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Um, Actually: ‘Man Of Steel’ Writer David Goyer’s Remarks On ‘Green Porn Star’ She-Hulk And Other Nasty Business


This week, David S. Goyer, writer of Man of Steel and its upcoming sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, appeared on a writers podcast called Scriptnotes to talk about being a screenwriter for superhero films. Apparently he thought it would be a good idea to do this by characterizing She-Hulk as “a giant green porn star that only the Hulk could f*ck” before getting into an extended discussion about how the Martian Manhunter sucks so bad that he can only really work in a story where he also has sex with She-Hulk.

Who would’ve ever thought that the guy who wrote a superhero movie with the line “you c*ck-juggling thunderc*nt” would have some problematic ideas about female characters?

Okay, first things first: Like it or not (and I’m leaning pretty heavily towards not, given his recent output), it’s impossible to separate David Goyer from the modern rise and continuing popularity of superheroes at the box office. The first big movie based on Marvel Comics characters wasn’t Spider-Man or X-Men, and it sure as hell wasn’t the Avengers franchise. It was Blade, the movie that Goyer wrote which surprised everyone by taking a D-lister from Tomb of Dracula and turning him into Marvel’s first big-screen victory. That was huge.

Even though the Blade franchise became an exercise in diminishing returns, particularly once Goyer was given full control as writer and director on the third installment, he continued to be an instrumental comics-to-film force with DC Comics’ box office success as the co-screenwriter of Batman Begins, and he shares story credit with Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.

But, then again, so does Bob Kane.

I mention all this because it’s important to understand why people are holding Goyer’s remarks up to more scrutiny than might otherwise be applied to just another comic book fan talking trash. It’s not just a matter of overhearing sh*tty ideas about superheroes from some dork down at the shop and rolling your eyes at him, it’s hearing them from a dude who, over the past sixteen years, has shaped the public perception of some of the world’s most famous superheroes. This is someone who’s gearing up to write a movie that’s going to introduce the Justice League to movie audiences for the first time, someone whose involvement in billion-dollar franchises has made him Warner Bros.’ go-to writer — not just for Batman v Superman, but for a movie based on The Sandman as well. Goyer’s a huge part of this machine, the authorial voice DC Entertainment uses to send their characters out to a mass audience. His ideas about superhero characters matter.

 

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

 

And yet here Goyer is, cheerfully reducing one of Marvel’s most beloved solo heroines — someone who might have been created as a derivative of the Hulk but has thirty years of multiple successful series based around superheroic action and a well-developed personality based in progressive, feminist themes — and reducing her creation to an attempt to give the Hulk someone to f*ck.

Courtesy of The Mary Sue, here’s a transcription of the conversation in question:

Craig Mazin: The real name for She-Hulk was Slut-Hulk. That was the whole point. Let’s just make this green chick with enormous boobs. And she’s Hulk strong but not Hulk massive, right? … She’s real lean, stringy…

David S. Goyer: She’s still pretty chunky. She was like Chyna from the WWE.

CM: The whole point of She-Hulk was just to appeal sexistly to ten-year-old boys. Worked on me.

DG: I have a theory about She-Hulk. Which was created by a man, right? And at the time in particular I think 95% of comic book readers were men and certainly almost all of the comic book writers were men. So the Hulk was this classic male power fantasy. It’s like, most of the people reading comic books were these people like me who were just these little kids getting the sh*t kicked out of them every day… And so then they created She-Huk, right? Who was still smart… I think She-Hulk is the chick that you could f*ck if you were Hulk, you know what I’m saying? … She-Hulk was the extension of the male power fantasy. So it’s like if I’m going to be this geek who becomes the Hulk then let’s create a giant green porn star that only the Hulk could f*ck.

 

Anyone at all familiar with She-Hulk would be, to say the least, bemused by Goyer’s remarks. They’re so off base that one has to wonder in what universe could exist such a twisted vision of one of American comics’ most distinctly feminist heroes? But then one remembers that Goyer mentioned former WWE wrestler Chyna, who may also remember actually portrayed a “green porn star” She-Hulk in an X-rated parody film.

 

 

Ahem.

Anyway, there’s a lot of irony in what Goyer says during his chat with Scriptnotes, but one of the most glaring is that She-Hulk has generally been regarded as a character built around empowerment rather than being a sex object. Not a mindless engine of destruction like her cousin — and folks, that is a whole other discussion to have about Goyer’s statements; she’s the Hulk’s blood relative — she’s been a character who was marked by her personality and wit as much as her super-strength and invulnerability. She-Hulk’s certainly had romances and a sex life (pretty prominently, too, considering the relatively sanitized world of superhero comics) but it’s an aspect of her character that’s generally felt like it was on her terms rather than acting out the fantasies of her creators. Even shortly after her debut, She-Hulk was referred to in a newspaper article about Marvel’s growing roster of female characters as “definitely a feminist,” with Marvel’s Stan Lee proudly claiming with his typical bombast that she was created specifically to take advantage of the growing number of women reading comics. That, and likely to secure a trademark, just like Supergirl, another well-known hero’s cousin.

To be fair, the article also includes Lee — again, with typical bombast — touting her skimpy costume and lamenting that “boys think it’s sissyish” to read comics about women, a “Biff! Bam! Pow!” introduction, and a reference to Jennifer Walters as “smart and bosomy”, but, y’know, that was 1980. One could be forgiven for thinking that in the thirty-four years since that article’s publication, the people tasked with talking to the media about comics would’ve gotten a little better at it. Turns out, they’ve actually gotten worse, and now the person making all the reductive cracks is the one co-writing the first major motion picture to feature Wonder Woman.

