Haley: Part 8

I hung upside down outside of Donna’s house, waiting for Cassie to knock on their door.

The final plan had turned out to be Cassie’s with a few tweaks, and maybe not enough, but there’s a lot to be said for simple plans. You don’t have as much to think about. Not that that automatically meant it was a good plan, but it was still better than a great plan I couldn’t remember.

Quietly I hung to the side of the window, slowly turning the little pieces of metal that held the screen in. I couldn’t remember their names. The house had the old style of screen windows. Modern screen windows let you control whether you have the screen or the storm window from the inside. In the old style (and I mean really old, like the 1920’s), you swapped the screen window out for the storm window when spring came.

So I was loosening the screen window so that I could crawl through if I had to. It seemed nicer than punching a hole in the wall or knocking down their back door. Beating up a little girl’s uncle would be bad enough. I didn’t want her to have to sleep in a hotel too.

Rod and his sister Donna were still whispering when Cassie knocked on the front door.

From the living room, I heard the sound of footsteps. A man’s voice said, “I’ll get it.”

Rod and Donna stopped whispering.

Then the door opened, and everybody’s hearts beat a little faster. Well, everybody’s but the girl sleeping upstairs. Her heart kept a steady beat, and so did her breathing.

“Hey,” Cassie said, “I’m wondering if you’ve seen a big guy with laser arms and a bag of money?”

The man said, “No, sorry. I haven’t seen anyone like that around here.”

The door began to swing closed, but it I heard it hit Cassie’s boot.

“I’m sorry too,” Cassie said, “but I hear he’s in the kitchen. Hey Laser Guy, why don’t you surrender and save us all some hassle?”

So, then a lot of things happened at once. The man’s heartbeat sped up as Cassie pulled the staff off her belt, pressed the button that extended it to full length, and electrically charged the ends. Backing away, the man put his foot on something that sounded like it had wheels, and started to say, “I didn’t have anything to do with it!” except then the toy (I’m guessing) shot forward, and the guy fell backward, hitting the floor with a thud.

Donna shouted, “Tony! Are you alright?”

Meanwhile, a cheap recording of a man’s voice started singing, “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round,” with completely pathological enthusiasm.

Tony moaned.

Back in the kitchen, Rod must have brought his lasers out of standby mode because the fans turned on, and something inside gave a growing high pitched whine. When I heard him step toward the kitchen door, I let the screen drop to the ground, pulled a flash grenade off my belt, and lobbed it into the room.

As it exploded, I turned my head away, and closed my eyes. Even through my eyelids, I could still see the light. Rod muttered, “Shit,” but didn’t stop opening the door, and stepping into the living room. He must have had his back to the grenade. Donna made a small, wordless cry.

I dove in through the window, hands grabbing the counter, flipping over and coming to my feet on the linoleum floor. A woman I assumed had to be Donna hung onto the refrigerator. Seeing her for the first time, I noticed that she was almost as tall as her brother. Her muscles weren’t as large as his, but they were more noticeable than most women’s. She wore a white t-shirt and jeans.

Ahead of me, Rod had already raised, and aimed his lasers at Cassie. He fired. The left laser missed, burning a six inch wide hole in the wall next to the door. The right laser hit Cassie’s thigh, burning a big hole through it. It smelled surprisingly like burnt pork.

Cassie fell over, landing on the carpeted floor next to a toy bus, and not far from Tony. She cursed, but managed not to land on her staff, holding it in the air with her right hand.

“Captain Commando,” Rod said, pointing both lasers at her body, “between you and Night Cat, this is going to look great on my resume.”

Upstairs, the child woke up, and started to cry.

27 thoughts on “Haley: Part 8”

  1. Is it me or does Cassie always get hurt? Must be the psychology behind regeneration….I’ll heal anyways so it doesn’t matter.

  2. Putting someone powerful out of action is a writer’s trick to put more pressure on the ‘hero’ and create dramatic tension. Old as dirt, but good when well executed.

