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She Has No Head! – Your Context Is Showing

One of the things I’ve been wanting to talk about ever since Brian first offered me a chance to write a column for CSBG, was in essence, Marvel versus DC when it comes to women.  Because I think for good or ill, Marvel and DC Marrina aka Vagina Dentata Villainesspretty much run the table (if you’re in doubt look at the comments on my two posts about Marvel and DC versus the less mainstream posts – no contest – even when we’re talking about something as seemingly silly as costumes).  And this week I came across an article on Savage Critic by Abhay Khosla that got me thinking about what’s really working or not working and who is doing better with the issue of women in comics – Marvel or DC, because let’s face it, neither of them are knocking it out of the park.

Much like I discussed before in the Jen Van Meter/Power Girl post, for me, the problem largely comes down to context.

Khosla’s article on Savage Critic, and you really should go read it because whether you agree or disagree it’s an interesting piece, is essentially about Marvel’s recent history on portraying women as evil emasculating tyrants i.e. The Dark Reign story in which Namor’s ex-wife Marrina is a constantly sexually aroused version of a vagina dentata myth who is ultimately defeated by her middle aged ex-husband and Secret Invasions’ alien queen trying to turn our world’s patriarchal system into a matriarchy for which she is punished by her head being utterly destroyed by men.  And then io9’s Graeme McMillian jumped in and added House of M and Avengers Disassembled which were both about a woman (the same woman in point of fact) with WAY too much power.  Can’t have that, now can we?

Now, before you get all crazy devoted fanboy on me and stop reading, I want to make a couple things clear.  First, I don’t entirely agree with the specific interpretations offered up by Khosla and I didn’t go rip up every Marvel comic I own because that’s what any feminazi in her right mind would do.  HOWEVER, Khosla (and McMillian) have some rogue-wtfserious points.  And for me it all comes back to context. Because while I’m not one to start stifling creativity – I mean what can we do if we can’t have a ball busting gorgeous super villainess that should be taught a lesson (amirite?!)…we can’t just start taking everything off the table or we’re going to end up with no stories.  Hell, I’m even up for a vagina dentata story, it’s a fascinating fable with a long history attached to it.  But you can’t have all of these, all on the heels of each other AND not have any female marquee books the equivalent of Wonder Woman; AND have every character from Rogue to Black Widow with a crazy unzipped to her stomach costume; AND pretend that the most interesting thing going on with the “divas” of Marvel are their ex-boyfriends, current boyfriends, and future boyfriends…well, you can do all that (because Marvel has), but you can’t do it without raising eyebrows and having people call bullshit on you when you try to say it’s all innocent fun…and coincidence.

So here’s the thing, and I can’t believe I’m about to make this confession on CSBG of all places, but I discovered comics through that god damn X-Men cartoon from 1992.  That’s right, sitting on the sofa in my pajamas on a Saturday morning, looking for a decent cartoon, my brother stopped on X-Men and both our heads almost exploded with the awesome.  Honestly, if you could have opened up my head at that moment I feel like you would have been able to see all new synapses firing for the first time.  I was changed.  Rogue was flying through a mall beating up a Sentinel.  And I had discovered superheroes.  And nothing would be the same again (much to my parents’ chagrin).

Two weeks later my brother came home from the mall with Uncanny X-Men #290, having recognized Storm from the Uncanny X-Men #290cartoon, and suddenly I had discovered comics, or rather my brother had discovered comics and brought them to me.  And now for certain nothing would ever be the same again.

The first year or so of reading comics, I don’t think I actually knew there were comics beyond X-books.  I was reading everything X related, and my focus (and my meager funds) really allowed me to see nothing else.  But once I’d devoured every back issue I could find (or afford) I finally looked up and noticed that there were other comic books.  Batman was the first non Marvel book I noticed, ‘natch.  And I did end up fully exploring the comics world from Marvel to DC to an unfortunate and possibly damaging relationship with 90’s Image to finally dangling my feet into the independent world.  Eventually, years later, I went to the Savannah College of Art and Design to study comics and of course my tastes have evolved like anyone else’s, but I say all this to make it clear that I was an X girl, and a Marvel girl through and through.

So then why today does my pull list look like this?

DC Titles:  16

Marvel Titles:  4

Other: 10

I think this is a pretty solid example of Marvel literally driving fans away.  I mean forget about capturing new ones…they have driven away a born and bred fan that didn’t know DC from a hole in the wall.

That’s a problem.

And a huge part of the problem in my case, is the handling of their female characters.  Where is Marvel’s equivalent to Wonder Woman?  It doesn’t exist.  Where is Marvel’s equivalent to arguably the best mainstream female writer in comics – Gail Simone?  Doesn’t exist.  Best mainstream female artist – Amanda Conner?  Nope.  What do they have that matches Batgirl?  Maybe Spider-Woman.  Supergirl?  Maybe Ms. Marvel (which is about to end).  Detective Comics?  Nothing.  Power Girl?  Nothing.  Madame Xanadu?  Nothing.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  What about an attempt at a line of comics specifically geared towards girls like DC’s sadly defunct Minx?  No sir.  DC’s Minx line may have failed (more on that in a later post) but at least they tried – and I hope will try again.

Marvel has announced that starting in March 2010 it will launch a year of “Marvel Women” – and I want to applaud that – I really do – but quite frankly if you have to single something out as “special” you’re already doing something wrong.  It indicates that you’re aware that there’s something fundamentally flawed in your ideology and that you hope to correct that by throwing the masses (and critics) a bone – but it’s like an amendment being passed to make everyone equal – when we all should have been equal all along. I think the difference between Minx and Mavel’s attempt at a ‘year of women’ is that DC actually put their force behind an entire new line of books, and fail though it did, it was an aggressive and considered approach that makes a year of one shots and minis looks paltry in comparison.  And the one thing Marvel should have learned from DC’s Minx failure is that a year is not enough.  A year is not going to be enough to change some sixty years of history.  A handful of mini’s and one shots (and let’s hope they’re of better quality than what Marvel is shoveling now, because if it’s more Psylocke and Marvel Divas bullshit my head may explode) are not going to drastically change the face of the way Marvel deals with female characters, writers, and artists. You have to make a permanent change, and it has to be a change in your entire philosophy, not just a handful of books with no lasting power that kind of pay lip service to a marketing campaign.

If I’ve learned anything from watching Marvel in action it’s that the bottom-line when the books don’t do well will be ‘women don’t read comics’ instead of ‘hey, maybe we’re still not getting it’.

Black Widow Mini

Sometimes I feel like Marvel is trying.  There are two Black Widow minis’ out right now, and even if I ignore the fact that that is more a blatant attempt to capitalize on The Black Widow’s upcoming appearance in Iron Man 2 than it is about trying to feature great female characters, I can admit that one of the books isn’t half bad.  Black Widow: Deadly Origin, is by no stretch of the imagination a great book but the story is interesting enough and there is no sexism to be found in either the writing or art and yet this book has some pretty ridiculous sexist covers (see above)…so I end up feeling like even when they’re trying to get it right, they’re falling well short of the mark.  And Marvel Divas was the same story, because while it was never likely to be a book that I was terribly interested in, Robert Aguirre-Sacasa is a talented writer and Tonci Zonjic’s art is pretty much the opposite of sexist, yet they slapped a horribly sexist J. Scott Campbell cover on it and then proceeded to dig themselves into a ridiculous hole as they tried to explain their reasoning when people naturally raised questions.

But is this just not knowing how to do it correctly or some nefarious plan?  On a bad day (like one in which I watch the Marvel Divas/Joe Quesada PR nightmare unfold) I do start to think it’s some massive ignorant conspiracy of men with misogynistic tendencies.  On a more normal day, I think of a book like Runaways, a critically acclaimed bestseller, and I think that Marvel is more than open to female characters being done right and that they just don’t quite know how to do it…or at least not with any kind of consistency.

The focus on Marvel here should not suggest that DC should be entirely let off the hook for their screw ups either and Supergirl CFJ PromoI have plenty of problems with some of the stuff they’re doing, hell the title of this column, ‘She Has No Head!’ is inspired at least in part by their horrible Cry For Justice promo this past summer in which Supergirl didn’t have a freaking head.  And they suffer from context problems too (as touched on in my Jen Van Meter/Powergirl article two weeks ago) but I at least get the sense that they’re trying to slowly change that context.  Unwilling to change Wonder Woman’s silly costume?  Well, they at least tried to put a strong female writer on the book in the form of bestselling author Jodi Picoult.  And when that failed they didn’t give up and say “women can’t write Wonder Woman” rather they put phenom Gail Simone on the book when the opportunity presented itself.  A good move.  A smart move.

They behaved similarly with Power Girl. Perhaps recognizing that some people were still going to have problems with Power Girl’s imagery they loaded the book with a talented high profile creative team that includes Amanda Conner who tends to draw things cute, and funny, and strong instead of posing heroines like pliant pornstars.  Again, a good move.  The kind of move that ends with me actually buying (and enjoying) that book as opposed to rolling my eyes and moving on in the racks.  So I feel like they’re trying.  And that goes pretty far with me.  I didn’t wake up yesterday and decide to read comics.  I know how it works and that it takes time for real change to take hold.  And I come to the table understanding that at a basic level comics are primarily marketed to boys, and that many boys like boobs.  Boobs it is then!  But as audiences grow up…and as the world changes (not that boobs aren’t always going to pretty awesome) you have to change with it.  And I feel like DC is at least making attempts – some fail and some succeed, that’s the nature of the game – but in comparison Marvel feels like that old out of touch pervy dude in the back of the room with his arms crossed insisting that he doesn’t want to change and doesn’t have to.

You have to force that dude to change.  In this case, by not buying his comics.

I watched this past week a show called Genre Film, a television documentary series that features different film genres in each episode.  I was watching the Science Fiction episode and they interviewed all sorts of creators, writers, and artists that over the years worked in Sci-Fi.  At one point they spoke to Dan O’Bannon, the writer of Alien and he spoke about the scene in which the alien “impregnates” a human host (i.e. by jamming itself down the human’s throat and then nesting inside and eventually hatching through the human’s chest) and O’Bannon said something to the effect of, Well, I wasn’t about to have that thing jammed down one of my female protagonist’s throats… And all I could think was, “WHERE THE HELL IS THIS GUY IN COMICS?!”  Where is this guy to stand up at a Marvel meeting and go, “Y’know guys…I’m not so wild about us turning Namor’s ex-wife into a giant vagina dentata and also saying that we’re keeping her in a state of estrus in order to make her a horny weapon of mass destruction… especially since we don’t have any marquee female books to combat that negative portrayal of women.”  Where is THAT guy?!

Because we really need him, and I’m not trying to be a bitch, but I fear he’s often hiding out in a costume called ‘common sense’.  And I’m not sure why Marvel can’t see this unless there is in fact some deep seated misogyny going on.

But it all comes back to context.  The vagina dentata metaphor in and of itself is not the problem, this is comics and we’re telling grand stories here that are fables and metaphors, and real world examples extrapolated wildly into an un-real world.  I don’t want our stories to be watered down and ineffective just so that we never do anything to upset anyone. There are evil women in this world just like there are evil men, and that can and should be explored.  But I take umbrage at the Dark Reign evil ex-wife vagina dentata villainess, and the Secret Invasion alien queen villainess, and the House of M Scarlet Witch is a crazy bitch that must be stopped, and the Avengers Assemble Scarlet Witch is a crazy bitch that must be stopped…and I take umbrage at all these portrayals because Marvel doesn’t really have any great women books and women creators to balance that scale.

Marvel?  Your context is showing.

198 Comments

I can’t share the exact same view you do as a male. I can, however, appreciate it and agree with you though. My wife looks at my comics and generally scoffs at them. I try to get her to read some but when I look for comics with strong women (or well attired even) I usually have to look away from superhero comics and more towards things like Y: The Last Man or Sandman. There’s almost nothing modern that I would use to try and win her over to Marvel and a lot of DC suffers from gratuitous artwork such as the Blackest Night: Teen Titans mini.

I think this is a pretty solid example of Marvel literally driving fans away. I mean forget about capturing new ones…they have driven away a born and bred fan that didn’t know DC from a hole in the wall.

That’s a problem.

Have you seen the sales figures for Marvel vs. DC? The gap is trending considerably in Marvel’s favor and continues to do so. Once DC finishes Blackest Night the hemmorraging should resume promptly. I think your personal experience of being driven away from Marvel in favor of DC is not a problem for Marvel since it is clearly the exception.

This was brilliant. You should lead a seminar at one of Marvel’s or DC’s creative summits.

Nice column, thanks for the partial credit!

Marvel’s consistent dumbass treatment of their female characters gets to me too, and that’s me speaking as a man. I want strong, non-embarrassing female characters and plots about women in my comics, primarily because the alternative always leads to shitty stories. I don’t think Marvel’s current failure in this regard is due to a conscious effort to degrade women, but more a prevalent, unconscious attitude of ignorance and insensitivity; speaking broadly, they just don’t know any better. Not an excuse, but an explanation that at least separates them from jagoffs like Dave Sim.

And don’t get me started on the treatment of Mary Jane Watson since One More Day…

Oh, and I hate the V-neck on Rogue’s new costume.

A few months ago, Marvel’s “The Super Hero Squad Show” debuted on Cartoon Network. I excitedly told my 3-year old daughter about it, telling her it would have Hulk and Wolverine and MODOK….

“Does it have any girls?” she asked.

Damn. Out of the mouth of babes….

(SHS does have a number of female characters, but they seem to rotate through the show, whereas the primary cast is entirely male. She still likes it, though.)

