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International Character Watch #2

Country of the day - France

France is one of those unfortunate countries that Americans don't particularly like, and love to make fun of. A French character in a sitcom just needs to open his mouth, and you can start the canned laughter. At the same time, the USA has much to be grateful for to France. This strange love-hate relationship also shows up in the characterisation of French characters in American comics, with many of them being cast as anti-heroes.

Character 1:

Name: Marie-Ange Colbert
Code Name: Tarot
Type: Likable character on villainous team
Powers: Can transform two-dimensional images into three-dimensional illusions.
Introduced: In 1984, in New Mutants by Chris Claremont
Currently in: No team. Died, was resurrected and is now depowered.

Background: She was a young girl who was a member of Emma Frost's Hellions, rivals of Xaviers' New Mutants. Each of the Hellions had powers similar to one of the New Mutants - Tarot was matched against Mirage (Danielle Moonstar). She was portrayed as shy and sweet girl, even though she was one of the New Mutants' main antagonists.
Current Status: Was killed along with all the other Hellions by Trevor Fitzroy. Has appeared briefly since then but without explanation.

Stereotype Quotient: Tarot's French origins were never played up - apparently Claremont reserves that for his Asian characters. She was also never a major character.

Character 2:

Name: Georges Batroc
Code Name: Batroc the Leaper
Type: Villainous Comic relief
Powers: Martial Artist.
Introduced: In 1966, in Tales of Suspense by Stan Lee

Background: Batroc was a buffoon, whose villainous exploits were never taken seriously. He used to regularly get his butt kicked by Captain America. He claimed to be an expert martial artist, but it never showed.
Current Status: Batroc is rarely seen nowadays. His fighting skills were hyped up for a while, but he was still only important as comic relief.

Stereotype Quotient: Batroc was the ultimate French caricature. He had an extravagant moustache and spoke in the silly accent that Americans think all Frenchmen speak in, peppering his sentences with French words, mostly out of context. He was also never taken seriously as a villain.

Aside: Batroc also has a blog.

Character 3:

Name: unknown
Code Name: Fantomex
Type: Anti-hero
Powers: Vague.
Introduced: In 2002, in New X-Men by Grant Morrison

Background: Fantomex was created by the Weapon Plus programme, and was classified as Weapon XIII (Wolverine being Weapon X). Apart from that, his exact history is difficult to ascertain. He is a master of deception and misdirection. Has helped the X-Men on a couple of occasions, and has teamed up with Wolverine and Mystique for adventures. Keeps getting killed and coming back. In his own words - "That is what I do."
Current Status: Unknown

Stereotype Quotient: Fantomex has admitted that he speaks French because it annoys people. This casts a doubt over whether he is actually French. Otherwise, he is cultured, sophisticated and a smooth talker, and yet a thief and manipulator. Quite the picture of the charming rogue.

Comments: Fantomex was one of the more disappointing creations of Grant Morrison. His poweres were vaguely defined and seemed too low-key to justify his being a successor to Wolverine as the ultimate warrior.

Character 4:

Name: Laura De Mille
Code Name: Madame Rouge
Type: Schizophrenic Villain/Hero
Powers: Shapeshifter
Introduced: In Doom Patrol #86 by Arnold Drake

Background: Madame Rouge suffered from MPD, with two distinct personalities - one good and one evil. In the war between the Doom Patrol and the Brotherhood of Evil, she was used by both sides, each of whom used artificial means to bring one of her personalities to the forefront. She even had a romantic relationship with Niles Caulder. Finally, when she learnt all that had been done to her, her evil form became dominant and she destroyed both groups. She was hunted down and killed by Beast Boy as revenge, though her good personality was dominant at that point.
Current Status: Dead. Her daughter has since joined the new Brotherhood of Evil, swearing revenge on Beast Boy.

Stereotype Quotient: Not a great deal. For reasons not entirely clear, most of the members of the Brotherhood of Evil were French, and as she was found by Monsieur Mallah and the Brain, it was only natural that she be French.

Character 5:

Name: Monsieur Mallah
Type: Villain
Powers: Strength of a Gorilla, with the mind of a human
Introduced: In Doom Patrol #86 by Arnold Drake

Monsieur Mallah was a gorilla who was turned super-intelligent by The Brain, and then recruited into the Brotherhood of Evil. He and the Brain later fell in love. He was killed along with all other members of the Brotherhood, but has since reappeared.
Current Status: Is a member of the Society, a conglomerate of all villains, and was part of the team that nuked Bludhaven.

Stereotype Quotient: He's a smart ape with a French accent who has a gay relationship with a disembodied male brain. What more do you want???

Character 6:

Name: The Brain
Type: Villain
Powers: Brainy
Introduced: In Doom Patrol #86 by Arnold Drake

Background: The Brain is exactly that - a disembodied brain who is kept in a tube. Occasionally he uses robot bodies. Like boy(?)friend Mallah, he died with the rest of the Brotherhood of Evil, but then reappeared
Current Status: Same as above.

Stereotype Quotient: See above.

I have not incuded characters like Crimson Fox and Warp who are not very interesting, and more importantly, I don't know much about them. But otherwise, these characters show that the representation of French characters range from the cartoony to the sympathetic, but they are never outright heroes. On the other hand, even the villains, no matter how evil, are never of the kind who inspire revulsion, but who are quirky enough to make you smile.

Interestingly, four of the characters (the last four), were principally used by Grant Morrison, who isn't American, but Scot. Given the ludicrous over-the-top antics that he made them perform, it seems that like all Britons, he considers the French a national joke.

Great blog - I was most pleasantly surprised to find it.
What can I say...Thank you!

Batroc the leaper - expert marital artist?

That is quite... interesting.

Dioculus - Thanks. Please do come again.

Toots - Fixed. Happy now?

No. Marital would have allowed me to indulge in greater juvenilia. :(

There's a rather nice Batroc joke in today's Year One, which makes a play on Batroc's pronunciation of 'leaper'. Cute in a grizzly sort of way.

Doesn't Gambit (Remy LeBeau) deserve a mention? Or is that too obvious?

Toots - Don't worry, there will be many more such opportunities.

Aditya - Sacre Bleu! You make fun of Batroc ze leapair. I fart in your general direction. (Ha - note pop culture reference).

m - Non, non, mon ami. Gambit is not French - he is a Cajun from Lousiana, Yew-Ess-Aye. The Cajuns have French ancestry, and that is why they speak the language. For more on Cajuns see here.

Great stuff! Stumbled across this blog on a whim searching for Batroc.

Call me crazy, but there's a character I would love to get my hands on! (Mon dieu!)

But seriously, what a character of awesome potential! I think the stigma is there to always have an air of mockery or incompetence around the charcater, but I'd love nothing more to see the character done seriously, or, dare I dream, do it myself.

Actually, only to further thicken the plot, I would want, in a perfect world, to use him in a Namor series.

Maybe that's why I'm not writing for Marvel... OR AM I?! (I'm not...)

(... OR AM I?!?)

Wow, you have a cool blog here.

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