    The real question: Is our author playing it straight, to give Haley’s chapter more oomph, or is he playing to our expectations, and Cassie is just momentarily down and far from out.

  3. Well, Luke, here we run into a certain concept called Women in Refrigerators, where a female character’s injury or death is used because she’s expendable or hurtable in order to make the situation seem more dangerous. I don’t buy into it as an inherently mysogonistic thing, just that most superheroes are male and most people don’t want to harm sidekicks or other heroes seriously enough for that same effect.

    Or, well, actually they do, but because they aren’t women, nobody makes a big deal of it. Gwen Stacy was Spidey’s woman in the refrigerator, but everyone keeps forgetting that Uncle Ben was Spider-man’s woman first.

    If anything, this is more a case of Cassie getting hurt because she’s the regenerative one. Somehow, the only heroes to consistently take lots and lots of damage that other heroes would avoid or have a costume deflect are those that can regenerate. That’s why Wolverine comes across more as the Rocky of Marvel Comics. Horrible at the fighting he’s supposedly great at, like the ability to use cover and concealement and actually dodge stuff, but great at taking a punch over and over again in the face.

  4. I’d actually attribute as a direct consequence to Cassie’s powers: she thinks she can take whatever they throw at her, so she rushes in headlong.

    It’s the same way Batman and Superman fight differently: Batman has no powers, so has to plan ahead (with gadgets, etc); Superman can improvise on the fly.

  5. I’m inclined to agree with Psycho Gecko’s point about regenerators taking all the damage. Actual bodily harm adds to the atmosphere and makes the villain seem more serious, but only people who heal at superhuman rates can take it without being out of the game for a long time. Cassie might take less time recovering from the wound than it takes to put the baby back asleep.

  6. The “Women In Refrigerators” trope is named after Alexandra DeWitt, the girlfriend of Green Lantern Kyle Radner because he found her corpse in a refrigerator. It’s significantly more modern than Spidey’s Gwen Stacey falling off a bridge because of the Green Goblin — so I don’t know why it’s the name of the trope except that it’s particularly gruesome.

    And it goes back through history as the more common and less creepy “Damsels in Distress” — and yes, it’s because the audience gets more on the edge of their seats when a woman or a child is in danger than a strong male. It’s an evolutionary process — women and children are preserved first in any dangerous situation.

    But none of that applies when the chapter is about Haley and Cassie — they’re two girl superheroes doing their jobs. Cassie just takes a very direct approach. You’ll notice Haley snuck in and didn’t get hurt? Yeah, maybe they both should have gone in the back and then the flash grenade would have worked because Laser Arms wouldn’t have been going in the opposite direction. Subtle works.

  7. GS is right on the money. This isn’t a case of FrigidaireFemmes. Those are inserted into the story for the sole purpose of dieing horribly, in a very visible manner, so that the hero can go on a revenge bender/be wracked with guilt about endangering their loved ones.

    Cassie isn’t a Fridge. She’s a Brick. She’s a bull-headed powerhouse with the ability to take just as much as she dishes out, which is a heck of a lot. I was refering to the fact that she’s a ‘more powerful’ hero, at least from certain perspectives.

    The Muppet Monster comments seem to highlight the public misconception of her as a harmless little kitten with claws. By even momentarily disabling the ‘true threat’ of Captain Commando, LaserPits beleives that the battle is already won. This allows Haley to step up to the plate, save the day, and be a Big Damn Hero all on her own.

    But this all assumes our author is playing straight with the trope. We just don’t know how long it will take Cassie to recover from the shock of that sort of hit. We also can’t predict how long it will take her to regenerate from that sort of wound, or just how bad the wound is. I’d imagine evaporating a chunk of her femur is going to put her down for quite a while, but a ‘flesh wound’, even all the way through, ought to have her up and about in no time.

  8. We also have to consider that the Jim is going to be reading all this before he writes what happens, and all of our meta-speculation and trope-tagging has the potential to influence his writing.

    Hi Jim! I love your story!