I’ll come right out with it: I’m a male, so take this post as you will. For me, when I look at the female distinction between Marvel and DC I think that Marvel is doing a better job because their female characters are more unique, and less an extension of another character already out there. Supergirl, Batgirl, Batwoman, are all just extensions of another character. DC’s most prominent woman, Wonder Woman, is the exception to an unsettling rule of all DC women being unbreakably connected to their men. I’m sure there are more, but the three best examples to the contrary (I believe, I’m also more of a Marvel fan) are Wonder Woman, Power Girl, and Starfire. And I’m not really interested in any of them because all three are pretty generic power sets and pretty generic motivations. Flip that over to the Marvel side and you have some women that may not have a book devoted to them, but stand out as exceptional original characters. Scarlet Witch, Rouge, Moonstone, and many others populate the Marvel universe as interesting distinct characters and make all the books better. I will admit that I’m frustrated Ms. Marvel and She Hulk don’t do better on the stands, but then again I don’t buy them either. It might be the male/female split acting up where I’m not searching out female characters, but in the books that I do read I find the Marvel girls much more interesting than the DCers and I think its a result of Marvel having more respect for the female characters they have. To me, Batgirl is “The Girl Batman”. I don’t want to read about the The Girl Batman, I want to read about Batman, or . . . Rouge.

more women should be in the comics, spice things up

Just to chime in quickly before I digest this article. Part of the issue is that Marvel generally does less Solo books than DC and unless its Iron Man, Spiderman, Cap or Wolverine those books don’t last long (see the Amazing Iron Fist which had real nice supporting roles by Daughters of the Dragon). Alhough in the team books I read (except Runaways) the Male characters are the primary characters. Although Medusa and Crystal have been getting a huge push in Relm of the Kings.

Then again my sample size is very small since from Marvel I only get the cosmic comics and from DC only Booster Gold plus a few others from Vertigo (Unwritten and Xanadu) plus Conan. However from what I read there are a good deal of strong but not cheesecake female characters from Marvel. The issue may be that they aren’t advertising that aspect but Nova for instance has two supporting character and Worldmind now has a female Avatar. Guardians of the Galaxy had Gamora, Mantis and Phyla and now has Moondragon. And with War of the Kings we now get a bigger role for Crystal and Medusa.

So kind of rambling and I agree to a point and Marvel should promote these female characters more.

@Zach:

You’re right that there are more DC female characters who are extensions of male heroes, but (for the moment anyway), they’re also more often their own people. Even the female Marvel characters are defined by their relationships with men. When you say ‘Scarlet Witch,” I think, “and the Vision.’ When you say ‘Rogue,’ I think, ‘and Gambit.’ I can’t speak for Moonstone, but even Storm was quickly attached to The Black Panther in a move that a lot of people thought didn’t make much sense.

And, of course, the female Marvel characters who have traditionally been able to hold their own titles, at least for a time–Spider-Woman, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk–are themselves extension characters.

I’m not saying that DC is blameless here (after something like a decade of being a successful character on her own, Black Canary is squashed back together with Green Arrow in a relationship that has never been healthy), but I am saying that they seem to be making more of an attempt to appeal to female readers instead of appealing to male readers with female characters and saying that’s good enough.

I think a large part of Marvel’s problem is that the majority of female characters they have are on team books, and therefore by design aren’t suited for long-running solo series. Storm, Wasp, Rogue, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, all have been solidified as team players. Similarly, if I listed Nightcrawler, Wonder Man, Beast, Ronin and Luke Cage, you’d also have to admit that they don’t really work outside of the context of their various teams.

DC, on the other hand, has a paradigm that allows for more exposure. First off, every Bat-family member gets a solo book, period. It’s not surprising to see the new Batgirl get a book just as it’s not surprising to see the new Azrael get a book. If anything, Azrael was less expected.

I also think that it’s rather odd to give DC credit for Wonder Woman, considering nothing is known about her in the general public beyond the fact that she’s Wonder Woman. Linda Carter made her famous, and DC has never quite been sure what to do with her.

I agree with your points completely but I have to ask you something: were you specifically asked to write on this blog just on comics from a woman’s point of view?

I’m not trying to be insulting in any way. I’ve read all of your previous posts, I enjoy your writing and you obviously know your comics. I just wished you would do some posts about comics based on their merits and not on their treatment of women.

Are women represented poorly in comics? Of course they are, but that’s always been the case. It’s a male-dominated business and I don’t see that ever changing. And while I agree that these issues have to be talked about so they can somehow be dealt with, it doesn’t have to be the topic everytime.

Basically what I’m saying is that I would like to see posts from you from the perspective of a comics fan who just happens to be a woman. But anyway, keep up the good work :-)

Wasn’t WMM’s entire point of WW was to serve as masterbatory fuel for bondage fans (and as a subtle advertising vehicle for his lie detector machine)?

“Wasn’t WMM’s entire point of WW was to serve as masterbatory fuel for bondage fans (and as a subtle advertising vehicle for his lie detector machine)?”

No, he wanted to promote strong female role models and his philosophy regarding how to make a better society (that philosophy involved a lot of bondage).

“but even Storm was quickly attached to The Black Panther ”

‘Quickly’? She was 30+ years old by that point.

I think part of the problem for Marvel is that it seems to be jealous of Wonder Woman, and is all too ready to try and proclaim Ms Marvel/She hulk/Storm as their WW. The problem is that none of these characters ARE WW and therefore to try and force them into her mould is ultimatly futile, they need to support themselves through their own merits and not try and bluster their way through to equal status, because frankly WW has too much fame for that to work.

Also to be fair, I would suggest that Dan Slott’s run on She hulk, *was* the equivelant of Power Girl, and I do wonder a little that if Slott had continued writing it it would still have been here today – I enjoyed Peter Davids run, but stylistically it was a 180 degree turn from what had gone before, and lacked that kind of quirky charm, which I think most people wanted from She Hulk.

Also, despite Rogue’s new daft costume, realistically X-men Legacy is more or less a Rogue solo title, which presumably is going to mean that as of the end of Ms Marvel that’s going to make her the last one standing at Marvel for the time being. Also, while I remember – we’ve had two relativly big league villains turned into women (Sinister and Loki), while I don’t think it’s likely to be a concious decision it fits in with what you’ve been saying.

The one thing I would say though, I kind of suspect that with some writers and artists, they just don’t get why people make a fuss of these things. Sometimes in a pretty immature way, (in some ways like someone not understanding why you shouldnt call someone a certain name) and then to present a united front higher ups in Marvel are forced to take their side. But even so, I think it would benefit Marvel to at least occassionally admit they could have done something better, and will consider things more carefully in future.

@ Sean C.:

No, I meant she went from not being in a relationship at all to being married in, what, six months? And that is the current equivalent of maybe one or two storylines. I recall that they had been an item at some point in the past, but I’m just saying that Storm went from being her own character to being part of The Black Panther’s supporting cast pretty quickly. Didn’t Marvel announce their marriage before they were even established as a couple?

I could be wrong, I don’t read Black Panther. That’s just how I remember it. If I’m mistaken, I apologize.

So that’s why it’s called She Has No Head! I’ve been wondering about that. I have to admit I too noticed the odd placement of Supergirl in the add but I didn’t quite have the same reaction as you. I thought, ‘ok, they want to show the S symbol… but you can’t do that with Supergirl as you do it with Superman because’s she’s got boobs under the symbol! Not only that, if showing the S symbol is indeed what DC wanted to do, then why only show Supergirl’s symbol and not that of any of the other characters? Oh wait, yeah, the boobs!’ That frustrated me.
Did you happen to catch the Cry for Justice issue where Starfire (who must have the most ridiculous costume in all of comics) and Donna Troy were just skimping around in their show all bikini’s at the Baker house? At least there was some attempt to even it up by putting Animal Man himself in his trunks but still, not enough. Robinson even made a joke about Starfire getting naked cus she likes that cus she’s an alien and we ALL know aliens loooove being in the nude…

I see from the Savage Critic link that the previous time Namor’s vagina monster ex-wife appeared, she was killed by being impaled with an Ebony Blade. No subtext there. At all.

I’m willing to give Starfire a bit of a pass, because she comes from a jungle planet that has something of a Conan/chainmail bikini vibe to the costuming. But I’ve always found it kind of funny that out of all the characters who basically sport a swimsuit as a crime-fighting costume, all but two that I recall are women; and of those two, one is an Atlantean (Namor), and the other is a Greek god (Hercules). It makes logical sense for them to be dressed the way they are. It makes no rational sense for Wonder Woman to be in a one-piece suit. I would much, MUCH rather see Wonder Woman start wearing the golden armor with the eagle helmet on a more regular basis.

Can’t argue with the stance you got here Kelly but I will say that in the Marvel books I read I view the women in them to be not just eye candy. I know in X-Men: Legacy, everyone is focusing on the Rogue costume but if you actually read her words, Anna Marie has become a well rounded heroine. In the Ultimate Spidey universe, I love the characterizations of Aunt May, Mary Jane and Gwen. Many times they steal the book from Peter. Runways is female dominated since it is walking the line of “soap” and “superhero” and in the Avengers books I am loving Stature’s growth along with the return of Mockingbird.

Does the medium need more thought when it comes to females? Sure. I can say the same as a black man that it needs more diversity. The key thing here is a hope that the companies continue to make strides in the storytelling and characterization.

Intriguing read as always Kelly.

so, basically you ARE saying that we shouldn´t be buying Marvel Comics? :S

I have little to say except that I agree.

OK, no, I have more to say. I was wrong. One of my hobby horses of late is that the fundamental division between Marvel and DC at the moment is that at DC, storytelling revolves around the question of legacy and history, whereas at Marvel, right now, storytelling revolves around change and currency.

Does this mean that DC has a lot of spin-off characters? Yes. But on the other hand, those spinoff characters are part of a larger lineage that increasingly is about a broad idea. And notably, all five of DiDio’s stated big five characters have at least one major female character in the lineage (with Green Lantern having the roughest time, having to depend on non-human GLC members to check the box. But Flash, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman all have major female characters at the moment as part of the legacy). And I think that’s significant.

On the other hand, I think it matters more that when the Cabal that secretly runs the Marvel Universe gets together, there are no women there. That when Norman Osborne is under SIEGE no women are in the front line of that. That when Marvel does an 8-book tour of Dark Reign impacting various corners of the Marvel Universe, 0 of 8 books feature a female lead character. DC has built women into its legacy. There are problems with that, but there are more problems with excluding women so systematically from forward-looking stories.

On Marrina: is she actually female? I thought she was an alien spore that happened to touch a female and therefore developed as one.

I have no idea if that “counts” her as female or not. It’s a friggin’ comic book.

I think the real problem is that comics have (largely) stopped CARING about their characters. It used to be that, when discussing plotlines for a particular character, the company people would say things like “But Superman would not do that!” These days, characters are seen as just properties to be sold (which they are, but it’s the EMOTIONAL attachment that fans have to them that keeps us reading about them) and therefore can be killed off, turned grittier or sexier, or whatever they think will make them sell with little vision as to whether they make sense, or to the long-term effects on the character. In fact, my feeling is that the few good handlings of characters we have today happen DESPITE the company’s wishes, not BECAUSE of them, thanks to certain creators who care (unfortunately, there are also plenty who don’t care.) In that kind of atmosphere, do you really expect female characters to be treated any better?

On, and the Vagina Dentata reference was just disgusting. And I don’t say it just because I’m male, as I find the equivalent tentacle-rape fad just as disgusting. Worse, it’s terribly sexist on its own, too.

This does read a little like a rant.
I think a lot of those standards that apply to the woman can also be applied to men, especially in superhero comics. Superheroes are idolised, over sexualised caricature of real people, whether it be perfect breasts on a female character or an unachievable six-pack and biceps on a male one. Also the use of female characters as super villains, why not. The majority of high power maniacs in Comics are men, Magneto, Doctor Doom, Sinestro and even to some extent The Sentry. Yet ever since the coin was flipped there has seemed to be a bit of a knee jerk reaction, even as far back as dark phoenix, “oh that can’t be done!”
It is also a very sad truth that female solo titles don’t sell as well as their male counterparts. How MS Marvel made it to 50 it a true surprise to me! Another thing that surprised me was your use of Wonder Woman as the example of a book that Marvel should follow. Now I love Gail, but it’s a book that is shedding readers by the bucket load, mainly because it’s a rather impenetrable mess at the moment. Anyone find it interesting the only person who has even been able to draw WW costume and leave her with any sense of decency is a gay man.
There are plenty of good female characters out there, Songbird, Pepper Potts, the ladies if Secret Six, Victoria Hand, Siren, M, Layla Miller. As has been said before they don’t work in solo books but make great additions to teams.

Sometimes I wonder if women don’t read superhero comics as much as men because of the genre conventions themselves. Basically, nearly all superheroes solve their problem with their fists first and their brains second, which I seems to be more of a male approach than a female approach. So you have characters like She-Hulk or Power Girl or Wonder Woman or Black Widow, et al, who are basically written either as sex objects and/or like men in their approach to resolving situations.

There are exceptions, like Oracle I suppose, but even the more ‘cerebral’ female characters like Emma Frost or Psylocke or Jean Gray tend to opt for violence and/or direct, forceful manipulation/intimidation when resolving conflict. (Which is the same as the more ‘cerebral male characters, such as Professor X or even Batman, both of whom are much more like to either attack directly or through subordinates, than to try to negotiate or find another non-violent resolution).

So yeah, most people read comics, at least initially, to see Good not only defeat Evil, but to positively beat the hell out of Evil, and this remains the major theme and selling point behind Mainstream (re: Marvel and DC) comics.

I’m a dude, so it’s hard for me to say, but I think this basic approach is boring / alienating to women. I don’t think the violence turns them off, per se. I think it’s the brainless violence. My fiance loves to watch police procedurals like CSI or Criminal Minds or Law and Order: CI, or even action sci-fi shows like Fringe and FlashForward, and gets likes the episodes more if they have “violence or murder or rape” in it – her words, not mine. But you sit her in front of a non-stop action movie with murder and explosions every two seconds like Rambo or something like that, and she’s bored in two seconds. Nothing to engage her. She likes to see the good guys get the bad guys, she likes to see the bad guys do really bad things so it is even more satisfying when they are brought to justice, but she has no interest in watching that if it only involves a long series of explosions and shootings and melees.

She wants a STORY with CHARACTERS who THINK and FEEL and FIGURE THINGS OUT.

You don’t get that too often in mainstream comics. I’ve yet to find one that I can try to give her to get her into the genre.

Kelly,
This was an improvement over your last couple columns, though as a male I still have a hard time agreeing completely with your point of view on issues. The thing that stuck out to me here:

were both about a woman (the same woman in point of fact) with WAY too much power. Can’t have that, now can we?

I never saw either of those storylines as about a WOMAN with too much power being beaten down but as just about a PERSON (or I guess you could say, “character”) with too much power. There’s nothing sexist about them. How many storylines have been built around a male character with too much power? Darkseid, Thanos, Kang, Doom, etc. have all had stories based around them getting too powerful for their own good. Power, and its use and abuse, is a constant theme in superhero comics, regardless of what gender the person wielding it is…

You’re really delusional. Crazy-feminists shouldn’t be allowed to write.

