There’s one potential element of Superior Spider-Man that has resulted in a lot of conversation. A 1,000+ post thread at CBR is devoted to the question of the implications of a relationship between Spider-Ock and Mary Jane.
What gives me pause about the upcoming series — and the covers I’ve seen don’t make me feel any better about it — is the altogether discomforting relationship between Spider-Ock and Mary Jane Watson. Mary Jane’s complete obliviousness to how different and cad-like Peter’s behavior and speech are in this issue strains credulity. But more potently, it also imbues not-Peter’s constant attempts to bed her with an unappealing luridness. That the readers know Mary Jane’s consent isn’t really consent because Peter isn’t the person she thinks he is makes us a sort of unwilling participant in…well, I don’t really know what to call it. But it’s not particularly something I want to read about in a comic that was otherwise very strong.
Presumably, Mary Jane has no romantic interest in Doctor Octopus. There was at least one story in which Otto was jealous of Peter Parker for finding happiness with her. Oddly enough, that story may be out of continuity as his revenge plan was motivated by Peter Parker’s wedding.
Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool flat-out suggested that Spock taking advantage of Mary Jane would be tantamount to rape.
As has been stated a number of times “If you have to ask if it’s rape, then…” But this is superhero comics, which brings in whole new levels of circumstances. Or does it?
In the new Amazing Spider-Man #700, as it begins we meet Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man, with Doctor Octopus living in his head. And he seems to be getting it on with Mary Jane Watson, his in-another-reality ex-wife, certainly ex-girlfriend, and they seem to be getting it on.
They are interrupted by events, however, before Doc Ock can get his ninth tentacle out. But this is the new status quo for Spider-Man. The question asked is, if Mary Jane Watson willingly sleeps with Peter Parker – because it’s not really Peter Parker – is this rape?
She is certainly not consenting to have sex with Doctor Octopus. But the sex that she would be having, she seems totally to be consenting to. Indeed, Dan Slott specifically writes this scene so that Doctor Octopus is the one who is voicing his consent, Mary Jane Watson is the instigator here.
This issue was raised a while ago in this run, with Chamelon supposedly sleeping with Peter Parker’s roommate Michelle under similar circumstances. Writer of that issue Fred Van Lente wrote at the time;
My understanding of the definition of rape is that it requires force or the threat of force, so no. Using deception to trick someone into granting consent isn’t quite the same thing.
He then clarified that Michelle and Chameleon only made out, which felt a little like equivocation. But if Mary Jane Watson and the new Peter Parker get down to it in Superior Spider-Man #1, as they were about to in Amazing Spider-Man #700, is it fraud or rape?
Certainly people have lied to get sex many times. Pretended to be someone other than who they really are. Is it rape if you say you are a multi-millionaire, a member of a popular rock band or related to someone who is? Pretended to be interested in the other person, pretended to be from another country, pretended to not be in another relationship at the time? Much of our life is pretence, some of it ends in sex.
But what are the real life examples of what Doctor Octopus was trying to do?
Johnston cites British laws, but those aren’t applicable here. From my recollection of discussions of an earlier story in which the Chameleon kissed a girl while pretending to be Peter Parker, it wouldn’t fit the definition of rape in the New York State criminal code, which determines whether or not the act (which has yet to be depicted) would literally be a crime. Although the fact that reasonable people could conclude that the New York criminal code doesn’t go far enough suggests that reasonable people could disagree about whether or not behavior would be simply reprehensible or an example of rape.
One problem in discussions about it is that some readers seem to be under the impression that saying that behavior isn’t rape is the same as saying that you approve of it. Most of us would agree that there is a range in the middle. There are ultimately two definitions of whether it would be rape, and we have to remember that we’re talking about something in a fictional context that hasn’t been consummated yet. There is the legal definition, and considering the setting, that requires a slight understanding of New York State Law, as well as US Law on the matter.
And then there’s your personal opinion, which can vary from one individual to another. And we’d have to keep in mind that there isn’t a lot of real world precedent for this exact situation. I’m unaware of anyone in the real world switching minds with someone else, and then trying to seduce the women within their social sphere. Men have lied and withheld information in order to get laid. Technically, there can be an interpretation that any superhero who doesn’t tell his girlfriend his secret identity is a potential rapist. Pretending to be a particular person is probably shadier than other lies men can tell. Although we wouldn’t generally consider a cheater who sleeps with his wife to be a rapist even if she would not agree to be with him if she knew what else he was up to.
Dan Slott has indicated that the topic will be addressed in Superior Spider-Man #2, and it seems prudent to withhold objections until then. Some fans suggest that the broohaha is Marvel’s fault for raising the specter of the relationship. The end of the latest issue of Daredevil raised the specter of Superior Spider-Man ending the man without fear, but fans of Marvel’s other street-level hero have managed to remain calm.
There is an element of escapism in comics. Worrying about the consequences of scenes that have yet to happen goes against that. And there are some questions that it’s better not to think about. If Peter Parker survives, has Doctor Octopus sexually assaulted him by the act of going to the bathroom? When the Superior Spider-Man arc comes to an end, I’m not sure it’s going to be worthwhile to have Peter Parker wondering about that stuff.
One suggestion is that comic book writers should be very careful about what readers may infer, but this could be problematic. I don’t think writers should be too careful. On topics related to sexuality, it’s way too restrictive if they’re bound by the tastes of the most sensitive readers when dealing with a major part of life, and something that’s been a story engine for thousands of years. Humans sometimes act badly, and fiction should reflect that. It shouldn’t be off-limits to hint at the possibility.
One further problem is that some detractors of the current Spider-Man comics are just trying to score points. Rich Johnston noted this problem, asking Stephen Wacker if he would appreciate a discussion with someone who wasn’t admittedly trying to annoy him, as was the case with a twitter user who criticized Wacker on the topic. Dan Slott found this behavior particularly objectionable, posting on CBR:
I am disgusted at some of the specific people out there (NOT everyone) who HAVE sunk to all-new levels of trolling. And all over THIS issue of Spider-Man.
In the past few weeks I’ve seen the lowly & immoral try to use actual infirm children to make their case (and/or jokes in bad taste)…
Claim assaults on their free speech…
And NOW accusations of rape (in a story line where I KNOW there is NONE).
So I don’t think there are “fools” who are “crying rape.” I know there are SPECIFIC persons with axes to grind OVER SPIDER-MAN (a FICTITIOUS character) who have sought to pervert this issue and sway kind-hearted people with genuine (tho in THIS case MISPLACED) concerns to join them in this “cause.”
I don’t think that those SPECIFIC people are fools. I think they’re cruel, shameless, and cowardly. And I believe when this current ploy of theirs doesn’t (in the end) bear any fruit, they will simply switch over to a different line of attack.
Comic fans with genuine concerns mean well, but it seems that outrage that the story may hint at something that would be considered rape in certain jurisdictions, but not the one in which the story is set, seems misplaced. If you think New York State law is too lax, or that something inferred about a story reflects flaws in American culture, a comic book that invites greater scrutiny about that topic should be welcomed due to the value of the discussion. If the story is handled poorly, that’s certainly well criticizing. But it hasn’t happened yet.