  9. Luke: Thanks. Just for what it’s worth, readers don’t affect where the story is going very much. I always have a plan for where things are going.

    I can’t say they don’t though at all. I rewrote the end of Rattling Cages as a result of reader comments. I’m sure that what I read affects what I write unconsciously though.

    On Women in Refrigerators: The idea of the concept/website is that women in comics are used as motivation or killed/depowered/raped/something gruesome in greater proportion than men. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were right.

    Some things just amaze me. Did you know that both Powergirl and Ms. Marvel were involuntarily impregnated? If I remember correctly, both kids grew up extra fast, fulfilled some mysterious purpose and died. I may have that wrong. In any case, if you check out the list on Women in Refrigerators (not currently up to date), it’s amazingly horrifying.

    I’m sure sexism is in there somewhere. I’m sure that story logic is part of it too–most comics’ main characters are male. If you want to kill a main character’s loved ones for plot reasons, you’ll probably kill a disproportionate number of women.

    In my opinion though, killing off the a main character’s girlfriend to give him motivation is a cliche to be avoided.

  10. Plus there’s always the meta-analysis of Cassie being important in the next story arc, as per your own comments Jim 😉

    I’m not sure if I really take Cassie as being a powerhouse, sure she’s got fairly good regeneration powers ( but not as good as Prime ), but for the rest it seems she’s like Captain America, extremely honed skills/aptitude, but at the extreme of “normal” human performance ( or just a tad over ).
    Of course it would impossible for a real athlete to combine Mike Tyson’s strength, world class athletics, gymnastics and reactions and endurance in one fairly normal sized package.

    If we we’re to compare the two I’d say probably fairly evens, with more experience for Cap, better body armor for Cap,( not too mention the shield ). Cassie has better capacity to take damage and ofcourse slightly higher offense with that sword and staff.

  11. OH, just for interest’s sake — when I come across something I haven’t really thought about I tend to like to investigate it more thoroughly and while I’d heard of the “Woman in Refrigerator” trope I hadn’t read the list itself. So I checked it out (thanks Jim) and there are just over 100 women on the list (I might have miscounted so it’s 109, 110 or 111) . And that’s a general list of violence as well as death.

    Well, I checked the “dead comic book characters” list on Wikipedia (for speed) and JUST in the DC comics section I got to 109 dead men by the letter K. I didn’t bother continuing past that to Z or to Marvel because that’s a lot of death. I think people just remember women more — but violence is common to comic books.

  12. Men die just as much as women do, but who’s going to be the first DC/Marvel mainstream writer to make a male hero pregnant from rape?
    Heck, I don’t even remember seeing a male hero get raped at all other than in Authority.

  13. It’d be interesting to check if it’s disproportionately women who die and under what conditions.

    It’d be a lot of work though. You’d have to allow for context, figure out some way to rate how bad what happened to them was, possibly compare the period in which they died, and probably a number of other things I haven’t thought of off the top of my head.

    Might make for an interesting paper or masters thesis.

  14. Keep in mind, a lot of the deaths listed on that page are either to establish character (“okay, we need to remind readers that Deadshot is an assassin, so let’s have him kill someone nobody cares about, like the Fiddler”) or create tension (“We need to make readers think the stakes are high, so let’s off two or three B-listers”). The ‘Women in Refrigerators’ trope is probably most accurate when describing deaths that exist to create an immediate emotional response (“oh my god! women are dying!”) or to give a male character motivation (“you just killed my girl, now I’m *hardcore*). Like horror movies where the victim pool is mostly attractive women, it hijacks our (mostly male) inclination to view women as things to be saved and protected to manufacture immediate angst.

    That aside, as a long-term comic reader (and someone who absolutely *loves* them), let me be the first to say: Yes, comics are /incredibly/ sexist. Their track record is an abomination. There’s the Power Girl thing Jim’s mentioning, the *incredibly* indelicate ‘Doctor Light Is A Rapist’ arc from Identity Crisis, and more. Great writers know how to handle things accordingly (I think making Renee Montoya the new Question was a lovely move, for instance–though all of 52 was pretty much /fantastic/), but comic books are written largely by white, cisgendered males for white, cisgendered males, and naturally reflect that trend. When it comes to issues outside of that sphere, they have a tendency to blunder horribly.