The Dude: The actual premise of this column is ‘women in comics’ – and that is deliberately broad and supposed to include characters, creators, and well beyond. I think as the column evolves there will be less of a focus on “sexism in comics bad!” (because, really, how many times can I say that?) and more of a focus on just female characters and creators and what is going on in comics in that regard…at the same time I’d like to keep the column topical about the good and bad that is going on in the industry in regard to women in comics – i.e. the Power Girl/ Jen Van Meter post was not something I had ever planned to talk about but rather something that came up as a result of things that were happening in the comics world…and this post was slated in my head for much later, but the Savage Critic article inspired me into talking about it now.

As for liking my writing and being interested in seeing more of my perspective beyond just ‘women in comics’, “thank you!” however there’s a limit to how much time I can devote to this (I wish it was more) but I will say that I’ve made it known to the people in charge at CBR that I would be very interested in a staff reviewing gig should one become available. Perhaps you should start a letter writing campaign on my behalf? j/k :)

To all the commenters talking about Rogue. I agree. Legacy currently feels like a Rogue book – and I’m delighted (despite the costume issues) – she’s been my favorite character since I first saw her on the cartoon (even though that requires that I block out certain periods of time when I didn’t like what they were doing with her) but if we all agree it’s essentially a Rogue book…why can’t it be called Rogue? I think this actually really clearly illustrates the point. Marvel is not willing to take a chance on it. They don’t seem to understand that you don’t end up with Wonder Woman overnight…that takes years to build and Marvel tells me time and time again through their actions that they’re not willing to invest in the character and take that chance. It’s disappointing.

Andrew Collins: I don’t think it’s just that you’re a male that keeps us from agreeing as there are plenty of men on here (and other places) that seem to agree with me, just as there are many men and women that disagree with me. But whatever.

I think your second comment kind of ignores the entire basis of my article however, in that it’s the context that gets Marvel (and DC) in trouble. There’s nothing wrong with women being evil characters that abuse exceptional power, as I said in my column, it’s that there isn’t enough of a positive female portrayal to balance that out. Marvel can make every single supervillain a man and it’s still going to read as okay because they have Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Black Panther, Thor, Wolverine, Cyclops, The Hulk, Reed Richards, Johnny Storm, The Thing, etc. There’s no lack of balance in the portrayals.

You’ve just reminded me that I really, really miss Dan Slott’s She-Hulk…

:-(

I was trying to be nice and allow for why our opinions might not mesh, but I’ll just come out and say what I’ve been thinking since your first column here: You’re just not a very good writer. You’re a ranter who just seems to like to hear herself complaining and fit the profile of the worst of the blogosphere. I’m saddened that a great blog like CSBG decided to add you to their lineup…

Andrew Collins:

I was trying to be nice and allow for why our opinions might not mesh, but I’ll just come out and say what I’ve been thinking since your first column here: You’re just not a very good poster. You’re a ranter who just seems to like to hear himself complaining and fit the profile of the worst posters on the blogosphere. I’m saddened that a great blog like CSBG has you in their lineup…

Yay! I am reading this and nodding along. I am constantly talking about how creators like Gail Simone and Amanda Connor are good at writing women as people, rather than props or plot points. As a woman and a comics reader, I feel like that is a huge recurring problem.

Kelly,
I would imagine that they don’t call X-Men Legacy “Rogue” simply because the last attempt barely made it a year. That was a title that I bought for a girlfriend and she didn’t really care for it but kept reading it since it was a Rogue comic (much like me with Moon Knight, I suppose) until it was cancelled. Maybe it stands a better chance as X-Men Legacy.

My issue with Marvel is that they seem to put lesser known creators on their female starring titles. No offense to Brian Reed but if Ms. Marvel was to become the big name that Marvel wanted, why put a (relatively) unknown creative team on it? Wonder Woman in the last few years has had Rucka, Heinberg, Picolut, and Simone. They may not be Morrison or Bendis but they are names that have followings at least.

Excellent post. You are fast becoming one of my favorite reads on CSBG.

What is interesting (and a little sad) about Marvel is that the company started from a much less sexist place than DC in the Silver Age. In particular, Kirby’s designs conformed pretty well to what the fangirl movement appears to be looking for now. Scarlet Witch wore a sheer body stocking under her bodice, gloves and boots. Sue Storm wore the same outfit as the guys, as did Jean Grey. Marvel 1.0 was pretty female friendly place. As a Zach pointed out above, the first wave of female Marvels were rarely derivations of more popular male heroes. The first and second generation of Marvel creators were (if not feminists) at least interested in women.

Ironically, the problem arose from that position of relative health.

Let me take a step back. I think that there are two valid reasons to use cheesecake images in a superhero comic. First, is to define a relationship between two characters. This is typically done by establishing a male POV and “following his eye” to a woman, or a part her anatomy. His glance and her reaction to it tells the reader something necessary about the two characters. Second, is to create a feeling that the reader is watching a private, or unguarded moment. This is trickier, but showing a character alone in a state of undress can be used to convey new and interesting information that relates to the story. My memory is that DC tended to use the former, while Marvel used the later in the Silver and early Bronze Ages.

These two methods are valid, because they can be used to define character and advance the story. Also, they are easily “matched” by changing the genders involved without seeming silly.

As the Bronze Age progressed, Marvel and DC began copying each other and exchanging creators. It was the less innovative DC aping the more innovative Marvel, but there are cases of it working the other way. One of those cases was a wave of derivative female Marvels (i.e. Spider-Woman, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk). The second was a more muddled attitude towards cheesecake. Generally, the POV approach was used, but the relationship was now between the reader and the female superhero. John Byrne took this new attitude to its logical extreme in his She-Hulk book.

Pretty soon, Marvel had two types of women: the “good girls” (i.e. most of the Lee-Kirby women and Storm) and the “bad girls” (i.e. Black Cat, the X-Babes). The good girls became team leaders. The bad girls posed with their unclad rears at the “camera” while glancing over their shoulders.

Then, the ’90s happened and the bad girls became hugely popular and it seemed like that was “normal”.

Crazy feminists should not be allowed to read comics. Namor should punch Ms. Marvel in the vagina, natch.

great article. I really enjoyed reading about your perspective about what’s happening at Marvel and DC even though I don’t read superhero comics right now.

(P.S. I watched ALL those 90′s superhero cartoons and loved them to death but didn’t pick up the comics until I was an adult. Maybe if I had I would have a very different relationship with mainstream American comics today).

@Andrew Collins:

Darkseid, Thanos, Kang, Doom, etc. have all had stories based around them getting too powerful for their own good.

And which one of them was an Avenger?

About the only male with a “power trip” storyline on par with the Scarlet Witch would be Batman. And he wasn’t castrated at the end of either “Tower of Babel” or “Infinite Crisis.”

@Chris:

I think a lot of those standards that apply to the woman can also be applied to men, especially in superhero comics. Superheroes are idolised, over sexualised caricature of real people, whether it be perfect breasts on a female character or an unachievable six-pack and biceps on a male one.

Here’s the difference: 99% of the major male heroes have costumes that cover their entire torso. not a V-neck that goes down to their belly button. I haven’t been reading X-Men Legacy (maybe I should, it actually sounds pretty good), but unless Rogue has gained control over her powers, leaving that much skin open seems like a really bad idea.

And with male heroes, their good-looks aren’t as fundamental to the character as they tend to be with female characters. You look at the heroes who have exposed chests:

Hulk = Monster
Rulk = Monster
Thing = Monster
J’onn J’onnz = socially awkward martian
Namor = prick
Hercules = Greek god, but generally played for laughs
Hawkman = Badass

That’s one out of seven. I’m sure there are others, and I’m also sure that arguments could be made that there are an equal number of female characters who would fill similar roles, but if you look at the percentage of female characters who have sexualized costumes that are unnecessary to the character (like Black Canary, for example) versus the percentage of similar male heroes, the ratios are seriously out of whack.

I don’t mean this to sound snarky, but how is a giant serpent with teeth representative of vagina dentata? Seems like textbook phallic imagery to me.

“In particular, Kirby’s designs conformed pretty well to what the fangirl movement appears to be looking for now. Scarlet Witch wore a sheer body stocking under her bodice, gloves and boots. Sue Storm wore the same outfit as the guys, as did Jean Grey. Marvel 1.0 was pretty female friendly place.”

I get the point you’re trying to make, but with numerous references to Sue Storm’s female emotions or Janet Van Dyne’s female brain, I find it hard to agree. (As an aside, when you look at what Kirby drew, there is no body stocking for Scarlet Witch. It was a coloring/editorial/comic code choice as much as anything Kirby did.)

I think she’s a very good writer. I love this series so far, and this is the best one yet.

I had no idea they brought Marinna back. That saddens me. I really hated her transformation into that monster; she was a sweet character who didn’t deserve being killed off in such a horrific fashion. That was a very low point in Avengers history (not just because of Marinna), and I don’t see why anyone would want to dredge up our memories of that. Couldn’t she have just stayed dead? (It is true, though, that the probability of her becoming a monster had been an underlying theme since she first appeared. I suppose sooner or later some writer was inevitably going to succumb to the temptation.)

I actually like Marvel Divas, although it does have many flaws. I’m starting to wonder if I’m the only one. I don’t think it’s overly obsessed with boyfriends and ex-husbands. It’s clearly an attempt to do a chick flick with super-heroes (which I think is a cool idea), and that’s what chick flicks are about– boyfriends and cancer. At least it ended with each girl taking charge of her own life and refusing to knuckle under to pushy boyfriends or ex-husbands.

Have you considered doing a column about Marvel’s insistence on destroying every super-hero marriage, usually within a few years of the wedding? The discussion of Marinna brought that back to my mind. She and Namor had been married less than two years (our time) when she transformed. They didn’t even give the relationship a chance.

@Andrew Collins: Hmm, I’m don’t think I agree. This piece would be a lot better had it gone through maybe one more draft process to trim the fat, but as is stands it’s very far from the least coherent or cogent thing on CSBG.

As for ranting… well, what do you expect? Being a woman who loves comics can be unbelievably frustrating in so many ways. Do you think it’s sheer coincidence that most every woman-oriented hub of mainstream comics fandom has discussions fueled primarily by rage and disbelief?

(In fact, isn’t it damning enough that comics fandom ends up more or less split along gender lines? This is very atypical development for social structure in a mature fandom. It’s hard to imagine this phenomenon has absolutely nothing to do with some of the deep-seated problems the material has regarding depiction of female characters.)

@ Wesley Smith, Rogue has in fact just gained control over her powers so the costume makes sense (but I hope it’s only a fad and she finds a better one).

As for Legecy not being Rogue, my understanding is the book is more a revolving book where different characters take the lead. As at first it was an Xavier book and now a Rogue book. Eventually who knows who’ll be the feature character. The idea it seems is instead of started new series, Marvel can have the book about a certain character and when story or sales dictate, go in a new direction without having to change titles and still hype the book.

I do have to agree that the Scarlet Witch issue is disturbing (and prompted me to get out of Marvel’s main group of titles) although I did like how in Realm of the King onshot Wanda is portrayed pretty well for what we get. Honestly I hope that Disney’s aquisition of Marvel would encourage more female friendly books but we’ll have to wait and see on that front.

I also agree with some posters that a bunch of the issues that you have with the depiction of women can be said about the depiction of Minorities (see Bishop for example and DC is having a hell of a time on this front with their killing policy and the Legacy backlash). But the feamle portayal is pretty rough in a lot more aspects I feel (since you get the sexualization on top of the marginalization).

So to cut it short, great column as always and I do believe Cosmic Marvel is doing a decent job (and I think the Guardians of the Galaxy massacare is only a temporay issue) but the main books are looking pretty rough.

Oh man, is that what they did to Marinna? Lame. Why does Marvel keep erasing anything that had to do with Alpha Flight?

Okay, more on topic, it is suspiciously skeevy that Marvel’s Heroines keep getting handed the “too much power for their own good plot”, when in male characters this same plot seems to be almost exclusively reserved for villains.

Oh, and I keep forgetting to mention but I got into comics with the X-Men cartoon as well (and pretty much only X-comics until Heroes Return).

I agree with Andrew Collins on the Scarlet Witch matter. The Avengers Disassembled and House of M was one story (two technically but they were really part of the same story) with a female protagonist, and she wasn’t even evil. Secret Invasion had a female protagonist as well, but they weren’t back to back, Civil War fell between the two. And Dark Reign is all about Osborne, a male, plus most of the Dark Avengers are male, most of the Marvel villains are male. So I feel like it is cherry picking to come out and say that having female protagonists is misogynistic when the ratio of male to female protagonists in stories is far higher on the male side.

As for marvel and their female geared books. You can’t say they don’t try. They did She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, Spider-man Loves Mary Jane, Runaways, Spider-Girl. And yes many of them don’t last but that is not because they are not trying it is because people don’t read the books. Marvel is not going to keep a book that doesn’t sell just because it has a female lead, just like they are going to keep a book that doesn’t sale that has male leads. It’s a business, they can’t do that, but they are trying. And yes, they are not as successful as DC but it is not for lack of trying.

As for Marvel having an equivalent of Wonder Woman, they don’t. They never have, and there is nothing they can do about it. Wonder Woman is a character that has been around 70 years and is a main mainstay of DC. All of Marvel’s main characters are male, Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Spider-man because Stan Lee created most of marvel’s characters and he happened to make them male. Marvel cannot go back and time and change that and therefor they will never, NEVER have a character like Wonder Woman. It is impossible. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t try to push new female characters. They just introduced the new She-Hulk.

Moving on to Minx. Minx was a great idea from DC to get girls reading comics. And no Marvel did not create a new line specifically for girls, but they did create a line for teens that produced many female geared books: Marvel Next. Marvel Next featured Araña, Runaways, Livewires, Spellbinders, X-23 all staring female leads. Plus, like I mentioned above, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. The difference is that Marvel chose to focus on their already built universe instead of creating an out of continuity line.

And maybe Marvel just isn’t good at creating books for females. Maybe they don’t know how to do it. But they are trying. And they recently hired Kathryn Immonen so they are trying to get some female talent.

Now this is not to say that I disagree with you on everything. I enjoyed reading your column and agreed with a lot of it. I think it is ridiculous how females superheros are dressed and posed on covers. I really do. Drives me crazy. And the vagina monster thing feels wrong to me as well. So I agree that there is a lot to work on to make comics more female friendly, but I feel like a lot of the points that people pick as showing a lack of care towards females in comics is cherry picking for whatever can prove a point when it there is actually nothing there.

