Zamaron — A Green Lantern Femme-Site











{July 23, 2006}   Not Unless You Mean It: Some Arisia Analysis

Since my posting record is growing increasingly pathetic in comparison to that of my distinguished peers, I figured it was high time I did a post of my own. While I was bouncing ideas around, Ragnell suggested I do an Arisia-related post. The advantage of this is that I have a lot to say about Arisia. The disadvantage– well, it’s also that I have a lot to say about Arisia. So the challenge, here, is finding a balance between saying what I want to say, and not going off on too many tangents, and if I continue this paragraph any further I’ll probably end up doing just that.

Ultimately, I decided to narrow my focus down to two particular issues– #205 and #206 of GL v2. For those of you, like myself, who have trouble associating a random number with a random event, these two issues mark the beginning of the Hal/Arisia romance. They also skeeved me out but good, which is why I decided they were worthy of analysis.

Interestingly enough, upon re-read, I found that #205 and #206 were not irredeemably skeevy material. The events in the story do make for a very problematic set-up, but the climax of the story presents a choice: Hal and Arisia’s choice to pursue a relationship. Unfortunately (and I say this from over here on my feminist soapbox) I think Englehart ended up making the wrong choice for the characters.

But, before I’d like to get into the ends of the story, I’d like to discuss its means.

A basic summary, just to start us off: Hal and Arisia fight Black Hand, who siphons away the 24 hours of their rings’ power supplies, and throws them down a mining shaft. Once they’re stuck underground, Hal notices that Arisia has suddenly grown into adulthood. They discuss the probable causes and conclude that Arisia’s love for Hal in combination with her power ring has subconsciously aged her. Then, a mountain lion attacks, which Arisia fights off. When the rest of the GLC of Earth shows up to rescue the both of them, they find Hal and Arisia making out in each other’s arms.

And now, in no particular order, the things I find problematic about these issues:

1. Inconsistency with Previous Continuity

Okay, I don’t expect my comics to stay precisely consistent all the time, because continuity is a huge tangled monster that no one writer can tackle all at once. On the other hand, it’s important that a writer makes clear what she or he is retconning, because otherwise, it can lead to messiness.

Previous to Englehart’s run, Arisia had pretty much been the GL Corps’s resident teenager. She was as strong-willed as the rest of them, but both her appearance and personality was roughly that of a fourteen-year-old girl. This was especially noteworthy in her interactions with other Lanterns, where she would take on the “kid sister” role.

Now, what I think Englehart was trying to say was that now, according to his retcon, Arisia was actually considered an adult by her planet’s standards (a 28-year-old, to be exact), and thought of herself as an adult. Englehart has apparently claimed that his message was supposed to be that appearances don’t matter. But in that context, this dialogue makes things confusing. If it was only Arisia’s appearance that made her inappropriate for Hal, then why make the point about her mind maturing as well? Shouldn’t her mind already be mature?

2. Conflicted Iconography

Comics are a visual medium, so the visual element also needs to be taken into account in the storytelling. Even if the message of the story is that “appearances don’t matter”, the fact is, in comics, that they do.

The problem with Arisia’s character design is that even when she grows up, there’s still a childishness to her appearance. Even within the context of the book itself, Hal doesn’t at first notice that she’s physically grown up.

There’s no doubt that Arisia is drawn as rather fairy- or pixie-like, with the pointed ears, the short but feminine haircut, and the short skirt. In Western culture, fairies and pixies have a pretty strong tie to the concept of childhood. In fact, one might note that perhaps a close cousin in design to Arisia would be Disney’s version of Tinkerbell– the fairy companion to the boy who refuses to grow up.

So, while the text isn’t clear on whether Arisia’s mind was mature already or has just recently matured, the artwork has the potential to further confuse the reader.

3. Reinforcement of a Power Imbalance

When writing an older character and a younger character, it’s easy to fall back on the innocence/experience dichotomy when writing their interaction. On the other hand, when you’re writing an older character and a younger character in a romantic context, the same dichotomy gets a little sketchier. When not addressed directly by the text, this dichotomy can resonate more with old-school patriarchal ideals of the protective man and protected woman, rather than the modern-day ideal of an equal partnership.

