Devin Grayson, famous for her runs on various Bat-family titles in the 90s and 00s, most notably Nightwing, gave an exclusive interview to The Batman Universe yesterday, and it was chock full of interesting stuff. First, Grayson addressed criticism that Tarantula was a Mary Sue:
TBU: The Tarantula character was attacked by fans for being a "Mary Sue". Do you feel her character was misunderstood? What were your original plans for Tarantula, and did you end up doing what you always intended with the character?
Devin Grayson: Oh, good, let’s talk about this. First of all, can we separate the words “attacked” and “fans”? People who attack someone’s work are not usually their fans.
Secondly, try to imagine a female writer creating a female character that becomes involved with the male protagonist of a series and is subsequently not accused of Mary-Sueing. I’m making up verbs, but I am not making up the fact that pretty much every female character ever introduced by a female writer into a series with a male protagonist has been called a Mary Sue. It’s a knee-jerk misogynistic reaction that my female colleagues and I have all learned to live with and that my male colleagues have never confronted (with the possible exception of Marv Wolfman concerning Terry Long). And it’s frustrating on multiple levels. Mostly because of the predictability of it, and the harm it does—female writers are called upon to create more female characters, but when we do and it’s met with that kind of response, it’s counterproductive—and also because of the assumptions it makes about the writer and the whitewash it throws over the character.
For those of you reading this who have ever accused a professional of creating a Mary Sue, think about what you’re really saying. It’s not truly a comment on the character, beyond the indication that you don’t care to learn anything about her. It’s a comment on the creator, about whom you are suggesting the following: 1) she’s not professional enough to separate her personal life from her work (and/or not sane enough to distinguish fiction from reality/ derive satisfaction from her actual life), 2) she’s not talented enough to create a character based on anyone other than herself, 3) her work does not need to be taken seriously because she’s essentially just using it as a masturbatory exercise, and 4) females are only capable of seeing themselves in female characters, which also implies that the writer in question may not have an authentic connection with the male characters she’s writing.
For the record, I have never wanted to be romantically involved with Dick Grayson. Like most of the readers following his exploits, I wanted to be him, not do him. He would make a terrible boyfriend, which is actually part of what his relationship with Tarantula explored—he was involved with Babs while that was going on and would have declared with utter sincerity that he loved Barbara at any point in that debacle (and yes, that relationship was deliberately a debacle). Worse, he would have meant it. One of the (obviously too many) issues I was trying to look at there was the tension between Dick’s laser focus—wherever he is and whatever he’s doing, he’s 100% on it, which is part of what makes him so effective—and his romantic restlessness. Most of the people in his life are very protective over him and, in their own ways, very accommodating of his inexorable energy level. They understand that he comes and goes and that when you have him with you, he’ll do absolutely anything for you to the full extent that he is capable of doing it (which will often be superheroic), but that he will eventually be compelled to go help someone else. So if you have someone who has to save everybody, and has to bring his full focus to bear on everything he does and every interaction he has, and if he’s inherently loyal but also relentlessly energetic and itinerant by nature—what happens when he finds himself trying to help someone who does not share his morals, does not have his best interest at heart and is not above physical manipulation? That’s Catalina.
She also addressed one of the most talked about moments of her Nightwing run, the rape of Nightwing by Tarantula:
I was wrong. I messed that one up and I apologize. My interview comments were uninformed and ignorant and I’m grateful for the chance to revisit the issue.
Rape culture and the mindboggling stupid and insensitive comments some comic creators have recently made about it have been in the news a lot lately and I reject the assertion—put forth in some of those interviews—that as creators we passively reflect society and have no actual influence over it. But I do admit that it can be difficult to filter through cultural currents with the sensitivity and thoughtfulness they deserve. Our work should never be inattentively influenced by our social prejudices, but we, as humans and creators, often are.
I used a literal rape as a metaphorical nadir, and I know better. Or, at least, I should have known better and certainly do now. I was concentrating so hard on other elements of that scene which felt so much more narratively significant to me (Blockbuster’s murder, primarily) that I totally lost sight of the power and non-symbolic consequence of the gesture I was using. By the time I realized the severity of the mistake and how harmful it might have been to actual survivors of sexual abuse and assault (myself included), I had run out of time to make it right. I’m not sure I could have made it right, mind you, but I did at least have the intention of bringing the story back around to it so that the act didn’t exist completely devoid of consequence or analysis. But it does, and I regret that more deeply than I can say. So many factors went into that debacle—including an avalanche of increasingly arbitrary and bizarre crossover demands from upper editorial and the company’s failure to honor previously approved story outlines—but the responsibility for the ineffectiveness and potential harmfulness of that scene lies solely with me.
I would not shy away from tackling the subject of rape again but I would work with it only if I could approach it head on. It’s too charged of an issue to be used to reflect something else. If I could do it over again, I would make very different choices.
Grayson also talked about editorial interference at DC Comics, and according to her, there was a lot of it. She talks about Bludhaven being destroyed (editorially mandated), Dan Didio's desire to kill DIck Grayson, and her aborted Batwoman book. It's a candid and interesting read, and I recommend you check out the whole thing here.