Thank you for a well thought out and fair critique of the situation. I tend not to like comparisons between DC and Marvel when it comes to women because I don’t think either company handles women well, but I think you made a convincing case regardless.
@T.: Great, Marvel’s got the bigger share of a sinking ship.
@ Jazzbo: Penis envy?

The one female Marvel character who I’ve always felt could support her own title but who has never been given the chance is Susan Storm. She’s basically the den mother of the entire Marvel Universe, and I’ve always had the impression that the other female heroes defer and look up to her.

Maybe den mother isn’t the right analogy. Maybe a better one would be Marvel’s First Lady.

Lynxara,
Ha ha! Good points all around. At least she doesn’t litter her column with wrestling references… (j/k)

I’ll just say this, I applaud Kelly’s attempts at opening up a dialogue with other fans (and even professionals) about the way women/girls are portrayed in superhero comics. I’ve never disagreed that that can definitely use some work in places. This blog is called Comics Should Be Good, and she wants her comics to fit what is her opinion of good.

But I don’t agree with the way she’s going about it. She’s used some out of context examples and spent time venting when I would rather hear some more of her ideas on what could/should be done. Asking why someone at Marvel just doesn’t stand up and scream “Why are we presenting this woman as a vagina with teeth!?” just makes me laugh at the silly imagery it brings to mind (such as the look on Joe Q.’s face…) rather than make me think “That’s a valid point.”

You, in your two small paragraphs, made a more succint point (that I completely agree with and understand) than she did in her 10+ paragraphs…

@T.: Great, Marvel’s got the bigger share of a sinking ship.

That has nothing to do with the point she’s making though. She’s trying to act like her experience of abandoning Marvel comics in favor of DC is a typical scenario and for those reasons Marvel has to change to what she considers good storytelling or they’ll end up losing to DC. Sales figures show the opposite to be true, DC is rapidly losing ground to Marvel every year under Didio.

A few disjointed thoughts with no transition in between….

I feel compelled to respond to “T,” who brought up the Marvel and DC sales figures. Have you compared sales figures from 2009 to those from 1992? Comics that sell exceptionally well by today’s standards are selling in numbers that would have gotten them canceled fifteen or so years ago because they wouldn’t have been up to par. I’d agree that Marvel is out of touch, only they’re not hemorrhaging readers to DC… these readers are leaving comics altogether, or at least leaving mainstream superhero comics.

The existence of this column at all should be proof enough that the old “girls don’t like superheroes” saying isn’t accurate. I have yet to meet a woman who’s seen movies like Iron Man or The Dark Knight who didn’t enjoy them. It’s not women disliking comics, either. My wife enjoys reading Watchmen, V for Vendetta, older X-Men comics, and (oddly enough) my old GIJoe comics (which was definitely a boys’ club, but sort of made up for it by having the few female characters be some of the strongest in the series). I keep reading that girls love manga. Logically, it looks like both publishers would realize there really is an untapped audience that they potentially alienate on a regular basis. (Just imagine if, say, Northstar spoke with a lisp and dressed in a rainbow-colored tutu. It’s an extreme example, but not that different. They know not to alienate one audience, but are clueless about another.)

Marvel seems recently to follow Jack Nicholson’s rule from As Good As It Gets for writing women characters: “I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.” It’s funny in the film, but pretty sad in real life. (The recent preview here of a Dark Avengers (?) Annual, with Mockingbird waking up while Hawkeye was captured by the bad guys, was both headslappingly stupid and obviously nothing more than an excuse to draw her in her underwear for no real reason. Hardly likely to attract female readers.) As for DC’s “legacy heroines,” I don’t care about them–not because they’re women, but because their backstories are either silly (both Batgirl and Batwoman deciding that dressing up like Batman is a good idea) or detract from the main character (for me, there can only be one Kryptonian on Earth, or the core of the Superman mythos is undermined). I suspect that this could deter readers of both genders who are familiar with Batman and Superman, and feel that their “brands” have become watered down.

Though skimpy costumes are normally stupid (the pinnacle probably being the period in the 90s when even Sue Storm had to wear a bikini and leather jacket, and tote a heavy laser rifle), in a few cases, I can see where they make sense, because they would be distracting to a lot of male opponents, or, at least, make their enemies underestimate their skill and intelligence. Sometimes, they work for other reasons; a quick Wikipedia scan tells me Rogue controls her powers now, so her revealing outfit actually makes sense to me in that she could be compensating for having to essentially wear a bodysuit for her entire adult life. Most of the time, though, no. Even if Psylocke wants to make her opponents stare at her stupidly while she kicks their butts, a thong is totally impractical. I think just one or two prominent female characters wearing practical costumes would do a great deal toward offsetting the overall image of women in Marvel. (Of course, if they really want to go for realism, as they purport, they need more characters of both sexes wearing something other than spandex.)

@ Ian:

I get the point you’re trying to make, but with numerous references to Sue Storm’s female emotions or Janet Van Dyne’s female brain, I find it hard to agree. (As an aside, when you look at what Kirby drew, there is no body stocking for Scarlet Witch. It was a coloring/editorial/comic code choice as much as anything Kirby did.)

I did not say anything about Stan’s scripts and their depictions of women, because if you cannot say something nice …

I feel compelled to respond to “T,” who brought up the Marvel and DC sales figures. Have you compared sales figures from 2009 to those from 1992? Comics that sell exceptionally well by today’s standards are selling in numbers that would have gotten them canceled fifteen or so years ago because they wouldn’t have been up to par. I’d agree that Marvel is out of touch, only they’re not hemorrhaging readers to DC… these readers are leaving comics altogether, or at least leaving mainstream superhero comics.

See, but you’re responding to a point I never made. I never said mainstream superhero comics aren’t losing readers in general. They definitely are. If Kelly made the point in her article that Marvel is losing readers GENERALLY and their portrayal of women is the reason why, I could find such a view plausible, even if I didn’t ultimately agree with it. What I was responding to is her SPECIFIC POINT that her personal example is evidence that Marvel is losing female readers to DC in particular. That’s what I don’t agree, that DC is doing something right in comparison to Marvel and gaining readers at Marvel’s expense as a result. DC is clearly alienating readers at a much higher rate than Marvel is, even though I agree both companies are alienating readers.

Wesley Smith said:

“And which one of them was an Avenger?

About the only male with a “power trip” storyline on par with the Scarlet Witch would be Batman. And he wasn’t castrated at the end of either “Tower of Babel” or “Infinite Crisis.””

Hey Wesley, although I agree with your point in the general sense, to be a nitpicky fanboy, there was a story about a male Avenger going on a power trip and taking over the entire world with disasterous results.

Way before Wanda did it, her one-time hubby Vision took over the world (in like Avengers #253-54 or something), and the eventual fallout from that was that he was disassembled by the US Gov’t, and rebuilt as an all-white version of himself with none of his previous memories (albeit years later in the pages of West Coast Avengers), which can be argued to be a kinda form of castration – they did it to negate his threat to national security or something like that , i.e. render him impotent.

I, for one, think the X-Men cartoon was pretty great.

Wait. Wait wait wait wait wait.

Thor had a FOUR YEAR STORYLINE where he did the whole “too much power” thing. It was called “The Reigning,” and he moved Asgard to Manhattan and later took over the whole Earth.

Granted, a large chunk of the story was erased from history, and it wasn’t reflected well in most other comics at the time. But yeah, Thor went bat**** crazy for awhile, and part of it is still in continuity.

Oh, and Wanda’s husband, the Vision, went crazy and took over the world’s computers. His memory was erased and he was turned into a pale, emotionless shell of himself.

The Hulk has been crazy for a long time. Half the time, he’s portrayed as heroic, but the other half, he’s a self-centered jerk (see most of his existence under Stan Lee), a mindless monster (the end of Mantlo’s run, or Byrne’s first run), or on his way to becoming a dictator (the end of David’s run).

Hulk may not be the best example, and Thor and Vision certainly weren’t messed up to the degree Wanda has been. But no, Marvel’s male heroes are not immune from the “too much power for their own good” syndrome.

I think that the reason X-Men Legacy won’t be re-titled Rogue is that the more X-titles have names that begin with X the better for marketing. That puts all the titles in the same place when sorted alphabetically.

It is the same reason that West Coast Avengers was retitled Avengers: West Coast back in the day.

And, it still makes sense. The Rogue fan isn’t likely to look in the Rs for a new title so much as look in the Xs.

Theno

Kelly – I’m right there with you. I got into comics as a teen because of the X-Men and Batman:TAS cartoons. Each cartoon fully captured my interest, but it was Batman that got me reading comics. So, I actually had the opposite comics experience because I read almost exclusively DC until I got back into comics about 6 years ago.

With all the ridiculous of Power Girl’s costume, Barbara Gordon and The Killing Joke and the woman in the ‘frig nonsense, I forgot about all the work DC has done to try and reach out farther to grab hold of a wider audience. In my opinion, DC still has a long way to go, but as you point out, there seems to be signs of a turning of the tide. And again as you said, the change – the cause and effect – will not be over night. And if Marvel doesn’t consciously follow suit now, I bet future market forces will have them running to catch up.

Again, a great, great piece! Mondays have become my favorite blog reading day.

One thing of interest to Kelly’s point regarding her pull list: while we know the overall sales numbers for DC and Marvel, there is pretty much no reliable demographic breakdown of that data. We don’t know what percentage of DC and Marvel’s monthly sales are being driven by men, women, the 13-34 age bracket, the over-35 age bracket, or what. The data just does not seem to exist. The comic book industry, I guess, doesn’t want to pay for market research surveys.

So sales figures alone do not disprove her point. Beyond generalities like “men are the majority of comics buyers,” we know precious little about who buys whose comics and why. If a demographic study revealed that a much higher proportion of DC’s superhero readership was female than Marvel’s, that would support Kelly’s point. If DC and Marvel served equal percentages of female readers, that would go a long way toward disproving her point.

That Marvel generally sells more books than DC proves nothing in particular about Kelly’s point.

T: I likely did infer more from your post than you intended, as I have a tendency to do that. I think that both companies should probably take a very hard look at how they do things, maybe even examine what the other company is doing right (gasp!) and not be so driven by their market share in a declining market. I know the days of Marvel referring to DC as “Distinguished Competition” and annual inter-company softball games are long gone, but, instead of making unprofessional jabs at Didio during convention panels, maybe Quesada should call him up (or vice versa, for that matter) and say, “Dude, what are we doing wrong?” They can only blame the bogeymen of the internet and video games for so long. However well or poorly backed up, I think the point that Marvel (which seems to have been the gateway company among most people I know, for some reason, and likely still is) is alienating women, though not the whole story, is part of the problem.

I worry about the future of superhero comics. I love the medium, I love the genre, and I don’t buy a single superhero comic book anymore. For me, it’s partly the lack of real diversity (ethnic as well as gender; how many heroes or villains are there who aren’t of European, Latin American, African, or Japanese descent?), and partly because it seems counter-intuitive to have stories about people with super powers, running around in their underwear, and yet trying to make them like The Sopranos or 24 in tone. (It’d be like introducing a trash-talking pimp on Sesame Street or tacking a “moral of the day” to the end of CSI. It just doesn’t work.) I’m not saying comics should be for kids, but if a kid can watch Wolverine & The X-Men on Nickelodeon, he or she should be able to go into a store and buy a comic book that’s not got excessive violence or sex that were tacked on in a misguided attempt at “maturity,” without real maturity of storytelling or even any real reason. (Of course, kids should be able to find comic books at places other than the diminishing number of specialty stores, but that’s another issue altogether, and I’ve already gone far enough off subject.)

@ T.

That’s what I don’t agree, that DC is doing something right in comparison to Marvel and gaining readers at Marvel’s expense as a result. DC is clearly alienating readers at a much higher rate than Marvel is, even though I agree both companies are alienating readers.

I think the right way to look at this is to say that for every person who has switched from Marvel-to-DC, or vice versa, there appear to be four that have simply stopped reading. DC (in general) and the DiDio run DC (in particular) have a whole separate bill of indictments that can be read against them. Neither of them have exactly been friendly to women, nor men who like women, over the past 15 years.

Both could learn some lessons (both positive and negative) from what the other is doing.

As a DC fan, I wish that they would look at Marvel and see that non-derivative female characters can be compelling. I also wish that they would look at Avengers Disassembled and House of M as a cautionary tales about the treatment of powerful heroines.

As a Marvel fan, I wish they would look at something like Power Girl and realize that female sexuality can, in fact, be fun. Conversely, I wish they would look at the treatment of Sue Dibny and realize that rape is not the easiest plot to add to the mix.

For both of them, I truly wish that they would properly motivate their fan service, add some diversity to the female personalities they are depicting and try to break out of using the same arch-types over and over.

Over the last few weeks I’ve grown to be a big fan of this series of articles. I admire Kelly for having the eloquence to put it out there and the stomach to take the flak that she inevitably gets for articles like this. Things like this have gotta be said. As much as I love comics, if they don’t find a way to adapt they are going to die. That’s a true of comics as it is of literature and print journalism.

The point I’d like to make is that there will always be room for costumes with peep holes. Stay with me here…the novel is a significantly older type of media than comics as we know them today. Yet, the same types of bodice rippers still litter the shelves. In order for comics to get better they don’t need to well…get better, they need to get more diverse. You can’t make a woman (or a man for that matter) read comics about Psylocke just by taking away her amazing sphere boob mutant power. You can, however, not marry off Storm to the one black male character you have with an ongoing series. That is lame from both a standpoint of race and gender. Marvel and DC both have the issue of being so tied up in increasing the pull list of the fans they already have that they’re too afraid to take the hit of trying new things. Marvel is the worst for this and probably because they have the most to lose.

It’s weird to say, but the crop of books coming out today make me wistful for the 90′s. Today we can’t launch a story without bringing back an old favorite dead character. At least in the 90′s, for all the junk that hit, we weren’t afraid to try new things. Granted, those new things were usually more pockets or pouches.

Oh, and I forgot to add that what Marvel (read Bendis) did to Wasp really pissed me off more so than what he did to Wanda. Atleast Wanda had a few events deidcated to her. Janet was essentially killed for no reason. It was completely superfluous to both the story and the event. Why bring Mockingbird back from the dead (which made no sense) when you kill off Wasp like that. Maybe it’s just a Bendis thing as his stories were the ones responsible for Wanda (crazy, killing and then depowered), killing Wasp, no major female presence in the Cabal (although I though Emma Frost was in it), boys club Avengers.