  15. Smooth, R.R… As a white, cisgendered male I feel compelled to mention I find it amusing how you criticize the sexism of comic writers and in the same post manage to imply white, cisgendered males in general are sexists with no understanding of issues “outside their sphere”.

  16. Mazzon: I can see how you might read Robert’s statement that way, but I admit personally that read it as “when people who are similar communicate with each other, common assumptions about other groups are less likely to be challenged.”

    In any case, even straight, white males within Marvel were annoyed about the Ms. Marvel rape/pregnancy. Chris Claremont made an issue of the storyline when he got the chance. I don’t know how things were within DC about Powergirl, but it wasn’t taken well by fans, and they haven’t mentioned it in the comics since then. I would be surprised if it’s canon at this point.

    So obviously people do notice both inside and outside comics companies. It amazes me that no one inside thought to stop those storylines before they got published, however. That being said, neither one of them is recent (Powergirl’s was in 94, and Ms. Marvel’s was in 1980). I’d like to believe neither could happen today.

    Oddly enough, Gail Simone, the person who created the “Women in Refrigerators” website actually writes for DC these days.

  17. I wouldn’t criticize the sexism of comic book writers so much as the sexism of the comics they write–I don’t know the writers, just their work. I avoided the heterosexual tag for that explicit reason. But yes, we tend to better understand issues when we ourselves have experience with them.

    There are comic storylines I’ve seen that have dealt with these issues in ways I’d describe as intelligent and responsible (not to imply that I’m an expert on ‘intelligent’ and ‘responsible’ storylines, though)–some of Neil Gaiman’s stuff comes to mind, and he’s definitely a dude. But the fact remains that superhero comics have had a pretty bad history with matters of race and gender, and I find it reasonable to believe that this is because most of the writers don’t have many experiences outside of a white, male, cisgendered paradigm. I don’t see that as controversial–and I don’t see the writers as ‘bad’ or ‘sexist’–I just think that superhero comics reveal a certain ignorance concerning matters of race and gender, and these stories are best served by overcoming that ignorance.

    Also, Identity Crisis was early 2000s. It’s hard to say whether or not it was as bad as the Power Girl thing, but the Doctor Light bit was pretty bad for a variety of reasons. I think comic books have improved, but it’s hard to say. I’m holding my breath until Superman and Batman get over themselves and have sloppy make-outs (like we all know they desperately want to). Then we’ll talk.

  18. I think some writers/editors try too hard to be “edgy” and that’s how controversy happens — there are times the envelope gets pushed pretty hard when it doesn’t need to be. Allan Moore and Gaiman can be pretty “edgy” and downright scary without needing to be totally grotesque.

    However, I don’t know that I’d say comics are entirely ignorant of race and gender. There’s probably some of that going on, like there is in general in society, but I think there are some areas that are doing well. I grew up with the X-Men and it’s always been about tolerance, dealing with discrimination, exploitation, and similar themes. The first group started out white-centred, but it was extremely diverse once you got to the second generation in the 70s. Chris Claremont worked hard as a writer.

    That’s one family of books where there was a lot of gender and racial issues addressed. On the other hand, I don’t think DC comics handles it as well as Marvel even today — name one Big Name black superhero from that company. Its cartoons had to make Green Lantern black just to make it demographically friendly. As for women, outside of Wonder Woman, its best recognized female characters are based on male ones — Supergirl and Batgirl. Catwoman is sort of just a twist on Batman herself.

    But in Marvel, Storm and Rogue have both led the X-Men, and the Wasp’s importance with the Avengers went up and down with the tides, but the Invisible Woman was always central to the Fantastic Four. The X-Men’s most powerful characters tend to be women (Jean Grey, Rachel Summers, Psylocke, Storm, Rogue, Polaris, Emma Frost, Shadowcat, just to name a few).

