By Spencer Ellsworth
Transformers creators, old and new, are fighting. Over a very special lady.
Okay, sorry, sorry, it's actually over the portrayal of female Transformers. You see, although the Robots in Disguise are technically sexless, there are a few distinctively female characters in their ranks. Why these robots have apparent genders, and what it means, and how to deal with it in a Comics-Code-friendly manner… such questions drive writers mad.
Old guard Simon Furman, author of a metric ton of TF comics from the eighties to today, spun a new origin for token female Autobot Arcee in 2008's Spotlight: Arcee, in which mad science made her the very first gendered robot. Whether from existential ennui, or from the forced application of genitals without anesthetic, Furman's Arcee became a heartless murderer.
New TF writer Mairghread Scott takes some issue with the story, and seeks to rectify with her upcoming take on Windblade, a female TF. Windblade will originate in a one-shot IDW title in Spring 2014, and get a Hasbro toy as well. In a recent Q&A on TFW2005, Scott writes:
In a vacuum, Furman's story is completely legitimate. The idea that someone is fundamentally changed against her will and struggles/rages against that is a really interesting idea… The issues I have with Furman's choice is that we don't exist in a vacuum and the suggestion that 1. women only exist in aberration 2. being a woman is inherently traumatic 3. being a woman has any correlation to mental illness are extremely upsetting. Do I think Furman was trying to make a statement about human women with Arcee's origins? No. In fact, the largest share of blame lies with the tokenization of women in the brand in general."
It's mild and thoughtful criticism, but Simon Furman still was quite put out, and responded in a recent blog post. In his words:
For Scott to (wrongly) accuse me of apparently setting out to be offensive to women is the kind of personal attack that really needs a response. Thankfully, I was spared having to break down the illogicality and blinkered assumption of Scott's attack by a poster on the TFW2005 boards, who so eloquently redressed the balance.
Furman goes on to quote a Poster who essentially reinforces what Scott means when she talks about the story within a vacuum. It's hard for this reader to extract an "accusation" from Scott's careful words—clearly she's trying to be respectful to him, but air some gripes with the role Spotlight: Arcee plays overall. Furman's actually been quite good about introducing female (human) leads into the Transformers world, which Scott does not mention, and should have.
We've seen similar battles all over the comics landscape lately, but surely robot gender is a brave new world.
[UPDATE: Things have been worked out between Furman and Scott on this issue]
On the 2nd of January, Furman posted the following to his blog:
Mairghread and I have spoken and ironed out the bumps. Let there be an end to this.