Not to Bendis bash here because I love some of his work and the real reason I’m giving his this gruf is because he’s the archetect of the Marvel line at the moment. Plus, the Skrull Queen could have been a decent character if he fleshed her out more. As it was my read originally was that she wasn’t evil perse just trying to take care of her people after their whole empire was destroyed (planets included after the Bugs got to them). A real wasted oppertunity considering what we got instead was how the Skrulls reacted to X Y and Z event.

I think the right way to look at this is to say that for every person who has switched from Marvel-to-DC, or vice versa, there appear to be four that have simply stopped reading.

This I thoroughly agree with.

As a DC fan, I wish that they would look at Marvel and see that non-derivative female characters can be compelling. I also wish that they would look at Avengers Disassembled and House of M as a cautionary tales about the treatment of powerful heroines.

In fairness to DC, very few of their new characters male or female aren’t derivative these days. Blue Beetle, Red Robin, Robin, Wally West’s twins, Breach, Azrael, Question, Chris Kent, Wonder Girl…for both male and female characters they are going in a derivative route.

Although I have no shred of proof on this matter, I would be willing to bet money that the majority of comics buyers are men. Therefore, if a company wants a title to succeed, it has to appeal to men in some fashion. Therefore therefore, books with female leads (or even a line like Minx) needs a broad appeal in order to survive in this small market. All of that said (which is more generalizing than I like to do without proof), I can only speak for my own buying habits. Marvel has never had a female centered book that has appealed to me as a male comics reader. I think I bought the Storm and Rogue limited series in the 90s but I was an X-Man completist. DC, on the other hand, has produced Supergirl, Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, Detective Comics, Chase, Manhunter and other very entertaining comics that happen to have women as a main character.

Granted, right now it looks like mostly men writing these titles (I haven’t enjoyed Wonder Woman since Rucka left but I love Simone’s Secret Six and her Birds of Prey run). I am forced to wonder why DC is good at launching female series and Marvel is not? Both seem to use the good old “back door pilot” strategy of featuring characters in popular titles before trying to spin them off (see Spider-Woman’s Avengers gig or Batwoman’s presence 52) but one floats and one sinks. Of course, sadly, they all sink eventually (Wonder Woman being the exception if only for old times’ sake).

Any ideas why DC has slightly better success with this? Is it something about DC’s audience being more open-minded (which I’m not saying I believe, just throwing it out there)? Marvel writers being less able to deal with women? Any ideas?

@ Ritchard:

and partly because it seems counter-intuitive to have stories about people with super powers, running around in their underwear, and yet trying to make them like The Sopranos or 24 in tone. (It’d be like introducing a trash-talking pimp on Sesame Street or tacking a “moral of the day” to the end of CSI. It just doesn’t work.) I’m not saying comics should be for kids, but if a kid can watch Wolverine & The X-Men on Nickelodeon, he or she should be able to go into a store and buy a comic book that’s not got excessive violence or sex that were tacked on in a misguided attempt at “maturity,” without real maturity of storytelling or even any real reason.

I disagree with you here.

Genres evolve. Neither the mob, nor spy, genres started in places that would have easily incorporated either THE SOPRANOS, or 24. There are perfectly valid ways to use sex, violence, language and nudity to explore the themes within various superhero franchises. The shame is that the “mature” material is packaged in exactly the same way as the “all ages” material. 22 pamphlets are a great medium for kids and it is a shame that the every Wednesday crowd clings to that format.

That said, using adult content means telling adult stories. One of the things that signifies adult story-telling to me is taking female characters as seriously as men. That does not mean that female characters need to wear burkas. Faye Dunaway showed a lot of skin in NETWORK and CHINATOWN, but she also had three-dimensional characters that were properly motivated. Mary-Louise Parker is not modest on WEEDS, but her character drives the entire series.

Vagina… Dentata.

Uh huh.

See, she’s a giant, monstrous eel. They’re these scary snakes with nasty teeth that live in water. If you took one and decided to have Alan Davis make it huge and scarier? It would look like that.

For all of us discussing comic book readership demographics, the University of Chicago is doing an in-depth study of comic book fans: male/female, age groups, incomes, etc. Once they publish their report it may put to rest a lot of these kinds of disagreements.

I have a link to it from here:

http://bit.ly/72lJab

Hey Kelly, just wondering. What is your pull list?

I suspect that DC is slightly better at launching product that appeals to women because it acquired major female employees at the executive/editorial level (Jenette Khan) long before Marvel did.

(Actually, I can’t think of any major female executive/editorial figures at Marvel at all at the moment– am I overlooking someone?)

Wikipedia claims that by the time she left DC in 2002, half of DC’s employees were female. Even if the content creators are still predominantly male, I think that sort of environment is still going to influence what the company ends up publishing.

Dean: Actually, I think you agree with me, but I worded my statement really poorly and came across as if I were saying the opposite. =) My issue is more with presentation and availability of the mature material, as well as Marvel’s weird insistence that everything involving most of their superhero characters be family-friendly, except for the actual comic books in which they appear. When a kid watches something like Iron Man: Armored Adventures, and the parent thinks he or she might like comic books, there’s nothing to indicate the brightly-colored, spandex-wearing Spider-Man or X-Men on the shelf at Borders, right beside Archie, might be inappropriate. Marvel probably do themselves more harm than good, because they could wind up with parents actually forbidding their kids read any comics if the parents mistakenly believe that all comics are “trash.”

Mature storytelling is absolutely valid, but it involves more than just sexing up characters and throwing in tons of violence. The Sopranos and Deadwood are two of the most graphic shows I’m aware of, and two of the best, because the nudity, language, and violence aren’t there to make a weak story appear more edgy. Go back about twenty years to HBO’s first (?) foray into a series, Dream On, which was a godawful sitcom that happened to have bad language and one nude scene each episode, for the exact opposite of The Sopranos. That’s, unfortunately, where most supposedly mature comics are right now, with unreadably bad stuff like Frank Miller’s “g*****n Batman.” Honestly, old episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, completely kid-safe, have more real maturity in their storytelling than most current superhero comics that I’ve looked at, but that contain material I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving to my kid for several years. Sure, there’s standout stuff like Ennis’ Punisher or Morrison’s run on New X-Men, but they seem to be the exception.

It seems like Marvel and DC are so intent on maintaining an aging audience that they don’t accept that they’ll always lose some readers for various readers, and they need to focus on bringing in new readers. That includes adults who don’t read comics (who, surprisingly, once they make the plunge, are usually pretty receptive) and kids, who are usually more open to comics than the publishers give them credit for. And of both genders, too, since I’ve gotten way off the topic again.

Ms. Marvel has been so much better than almost everything else Marvel’s been selling. It’s a shame that’s going to end.

I agree most of your points here except that I have never cared about Wonder Woman and don’t see her as this iconic figure that many people think she is. I should read that George Perez run, I guess. Is that in trades?

As a Canadian, I was really disappointed by Abhays riff on the whole “Smallwood” thing.
Some great points were made in the essay as a whole, only to be undermined near the end by pig-ignorance of anything involving another country’s history.

Wow. Away for a little while and comments explosion. Thanks to everyone for getting in here and talking it all out – despite the fact that I’m getting a little tired of being called a “crazy feminist” (?) I actually find the conversations these posts have been sparking pretty interesting and encouraging as far as the larger issue of women in comics is concerned. So thanks to everyone for continuing to come back and engage in these dialogues. And of course thanks to those of you who have been supportive and encouraging to the newbie. I know I can’t comment back on everything, but know that you guys are helping make this whole experience so much more enjoyable than I expected.

T: I am not

“trying to act like her experience of abandoning Marvel comics in favor of DC is a typical scenario”

I’m just relaying how it happened for me, one comic fan, who started out hardcore Marvel and ended up anything but. Not saying it’s everyone, and not expecting everyone to agree…just telling a story here of how it works and worked for me. I’m sorry if it came off as I was trying to say “this is how it is”…it’s not, I’m no insider…I’m just one girl that reads comics. For me personally, their handling of women is a big part of the reason Marvel lost me, that’s all I was trying to say.

Also, from further up the thread. I fully understand that both Marvel and DC are companies that at the end of the day have to make a profit, however, I don’t necessarily equate sales (or rather losing readers more slowly) with “doing it right” there are a lot of factors that go into losing readers I’m sure getting wormen wrong or right is one of the minor points, it just happens to be an issue I feel pretty strongly about, and an issue relative to this column.

Matt K: You bring up an interesting point about Bendis, because I catch myself constantly kind of giving him a pass because of his awesome stuff with great female leads like Alias and Powers (and I’m liking the new Spider-Woman thus far), but the reality is that he appears to be the architect of a lot of the Marvel stuff I have problems with…and that brings me back around to the idea that perhaps Marvel really doesn’t have bad intentions or nefarious plans, bur rather that they’re just lost. For every step forward it’s like we take one and a half back.

Justin: Guess :)

Lynxara: Agreed. I think having women involved at any point in the process, be it executive or colorist helps (though some help more than others).

ps. Mecha-Shiva: I still love the X-Men cartoon. Shhh. Don’t tell.

winterteeth: You bring up a good point and I’m really not sure what the answer is, I guess for me in general DC has two things going for it that Marvel misses on the female centered books. Marvel seems to love to launch a mini-series rather than a new ongoing title. My feeling is they do that because they are unwilling to commit to a long running title without seeing if it has the legs to carry a mini-series (by the way I have no insider knowledge or data to back that up, it’s just my guess) and then they load this short run (and often forgettable) title with mid-grade talent. DC tends to more fully commit in my opinion (though there are plenty of examples of them screwing up as well). We want to launch Power Girl? Well let’s do an ongoing and let’s put an awesome top of the line team on it and see if we can make it go. Doing Detective Comics with new potentially controversial characters on it? We put Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III on it. I can’t think of a much better team than that.

Shawn Kane said it much better (and more succinctly up thread) you’ve got to commit real talent to a new book (any book really) if you want it to survive these days and I feel like Marvel tends to just grab whoever is around for these minis and one-shots and it shows in the quality of book you get.

Totally unrelated, can I just say you all are going to HATE my upcoming Wonder Woman post. :( Man, I’ll try to start preparing myself for the comments now…

[...] 14, 2009 in CSBG, art, blogging, comics, comics should be good, writing The latest She Has No Head! column is up on CSBG.  It’s Marvel v DC this week and it’s all about [...]

Huh. Another lengthy blog, with LOTS of opinions, and even MORE comments than the number of kilobytes on an USB stick.

Damn, Ms. Thomson, but you ARE “awesome!” I should find and marry someone exactly like you, but I’ll never get that lucky.

“So then why today does my pull list look like this?

DC Titles: 16

Marvel Titles: 4

Other: 10″

My list looks more like this, DC Titles: 4, Marvel Titles: 3, and Other: 12 (or so).
More for economical reasons than the same reasons as yours is the reason my list is so low.
Also, too much continuity and cross-overs makes my brain and wallet hurts. ;-)

The only female super-heroine book I have is Terry Moore’s ECHO.
I also get Ennis’ The BOYS. and Waid’s IRREDEMEEMABLE, and INCORRUPTIBLE.

Go figure.

I may be wrong, but I think the last highly-placed woman at Marvel was the late Carol Kalish.

@ T.

In fairness to DC, very few of their new characters male or female aren’t derivative these days. Blue Beetle, Red Robin, Robin, Wally West’s twins, Breach, Azrael, Question, Chris Kent, Wonder Girl…for both male and female characters they are going in a derivative route.

Sad, but true. The Scrappy Doos … err … “legacy heroes” seem to be the order of the at DC. I would throw in Kon-El, Bart Allen, Jesse Quick and Miss Martian. It is sad that they seemed to be confused by the general lack of enthusiasm for these xeroxs of xeroxs. Don’t we know that they are upholding a noble legacy?

Yeah, when are they going to realize that we don’t care about also-rans like Hal Jordan, Barry Allen, and Ray Palmer?

I have thought about the similarities between Dark Phoenix and Scarlet Witch representing female heroes unable to control their power, but I never thought to associate them with Skrull-Spider-Woman. Good point.

I think that Marvel does not have female solo heroes because in the past these books haven’t sold for them. Part of this is how the books are written and drawn, but also DC has traditionally kept books that sold less. Also, several years ago, Marvel had the Tsunami imprint, which tried to tap into the Manga audience (and all of the young women that contained). Teen Inhumans, Sentinel, Runaways, Mystique, and a Namor romance book were all included. And like Minx, it failed commercially, so it was discontinued, like Minx.

I also don’t think that it’s fair to insist that a woman writing a woman is better than a man doing it. Yes Gail is the best, but Greg Rucka has far more respect for his female characters than Jodi Piccoult (who didn’t think Wonder Woman knew how to pump gas). Saying women should write women also implies that only men should write men, seriously limiting women’s opportunities in comics.

One has to remember that Jodi Picoult is just not a very good writer in general.

Worst moment in Marvel history was during the 90′s when the decision was made to sexify the Invisible Woman and the Scarlet Witch. Susan Storm was given this flimsy two peice bikini combo, with a sillouette of the ’4′ cut out across her chest. Would like see what Power-Girl would make of that. Wanda Maximoff was given this red stringy number, and while it provided a tad more coverage that Sue’s, this only worked when she was standing still. Movement caused a whole lot of other problems.

At the time these costume changes were made, both characters were going through some tough emotional times. Reed was considered dead and the West Coast Avengers was being decomissioned. Somehow the choice of costumes was to show off their new bad-ass additudes and newly found independence.

I’m sorry, but this was like looking at my mum and her sister in their swimwear.

On a brighter note, the past few months, Marvel has been publishing limited series Nomad:Girl Without a World. And while not the best written peice, I can see the potential and what the writer was aiming for. Story-wise, its aimed at the Buffy/Veronica Mars fan-base, and as for the character of Rikki Barnes, here we have a self-motivated 16 year-old girl. Instead of wollowing in self pity because she’s stranded on a strange new Earth, she’s got herself a job, a place to live, maintaints a healthy and fit lifestyle and has enrolled herself in high school. Just hope when she turns 18 in the Marvel-verse, the decision isn’t made to ‘sexify’ her Nomad costume.

