The XX Factor

The “Spider-Man” Rape Controversy

After hearing Hanna, Emily, and Margaret discuss the Hofstra rape case and the concept of “gray rape” -that confounding area that lies between explicit consent and explicit denial-a reader wrote in with a question: Is it rape if the person you think you’re sleeping with is actually a shape-shifting villain?

That’s the quandary that comic book fans are currently debating. In a recent issue of Amazing Spider-Man , a villain named Chameleon impersonates Peter Parker (who, as you probably know but Chameleon doesn’t, is the titular superhero). Earlier in the storyline, the real Peter had drunkenly slept with his roommate, Michelle. She did not react well when it became clear that he, um, hadn’t actually meant to do that.

In this issue, Chameleon/Peter comes home and finds an irate Michelle-and decides to defuse the situation with a kiss. The scene ends with the two sinking to the floor, out of the frame, with a speech bubble from Michelle that reads, “GIGGLE,” covered in little red hearts. When the real Peter comes home, he’s confused to find Michelle wearing his T-shirt and boxers, demanding cuddle time, and generally acting like a pushy girlfriend from a cringe-worthy sitcom. ( has scans of the pages, plus a good summary of the ensuing debate.)

There’s a lot of back-and-forth going on about whether Michelle was actually “raped” by Chameleon-she did give consent, after all, but to a completely different partner than she actually got. The author of the issue, Fred Van Lente, wrote in a private email:

My understanding of the definition of rape is that it requires force or the threat of force, so no. Using deception to trick someone into granting consent isn’t quite the same thing.

Which is not to say it isn’t a horrible, evil, reprehensible thing that Chameleon did. He is a bad man.

FWIW, as of 2007, 15 states, plus Puerto Rico, did have some kind of provision against rape by impersonation (PDF), particularly spousal impersonation. But I’m less interested in the legalistic, is-this-rape-if-so-what-kind-of-rape discussion than I am in the fact that the comic does not, in fact, seem to reflect Van Lente’s assertion that Chameleon’s act was “horrible, evil, [and] reprehensible.” The hearts on the giggle-bubble; the fact that Michelle seems blissed out by the experience; the fact that she, in effect, is doubly-shamed-first by being duped into sex and then by being duped into thinking she had a new boyfriend. It all makes it seem like something to be laughed off-maybe even at- not an issue to be taken seriously.

Van Lente notes that, in an upcoming issue, it’s revealed that Michelle and Chameleon/Peter “did nothing more than make out … There was no sex, and therefore no rape.” But I agree with io9-the scanned images sure do imply that sex was had in that kitchen. What’s the point of making that insinuation and then letting it linger?

What do you think-was Michelle raped? Does the definition matter? Did the Spider-Man creative team handle the issue responsibly?

More discussion on : Daily Scans , Geek Feminism , Bleeding Cool