 

 

Goyer’s remarks were recorded in front of a live audience and it seems clear that the writer made them to be playful, but nevertheless there’s a certain level of contempt in his language, something that’s been present in most of his film work but hasn’t really gotten unbearable until recently, and it just keeps coming as the conversation goes on.

To wit, when Goyer starts talking about the Martian Manhunter, he defies anyone who’s heard of the character to have also “been laid”.

 

“Well, he hasn’t been rebooted but he’s a mainstay in the Justice League. He can’t be f**king called the Martian Manhunter because that’s goofy. He can be called Manhunter… The whole deal with Martian Manhunter is he’s an alien living amongst us… So he comes down to Earth and decides, unlike Superman who already exists in the world now, that he’s just going to be a homicide detective… So instead of using super-powers and mind-reading and like, oh, I could figure out if the President’s lying or whatever, he just decides to disguise himself as a human homicide detective. Dare to dream!”

[...]

“I would set it up like The Day After Tomorrow. We discover one of those Earth-like planets… So maybe like… we get the DNA code from that planet and then grow him in a petri dish here… He’s like in Area 51 or something and we’re just basically… doing biopsies on him. Then he gets out and he’s really angry and he f**ks She-Hulk.”

 

Look. I’m not here to defend the Martian Manhunter. I just recorded a video for ComicsAlliance three days ago where I talked about the Martian Manhunter being a B-Lister who never really caught on as a solo hero, and I can understand if you’ve got some issues with the character.

But at the same time, there are a couple of things that really get me here, and the first one is Goyer’s snorting dismissing of how the Martian Manhunter can’t be the “Martian Manhunter” because that’s a silly name. This guy wrote three movies about a dude named “Batman.” If there is a planet where the words “Martian Manhunter” are inherently less silly than the word “Batman,” then it is not the one we are living on.

(Incidentally, DC already has a character named Manhunter who, in her latest incarnation, is a derivative of a pre-existing male superhero who is an attorney in her civilian identity. Presumably, Goyer thinks she was created so Deathstroke the Terminator would have someone to make out with.)

It’s also really telling that Goyer thinks Martian Manhunter is shooting low by becoming a homicide detective in his civilian identity — you know, literally fighting crime all the time on both large and small scales. This is the man who wrote a superhero movie where Superman had to be prompted into becoming a superhero at all by two dead fathers, and who could probably go listen to the President’s heartbeat just to be sure everything’s going all right in the time that it takes him to pretend to ride a bike to his job at a newspaper. Dare to dream!

Finally, there’s his line about all these virgins who have hunched over their basement long boxes for so many years that they’ve actually heard of the Martian Manhunter, the character who was on Justice League and Brave and the Bold and Smallville, DC’s most prominent television shows over the past decade. The ones with millions of viewers?

If I’m not in the business of defending the Martian Manhunter as a character, I’m certainly not in the business of defending comic book fans — everyone involved in comics has some sweeping generalizations about their fellow readers to gripe about, I assure you — so I’ll just say this. Goyer’s got a point. Martian Manhunter is a relatively obscure character. Despite being featured in almost every incarnation of the Justice League, despite multiple attempts to brand him as a solo hero, he’s never caught on. He’s always a supporting character in someone else’s book, taking a back seat to more iconic characters, and I have my doubts that there’s a way to do a movie that could really make him stand out in his own right.

You know, sort of like Blade.

 

 

But it’s not Martian Manhunter’s status as the D-lister of the Justice League that’s really the point here. The point, made abundantly clear by Goyer in his remarks, is that he doesn’t really understand why anyone would come to Earth from a dead planet and decide to devote their life to helping others, which is a pretty terrible quality for a person writing multiple films about Superman to have. A super-powered alien who helps people, you see, is silly. It should be a revenge-fueled rampage culminating in a sex joke at the expense of a female character, because that’s smart and mature. This is the thought process that leads to a movie where Superman’s response to a genocidal villain claiming the hero can only win by breaking his code against killing is to do just that, and then smile cheerfully while a woman stands in the background talking about how sexy he is.

Spoiler warning in case you haven’t seen it: That’s exactly how Man of Steel ends.

I don’t think that it’s necessary to be a die hard fan of something to write well about it, and I’m even of the mind that if you’re not a fan, you can see points that someone who is might miss. Regardless of the spirit in which his remarks may have been made, Goyer’s language goes beyond just not liking a couple of characters. There’s a palpable disdain there, one that’s not present in other live-action expressions of DC heroes on television and in animation, and one that’s mitigated by Nolan’s dominant influence on the later Dark Knight films, but one that comes through in every frame of Man of Steel. Goyer is embarrassed by the very idea of superheroes. They’re for “little kids who get the sh*t kicked out of them every day”. Goyer’s heroes are uncomfortable with the idea of altruism. Everyone’s out for revenge, everyone has to be pushed and prodded and dragged to do the right thing — that is, if they ever get around to doing it at all.

That’s not what superheroes — particularly DC’s heroes — are about, and yet, here’s the guy in charge of bringing them to the widest possible audience, in films soaked with shame and contempt, where a character like Superman can’t exist in a world with anything brighter than a medium grey. Goyer’s pushing against what the characters are about instead of embracing them for what they are, because he’s too afraid of making something that might be considered silly.

In other words, to use his own famous Blade catchphrase, David Goyer’s always trying to ice skate uphill.

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