Oct 4, 2016

How DC Talked About Talia in 2005

How DC Talked About Talia in 2005
Travis Hedge Coke

Talia Head has been the major villain of a Batman movie (though she was a bait and switch for the large, imposing man who got more of the big time villain screentime). She’s been a fixture in comics for longer than I’ve been alive. Beloved by many. Written and drawn by some of the finest talent in comics. So, why, in the 2005 Batman Villains Secret Files and Origins, while perhaps at the then-height of her supervillainy and power, was she limited to sharing an entry with her sister, that is ultimately about her father’s success and agenda?

Written by Andersen Gabrych (miscredited as Anderson in the issue), as were all the write ups on villains that supplement the issues two comics stories, I think it is fair to compare his treatment and by extent DC’s of Talia and Penguin, Manbat, and Red Hood, who also received entries in the issue. Of course, the editorial hand in these sort of guidebooks is often heavily in play, so I’m going to try to remain fair and put the culpability primarily on the trademark owners and publisher, DC Comics, over Gabrych.

One of the standard bits of information in each entry is “occupation.” Penguin is cheekily called a “legitimate businessman.” Black Mask, “crime king.” Killer Croc, “mind-controlled slave,” which doesn’t seem to even make sense as that’s not remotely a job. Red Hood, Jason Todd, the former Robin who was beaten to death with a crowbar and a real life call-in game sponsored by DC, is called a “criminal mastermind.” Psychos who can’t hold down a job get this factor left out, but you know, they’re killing people and then sleeping at Arkham Asylum; it’s all they can do.

Talia does not have an Occupation: slot. It is mentioned in her entry that she controls both a global criminal empire and became the CEO of Lexcorp, a multi-billion dollar company founded by Lex Luthor, but she doesn’t have an occupation worth mentioning. To be fair, calling Jason Todd a “criminal mastermind” and Black Mask a “crime king,” because of their small efforts in one city would look pretty stupid if Talia was given that stat, and given it in earnest. “Criminal mastermind,” “mindless slave,” “in charge of crime on Earth (with her sister), weapons dealer to nations, and CEO of the largest producer of MP3 players on the planet.”

Did I mention Talia does not have her own entry, but shares one with her sister? Which is dominated by their father?

The other entries are the names of individual men, about them. Starts with them. Ends with them.

Talia is under “Daughters of the Demon.” The accompanying image is her father’s face, first, then Talia below, then her sister in a headshot at the bottom. The opening paragraph is about their father, Ra’s al Ghul, and how he “always hoped to produce an heir who would continue his plans. He wound up with two,” and continues on about “the centuries-old villain’s plans for” his daughters.

The article also refers to Talia’s chosen surname, Head, as an “American last name,” which… what the fuck does that even mean? As a colony that has self-governed for a few hundred years and famously is composed of immigrants, descendants of immigrants, slaves, descendants of slaves, and the indigenous peoples who couldn’t be genocided entirely away, what is an “American last name”? She chooses a British name, and a British pronunciation, so much so she clarifies this in dialogue in other comics.

This is how DC addressed Talia Head in 2005. It’s not necessarily how the comics in which she was featured around that time show her. This is a guidebook entry. It’s a promotional piece. Hype. And, this is how they hype her. She’s someone’s daughter and oh she has an American surname now, and by American, we mean anglo. (Andersen Gabrych, let me remind everyone, wrote this.)

The article ends, as it began, with their father. It begins with his dreams, it ends with their father.

Can we imagine a Penguin article that begins and ends with his mother? Batman, one page, some stats, by no occupation, shared with Dick Grayson, the original Robin, who also has no occupation, beginning and ending with Dr Thomas Wayne? It could happen, but what’s the good in it? “Thomas Wayne always wanted a little boy… Although Bruce thinks he’s lived his own life, he has succeeded in becoming the kind of man his father raised him to be.”

1 comment:

Tony Laplume said...

These Secret Files issues, and profiles, were always about setting up forthcoming stories. These were not Who's Who profiles.

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