Women in Refrigerators. You might have heard the term. It refers to the death of a female character in comics that was done just to provide plot movement for or offer emotional “depth” to a male protagonist. This trope was coined after Green Lantern Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend was murdered, hacked up into little bits and shoved into his refrigerator for him to find. It was hailed as one of the most gratuitous murders of all time and sparked a controversy that created this now well-known call out. It is typical to hear a storyline called out for “fridging” a woman.
Well, folks, another major female character has been fridged, and once more in the DC Comics line-up. Don’t worry though, it’s not in the mainstream DC Universe. In preparation for the upcoming video game release of Injustice: Gods Among Us, DC released a line of comics giving the backstory for this fighting game. It’s in these comics we see the fridging of one of DC’s long-standing woman icons: Lois Lane. The severity and the brutality of the murder has sent shockwaves across the internet and has many people asking: was this really necessary?
In Injustice, Superman discovers that his beloved wife is pregnant. As he ponders what this means for their future, notorious Gotham villain the Joker decides to take a little vacation to Metropolis to cause mayhem. He kidnaps Lois (after shooting Jimmy Olsen in the head) and tricks Superman into believing that she is really Doomsday. Superman, mad with worry over Lois’ disappearance, drags Lois/Doomsday into space. Unbeknownst to everyone, Lois’ heart has been tied to a giant bomb. Lois and her unborn child die at Superman’s hands and Metropolis is blown apart. Superman, in his grief, sets out to ending all war on earth, and everything goes to hell. This is the setup for the video game.
Written by Tom Taylor, Injustice is a much darker world than the DC Universe you might be used to, and certainly it’s a dark place for a video game to begin. Yet reading the comics, one can’t help but cringe. In an age when DC Comics has been called out again and again for it’s treatment of female characters, Lois has been touted as a strong, complex character who has been written out of the damsel-in-distress role for which she was initially created. She’s evolved over time to become a career-driven, ambitious reporter, loving partner and smart advisor in a world often laden with empty-shirt girlfriend characters just waiting for a trip to that big old fridge. So what do they do with her? They kill her to create emotional trauma for her male love interest, Superman. That is the essence of the Women in Refrigerators trope at it’s worst, and it was just done to one of DC’s longest standing woman icons.
There are a number of aspects to this story that makes this choice particularly heinous. The creators needed an excuse to make Superman go over the edge so their entire storyline could be justified. Clearly destroying the Man of Steel’s entire city wasn’t enough. Maybe shooting Jimmy Olsen in the head would do it? No, that’s not enough emotional damage, so bring on the butchered wife. But wait, comic fans, there’s more—she had to be pregnant as well. It isn’t bad enough that Lois is killed, but there had to be an unborn child in her womb to further compound the tragedy. The fact that the comic spends so much time focusing on Lois’ death as the inciting incident for the entire plot only proves that Lois is being treated as a set piece, an emotional focal point for Superman, and not as a character. Utilizing a female character as a crutch for developing the emotional life of a male protagonist is lazy, hackneyed writing at its worst and does disservice to the development of a narrative around Superman. That’s saying nothing of the disservice it does to comic fans by leaning so heavily on the old damsel in distress/violence against woman bag.
The comics further go on to demonstrate their inability to treat female characters as their own people when they go out of their way to introduce Wonder Woman as a potential love interest for Superman in one of the later issues. Diana is confronted by Ares as she fights to stand by her friend Superman as he tries to force the world to disarm all weapons. The plot takes a nice break from everything going on to make us aware Ares is worried that Diana is going to jump in the sack with Superman and make a baby, now that Lois is out of the way. Because that’s the first thing Wonder Woman would do, naturally, and the only thing the writers could think to do with the Amazon Princess—line her up as Superman’s next girlfriend. The corpse isn’t even cold and they’re reslating the single strongest woman character they have as the new Super-girlfriend. The whole thing is so poorly played and forced as to be cringe-worthy.
I will say at least Tom Taylor does his best to explain this choice in a recent interview for IGN, citing that he did try to make the death less painful by making Superman unaware that he was killing Lois at the time. That explanation, however, sounds more like an excuse after the fact. It comes across as an attempt to make the murder more palatable for audiences that might see it for what it is—a gimmick to convince readers that the comic and game is going to be “edgy.” And all this to create a backstory for a simple heroes-and-villains Mortal Kombat-style fighting game.
Equally sad is that if not for this death, the comic could have been a dark, moving look into what happens when superheroes run amok, a what-if scenario that could set up the video game as an interesting DC Universe property. Instead, it places Injustice squarely into the land of video games and comics which cut corners on character development by falling back on the easiest thing—butchering women characters to make a big splash. Instead of being edgy, Injustice instead reminds us that the message about violence against women as a plot hook hasn’t been heard—or is just being blatantly ignored.
Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com.