    It’s a little problematic that the big name characters in solo stories are white males — Spiderman, Superman, Batman, Hulk, Daredevil, Green Lantern, Flash, Captain America, Ironman, Thor. Nobody has really caught on culturally the way first generation DC (Supes, Bats, GL, Flash) and first generation Marvel (Spidey, those original Avengers) have impacted. But to change that would require time travel as far back as 1938 and making Superman black, and at that time in history it wouldn’t have caught on.

    However, companies can create strong secondary characters and use the icons to promote them — like War Machine in the Ironman movies, or the black Green Lantern in the cartoons — it creates opportunities to broaden the palette a little and at least push for more diversity even if it starts as a demographic thing — it raises a new generation of readers that are a little more tolerant and a little more aware of differences.

    It kind of bugs me that my first online story is a group of white rural Canadian boys — but they’re from a small town that would probably be pretty homogenous and they’re archetypes anyway. I intentionally have strong female characters. Diggory Franklin takes place in New York and I haven’t really incorporated race into that story either, but his social circle has always been small — I haven’t had much need plot wise for a big cast of characters.

    I really need to think of a good story to reflect the fact that I’ve had multi-cultural friends and experiences.

  19. Now now, GS, at leat Hulk’s not white, he’s green.
    I’ve always figured that’s why he’s the only strong guy who can move around with huge leaps (well since they made Superman fly because it was easier to present in cartoons); White men can’t jump.

  20. Wow, didn’t expect to start this conflagration. I will just add that in Ms. Marvel’s case, it was particularly heinous. See, she was in another dimension briefly, or something, where this superpowerful being lived. And he fell in love with her, so he impregnated her. Instead of worrying about her and her superfast pregnancy, the Avengers, even including the genius Beast, didn’t do too much. The kid popped out, grew up fast, and revealed himself to be that superpowerful being who impregnated himself into her so he could come to her dimension for the purpose of loving her and taking her back to his. So he did. Except whe he got there, apparently him being part human from the whole pregnancy thing caused him to die.

    Needless to say, the entire situation involved the the term FUBAR.

    Luckily, she came back at some point and called all the Avengers out on not considering her mental distress and mind control over the whole matter. They just believed the guy and let her go off to live happily ever after with her rapist/son/man from another dimension who turned out to be the son of Kang the Conquerer.

    …and knowing is half the battle!

  21. Robert: The Batman/Superman sloppy make out sessions could require Larry Niven to write an addendum to “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex.”

    PG: Yep. I blame you too.

    That being said, the Ms. Marvel thing was amazingly bad. It awes me that it ever got out the door.

    So everybody, now that that’s over, let’s talk about something less controversial like… I dunno… religion and politics?

  22. Oh, also, recently it was announced that there would be a black Batman, thanks to that whole Batman Inc. thing. And, according to a press release by the Nazis way back during WW2, Superman is a Jew. They really didn’t like the issue where he captured Hitler and allowed the League of Nations to put him on trial.

  23. @RR:
    (assuming anyone is still reading these comments since the new story’s gone up)

    You equated ‘cisgendered’ with ‘heterosexual’, which isn’t accurate. It’s a bit of an apples to oranges comparison. ‘Cisgendered’ is about gender identity, namely that a person’s sex matches the gender that they identify as. ‘Heterosexual’ is about sexual orientation, specifically being attracted to a person of the opposite sex (or gender).

    Now, while your phrasing works in the original context (most of those in the industry, just like most of the world, are cisgendered) it is inapropriate to equate the two.

    There are a lot of white christians out there, but you can’t say that all christians are white, or that all whites are christian.

  24. I think you might have misread me. I didn’t equate them; I said that I was avoiding the heterosexual tag because I don’t know the sexual preferences of the authors.

    (Admittedly, I could be wrong about their gender issues, too, but it seems less likely)

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