Eric: Just to be very clear, because I don’t believe this at all and don’t want anyone to be confused and think I do, I definitely do not think that women can always write women better (or should be the only writers writing women). Some of my absolute favorite portrayals of women in comics have come from men – including Rucka, Moore, Bendis (hit and miss I guess I have to say), Kirkman, Vaughan, Whedon, Ennis, and a slew of others. I do think that having women involved can help – especially in editorial, writing, and penciling positions, but it’s not to say that men can’t do the job just as well and oftentimes better. I think a female perspective can be invaluable, but for me, at the end of the day, it usually comes down to the talent of the writer, not the gender of the writer.

I think my comment about Wonder Woman was more about the fact that Jodi Picoult was (I believe) the first woman given a shot at writing Wonder Woman, which strikes me as a little odd, but regardless I just find myself really thankful that when that didn’t work out (personally I really dislike that run) the attitude wasn’t “Look! women can’t write Wonder Woman.” but rather “Maybe Picoult wasn’t the right fit for WW.” And when Simone was available (a very natural fit to my mind) they didn’t hesitate to put her on the book.

Michael: I’ve actually never read a PIcoult book, so I can’t speak to that, but I’m always interested when novelists transition over into comics (maybe because I hope to do it myself one day) and I thought it was an interesting experiment that for whatever reason (talent, familiarity with and ability to work within the medium, editorial mandates, limited run, inexperience, etc,) really didn’t work.

I want to say that WW was written by a woman before Picoult or Simone. I don’t remember the creator’s name, but it was during the late 80′s or 90′s and a very big deal was made of it at the time.

No wonder I find myself less interested in the Marvel & DC universes these days. I think the trend of mistreating women is part of a greater trend towards more graphic violence, and I think it’s ruining super-hero comics. Not all of them, of course- Hercules, Detective Comics, and too-few others are still good- but the genre itself has been bent out of shape to accomodate more extreme elements. I’m no prude, I loved Preacher and really like Scalped, I’m just don’t want that stuff in Big 2 super-hero comics.

Kelly: If you are looking for a comic with a strong female protagonist, I recommend Kabuki by David Mack. The first story, Circle of Blood, sets Kabuki up as a government agent and explores her past (which includes violence against women, but Kabuki trancends her origins). In subsequent arcs, the storytelling gets surreal, the writing goes deeper, and Mack goes from pencil & ink to painting and collage. Although slow moving, the Metamorphosis trade is a thought-provoking character study that accomplishes things I haven’t seen done elsewhere in the medium. (The most recent story, The Alchemy, is Mack’s creative mission statement using his Kabuki characters, and not essential to the series)

I agree with this article 100 percent. Seeing the majority of superwomen boobing out or caught in relationship drama is pretty much why I started making my own hero comic. Sadly 4 years later and the mainstream is hardly any different. At least the young jsa cast has been potrayed rather unsensationalistically, though some artists can’t help add giant boobs to Cyclone for some reason. The recent Internet uproars over Cry for Justice and Psylocke are good signs though. If fans give the companies public crap about their juvenile portrayal of women, someone with authority will pay attention, right?

Lynxara: No you’re right. I got that info from Picoult’s intro to her Love and Murder arc, but I totally misread it, it clearly says she was the second woman to write WW. Sorry for the error!

Update: According to Wikipedia it was Mindy Newell and she only wrote a three issue arc – which is maybe why she sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.

Oh – and it was 1985 it looks like.

Her name was Mindy Newell. Gail Simone did an interesting interview with her on this very site:
http://forums.comicbookresources.com/showthread.php?t=285391

Dean:

This article is awesome! Thanks for the link, I’m going to go devour the rest of it now.

In fact, isn’t it damning enough that comics fandom ends up more or less split along gender lines? This is very atypical development for social structure in a mature fandom. It’s hard to imagine this phenomenon has absolutely nothing to do with some of the deep-seated problems the material has regarding depiction of female characters.

Lynxara brings up the most germane point of the conversation. And I’ll take it a step farther and say that the phenomenon has something to do with the deep-seated problems the male readership has with the comprehension of female characters. This is coming from a male fan who isn’t trying to start a fight – just articulating an observation. The folks denouncing the author as a “ranter” or “crazed feminist”, the knee jerk responses about male characters having six packs or there being lots of power mad male characters…hell, the fact that these posts get 100s of comments in an hour when the average CSBG entry gets 20-30 (and Kelly’s posts on non-superhero comics get 10-15), are all evidence that the depiction of strong, non-sexualized female characters or even the discussion of same is very threatening to mainstream comics fandom.

–or–

The fanboy doth protest too much, methinks.

Thanks for an outstanding article!

Marvel does have a new series called SWORD with a female lead. I’ve only seen the first issue, so it’s too soon to know what the portrayal is like, but so far she seems decent enough. They’re definitely not playing up her sexuality or anything like that. Although it does look like she might be played as the Ice Queen stereotype, and that gets horribly overdone as well.

I probably missed this somewhere above but…… lately it seems every new female character in DC is lesbian. We had Grace, Thunder, Scandal, Knockout, Renee Montoya (Question), Batwoman. Probably some others I can’t come up with. How does this factor in with how DC treats it’s female characters?

@ Kelly:

Mindy Newell was a pretty major talent. Her LOIS LANE mini was excellent, as were her LEGION scripts. If I remember correctly, she also wrote a letter excoriating Alan Moore for a werewolf story during his SWAMP THING run. DC printed the letter and Moore responded very thoughtfully in the letter column.

She was 20 years ahead of her time.

Maybe stories of women going out of control is an allegory of female menstruation concocted by sexist comicbook male writers…

@ s1rude – I think you’re making a gross over-simplification. The top runs posts get hundreds of comments, too. What deep seated fear of an ethnic or gender group is the reason behind that?

I think the more simple reason these posts get so many comments is people want to try to defend the things they like. This post is a criticism on comics. The Top Runs posts that get the most comments are the ones where people are bashing certain stories, and others come on to defend them. Pretty basic human nature, if you ask me.

Your comment seems to insinuate that anyone that doesn’t agree 100% with Kelly’s post has issues with women being treated in a strong, non-sexualized way. That’s bull. I’m sure some do, but to make such a sweeping generalization is pretty ignorant.

Don’t disagree…and I am a male. (It’s like we have ware badges around here.)…Anyway, I would point out some of the reasons Marvel and DC have been purging readers is despite some valiant efforts at both houses, they are not broadening their base (the point of this article). They do not let provide cartoonist complete freedom and or push them to be more creative. They love crossovers as a marketing tool way to much (Marvel says they are waking up to this…I miss mini series that were special and long series that were self contained and developed over time). Their characters never progress, tradition in comics that should have died when Bryne made fun of it in Sensational She-Hulk. They have mostly forgotten how to make cool comics for kids (take a note from Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse’s Tom Strong and Darwyn Cooke). Even worse for me they have not grown up with their adult readers…thus I read Fantagraphics and Draw and Quarterly more and more…despite wishing at least one title from Marvel and DC was consistent in pandering to the intellect adult who craves a quality superhero storytelling that is innovative and illustrated well. Why is it that cover artists aren’t give pages to pencil? I hate the false advertising of an awesome cover on a crappy book. I mean Skottie Young should be doing Uncanny X-Men…not just OZ. There has been some effort again with Young, Cooke, Kyle Baker…and I think people like Brian Hitch are just as important…I mean he rocks. But honestly, if Jamie Hernandez, Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine, Dan Clowes ect…were doing superhero comic (by the way Hernandez is…and it rules)…well, more adults would be coming back. Kelly’s point about female artist and writers is huge. Bigger then the point about female characters. My favorite female character is Kitty Pryde and I like curves just as much as the next guy, but when Shadow Cats character is developed well and drawn appropriately for her (i.e. by Chris Claremont and an Alan Davis, John Byrne, Art Adams or Marc Silvestri) then she holds up well…but if she is not allowed to grow into adult hood…then what am I reading all these years later for. And don’t get me started about other diversity issues…but despite some diversity in comics, you need not look farther then Trevor Von Eeden’s interview in TCJ to see that there has been and continues to be an issue there. But hay I am just another White Jewish Male Cartoonist…what do I know about diversity in comics.

Good stuff as always. I had always had a feeling that Marvel did the ladies a bit more injustice than DC, you explained to me why I felt that way.

I infer from your article that the migration of your reading habits is due to your (correct) opinion that Marvel lags in the inoffensive portrayal of female characters department. Is this really so? What other factors do you think contributed to this change over the years.

As a long time reader and someone who has been on the retail end of it (and not in some mom + pop, we’re talking one of the busiest stores in America) I think I’m at least somewhat qualified to talk about the Marvel vs. DC thing.

In my experience, your migration is somewhat typical to that of many comic readers (vis. heavy readers). They start by being lured in by a property’s appearance in other media. This is usually a marvel property because they put out more movies and because their movies feature characters that the general public have not yet been introduced to and are thus more excited about. They will start to read marvel’s stuff and eventually dip their toes into DC. Eventually they will start to hear the buzz about all the great stuff that isn’t published by those guys and read indy titles. The indy titles will almost always be vastly superior and the marvel and dc stuff doesn’t interest them so much.

But what makes DC readers stick with the brand while Marvel’s readership dwindles? Continuity. Both publishers serve up their fair amount but Marvel really does constantly try to bring in new readers while DC focuses on pleasing the ones they have by appealing to the continuity buffs. Both sorts of stories will generally be weaker than what you’ll read from Dark Horse, Top Shelf, etc… but DC offers what indy comics can’t, down n’ dirty continuity porn.

I’m not sure this is true for you, but I wondered if this was a factor.

p.s. Any plans to do a post on Y? I have questions about whether I should go back and give it a second look. I read the first 6 or 7 issues at a time when I was also reading people like Susan Bordo for the first time and I disliked Y because it wasn’t feminist enough. Or more precisely, because it focuses too closely on the small story around the main character and not on the huge social, economic, etc… world-bending changes that I would expect from a world without sustained patriarchal influence. To me, the world wasn’t different enough in light of what happened in the book or, alternatively, Vaughn didn’t focus on the differences enough (or early enough).

And another thing,

Alias is still, for my money, the best thing put out by either publisher from the point of view your posts espouse.

But Detective is darn good.

The thing is, I’d say if you are looking for strong female characters at Marvel, in the last few years, realistically for the most part you are going to have to look at the comparatively obscure team books like X-factor, GotG, Captain Britain and Mi13, SWORD and Agents of Atlas (incidentally, Namora = possibly the one female comics character in the world who has frequently worn considerably more than her male counterpart)

Considring things though, it’d be very interesting to see what difference a female EiC of either company would make, or perhaps more – if either company got a female writer they regarded as highly as the likes of Bendis, Morrison, Geoff Johns etc.

But what makes DC readers stick with the brand while Marvel’s readership dwindles?

*sigh* Here we go again…

The sales gap between DC and Marvel widens every year in Marvel’s favor the past few years yet fans online continue with a personal pro-DC bias keep trying to pass off this fantasy that DC readers stick with the brand while Marvel’s readership dwindles. DC has been losing fans at a MUCH faster rate than Marvel.

@ Ben Cohen:

…I miss mini series that were special and long series that were self contained and developed over time). Their characters never progress, tradition in comics that should have died when Bryne made fun of it in Sensational She-Hulk.

Honestly, I think progress is one of those terms that gets bandied about, but no one really thinks about. It is almost always better in theory than practice. I mean, how much did Charlie Brown “progress”? Have the Simpsons “grown” from episode-to-episode? Has that harmed either property in any way?

Conversely, is anyone a big fan of, say, Donna Troy as Troia-Darkstar-whatever? Sue Dibny? There is a lot of “progress” there. The truth is that time does not pass for these characters. Change almost has to be forced upon them by creators. I honestly think the desire to show progress is the root cause of the Women-in-Refrigerators problem, the speculation problem and the resulting decline of comics as a whole.

People walk into comic shops looking for characters with which they are familiar often from other media and find their favorites distorted beyond all recognition. Often, they are distorted through brutal (often misogynistic) means and their debasement is recounted with sadistic glee by the sales clerk. They are justly appalled and leave never to return.

I can live quite happily without “progress” in my superheroes.

The sales gap between DC and Marvel widens every year in Marvel’s favor the past few years yet fans online continue with a personal pro-DC bias keep trying to pass off this fantasy that DC readers stick with the brand while Marvel’s readership dwindles. DC has been losing fans at a MUCH faster rate than Marvel.

The average direct market title from the “Big Two” sold 27,500 units and lost 4% of its readers from the prior month. The average indie sold markedly less. DC grew based on strong sales from new titles coming out of BLACKEST NIGHT. However, those “new” sales cannibalized sales of their existing titles. (irony noted)

No one in the direct market comic book business should be crowing right now.

The average direct market title from the “Big Two” sold 27,500 units and lost 4% of its readers from the prior month. The average indie sold markedly less. DC grew based on strong sales from new titles coming out of BLACKEST NIGHT. However, those “new” sales cannibalized sales of their existing titles. (irony noted)

No one in the direct market comic book business should be crowing right now.

Once again, I AM NOT STATING THAT ANYONE IN THE INDUSTRY IS DOING GREAT RIGHT NOW. My specific issue is that I don’t understand why people in this thread keep repeating this fiction that Marvel is losing readers to DC because they are being run worse.

There is this weird recurring trend here:

Person A: “…and that is what Marvel is doing wrong and why Marvel is losing more and more readers to DC all the time.”

Me: “Wait, DC is actually selling increasingly worse than Marvel and has been for years.”

Person B: “Well the whole industry is doing bad!”

It’s a non-sequitir. The fact that the whole industry is doing bad does not at all change the fact that claiming Marvel is not losing the sales war to DC in any shape or form. I’m not claiming Marvel is doing good, improving its numbers or growing its audience. Just that in no way is DC whittling away at their sales lead.

By the way:

Honestly, I think progress is one of those terms that gets bandied about, but no one really thinks about. It is almost always better in theory than practice. I mean, how much did Charlie Brown “progress”? Have the Simpsons “grown” from episode-to-episode? Has that harmed either property in any way?…

I can live quite happily without “progress” in my superheroes.

Amen brother!

I generally agree with what I read in the article here. I don’t quite understand the need for coverage in females, however. I find the real issue is with how awful the costume looks. I don’t mind boob windows or zippers if they don’t come on hideous costumes in the first place (what really bugs me about Catwoman is the freaking goggles, for example).