By reinforcing innocence/experience in the realm of superhero activities and in the sexual realm, Englehart also reinforces a power imbalance between Hal and Arisia. The ways in which he does this all make sense as individual events within the context of the issue, but when these events are piled on top of each other, they begin to look a bit sexist. Here’s a few examples I can think of off the top of my head:

-Before they fight Black Hand, Arisia claims that she is coming to Hal with her problems because he is “the greatest GL in the cosmos.” While this is standard dialogue for Hal’s supporting cast, it’s a little disturbing that Arisia would have such an elevated (think “pedestal”, not just “good opinion”) view of the man she has considered as a potential romantic partner.

-During the fight with Black Hand, the fact that Arisia has not fought Black Hand before is what causes her to end up making the crucial mistake that gets her and Hal thrown down into the mining shaft.

-When trapped in the mining shaft and comparing their romantic histories, Hal lists off five ex-girlfriends (and that’s not even the full canonical list), and Arisia can cite no previous experience with a boyfriend. While this is fairly in character for both of them, I’d feel a little better if Arisia was at least allowed to cite a grade-school crush! The other thing that bothered me about this, admittedly, was that it seemed to reinforce the old stud/slut double standard, if unintentionally.

4. Paging Dr. Freud!

A final problematic aspect to the way Englehart sets up Hal and Arisia as a couple is in the way Arisia’s forced aging shows parallels to Everyone’s Favorite Outdated Misogynistic Diagnosis, female hysteria.

When Hal first points out to Arisia that she has suddenly become “a woman”, Arisia’s first response is to shriek and go into hysterics. Hal, then, after slapping her to get her to stop, immediately moves on to patronizing dialogue: she’s a healthy, growing girl, and nothing was ever wrong in the first place. In a way, Hal and Arisia’s conclusion that the aging was caused by Arisia’s attraction to Hal bears a striking resemblance to the way 19th Century doctors assumed that “hysterical women” were sexually desperate.

Now, with all of this problematic set-up in place, we reach the climax of the issue: Hal and Arisia’s underground fight with the mountain lion.

5. The Choice

The comic itself will summarize this better than I can, so I’ll link to the scans for you.

One

Two

Three

First, Hal slips into standard superheroic chivalry mode, but Arisia manages to hold her own and save Hal’s life, to boot. And then, to put the sprinkles onto the ice cream sundae, she tells him not to lead her on romantically. Truly, I think to myself, this is a Most Excellent Feminist Statement.

If the story had ended there, I would have been a happy camper. After all, Arisia seemed to need the time to contemplate everything that happened to her, and reassess her life from there. Then, well, if Arisia actually was a mature adult, and things were working out with Hal… no problem! Maybe then they could have a chance.

Unfortunately, the 19th century cure for 19th century female hysteria is sexual contact.

In the following issues of GLC, Hal and Arisia remain happily, sappily in love. Their rushed, reckless decision is never addressed, and therefore appears to be condoned. Perhaps it’s the pacing of the issue that got to me more than anything else– if I’d been given more time (maybe a year?) to know that Arisia is an adult capable of standing on her own two feet, with or without Hal, I might have been considerably less weirded out.

Englehart could have– and almost did– showed us that good, conscientious decision-making is what makes a person an adult. Instead, the only impression I got from his text was the shallow myth that sex and romance= automatic adulthood. And that’s not a message that our society needs, I don’t think.

Seeing as this post is long enough, I’m going to end it here. I do have a sequel in mind, though, about Arisia’s untapped potential, so hopefully y’all will be looking forward to it.



Ragnell says:

Ack! He hit her. He hit her!

Anyway, awesome analysis, man Englehart has a lot fo answer for. From what I can gather from the current writer — this story, as we know it, will be gone. Everyone Hal killed as Parallax is now back to life, I’d bet money he’s swapped this around so that a different choice was made or Arisia was unrecognizable or something.



soyoerika says:

Ragnell — Glad you liked the analysis! In some contexts, I’d say that it’d be perfectly okay for a male superhero to hit a female superhero in a “pull yourself together” manner, since the female superhero often technically has the ability to hit back just as hard. This is NOT one of those contexts, AT ALL, considering Arisia is going through rapid changes she herself can hardly comprehend, and because it furthers the subtext of hysteria. A gentle shake to the shoulders might have been more appropriate. Maybe.

