The Curse Of DC Comics

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I never wanted you to come back to Gotham. I always knew there was nothing here for you, except pain and tragedy. And I wanted something more for you than that. I still do.
–Alfred Pennyworth, “The Dark Knight Rises”

On this blog I once asked the question, “Is There A Superman Curse?” I presented the circumstantial evidence—the centerpiece of which was similar-sounding George Reeves and Christopher Reeve, famous for playing the character, both died relatively young. (Between the revelations concerning Kevin Spacey, who played Lex Luthor in Superman Returns, and the apparent “Smallville Girls Sex Slave Cult,” I may have to revise that particular post in the near future.)

I have also asked on this site if there was a “curse” surrounding the character of the Joker—the untimely passing of actor Heath Ledger and the “Dark Knight Rising” massacre at Aurora being the most notable examples (though there have been so many incidents and crimes connected to people dressing like the Joker that I’ve created a “Jokerology” category on my site).

But I have recently realized that perhaps I needed to think a bit more holistically on this topic. Maybe there was and perhaps still is, in general, a “DC Comics Curse.”

Let me explain.

I just spent a good portion of my entire Saturday publicly talking to people over Facebook about my experiences at DC Comics, where I worked as an assistant editor from 2000-2004. And l likened the experience of having these impromptu conversations—especially with other people who have worked there in the past—to the movie IT. Specifically the 1990s version, where all the adults get together and reminisce in horror about their experiences in Derry facing off against Pennywise.

Both women and men (and surprisingly, a lot of men)—reported these feelings that are pretty akin to trauma. Things that happened that were always hidden finally getting a chance to be said. All these visceral feelings of betrayal, suppressed discomfort, and just…just a terrible terrible heavy energy surrounding the experience of having worked there. A sense of horror at something that for all intents and purposes should have been great—working for the factory where dreams are made, where our modern gods were born.

But this was just a personal, “ground level,” in-the-moment conversation I had among some old friends—inspired by the fact that a major article in Buzzfeed (the place that exposed Spacey) outed one of DC’s most prominent editors, Eddie Berganza, as a serial sexual harasser.

I knew Eddie. Eddie was one of the first people to make me feel accepted at DC. I was very shy at the time—always slipping out for lunch by myself—and one day while I was gone he organized a prank where these giant NSYNC posters were plastered all over my office walls. After that, I very often hung out with Eddie and his assistants. I considered him a friend.

And he also apparently harassed a number of women coworkers, as well as the wife of a freelancer. As each case got written up, as time went on, these female employees (in a business where there is already a paucity of female employees) would be pushed/driven out of the company…but Eddie would be retained. He would “outlive” them all, to get to edit the most high-profile books the publisher offered.

(Eddie was also, for a long stretch, the group editor of the Superman titles—should we add this to the “curse” list?)

Our executive editor at the time I started working at DC was similarly a hot-and-cold Jekyll/Hyde type, with a good dose of Hyde. He ended up getting demoted (for some mysterious reason) and later became my boss—where he sexually harassed me until I quit.

I’ve named him in other public places, but I’m not going to do so here by virtue of the preference that this website is my personal and literal sacred space and I don’t want his fucking name to have any energetic connection to it. (Does that “leave him off the hook?” NO: he will never be left of the hook)

After months of being harassed by him continually, I discretely went to DC management for help. Not an even a official complaint with forms and such, and certainly not public—just a request to have somebody talk to my boss about toning it down a bit. Of course, such an action was pretty much tantamount to a “rejection” of his attentions, and now I was on the “shit list.”

Things got hostile towards me to the point where my health was adversely impacted. Like the women in the Berganza case, I finally had to make my exit. DC management and leadership were complete and total failures at keeping their female employees safe. Incompetent useless tone-deaf jackasses.

I finally got a lawyer. I had an 8,000 word dated chronology not only of the harassment incidents, but of my experienced and observed instances of sexism in the office. We quickly settled out of court. I refused to sign an NDA. I explained to my exasperated lawyer why I would not cut a deal that included the NDA: “But this could happen to other women. People need to know.”

Apparently DC had a looooooong history of sexual harassment claims by female ex-employees, way before me. Even their legendary “patriarch,” Julius Schwartz, was accused of harassment. (He would later be honored by the company in a series of commemorative comic book covers. So goes the blind, tribal, primal attachment to the Patriarch)

But I was warned on my very first day of working at DC, by my future “pal” Eddie of all people. He told me a story about the three workers who all left under mysterious and debated circumstances right before I arrived there—two African-Americans, and one woman. They were penalized—and in one case, fired—for reasons that were either flat-out not their fault or were things that the other (white male) editorial staff did all the time.