I am a guy, though, so perhaps my views are a bit skewed in the costume department. However, I’m pretty much with you on how Marvel’s been treating their females. Let’s take your idea and get an executive whose job is to inject some common sense in to prospective story lines. He/she’d be sort of a derivation of the VP of Common Sense espoused by Bill Simmons on ESPN here:

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/060519

It’s laid out in the first answer of the mailbag. I think it’d work out pretty well.

These days, the best place to look for a female lead in Marvel is Spider-Girl, currently a feature in Web of Spider-Man.

Hands down, month in and month out, it remains appointment reading for me, and I hope that someday the story gets to go back into it’s own mag (100 issues for volume 1, 30 for 2. Not a bad score by any rate)

Honestly, I think progress is one of those terms that gets bandied about, but no one really thinks about. It is almost always better in theory than practice. I mean, how much did Charlie Brown “progress”? Have the Simpsons “grown” from episode-to-episode? Has that harmed either property in any way?…

True. I think a large part of the problem goes back to the fact that curently, as I believe Steven Grant has put it, all super-hero comic books published by DC and Marvel are essentially fan fiction. Each writer wants to put his or her “stamp” on every classic character he or she writes. But they also all want to start with that character in the status quo it was in when the writer was a kid and reading the character for the first time. So every time a writer leaves a character, the new writer basically hits the reset button on the character and starts again from there.

Wonder Woman is a perfect example. Since her reboot in the 1980s, how many distinct supporting casts has she had? 7-8? Maybe more?

The difference between Peanuts or The Simpsons and Marvel & DC is a matter of vision. In both of the former cases, there were only one or two people direction the overall vision and storyarcs of the characters. I may be excoriated for this, but I think the writers actually need more editorial oversight, not less. You want to know what happens when comic book fans get complete creative control over a character? Heroes Reborn, that’s what happens

This just in:

Marvel announces GIRL COMICS, a three-issue anthology miniseries written, drawn, inked, lettered–everything, by women.

Heidi MacDonald has the news at The Beat:

http://bit.ly/6AkgXB

Wow.

Well, I hate the title GIRL COMICS almost or perhaps as much as Minx, Marvel Divas, and Gotham City Sirens, but you absolutely cannot argue with that talent list. This will be really really interesting.

Kelly,
Great article. I’m not sure I agree with all of your points, but it was smart and interesting. I especially like your coming back here and answering the questions and comments with thoughtful answers. I’ll be sure to be on the look out for more of your posts.

Well, I will see you back here in a few months to find out how terribly wrong GIRL COMICS is. Might as well start bashing the whole thing now as the entire premise/idea is already wrong, ala the year of Marvel Women since “if you have to single something out as “special” you’re already doing something wrong.” Clearly Marvel can’t and won’t get anything “right” in this regard.

Alemander-

You’re a douche.

Chad:

Seconded. I generally consider myself on the right side of the political spectrum, but it’s been astonishing how much misogyny has bubbled up in the comments of Kelly’s posts.

This whole article was stupid.

The Marrina-Vagina thing was idiotic. She resembled an eel or leach. I don’t know what your VaJayJay looks like, but it shouldn’t resemble that.

I hope this article gets cancelled or whatever, because the only thing worse than women getting unrepresented in comics, is some crazy lady ranting about how everything in comic fandom is aimed down at women. We get it, you hate men.

(P.S. I think women have great storylines. Black Widow was as cool as Bucky’s Captain America was. In his own comic!)

Chad and Wesley:

Give me a break with all the white knighting. Alemander gave a harsh but totally fair criticism. It’s so annoying how if you don’t walk on eggshells in response to this girl you are automatically some rabid misogynist. There has been some actual misogyny in the past responses to some of these posts but what Alemander just wrote hardly qualifies.

@ T.

Once again, I AM NOT STATING THAT ANYONE IN THE INDUSTRY IS DOING GREAT RIGHT NOW. My specific issue is that I don’t understand why people in this thread keep repeating this fiction that Marvel is losing readers to DC because they are being run worse.

I did not think that you were.

We are all working from aggregate data and anecdotes. The hypothesis that Marvel draws and churns new readers while DC essentially holds their graying fan-base was interesting with their fresh customers coming from folks that have “aged out” of Marvel. It is consistent with the data set we have, since DC would be dependent upon Marvel’s growth and would, therefore, decline faster. It would also make sense with the comic internet skewing toward DC. However, it is also totally untestable. The only way of really knowing would be to see Point-of-Sale (POS) data on comics that may not even exist.

If it is any consolation, then the idea that DC draws more sophisticated customers that have passed through Marvel makes the DiDio regime seem even dumber. In that scenario, DC is the HBO of comics and Marvel is the CW. DiDio has done is the equivalent of putting the new “90210″ on HBO, when he should be looking for the next “Sopranos”, or “The Wire” or even “True Blood”.

“Harsh but fair?” He blasted her for words he’s putting in her mouth. It’s like saying you’re automatically a racist if you don’t like Reggie Hudlin’s run on Black Panther.

You, on the other hand, have had very well articulated arguments. I don’t agree with all of them, but I can see where your coming from and why you disagree with some of the other posters here and Kelly.

The misogynists are the ones who seem to feel that she doesn’t have any right to her opinion, or that she’s got some sort of penis-envy like grudge against men in general, like Eric here.

T.-

I wasn’t white knighting. I don’t agree with the gist of the first half of the article. I think the vagina dentata thing is a stretch and misses some very valid points that might otherwise have been brought up. And I don’t have a problem with people pointing out things like that. That’s what dialogue is all about.

But what Alemander wrote wasn’t about this article. It didn’t even flow smoothly out of Kelly’s comment on the title of the upcoming book. It was snide, dismissive and snarky without any real thought, eloquence, or wit. It was a step above “You hate men” but only a small step. And it was posted with the sole purpose of pre-emptively discrediting future opinions.

In other words, it was some loud-mouth being a douche.

Wesley, I’m not a misogynist, sorry if it came out that way.

I just don’t agree with he opinions that because something bad happens to s women character (i.e. Marrinna), that means that Marvel is unfair in it’s treatment of women. Hell, when they killed Steve Rogers, I didn’t think they hated patriots or World War II veterans. It was all for the sake of storytelling, and that’s what makes good storytelling, soing what noone expects.

I’m Canadian, and I love Alpha Flight, so to see that happened to Marrina was a shock. But damned if it didn’t make me care mor about what happened (by the way, sad she died). but it got me invested in the story alright.

Sorry if I was ranting there for a bit, but that seems to be the thing to do here. Hey! I’m actually pretty good at ranting maybe I’ll get to write a column here too.

kelly-

may i offer you “manhunter”? if you PM me your address, i will mail you the complete series (in TPB) for free! i’d be curious to see your analysis!

regards,
marc

I’m not saying Alemander was nice or civil but look at some of the harshness people like Chad Nevett, Brad Curran and Greg Burgas often get from commenters. Some of it is downright brutal. If she writes about controversial topics, she’s a big girl and should expect some spirited responses. It’s a regular article that week after week calls out the comic industry professional circles and fanbase as being populated by woman haters, how can one not expect people to get defensive or take it personal after a while?

Back @ Dean

I think I wrote that at 2:30 am…your issues with what I was saying are less intrinsic to my over all concerns about quality, diversity and respect. We could exchange valid examples all day and in the end we are both right…or there should be enough room for both to be right. I just don’t like reading the same story over and over. Particularly when it was told better by someone else a long time ago. I have nostalgia too. It does drive me crazy as an adult reader (and a comics teacher) to have plot so heavy handed. Told in obtuse ways in text…show the story you don’t have to catch me up ever other panel…anyway…I guess I am just as random during the day.

Thanks fro bring some stats to the discussion.

At this point, I’m wondering what your take is on the recently announced Girl Comics mini that Marvel just announced.

T.: I know you and I don’t get along so well and certainly don’t agree, but I have for the most part appreciated that you haven’t been stooping to the level of some of the other commenters that don’t agree with me, by keeping the dialogue about the issues rather than about me personally…however I really think, and perhaps this is my failing as a new columnist, that this:

“It’s a regular article that week after week calls out the comic industry professional circles and fanbase as being populated by woman haters”

is not really a fair assessment of what my column has been about. I’ve done 5 columns thus far and 3 were positive and 2 were negative. And I don’t believe I’ve ever called out the fanbase for being woman haters, in
fact, a lot of my theory here has been that most fans DO want change and are more progressive than the comics themselves and would welcome and embrace change in comics. I’ve been surprisingly encouraged by the response to the column and the dialogue that it has sparked, because if this board is in any way a fair sampling of readers then I think that there are even more progressive fans out there that are ready for change than I expected.

As for calling industry professionals woman haters, I’ve used the word misogyny in two articles (the two negative) and only in one (the Psylocke article) did I come hard that I thought that it was what was truly going on. When I used misogyny in this article it was more a question of – is this some deep seated misogyny? or just ignorance? or something else? It does sometimes feels like misogyny to me, but I don’t know that I’m ready to call it that out of hand…and certainly not for an entire house (Marvel or DC). It’s one of the reasons I think this column or others like it are an important part of the discussion.

T-
Alemander’s comment struck me as especially douche-ish. Other posters may indeed face such ridiculously moronic attacks. Had Alemander’s statement been addressed to someone else I would have had the same reaction with the same results. Please feel free to tell me why I am wrong in saying this. I’m enjoying your God-like look into my psyche.

Kelly – take Marc up on his offer, Manhunter’s some good stuff. Well, the first 25 or so issues are…I never got around to reading the last bit.

Amit! Regarding GIRL COMICS, I’m hesitant, but I hope like hell it will be good.

It feels like Marvel doing part of the equation right (i.e. there is some serious serious talent on that book) but the name is pretty terrible (in keeping with a history of bad names I guess – Minx, Marvel Divas, Gotham City Sirens).

And while it’s an interesting experiment, I think that I personally would prefer to see these women (not necessarily all of them – you can’t do this overnight of course) but I’d like to see these women put on long running books – not a 3-issue “special” mini.

So I guess I feel like they’re halfway there. It’s still a mini, but they’re loading it with super talent. They’re involving more women, but they’ve made it ALL women, which makes it seem like a gimmick instead of real change – like just putting women on regular books with more frequency and staying power.

Time will tell, it’s certainly not something I can judge until I read it. Suffice to say, I’m sure I’ll be talking about it in this column when it releases.

I will say that I love the hell out of that Amanda Conner Cover – She-Hulk’s expression is just perfect.

Alemander’s may have phrased his remark in a douchey (is that even a word?) manner, but I think he raises a valid point. If the idea of a year of Marvel Women is indicative that Marvel is doing something wrong because they have to single it out as “special”, and Kelly flat out says that in this article, then wouldn’t the idea of Girl Comics be wrong for the same reasons? Isn’t that a bit of a Catch-22?

@Kelly: It turns out the ‘Girl Comics’ name is a revival of the name of an old Golden Age Marvel/Atlus anthology. So it’s not Marvel randomly being stupid, though I think the wisdom of reviving the name in this fashion is questionable.

jazzbo: The point I was trying to make in the article, and perhaps it’s not well enough explained, is that if you have to do something “special” for women whether it be characters or writers/aritsts/creators (or any “minority”) then I think it points a huge sign at the fact that things are not currently equal.

And they’re not. Well, not from my perspective. So while I will absolutely take a Minx line, and a year of “Marvel Women” and a book made entirely by amazing women called (shudder) Girl Comics, I think the fact that we have to have these things, helps illustrate that things are not CURRENTLY equal and as they should be and as we should be trying to make them.

My issue is that if you don’t acknowledge the actual problem at its roots (i.e. things are not equal and maybe there is some latent misogyny – or not so latent misogyny – in mainstream comics) then everything else that you try to throw at the problem to solve it is just going to be gimmicks and marketing campaigns. GIRL COMICS solves no long term problems if it doesn’t become an ongoing and spawn change, or if the women on the book just go home after their three issue run. “Special” generally seems to denote that it will end…and that’s not real change.

Lynxara: Yeah, I saw that. I think you hit the nail on the head though with “wisdom of reviving the name in this fashion is questionable.”

T-
I misread your post. I apologize.

Kelly: As you put it, it won’t happen overnight. Anytime DC or Marvel has these “special events” with (mostly) indy talent, they’re simply seeing what happens. DC did it with Bizarro Comics and Solo, Marvel did it with Strange Tales. If one or two of the female creators hits a chord with readers, they’ll get a “real” mini-series or a regular series. That has nothing to do with the fact that they’re women, it’s to do with the fact that they’re not well known. Based on the recent Strange Tales anthology, I think Matt Kindt would KILL on a Black Widow series. Who knows if that will ever happen, but it was cool to see his take. I will bet that if this series does moderately well, Marvel will sign a few of the creators to contracts and then turn them loose.

That’s all well and good Greg, but why is it that in the indie/small press scene these women are in fact well known? Why is it that MoCCA, SPX, TCAF, APE and the like are so much more co-ed than Comic-Con or Wizard World?

Kelly – I am very eager to hear your take on Manhunter, which I thought was fabulous.

I do see the image as more of an eel (plausible for an aquatic character) than a vagina dentata, but I think the larger point you’re making is pretty accurate.

@ Ben Cohen:

Yes, I was writing late as well.

My argument was less one in favor of nostalgia per se than the following:
- Superhero properties are brands. Like any other brand, consumers have a reasonable expectation that the product will have certain attributes. Provide those consumers with a product that does not meet their expectations and they rightly stop buying it.
- Comics, as a medium, do somethings well and other things poorly. One of the things that they appear to do poorly is have characters evolve slowly over time. There just are not that many examples of a character starting in one place, slowly changing into a different person and remaining that person for, say, 60 consecutive issues.

So, progressing characters slowly forward in time tends to be poorly done and potentially alienates more casual readers. This relates to a question that Kelly raised:

… When I used misogyny in this article it was more a question of – is this some deep seated misogyny? or just ignorance? or something else? It does sometimes feels like misogyny to me, but I don’t know that I’m ready to call it that out of hand…and certainly not for an entire house (Marvel or DC). It’s one of the reasons I think this column or others like it are an important part of the discussion.

I think the more innocent answer to that question is that Marvel and DC are trying to do things in their books for which the medium (comics) and the genre (superheroes) are poorly suited.

