Friday, July 10, 2015

Why I Love Tigra (And Hate Almost Everything That Was Ever Done With Her)

For those of you unfamiliar with Tigra, she's...well, she's pretty darned awesome. She's part of a late-Stan Lee wave of comics created to appeal to girls, because the romance genre was dying and nothing was really cropping up to take its place. So Stan, in conjunction with pretty much everyone in Marvel at the time because this was late-period Stan Lee and he really just came up with loose ideas and handed them off to people, came up with characters like "Shanna the She-Devil" and "She-Hulk" and "The Cat", and let them loose on Marvel. The Cat, who later got actual cat powers under Tony Isabella, was an explicitly-coded feminist crimefighter who was actually given the first name Greer in what I have to believe is a shout of, "Hey everybody! Germaine Greer, please give us likes on whatever the 1972 equivalent of Facebook is!"

She was cool when she was the Cat, and she became even cooler and more awesome when she became an actual cat person with claws and fangs and started calling herself Tigra. Feminist cat-woman who was a walking Cuisinart to supervillains? Yeah, sign me up! What kind of awesome adventures did she have?

Well, for starters she got literally collared by Kraven the Hunter and mind-controlled into fighting Spider-Man. So there's that. Yeah. Feminist hero, controlled by the alpha-malest of alpha male supervillains with a literal collar around her neck because that's not symbolic of anything, rescued by a male superhero. Okay, that's not, y'know, awkward. What else?

Well, she did join the Avengers! Yay! Unfortunately, writer Steve Englehart (who, you may recall, also wrote a storyline for the Fantastic Four and its spin-offs where Ben Grimm's girlfriend, the new Ms Marvel, was sexually assaulted and became a misandrist who brutalized male supervillains) wrote a story where her "cat side" was taking over, causing her to (among other things) literally rub up against her teammates all the time in search of affection. So that's a thing that happened.

But Englehart had her overcome it through cat-person magic! And she even got a tail, which looked really good on her. Yay for her being realized as a more complete character and ditching a weird slut-shaming storyline where her nature forces her to be promiscuous!

Oh. It appears that John Byrne took over as writer and had her revert to her feline nature even more strongly to the point where she literally turned into a mindless, feral beast and Hank Pym shrunk her down and kept her in a cage so she wouldn't hurt anyone. John Byrne, same guy who worked on the Kraven story. And who made a big deal about Sue Richards "demolishing" straw-woman feminists by telling them she was proud to be a homemaker. Taking an explicitly coded feminist character and having a male character best known at the time for spousal abuse literally keep her in a cage.

But she did eventually recover from that, and went off to have adventures in space for a while. So that's good, then, right? And she even played a major role in an Avengers crossover, rescuing the whole team because the Kree underestimated her as...the weakest member of the team...okay, look, given everything I've summed up above, this is clearly not the worst thing that anyone's ever done with the character, but..."the weakest member of the team"? Were Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Captain America, the Falcon, and pretty much every other Avenger who's not inhumanly agile, strong, and capable of rending flesh with their retractable talons off that day?

But at the end of that crossover, she came back to Earth and rejoined the Avengers in their post-Civil War, everyone's an Avenger because not being an Avenger would be illegal phase. She served as an Avenger with distinction, except that she got mind-controlled by the Puppet Master and used as one of his "elite guards" who were all brainwashed women. At least this time she got rescued by Ms Marvel instead of a dude again.

It was around here that she started dating Hank Pym, who let's not forget is primarily remembered for his spousal abuse and who writer Brian Michael Bendis is on the record as thinking of as a terrible human being. But it was a Skrull impersonator, so that's alright then? I guess?

Oh, and then a bunch of supervillains broke into her apartment and beat her savagely, and videotaped it to show other superheroes what would happen to them if they resisted the Hood's gang.

Goddammit, comics.

While each individual event in this history can be explained away, and while there are certainly other stories not on this list that have treated the character well (I liked the way she was used in Marvel Adventures, even if I was a little uncomfortable at seeing her turned into a naive young superhero taken under Wolverine's wing--hey, it's still better than anything Bendis did with her) it's hard to escape the fact that when you do a pattern analysis of Tigra's history in comics, it's very clear that she's a character who started out explicitly, textually feminist and was treated very badly in subsequent stories by writers who've seemed to have issues with women in general. This is not to say that Byrne, Englehart, Bendis et al have literally been using a feminist character as a punching bag because they want to work out some of their aggressions about feminism in a fictional space, but damn does it hint strongly at it.

I would like Tigra to be used better. Better and more often, because I think she's awesome and could headline her own book and I'm not just saying that because I love cats and I love feminists and she's both in one awesome package, but mainly better. Less sexualized, to the extent that you can desexualize a character who wears a bikini (for the record, I don't think that's sexist, because it's a long-established and entirely sensible trope of the genre that furry characters of all genders wear less clothing because they have fur), and certainly less the subject of male subjugation and sexualized violence. I think this is a doable goal, and I think that anyone using Tigra should think on this carefully before they decide what to do with her, because I really don't want to have to update this in a few years' time.


CalvinPitt said...

One other questionable moment I remember, courtesy of Bendis naturally, was a scene where Jarvis - a Skrull imposter, but still, someone trying to effectively imitate Jarvis - tells Stark that he'll quit if Stark lets Tigra back on the team. Except Jarvis tacks a 4-letter expletive on after he name, which, even if there was any indication jarvis didn't like Tigra, and I don't think there was prior to that, he'd never use that kind of language to describe her. But, you know, Bendis.

Anyway, I like Tigra, too, and I do wish she'd get better use. I did like parts of Engelhart's West Coast Avengers run, especially after she got the feline side under control. The stretch where she, Hawkeye, Stark, and Wonder Man are lost in time, and Tigra's the one having to keep Tony and Simon from each other's throats was pretty good. Hopefully someone will come along with a good pitch for her soon, or she can at least land in a good team book.

Anonymous said...

There was that wonderful scene when she helped The Rhino out by faking a fight with him just so that he could try to quit his criminal life.