My friend posted a link to this Tumblr post onto my page the other day and it’s surprisingly given me a lot to think about. What exactly is a Mary Sue and is it necessarily a bad thing? Another issue she raises is the lack of vitriol that goes towards male versions of the Mary Sue – are female characters unfairly targeted?
As with a lot of things, the answer is not a simple ‘yay’ or ‘nay’. So, let’s talk.
Below is an excerpt from her post:
“So, there’s this girl. She’s tragically orphaned and richer than anyone on the planet. Every guy she meets falls in love with her, but in between torrid romances she rejects them all because she dedicated to what is Pure and Good. She has genius level intellect, Olympic-athelete level athletic ability and incredible good looks. She is consumed by terrible angst, but this only makes guys want her more. She has no superhuman abilities, yet she is more competent than her superhuman friends and defeats superhumans with ease. She has unshakably loyal friends and allies, despite the fact she treats them pretty badly. They fear and respect her, and defer to her orders. Everyone is obsessed with her, even her enemies are attracted to her. She can plan ahead for anything and she’s generally right with any conclusion she makes. People who defy her are inevitably wrong.
God, what a Mary Sue.
I just described Batman.”
I think it’s interesting that this blogger has used Batman as an example as a male Mary Sue. While I personally don’t like Batman much as a superhero (don’t attack me with your batarangs!), I don’t agree with the above assessment of his character. Before I go on further though, I have to say that there are obviously male versions of the Mary Sue (but for the purposes of this blog, “Not another Mary Sue, Marty Stu or other variations” would not be catchy or memorable). Badly written characters are not gender, racial or anything else exclusive. Male Mary Sue’s are out there and while I agree that they don’t get as much negative attention, they exist for reasons that I will probably touch upon another time.
Anyway, back to Batman (and yes I know this blog is meant to be about diverse YA books!). I know I’m being finicky, but Batman is not the richest guy on the planet – not in the world where Gotham exists or even where DC comics exist (isn’t Lex Luthor loaded?). He obviously doesn’t have genius level intellect or else there would be no comics or movies because it would hella boring if he were able to figure everything out on his own. He doesn’t defeat enemies with ease as displayed by that brutal display of ass kicking by Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Batman really doesn’t have unshakeable and loyal friends despite the fact that he’s not a terribly nice guy. Other than his trusty pal Alfred, who does he really have? People might be obsessed with him (or more likely, his sense of mystery and insanely low voice), but I think people use him more often than actually being attracted to him (i.e. Miranda Tate earning his trust in TDKR).
So what was the point of me responding to the Batman is a Mary Sue post? Was it just for the sake of being juvenile and pretty much saying “BATMAN ISN’T A MARY SUE, SO THERE YOU HATER!”
Nope, it wasn’t.
The point I’m trying to make is that it’s easy to label characters as a Mary Sue which is fairly understandable since the term isn’t an exact science. Here, the blogger has named Batman even though I think her claims are unsubstantiated in some areas. Other times, people throw any protagonist under the bus simply because they have a few “good qualities” that irritate people. To me, that’s not what makes a Mary Sue but since I feel like I’m fast approaching TL;DR territory, I’ll save what else I have to say for future weeks.
“But NAMS!” you say as I leave, “I thought this was a blog about reading diversely, not just a chat about Mary Sues and superheroes!”
You are right. But as I briefly mentioned earlier, even diverse characters are not immune to being Mary Sues. In order to encourage and promote the reading of diverse characters from awesome books, I want to make sure that I am talking about good characters who are not Mary Sues (and what better way to find that out other than discussing it?). After all, isn’t it worse to have a superficially diverse character that ticks all the awfully offensive stereotypes than to not have diverse characters at all? Isn’t being represented inaccurately worse than not being represented full stop?
Anyway, if you have something to add or something to vehemently rebuff, comment below or through any of my other social media feeds.
Until next time,
Not Another Mary Sue.