Jan 19, 2018

Typhoid Mary Doesn’t Exist

Mary Walker and Typhoid were created by Ann Nocenti and John Romita Jr during their run on Daredevil (issue 254). They share a body, and are manifested identities of a woman suffering from dissociative identity disorder. Later, Nocenti will add Bloody Mary, as a third, and Dan Slott - in an atrocious case of missing the point - Mutant Zero. But, there is no Typhoid Mary. No character by that name exists. That name is a label to put on a cover, a title. Even her gorgeous miniseries by Nocenti and John Van Fleet was called Typhoid, because it’s about, well, the character named, Typhoid.

Typhoid Mary Doesn’t Exist
How Ann Nocenti Turned a Pile of Contradictory Misogyny
into the Gut Release We All Needed
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Travis Hedge Coke

And, to me, here is the heart of the character who is Typhoid and Mary (et al). Neither Typhoid nor Mary are a person, are permitted personhood. Typhoid is callous, sexual, violent, strong but yielding temporarily to men with power or money. Mary is weepy, clingy, naive. These aren’t women; they are misogynistic anxieties. And, what’s awesome about them both, is that they fuck over exactly the sort of guys who pretty much earned it. Typhoid stories are morality plays. They’re lesson stories. If Typhoid or Mary are what you believe women “truly are,” you are in trouble.

Both Mary and Typhoid are introduced as assassins, set on not just killing, but destroying someone. Typhoid goes out and gets in stabby fights. Mary has meet cutes and hugs and blushes. Depending on where the audience’s gauge falls between Madonna and Whore, one or the other may seem healthier or cooler, but they’re messed up. They’re both messed up. Mary and Typhoid, in this sense, do not exist. Again, they lack personhood, but not in the sense of fridging. Neither is sacrificed for the growth of male characters, but instead, they are a metaphoric agency, a complex of bruised ideas lashing back outward.

Because, largely, comics won’t let Mary or Typhoid, or even “Typhoid Mary” be their own person. And, to be a person is to be “their own person.” Otherwise, it is not personhood.

Think I am overreaching? The collection of Nocenti’s Typhoid stories, the comics where she is the lead or co-lead, is titled Daredevil: Typhoid’s Kiss. Note, Daredevil, the character, is not mentioned until we are 136 story pages into the collection. He does not physically appear for 167 pages. He’s barely in any of the stories after that. But, the title of the collection is him, and she is not even the subtitle, the subtitle is only her hypothetical, metaphorical action. Something received by someone else.

“I love to test men,” says Typhoid, in the graphic novella, Bloody Mary.

Heroes, villains, “just guys,” that are in danger from Typhoid/Mary/Bloody Mary are not all uniformly horrible, and the ones who are not thoroughly rotten with misogynistic, sexist muck generally survive intact, if cut up a bit. But, they are all sexist. That, I think, is what Typhoid is for, and what makes her and her stories so excellent. Daredevil is sexist. This has been an established trait, complained about by other characters, weathered by women in his stories, since quite early in his existence as a character. Black Widow ditched him, when they were partnered up in San Francisco, because he was annoyingly sexist. He falls prey to Mary, especially, but also Typhoid, because he is sexist. In later stories, like those collected in Typhoid’s Kiss, boorish, annoyed men’s rights shouting idiots are going to get their asses kicked. Rapey, pseudo-intellectual gas lighting dudes are probably gonna die.

Wolverine makes appearances, and c’mon, we know Wolverine has issues with women and how he ought to interact with them, and we, the audience, often cheer a bit for him and his inappropriate methods, especially when they work, and the ladies just love him more because he tore their skirt shorter or pushed his face into theirs because he knows they secretly like it.

Sexism is not only full-blown misogyny. It is not necessarily even rooted in hate. Erasure and dehumanization are also sexist. The reflex belief that a woman who does horrible things must be manipulated by men, controlled or forced or naively colluding is sexist. The hero complex of “if I save her, she’ll bang” is sexist. It is embedded deep in many of our heroic narratives, in our cultural anticipations, but that does not make it any less an individual’s problem. And, that’s what Typhoid cuts up. That is what Mary twists and pinches and bleeds. It is what the “warrior woman,” the “bleeding soldier” Bloody Mary wages war with.

It is where the fun comes in.

Any time you want to read Robert Crumb’s My Trouble With Women, I want you to pull Ann Nocenti’s Typhoid’s Kiss off the shelf. Save yourself.

“Aren’t you really nobody?” a young man asks the woman who is Mary and Typhoid, in Nocenti and Molly Crabapple’s Blindspot. She responds, having been exaggeratedly all over the place in the previous few pages:

“When I was little I had a pair of red rubber boots. My boots took me places. One day they got lost. I thought they were hiding under my bed. But they’re gone. I miss them. All of them.

“One of us is tender,
“one of us is not,
“one of us takes vengeance
“all four tied in a knot.”

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