Following from my previous post, I mentioned I would discuss the portrayal of rape survivors in comics. With this new post, I’ll be discussing a character who is most likely one of the most problematic portrayals of a rape victim in comics. As survivors of sexual abuse, it can be hard to regain a sense of our bodies belonging to ourselves as we have to live with the abuse we’ve endured without letting it consume us. But with the character I will be talking about today that can be all the more difficult when all said character does is stew in her own suicidal depression and aim her anger towards killing. She presents a negative image that further damages the public and private psychology behind the treatment and consideration of rape survivors. For today, I’ll be talking about why said character is toxic and to better recognize the toxicity behind her is to better ensure it never happens again.
In 2010, DC Comics revamped the series “Titans” as part of their new banner event, “Brightest Day.” Formerly, “Titans” focused on a group of now grown up former sidekicks of more well known heroes like Batman and Wonder Woman. When writer Eric Wallace took the helm, “Titans” became a series about a mercenary team. Their leader, Deathstroke the Terminator, an arch-enemy of the genuine Titans, stole the name in order to mock his enemies. Deathstroke’s team of “Badass villains” contained characters he could exploit and manipulate due to some trauma they suffered. This run immediately got off on the wrong foot when the Titans slaughtered Ryan Choi, the Asian superhero known as the Atom, in a manner that had reviewers calling the issue a snuff film. Negative criticism and accusations of racism at DC continued throughout the book’s run, and many readers felt little sympathy for these “Titans.” One such Titan, a new character created just for this run, was Carla Moretti, a.k.a. Cinder.
(From Titans: Villains for Hire #1/Art by Mike Mayhew)
From the start she is sexualized, in total “power mode” but appearing totally nude. Any time Cinder’s powered up she looks like this, nude despite being fully clothed.
According to Eric Wallace, Cinder’s a rape survivor with a destructive streak manifesting in suicidal tendencies. An Italian woman from a wealthy family, Carla watched her younger brothers die in an explosion. Suffering from depression and survivor’s guilt, starting at age 14 Carla was molested by her favorite uncle for two years. As an adult, Carla joined the Italian Military’s Bomb Squad, hoping to somehow accomplish her death wish. Exposure to radiation gave Carla the abilities to manipulate heat and transform into magma, which she used on her uncle. Now calling herself Cinder, Carla used her powers to hunt sex offenders. Deathstroke offered her a spot on his team in exchange for helping her get targets out of her reach, like politicians and cardinals. So she helps slaughter an innocent man to do that. This did little to calm her suicidal feelings since her powers have functionally made her immortal. She can’t die even if she wanted to.
Unfortunately, that’s all there was to Cinder. Instead of labeling her as an antihero or antivillain, it’s easier to just call her a serial killer. Eric Wallace described Cinder as “flawed and emotionally fragile,” and does have her admit she’s a bad person. But that’s the problem. All she ever did was wallow in pity when she wasn’t eager to kill. Readers were never given a look into her beyond her depression and hatred, save for some rather forced “emotional” scenes of a friendship with one of her teammates. All she had was a homicidal obsession and desire to die, making her, to me at least, a very problematic portrayal of a rape survivor in comics.
There’s the way in which Cinder’s first established using her powers. She gets in bed with a known child molester, and then sets him on fire with her vagina while in coitus. Seriously, with her vagina. The ridiculousness of this scene is compounded only by her dialog.
(From Titans: Villains for Hire #1/Art by Sergio Peralta)
Here is where the understanding of the negative portrayal of Cinder’s body must begin. As I made clear, any time she fully uses her powers, her body takes on a red, fiery appearance, but at the same time makes her appear as though she’s completely nude. This is a stock trope in comic books concerning characters with elemental abilities, though with female characters they appear more sexualized with the clear outlines of their breasts and sometimes nipples. To apply that to a rape survivor is, at the very least, discomforting. Now there’s the way she weaponizes her vagina for the sake of murder. Subjectively, I have to wonder if Eric Wallace considered this to be some kind of “Female empowerment” tactic. That is, to have a sexual abuse victim utilize her vagina to kill. Needless to say, if he did, it backfired spectacularly. The above scene helped get the “Villains for Hire” special put on a few “Worst Comics of 2010” lists. There’s absolutely no reason for Cinder to have killed her target the way she did, considering the two were alone the entire time.
Readers are supposed to empathize with Cinder despite being a villain because she’s a rape survivor who kills rapists and uses the suffering of her targets’ past victims as justification. There’s the psychology of using abuse as an excuse for destructive tendencies the former victim perpetrates, making readers overlook their horrible actions so they’ll care about them. It’s almost similar to how later “Nightmare on Elm Street” films tried making Freddy Krueger, a gleefully self admitted child killer, tragic by revealing his abused childhood even after further revealing he’s tried molesting some of his victims. And of course, the objectification of the many other victims.
Then there’re Cinder’s suicidal tendencies and immortality. Before she got her powers, Carla secretly hoped she might one day screw up while working with the Bomb Squad. And yet, if she ever did fail and die from a mistake, chances are many others would’ve died alongside her because she’s working with bombs. There’s a sense of disregard for those around her so long as she gets what she wants. That disregard comes up again later in “Titans” when, during a mission to Arkham Asylum, Cinder goes against Deathstroke’s orders and tries to kill Nursery Cryme, a serial child rapist with a hypnotic voice. Instead, she accidentally frees him. Because of her haste, he’s free to victimize more children. There were plans for Cinder to find him, but the series was cancelled before that happened.
(Nursery Cryme Set Free/From Titans #29/Art by Fabrizio Fiorentino)
Of course, how he managed to burn his muzzle off without getting burned everywhere else is just another show of the poor writing and editing from this run.
Now add her immortality into the equation. It’s implied by how her powers work that Carla no longer needs to eat, sleep, or breathe. In one issue, she completely reconstitutes her body when blown apart. This has bothered me because, looking into her past actions, it makes me question if the real reason Carla started murdering people was because she had nothing else to do until she dies. And she does die at the end of the series, but while stopping Deathstroke’s evil plans. So her death is meant to be seen as a heroic sacrifice, another forced attempt at gaining our sympathies when she finally fulfills her death wish despite doing little to earn that sympathy beforehand.
Cinder has always bothered me as a character and reacting as an assault survivor, I feel disgusted. Barely shown doing anything that didn’t reflect how much she hates herself, she uses her powers in ridiculous ways, and her bloodlust has led to innocent people getting killed and hurt. She comes across like a self loathing narcissist and gets what she wanted in the end. At no point is she ever given the option of addressing her abuse in a way that didn’t involve more killing. She’s not even really a character, just a ball of abuse and rape tropes shoved together in one.