Years before Gail Simone would become a well-known and well-regarded comic book writer, she wrote a website that brought her a little infamy, introduced a new phrase to the entertainment industry that will outlast her, and shone a light on an aspect of comics that some were finding rather uncomfortable.
It was called Women In Refrigerators. The thesis was this, that a trend was emerging that female characters seemed suddenly to be getting short shrift in comic books, generally maimed, raped, killed or depowered, often purely it seemed as a plot point for a male character to react against. And yet people were wondering why more women weren’t buying superhero comics.
Gail summarised it using the case of Alex DeWitt, the then-girlfriend of Green Lantern Kyle Raynor being murdered by Major Force, and her body found, dismembered in the kitchen fridge. Something, it seemed, intended to make Kyle angry. And that’s why the character was killed off.
In 1999 Gail forwarded the initial list of characters undergoing such treatment around the industry asking for comments. She collated those comments as well. Some which seem quite odd given current circumstances. Such as Mark Millar’s
this is something people should probably watch out for, but rape is a rare thing in comics and is seldom done in an exploitative way.
He forget to add the word “yet”. There was much debate, some people stating that terrible things happen to male characters too (though as was also pointed out, they were usually reversed, and far fewer), creators defended their own work, others invoking “mea culpa” and the phrase became one used at editorial.
Some people used it, critically, for every action against a female character, which it was never intended to be. It was to describe a very specific trend at a very specific time.
Of course one of the bigger post-Women in Refrigerators incidents was the DC series Identity Crisis in which it was revealed that supporting wife character Sue Dibny had been raped by Dr Light and then murdered years later. Only for it to be revealed that it was supporting wife character Jean Loring driven to insanity that had murdered her.
Identity Crisis assistant editor Valerie D’Orazio wrote about her uncomfortableness with the series and that those plot points were handed to Meltzer to work with. She also highlighted one moment when the artwork arrived and an editor shouted “the rape pages are in!”, combined with her own experiences of sexual harrassment at the publisher.
And of late there have been some very positive moves in this regard. More female characters with their own books. Marvel pursuing a serious feminisation of its line, with more lead female books, team books and female creators than ever before.
So why open the fridge door again? Well, last week’s edition of Green Lantern Corps by Pete Tomasi has brought it all flooding back, by bringing Alex DeWitt back from the dead.
But still in the refrigerator.
Yes, that’s right, Kyle Rayner fighting a fridge in space. And then inside the fridge. I showed Gail the scene and she told me;
I think that scene is pretty funny, actually… that’s a fair response to the WiR phenomenon… I’m hoping that fridge gets a mini-series or a spot on the Teen Titans.
For some this might be the conclusion of Blackest Night putting all the grimmest’n’grittiest of superhero comics back in the box in time for Brightest Day by excising a few demons along the way.
Or it may be business as usual. Any guesses as to where we may see the fridge next? After all, Indiana Jones taught us they can survive nuclear explosions…