As for Englehart, between this and the Star Sapphire story, I’m beginning to theorize that he takes a fairly shallow, psychoanalytic approach to gender– like he’s read a bit in an encyclopedia about Freud and Jung, and splashed it into his books without doing follow-up research. And now if I remember correctly, there may have been a GL v2 issue where Arisia says that Hal reminds her of her father…

I do apolgize for this post taking on a slight negativity towards the end, and I promise I’ll post some happy thoughts next time. But how much happier would this issue have been if it hadn’t ended the way it did?



Ragnell says:

Not just the hysteria thing, it’s the hitting your significant other deal. It’s one thing when its Carol as Star Sapphire and they are in a battle, but it happens too much in GL when they’re not in a real battle. Jade hit Kyle, Hal hit Arisia, and I’m sure I saw Hal hit Rose at one point. Too casual.

That’s cool. It’s hard to cover Englehart’s run without adding some negative impressions. You can take Ron Marz and Denny O’Neill’s runs and do it. You can certainly do it with Broome and Fox, but I’ve yet to read an Englehart GL story that didn’t have issues with is.

I know I said I wanted to lean positive, but I don’t want to give up thinking, y’know.



SallyP says:

I know! It wasn’t Hal, it…it was Parallax! ‘Cause Parallax is a
PERV!
At least Arisia didn’t say “thanks, I needed that!” after Hal belted her.
And just for the record…Guy never hit Ice. Ever.



Guitcho says:

Yikes! I stopped reading GL and most comics some time after Crisis 1985, Hal was always a peripheral favorite. I only got back into them recently with the return of Hal and the Corps. I felt my abandoning Green Lantern had a hand in its downfall, and was coming back to it, but wow!
I had no idea this story had taken place. The aging thing is just a convoluted mess, I can’t believe this is the same Arisia that was his little sister. What were they thinking? And him hitting her is unbelievable, it’s so off-putting it almost makes me not want to buy the current series. It’s just that bad…yuck! I honestly can’t look at the character the same. Actually, I just don’t want to.:(



Ragnell says:

I think this story is why Arisia needed to come back, actually. A lot of the pro-Parallax readers (people who think Hal should be a villain) use this as an example of his bad behavior. It’s something Johns needs to bring to the surface and straighten out. I expect if we don’t get an immediate retcon in GL#13, we’re in for one that makes the whole thing less confusing.

I’m not sure why people are worried about seeing Geoff Johns address this storyline in the current series. He characteristically retcons away the actual wrongdoing other writers have written in, while emphasizing and punishing the character flaws that have always been there, but that few other writers have treated as character flaws. I’m thrilled it’s being brought up again. It can be finally retconned or explained away!



[…] As time went on, the writers aged Arisia. One writer thought she would make an excellent love interest for Hal Jordan, and so rapid-aged her in a somewhat squicky storyline so she could date him. She got a new outfit that emphasized her elfin as alien (shown here in Green Lantern Corps #201), made then elven features instead, so that she could simply be a race that looks somwhat childish instead of a child from an alien race. Arisa: The White Costume […]



[…] That costume to me is still filed under “stuff a teenaged girl thinks adult women wear.” Arisia’s entire character arc is about maturity. This is not good. Because as much as Geoff Johns might work to retcon away the old story, the next writer could very well be of the “I prefer Arisia as a teenager” camp and undo it. That means the stigma of the Hal-Arisia relationship is back in full force. An immature outfit can only help that to happen. The last thing that needs to be near Arisia is teenaged girl logic. […]



[…] the character of Arisia, a 13-year-old GL with some serious daddy issues. She developed a crush on Hal, and in Green Lantern #205 and 206, she used her ring to physically mature her body so Hal would like her back. That link has a better analysis of the situation than we could manage, so go enjoy […]



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