Jan 22, 2018

Mystik U: Rose by Any Other Name

I had been looking forward to Mystik U for a couple years, since I’d first noticed writer and creator, Alisa Kwitney, talking about it, so I was primed for the first issue. A comic featuring Zatanna, who I generally love, written by a woman, an intelligent and sensible writer, which meant many of the things that sometimes happen with Zatanna stories which make me cringe were unlikely to happen. This was going to be good. But, I had no preparation for Doctor Rose Psychic.

Rose By Any Other Name
Travis Hedge Coke

I know Rose Psychic. Rose, is the consistently more interesting half of a couple-sharing-an-existence, typically seen as the male, Dr Occult. Only one can be physically present at a time, though both still communicate psychically, betwixt themselves. Panel for panel, Rose probably only shows up in physical reality once for ever hundred panels Occult is in. And, while he’s always known by his surname, and almost always with that title in place, even though there’s no evidence he ever earned any kind of doctorate, Rose is Rose. Rose is a female archetype, or more honestly, a sketch of femininity.

The first issue of Mystik U has Rose Psychic right there, the main presence, with Occult unseen and unheard except by her, and she’s insisting men call her Dr Psychic.

Somewhere inside me, eleven-or-twelve-year-old just-discovering-Vertigo-as-it-launches me is hyperventilating. I am still not over it. I am self-conscious about how excited it makes me. Every asshole who dismissed my mom, a fieldworker when I was born, and currently Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Riverside, every dumbass who talked to my grandmother like she was uneducated, the dudes who called my grandfather, “boy,” when he was in his eighties, “Dr Rose Psychic” feels like a raspberry in the face of all of them. A simple, natural, sensible thing that should have always been and of course, unfortunately of course, nobody bothered, nobody even considered it.

It is easy to underestimate these things. It’s easy to disregard them. It’s not a new character. It is not a radical reinvention. The comics news sites that went gaga because Superman had a slight change in his belt design, or because DC paid money to an artist to draw Watchmen characters again, they are not going to even make mention of Dr Rose Psychic’s demanding a title and that the title be used.

I can’t get over it. I don’t want Dr Psychic to go back. The last time I noted Rose in any comic, she was dead and being left in Hell in a comic partly drawn by a convicted pedophile. The most by-the-numbers and unsurprising comic I have ever read by someone I think otherwise has a genius body of work. Rose had nowhere to go but up, but it’s comics, it’s mainstream superhero comics. She could absolutely go down further. Comics can always further degrade a female character. It can get worse.

And, it might still get worse. Mystik U will not have new issues forever. I hope it runs a few years. I want to know where it goes, to enjoy it month by month for awhile. And, this take on Rose Psychic - the Dr Psychic Years, as I will think of them - will remain forever as a potential, as a window if not a place beyond the window. But, the next writer, the next comic can degrade her from here, from this beautiful and flowering starting place. We need to guard against that. I have full faith Kwitney and her colleagues on the comic are fighting against it.

Dr Psychic is not a promotion for Rose. It is where she should have been. It’s where male-her, her male alternate, male double, has always been, with the same qualifications, under the same criteria, without once being questioned or compared. Dr Occult is Doctor Occult, because he is. Rose Psychic is Rose, because we’re sexist. Rose Psychic is Dr Psychic, because she is. Even, if the next writer does not call her that, even if no character ever refers to it again, it cannot be taken away. An education we cannot be divested of. Her right to it cannot be argued. Bullied into silence, maybe, but we’ll all know. We do know.

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