In Ody-C #6, beautiful “He” reads history books about wronged goddesses and queens who are raped, slut-shamed, killed, and so on. It’s unclear what they mean to him. The stories are inter-mixed with He having a bad time as a sex slave who has been first rejected, then cut loose. He is the stand-in for Helen of Troy in the Odyssey. We know He is considered beautiful, but his stance is meek and uncertain. He as awkward as a male stripper at a bachelorette party in a library. We never see his face. His butt cheeks hang out in a shiny gimp suit. There’s also some kind of fancy dongle on his dick. A window in his suit showcases his Adam’s apple, like a nod to the boob window in female superhero costumes. It is sad.
Christian Ward’s art and Matt Fraction’s writing are vigorous, ambitious, intertwined. The colorful, swirling silliness and mythological mash-up of Ody-C is as glorious as ever. There’s a lot to love, but it’s hard to unsee the ridiculousness of these male creators gender-bending the Odyssey, loading it with women, giving the human species a whole new female-ish sex to exploit (the sebex), and then patting themselves on the back for caring about what it all means. As earnest-seeming as Fraction has been about his intentions with Ody-C and what the story “reveals” about society—he is just a kid in a sandbox playing with toys, and his toys are colorful scraps of rapey mythology.
Ody-C was more fun in the first arc, when women warriors were tearing up shit, behaving badly, and marauding across the universe. It’s less fun to follow a male sex slave in a gimp suit in Ody-C #6. Except it’s actually mawkish and wincingly funny—so was it supposed to be more fun? Is Fraction making a point about sex slavery in general? Are the creators… making light of sex slavery? A thing that women and children all over the world are enduring right now? Maybe we weren’t supposed to laugh at He, but we do because we recognize. The shock of relating more—on a real, everyday level—to a powerless man in a stupid gimp suit than to the woman warrior Odyssia makes it hurt to laugh.
It’s hilarious when He is all primped to spend time with Ene, but she’s too busy to think about sex so we just see his little slumped figure standing alone, with his upper thighs bare above his tall boots. It’s ridiculous the way he looks, as a three-quarter-sized man marching along in a strange city in his gimp suit. The way he cocks his head to the side like a dog when the woman at the whorehouse asks him if he’s buying or selling. He has to work as a janitor in the whorehouse because no one is interested in paying to have sex with him, and then we see his little shoulders as he sweeps up—pathetic. Ward keeps pulling the frame away from him dramatically, making him look small and alone.
If Fraction and Ward think this is what it means to turn women’s prettified servitude on its ear—well, we consider ourselves more than this. We consider ourselves something strong anyway. We think of ourselves as clever survivors. We do not see ourselves as pathetic shells. So if a large point of this book is to say something about gender issues by flipping the genders – WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY? So far it just seems that women are magnificent when they are dominant and have masculine traits. Men are ridiculous and pathetic in a feminized role. We are invited to laugh at He. There’s nothing subversive about him to make up for it.
Forget ancient, theoretical times. Forget fiction and mythology. It’s happening now in Iraq and in Kirkland, Washington. Forget even sex slavery itself. He being left on the shelf and then cut loose resembles nothing so much as the actual lives of housewives. Forget housewives even. It’s just women, expiring and being left on the shelf. Every day. Fading away and becoming invisible. Told it’s happening to us, told to fight it, then shoved to the side.
Once Fraction made a claim to making a societal statement about gender (in his commentary in the back matter of earlier issues), he put himself in a bind. He should have stepped off with that nonsense, because it’s not his place to step back and forth across the line of poking fun and being deadly serious. Or he’s not doing it right. We women can chortle along with Amy Schumer’s skit of Julia Louis Dreyfus’s “last fuckable day.” People who survived ghastly divorces as children can laugh grimly through a dark movie about a family falling apart like The Squid and the Whale while their spouses from happy homes might find the whole thing “too depressing to enjoy.” Stephen Elliott can auto-eviscerate in his novel Happy Baby about being submissive to an abusive woman after being raped by a guard in juvie as a boy, and we can respect this truth of his as a man who has had bad things happen to him. It’s an authentic experience of someone shoved into submissive roles and then seeking them. Elliott’s not trying to play a game with the sexes.
In the notes at the end of Ody-C #6, Fraction seems to be trying belatedly to step back from the more serious, grandiose language he used in the back of earlier issues—now he’s just noodling around guys, no big deal. He ends by saying, “The good news is I have no idea what I’m doing. The bad news is I have no idea what I’m doing.” As if some part of him knows he already over-played his hand. As if he knows he’s painted himself into a corner.
So what do you do if you feel the way I do, but like me are hooked on Ward’s art and don’t want to give up on Ody-C? Just step back yourself. Reduce it to the patterns and lines on the page. The words don’t even need to be read. The letters are just objects. The word boxes are just another design feature in these busy pages. A gimp suit is not a gimp suit. It only reflects light differently than the patterned folds of cloth on the servants who help to make He beautiful for his mistress. We are children and know not of sex. We are Virginia Woolf stream of consciousness. We are sensations. We open the hatches of our eyes and let the shapes and colors fall in.