Thursday, February 3, 2011

With a Name Like That, She’d Better Be Hot… or a Dude

Honestly, I don’t mean to distract myself, but you know how Wikipedia can be. There I was, at work, reading about Lisa Rinna — yes, at work and for work — and I ended up reading about Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., a little-known 1998 comic book adaptation starring David Hasselhoff. Already, I’ve said enough to explain why this film may have escaped your awareness, even if you care who Nick Fury is. (The short answer: He’s the eyepatch-sporting character Samuel L. Jackson played in the Iron Man movies and will return for next year’s Avengers movie.) In the 1998 film, Rinna played a character named La Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine. That only being the kind of name that a soap opera villainess, drag queen or kickass comic book character can have, I had to click through.

In Marvel comics, it turns out, the Contessa is one of those sexy but capable but sexy ladies who prefers catsuits to body armor and yet somehow still hasn’t died. She looks like this:

Given the Contessa’s banging, Bond girl body, it should be no surprise that in her forty-two-year run in Marvel comics, she has ended up in bed with Nick Fury more than once. Their first sexual encounter, however, is the most notable because the Contessa’s “one-page seduction” of Fury, as Wikipedia refers to it, had to be edited to conform with the Comics Code Authority. From Wikipedia:
In the third-to-last panel, de facto Marvel art director John Romita Sr. redrew a telephone that had been taken off the hook for privacy, placing the receiver back in the cradle; in the last panel, an image was removed and replaced with a closeup of an item from earlier in the page — a phallic long-barreled gun in a holster. [Romita explained,] “So one panel had the stereo in Fury's apartment to show there was music playing, cigarettes in the ash tray in one, there was a sequence of intercut shots where she moved closer to him, much more intimately, there was a kiss, there was a rose, and then there was one panel with the telephone off the hook, which the comic book code made him put back on. ... [T]he last panel on that page had Nick and his old lady kneeling, with their arms around each other, and that was entirely too much for the Code, so the panel was replaced with a picture of a gun its holster.”
And I’m writing about this because I’m struck not only by how much of a rather vanilla sex scene had to be edited in a comic where people spend most of their time shooting guns at each other but also the specific signifiers of sex that had to be omitted. Maybe I’ve been living in houses without landlines for too long, but it seems so strange to me that leaving a phone off the hook would signify sex and that redrawing the panel to show the phone hung-up, ready to take incoming calls, dispelled the sexiness enough to get an approval. Then, to take a panel showing a man and woman embracing and replace it with a gun in its holster? That seems even worse, honestly. An embrace is an embrace; there’s not much symbolism to it, but the gun slid into its pocket — surely a flesh-colored sheath, designed for it, specifically for it, keeping it warm, the way it likes — actually suggests more to me than than a straightforward depiction of clothed, physical affection ever could.

It’s baffling to me, but then again this is coming from a guy who has authored the Penis Vagina Twins series of superhero-detective comics (contract pending.)

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