been fired for similar behavior as Berganza. Andrew Kreisberg found success in helping to establish the Arrowverse shows: Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl. While this is more of a Hollywood issue, Kreisberg worked heavily with DC before and after Arrow, which leads me to suspect this behavior didn’t magically happen after his TV career took off.
While allegations against Berganza and Kreisberg are vague to an extent, the ones against X-Men director and producer Bryan Singer are more detailed and disturbing. He’s been accused of using drugs and disappearing from the set while filming movies, assualting/raping underage men, organizing grotesque orgies with underage minors, and using his clout as a director to coerce his victims not to press charges or report his behavior. When an openly gay man in an highly conservative business is called “The epitome of White Privilege” , it’s a pretty damning assessment. Singer has faced two high profile incidents during his career that affected his work, forcing him to recuse himself during publicity for X-Men: Days of Future Past, and costing him the chance to direct the Freddy Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. With all of this information, it may be for the best that Disney gains control of the X-Men franchise so that Bryan Singer will be removed from associating with it.
While these examples are more or less cut-and-dried, we’re left with Brian Wood’s personal behavior against Tess Fowler, and his continued career with publisher Dark Horse along with his public writings discouraging people coming forward with accusations of assault for fear the people they accuse will commit suicide. In a tenuous connection, Tess Fowler also found herself drawing for a comic where the previous artist struck his wife and went to jail, only to be replaced by him a short time later. What do we do with these creators? Wood is a proven talent, which explains why Dark Horse continues to publish him. But do we consider that Fowler’s accusation is true? Exaggerated? Wood backs it up to a degree, but denies actually threats or physicality. Is it wrong to regard that meeting as a blip, that he learned from his mistake? Roc Upchurch went to jail for hitting his ex-wife, is that justice or should he be blacklisted? This is ultimately up to readers, pending more evidence against either Wood or Upchurch. It’s this murky territory that leads me to my final example, the man who invented Marvel Comics.
I’ve written before about the overhyping of Stan Lee, which is more about his professionalism in his writing for Marvel and how his collaborators failed to reach even a quarter of the same recognition or success. Stan Lee gets credited with creating Spider-Man, while Steve Ditko is the first artist. Lee has appeared in every Marvel movie, and book’s appearances at major comic cons, while Ditko has resigned himself to obscurity. However, recently Lee has been accused by his caretakers of walking around nude, groping them, and demanding oral sex. Lee and his lawyers deny these claims, and it puts Marvel Studios and fans in a predicament: If it’s true, Lee should stop being the spokesperson for their properties. Additionally, Lee’s age brings another aspect to consider: is this a product of his true personality, or a consequence of senility? Neither would excuse his behavior, but Lee is a ninety-five year old man. Many people should know that the ravages of time are not always kind to elders, and they may act inappropriately or out of character. Its part of why caring for them is so expensive and draining, they demand more attention and patience to a degree than children. It makes the accusations against Lee more plausible, but may require pause from readers. This behavior is unacceptable, no question, but I think its a different animal than what someone like Harvey Weinstein, who is fully cognizant of his actions and in control of his body, has done.
If there’s a takeaway I hope comes away from reading this, in addition to justice for women, victims of sexual assault, people working in comics; its that we stop idolizing men who commit these acts. We read and collect stories of people fighting for truth and justice, helping the little guy, protecting women from muggers and criminals, we should start taking their morals to heart. Not by dressing up in spandex and fighting crime, but by following their example in standing up for what’s right. Men who act in opposition to our heroic ideals, while profiting from them, shouldn’t be allowed to do so. It’s not about blacklisting this guy or that guy, it’s about we, as people with ethics and morals, living up to what Superman, Wonder Woman, the X-Men, etc fight for and have fought for since the forties and sixties. In a sense, nothing has changed really, except maybe a continued willingness to look the other way and hope someone else will take care of the problem.
How can we claim to love Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, the Justice League, and the Avengers, if we ourselves tolerate acts that would disgust our heroes? It’s time we do better. It’s time the world does better.