Graceless and Shameful
Given that since its inception the comic book industry, and the industry executives, has always placed more focus and effort on gaining male readers and appeasing them; thus, it should be not be a surprise–sadly– to know that the publishers who have created some of your favorite characters and story arcs have a history of crushing women for the platform of a male orientated narrative.
First and for most, this post will examine the mistreatment of women solely in comics. There is much to be said about the arcane and disgusting treatment of women who have worked in comics or are currently working in comics, but the severity of the subject matter warrants the space and the attention of its own post. But for now…
‘Fridging’ in General
The act of ‘fridging’ is not an original creation from the medium of comics; the act of ‘Fridging’ has been depicted throughout various mediums that not only existed before comics but also had a direct influence on the medium. ‘Fridging’ is common in movies and its a staple of most writing before the contemporary era.
Gail Simone, accomplished comic book writer and beloved author by many readers, coined the term ‘fridging’ in retrospect to a moment that happened in Green Lantern #54. Basically, ‘fridging’ refers to any time that a woman is mistreated, abused, tortured, mutilated, raped, (burned), or killed at the expense of having a male character (not specifically a love interest) explore their feelings of anger, guilt, sadness, or despair and go through an arc as characters.
Regardless of gender, the devastation that comes from the loss of a significant other is tragic for the remaining party. For the male characters left in the aftermath, no reader should dismiss their feelings; however, a reader has every right to call the death itself as gratuitous, unwarranted, and unjustified, and [especially] lazy on the writer’s part.
‘Fridging’ is a cheap plot device to add drama and stakes into a story that either had no conflicts to begin with or direction by the writer. To treat women as disposable liabilities that can walk is a mistake and possibility the root of a patriarchal mind that refuses to acknowledge the any of aspect of character from the female gender.
Some Infamous Examples of ‘Fridging’
Some of the women on this list were love interests, others were family members, a few were best friends, but regardless of their relationship to their male counterpart or partner the one trait that they all shared was that they suffered an avoidable death for sales and shock value.
1. Gwen Stacy
Next to Uncle Ben and Captain Stacy, the death of Gwen Stacy is one of the most maddening and regrettable mistakes that has haunted Peter Parker history as a character. However, it is important to note that before her death in comics, Gwen Stacy was an afterthought for Peter’s life.
In the early days of their relationship, Gwen didn’t really have a personality for readers to latch onto, but readers accepted her presence because Peter did. She was a nice girl and for many that seemed enough to justify giving her space on the page. It wasn’t until, in the opinion of Crumbling Comics, that the Gwen character didn’t get fleshed out until Spider-man Blue by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. In this story, Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy are competing for Peter’s heart and it is in this story where the sweetness of Gwen becomes comprehensible and endearing.
2. Most of Matt Murdock’s Love Interests
When they don’t dump him, when he doesn’t dump them, when they don’t go insane, or when they don’t become villains in the title, Matt Murdock’s Love interests have a bad habit of perpetuating Matt’s vicious cycle of self destruction by dying. Although it is a long standing tradition for writers of the Daredevil title to destroy Matt’s life slowly and as painfully as possible for the protagonist, the act of killing a love interest just for Matt to feel bad about it is still ‘fridging’ regardless of the deaths being in line with nature of Daredevil comics.
Women whom Daredevil loved who were killed to break Matt Murdock are: Elektra [death by Bullseye], Karen Page [death by Bullseye], Heather Glenn [alcoholism/ suicide], and Glorianna O’Brian [thrown out of building by D-list supervillain]
Most readers are probably familiar with the images associated with the deaths of Karen Page and Elektra already, so here is uniconic and horrifically accurate to life death of Heather Glenn.
Ghastly isn’t it?
3. Sue Dibny
Most know Sue Dibny for two things: one, getting raped, burned, and then killed in Identity Crisis; and two, being the marker for a darker period in DC comic’s publication history. Just to be clear, the company had no compunction for killing off the Elongated Man’s wife, but rather they were proud of “pushing” the “maturity” of their comics up a whole another level and “raising the stakes”.
Although Ralph had the powers, Sue was just as responsible for solving crimes as he was because what she lacked in abilities she made up in cleverness, observation, and deduction. When the Ralph received sole credit for solving a mystery, he always quick to correct that he couldn’t have cracked the case without his wife.
The Dibnys were best friends, lovers, companions, partners, and, most importantly, equals. Now they are no more because of shock value.
4. Supergirl [Kara Zor-El]
Albeit out of all of the women on this list Kara’s death seemed the most reasonable because she was a superhero and she died heroically fighting a universe ending force, which she did wound as a result of her sacrifice; however, the death is still ‘fridging’ for reasons that require a bit of background knowledge behind the publication of Crisis on Infinite Earths.
As with any Crisis in DC, editorial executive saw the event as a perfect opportunity to resent the universe for a company wide relaunch of titles aimed at getting new readers into comics. For the Superman title and the Superman character, editorial thought that the world of Superman was filled with too many Kryptonians and that their existence depreciated Superman’s “Last Son of Krypton” moniker.
Therefore, since the Supergirl title never selled well to begin with and at the time the character was in a quagmire with regards to her origin, the company decided it was best to get rid of a character to keep a name, which would Superman would never lose regardless of era or number of Kryptonians.
5. Alexandra Dewitt
She was a successful photographer working in L.A when she met Kyle Rayner. The two were happy for some time but then separated due to personal differences. When Alexandra later reappeared to prominence in DC, she was a green lantern. Technically she predated Kyle’s indoctrination into the green lantern core and defeated Kyle’s first enemy as a green lantern.
It was her death the inspired the term “fridging” because not only did a fridge played a role in her death but also the excessive brutality surrounding her unprovoked murder made it clear that the death was solely for shock.
She was a lovely, witty, and intelligent person before someone felt that she needed to die to push Kyle over the edge and develop pathos for him.
There are more women who have the misfortune to have been “fridge”. In the early 20s, Gail Simone along with some of her like minded colleges from the comic book industry created a website that contains a list of all the characters the two have ever “fridged”. Women in Refrigerators is a well-made guide for exploitative deaths [some of the entries might appall or shock a reader depending where one’s fandom falls].
Don’t Fall For It
As stated in other posts, a purpose of Crumbling Comics is to inform comic readers of all seasons of the pitfalls and trappings that lie in the industry. Regardless of whether one considers themselves a feminist, an unassociated alley of feminist causes, a nonsupporter of feminism or someone who is indifferent to issues encircling gender,a reader should not believe that the death of a female– for lack a of better term– bystander is a display of good writing. At its worst, “fridging” is sexist, but at its core its just cliche and the sign of an untalented writer.