The general unspoken consensus among many in the department was that they were let go because of some weird agenda/bias against African-Americans and women by management. Indeed, the already sparse diversity in the department was gutted by the exits—exits that included the first Black editor of Batman. (I’d love for some intrepid legit journalist to take a closer look at this story!)

Always in DC was this heavy, oppressive sense of paranoia and cover-up. Numerous “very horrible things” that could only be spoken of in whispers and behind closed doors. So it was no surprise that the comic book DC leadership chose to signal their “new direction,” Identity Crisis, was literally about how their superheroes conspired to cover up a bad deed.

It was almost as if all the bad energy and unaddressed injustices in the office “manifested” this comic book.

I assisted on Identity Crisis while I was being harassed by my boss. I remember one day the art came in for the much-hyped rape scene in the comic. That’s right True Believers—an honest to god rape scene in a DC comic, graphically showing the victim being taken from behind. Because when you think “DC Comics,” the first thing that comes to mind is anal rape. Obviously.

The young editor who brought the pages to our office seemed almost giddy. “The rape pages are here!”, he announced (this co-worker would later attempt to grope me in my office, his hand under my shirt, his hand on my skin, making its way to my bra strap…then realizing he fucked up and retreating his hand as if perhaps it had merely “fell in” by accident.)

As my boss and this co-worker chirruped about the rape scene (rendered so starkly in ink against bright white comic book grade drawing paper) I began to feel physically sick. I left to go into my office, where by sheer happenstance I found on the Internet an article revealing that Schwartz—who, up until recently, was still an occasional fixture in the office—had attempted to grope a female comic artist.

Do you see why I am seriously wondering, “is there a DC Comics curse?” This is not just about one or two incidents or one or two people. This is a fucking tapestry of dysfunction, tying together many lives with this thread of abuse of power and enforced silence.

I’ve written on this site many times about how our pop-culture seems to “inform” our real-life society. And how our superheroes are our modern gods. So if these things are true…what impact does the Curse of DC Comics have? Everybody wears Superman “S” symbols and bat logos…but what is the subconscious impact of the continuing dark history behind these and other beloved comic book icons?

And is there a way to “redeem” this—to redeem these characters and return them to their pristine heroic state—somehow?

I don’t know.

Look folks: I’m not trying to sell you soap here, or “convince” you of anything, or tell you how to think, or even make you like me. And I’m not sure I fit the profile of the mythical “typical” person who presents narratives like the one I just gave you.

But I will say this…

I believe that these comic book and big-screen heroes are, to an extent, tainted by the nastiness behind the scenes…that dark energy both overtly and covertly shaping the direction these modern day gods take. You can’t separate the peas and carrots and mashed potatoes on that plate—it is a package deal.

It’s like the shooting in Aurora by a man who fashioned himself after the Joker at a midnight screening for a Batman movie. Such a tragic event where so many people died. And I remember that right after that incident, instead of pulling back on violent Joker comics…DC actually doubled down on them! They actually announced a whole comic book event, “The Death Of The Family,” that would feature Joker-centric gore and murder. They even released a fucking gruesome new Joker mask that the leadership of the company were gleefully wearing for photo-ops at conventions.

Who the FUCK would think this was an appropriate response by a publisher after a guy who thought he was the Joker massacred people in one of the worst mass-shootings of all time? Who would respond to that event by saying: “you know what? We need even MORE violent Joker-related products to catch the wave of all that media hype after that dude shot all those people!”

Only people with some sort of essential empathy-button missing think shit like that. I mean, even amongst a larger entertainment industry that’s notorious for being shameless and all about the bottom line, that’s pretty dank.

But while I met some very great people at DC Comics, that sort of bad energy was omnipresent. And I think my experiences there—and all I observed—has really informed my current interests in everything from the primal origins of the structures of power to the oft-strange interplay between pop-culture and reality.

Anyway. Thanks for reading. A know it’s a lot.

But I think it’s time to finally put Gotham behind me.

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More to read about on Butterfly Language:
Observations 10/11/17: Bad Batman
Sometimes, The Batman Chooses You
Journey Against The Centre For The Earth: Justice League The New Frontier