Take Sue Storm-Richards as a case study. Here you have the long-suffering wife of a workaholic. Her super-power is to become invisible and make things happen without anyone seeing her do it. She acts as the surrogate mother for her kid brother and Ben Grimm. She has a passive-aggressive flirtation with the biggest tool in the Marvel U.

I am sorry, but that is a pretty neat character. There are thousands of stories and gags that could spin out of just Sue. It just requires creators who are willing to get inside the head of a woman that does not call attention to herself.

Instead, she was “progressed”. She went KAH-razy and became Malice to show how everyone how much power she had. She and Reed have “marital problems”, but the reader knows that she can never leave and he can never change. Somewhere along the line the metaphorical connection between her personality and her powers are broken. Oh, and her clothes got progressively smaller.

Defenders of Marvel will, no doubt, state that Sue Storm has become vastly more assertive over the years. This is true, but she also become less distinctive. As she is now, Sue could be almost any of the “good girl” Marvels. Somehow, that newfound assertiveness is supposed to balance (and explain) the progressively more sexualized imagery of Sue that Marvel was using to sell FF.

More generic, more sexualized female superheroes is not a woman friendly attitude. However, the root cause is not necessarily misogyny. Likely, it is some combination of factors.

I have noticed over the years that in action stories for men (in almost any medium or subgenre), major female characters are more likely to have terrible things happen to them than the male characters. If someone has to get killed or maimed to up the drama, it will be the woman. Likewise, if someone needs to go bad, it will be the woman. If it’s an action (or drama) story for women, this trope is completely reversed and you’ll instead see men dying and getting mangled left-and-right.

I think part of it is that writers believe they need to keep the male character as a point of identification with the presumably male audience. Another part seems to be reinforcing certain societal assumptions– for instance, more women are assaulted and murdered statistically than men overall, so you achieve “realism” by reflecting that in your story. Finally, I suspect the male writers want to manipulate their male audience’s emotions, betting that most viewers will feel more saddened or upset by something bad happening to the (likely pretty) female lead.

I think when female (or male) authors of story material for women put male characters through the wringer to ridiculous degree, they’re thinking roughly along the same lines. So the real culprits here are creators who forget that most of the time, the audience for any major entertainment product is going to end up consisting of mixed genders once it reaches a certain level of success. Women reading superhero comics are the inevitable result of decades of cartoons, movies, and TV shows exposing the characters to broad audiences

Can we get Lynxara a column here at CSBG? I am really enjoying her posts and reading her take on things. Very well thought out and very well written!

Lynxara– You said that ‘more women are assaulted and murdered statistically than men overall’. That seems to be a common assumption, and I hear it repeated a lot, but according to the Justice Department’s statistics, 74.6% of murder victims are male. I couldn’t find the assault statistics just now, although I probably could if I kept looking, but I assume that most victims are male there, too. It seems likely when you think about what sorts of assaults are most common– drunken brawls, for instance.

Oh, despite the above correction, I enjoy Lynxara’s posts, too.

@Mary Warner: Fair enough! That’s interesting, I really thought it was the other way around.

Clearly “realism” in fiction occasionally has nothing to do with reality, and everything to do with what people think reality probably is!

Very well put Lynxara.

@ Dean

I really can’t disagree with much of what you were saying. I certainly agree with Kelly, that there is a bit of a fog over causes. Your analysis of Sue Storm if I am reading it right is absolutely correct. In Unstable Molecules, James Sturm explored the real life story that brought us the Fantastic Four and it brings to light just how truly interesting and “real” her character is. While we may see her evolve we have really seen her character erode paradoxically in favor of marketing and feminism. I have no issue with a stronger Sue. Particularly when she has been dealing with Reed (who is a great character). There is so much material just with the two of them. But it does not help her character as you said to have her cloths shrink, while she gathers strength in her relationships.

I agree that long-term characters development has been poor over time in most cases. But I feel that is because of a number of factors including change over in artist and writers, editorial interference, branding interpretation, an aging audience, lack of vision, erosion of fundamentals in storytelling, ect…when I am thinking of character development, I am thinking of what Claremont was free to do over time with Uncanny X-Men in the 70′s and 80′s. I don’t know…maybe I am just BSing, but I think there is something to it.

We can agree on combination of factors…for the state that female characters are in and the marketing issues of superhero comics.

So here’s the thing, and I can’t believe I’m about to make this confession on CSBG of all places

Bah! They can take it! In fact, I can do you one better: I didn’t get into comics because of the X-Men cartoon, but because of the X-Men comics they were giving out at Pizza Hutt. Did you ever get any of those? They had those crazy triplefold gate covers and everything. And let’s not forget the plastic X-Men cups. And the poster. And the DVD (which I never got, but I’m sure others did). Marvel put a lot into that promotion, and it worked. Issue #4 of the comic series had an ad for the X-Men cartoon in the back and the rest, as they say, is history…

I’ll be honest, though, those comics don’t really hold up well when you’re older. When you’re a kid, though? They’re the bee’s knees. Anyway, back to the main topic…

Marvel has announced that starting in March 2010 it will launch a year of “Marvel Women” – and I want to applaud that – I really do – but quite frankly if you have to single something out as “special” you’re already doing something wrong.

Right, I was thinking more or less the same thing when I heard about “Marvel Women.” Nice idea, but it’s Marvel basically admitting that it has a problem…

You know, that Uncanny X-Men cover with Storm (was that the issue where Forge wanted to propose to her?) made me realize something about the Jim Lee costumes. With the exception of Psylocke’s, most of the costumes for the X-Women didn’t really bare a whole lot of skin. Oh sure, some of them were rather form-fitting, like Rogue’s and Jean’s, but look at Storm’s and Jubilee’s costumes.

Where is Marvel’s equivalent to Wonder Woman? It doesn’t exist.

*sobs* why does everyone forget about Thor…
http://www.tgfa.org/comics/thor/images/EarthX_05_15.jpg

Where is Marvel’s equivalent to arguably the best mainstream female writer in comics – Gail Simone? Doesn’t exist. Best mainstream female artist – Amanda Conner? Nope. What do they have that matches Batgirl? Maybe Spider-Woman. Supergirl? Maybe Ms. Marvel (which is about to end). Detective Comics? Nothing. Power Girl? Nothing. Madame Xanadu? Nothing. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Yar, Marvel’s mostly a boy’s treehouse these days, at least when it comes to writers. I’m hearing Marjorie Lu’s doing some great stuff on Dark Wolverine, though.

Also, kudos if you took Marc Andreyko up on his offer. Legend has it that every time a person doesn’t buy Manhunter, a grown man cries.

@ Ben Cohen:

That James Strum book sounds like a great read.

I honestly think that Claremont’s run on X-MEN has done more damage to comics than any series not called DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. People grouse about WATCHMEN ushering in deconstructionism, but that has been a good thing mostly. Creators routinely do WATCHMEN style pastiches (i.e. THE BOYS, IRREDEEMABLE) that are addressed at hard-core fans that do not really reach anyone else. Vertigo would not be possible without it, nor would something playful like ALL-STAR SUPERMAN.

Claremont’s X-MEN, on the other hand, is unrepeatable. No one is going to be handed a bunch of (essentially) brand new characters by a Big Two publisher and have nearly complete creative control over them for 17 years. Even so, Claremont tended to have his female characters take very similar arcs. To a large extent, he is the original author of the current female Marvel cliches. Claremont tended to slowly hammer his women into one of two basic types over time. I am not saying this was Claremont’s intent, just his tendency.

However, over time Claremont’s tendencies became the primary touchstone for female characterization at Marvel. Moving female characters into one of those two types became normal and all other options became abnormal. This was compounded by the sheer joy that the equally influential Frank Miller took in writing “bad girls”, like Electra and Karen Page.

Which brings me to the “good girl”/”bad girl” dynamic of the female Marvels. This mirrors probably the most stereotypically anti-feminist formulations in Western Culture. The “good girls” are all strong, assertive and nurturing. The “bad girls” are all manipulative and deceitful (albeit FUN!). To me, that is a major component of the Marvel context that Kelly is referencing.

Okay. Now… maybe I’m confused, but it seems a lot of people are baffled about this “Marvel’s Girl Comics” thing they’re doing. Like… they don’t really know what it’s about, but just kind of heard the title and made assumptions.
It’s a series about female creative teams, not specifically female characters. For all anybody knows, these comics could be Spider-Man, Captain America, and The Incredible Hulk stories done by a lot of the famous female talent that’s out there. So, I don’t know why everyone is in a tiff about them “admitting they have a problem with female characters” by doing that series, as you’re not even guaranteed to have female character driven stories.

To me, I think you’ve got things entirely backwards. Marvel does a better job with their MAIN female characters by far than DC does with their main female characters. The only MAIN female DC hero worth caring about is Powergirl. Everyone else seems to be pretty lackluster imho. You keep mentioning Wonder Woman, and I’ll be honest here… I don’t give a hoot about Wonder Woman. I find her stories to be incredibly dull and practically pointless in the large scheme of things. You can’t cite Spoiler Batgirl or Batwoman as “main” characters because they’re the new kids on the block right now. Sure, they’re good stories for right now, but that doesn’t mean that DC is immune to gimmicks… such as Batwoman being a lipstick lesbian for example, even her back-up character (Renee Montoya) is also a lesbian. Just because a company has more comics that center around female characters doesn’t necessarily make them less sexist. I mean… look at Barbara Gordan. In a world where all this mystical and magical stuff happens, and Batman can rehabilitate from a broken back, she’s STILL stuck in a wheel chair and given the “Oracle” role because they want to tap into that market. She was an amazing female character, and while I do like the Oracle concept, it makes NO SENSE in continuity for them to just ignore her and force her into this “bitter person in a wheelchair” sort of role. It’s happened before to other females as well, and many writers over at DC have portrayed their characters as dumb clueless airheads IE Powergirl for example (I think it was Geoff Johns who did this.)

As for Marvel, I consider Ms. Marvel to be a VERY strong comic series and character, unfortunately she’s reached the end of her rope, but that isn’t surprising for that comic. I think it had a really good run, and it’s been getting better and better as the months go on, but Ms. Marvel is not a character who can really hold a book on her own. I think a majority of the X-Men females and Black Widow are more “front stage female” sort of characters. Heck, the Spider-Woman comic that’s come out recently is supposedly very good, but I haven’t been reading a lot of these mini-series with females due to the price point. I’ll even say they have Black Panther, whose comic isn’t necessarily “thrilling” but she’s still an enjoyable character with potential (much like Ms. Marvel in her pre-Civil War days.) Marvel Divas was indeed a gigantic flop. I’m not going to lie and say it was something great. I think the concept they were going for just wasn’t that great. It was just a really terrible superhero soap opera/daytime television sort of thing, and I don’t think ANYONE was interested in that. But, overall, sure some of the Marvel heroes may just be breast exposed in tight leather characters but at least their stories and writing portray them as strong and intelligent women.

As a final note to this wall of text… Marvel has some of the BEST Super Villainess characters. At least in my opinion. “Females being responsible for catastrophe” is nothing new in the marvel universe. I mean… look at Jean Grey, she caused a whole lot of trouble during Phoenix Saga, yet I don’t recall anybody arguing about the sexism in that arc. Anywho… bottom line, I think some of these things have been read into WAY too far, and a lot of the argument seems to have a strong basis in the “Marvel Divas” disaster.

- Link

PS. It’s Norman Osborn. If anybody is going to have an evil Horny Vagina Dentata WMD it’s going to be him. Now if this was just some “normal” story that didn’t involve a corrupt psychopath, then… yeah. But I never even really thought about that when I was reading the comic, I just thought “So, they turned Namor’s ex into this crazy sea monster thing.”

@Link: I find Power Girl pretty detestable, myself.

The character, that is. Amanda Conner’s art for the current book is lovely, I otherwise haven’t paid much attention to it. (Since… I don’t like Power Girl.)

Wonder Woman has a lot of symbolic importance, but you’re quite right that she’s never starred in any truly great comics.

A lot of pretty good and better-than-average comics, but no “greats” yet. I suspect that’s not coincidental.

@ Link:

I do not think that anyone has said “DC is teh awesome” on this thread. It simply is not a thread about gender and DC Comics. It is a thread about gender and Marvel. Saying “DC is worse” is not really a response to the critique that female Marvels tend to go crazy when they get too much power and tend to unzip their jumpsuits to their navels.

There was a long, long thread a few week ago about Power Girl in particular. I think the current series is fantastic, but tastes vary.

@Gokitalo: I TOTALLY had some of that X-Men/Pizza Hut tie-in crap. I’d forgotten all about that! Yeah, we had a comic (or two), a couple cups, and maybe a poster or placemat or something silly. My brother and I were SO into it. It was still very new to us and I was in that stage of getting my hands on anything I could find…like someone dying of thirst. Honestly? I miss the hell out of that innocence and ability to get excited about something. I can’t remember the last time I was that excited…yes, over a plastic cup with a picture of Rogue on it. Sigh. Perhaps that just speaks to my life more than nostalgia though, so perhaps we shouldn’t go there. :)

You make a good point about the Marvel early 90′s Claremont/Lee etc. female costumes. Because everyone except Psylocke was pretty regularly covered from head to toe, er, neck to toe (as they were in the cartoon as well) which was part of what helped I think for me to get into it…it didn’t feel sexist to me as a kid or like there was anything “wrong” with it. Look at the roster today and it’s a series of costume malfunctions waiting to happen (or already happening).

@Dean: The Sturm book is pretty interesting. Judging by your comments here (very insightful) I think you’d enjoy it.

@Link: Just to be clear Link (and perhaps you’re referring to the comments and not the article) but this article was posted before the Marvel GIRLS COMICS announcement, so while I don’t think that the announcement undoes the article (In fact I think it unfortunately reinforces some of it) I was not considering the GIRLS COMICS book/concept when I wrote the article.

You are certainly welcome to your opinion, and it’s totally valid if you feel like Marvel does it better than DC, I happen to think neither of them do it great, but DC is doing it better,…but I think you can’t dismiss out of hand some of the DC characters just because you don’t like them. Wonder Woman has been around almost as long as Batman and Superman and so there’s something important to that whether you love the character or not. And Marvel has never really managed that and I don’t know why. I also think it’s unfortunate, because if they had allowed Storm for example (she seems the most similar to WW to me on the surface at least) to have her own book 20 years ago and had really put the force of Marvel behind it…I think we’d be talking about a seriously different Marvel today. But they’ve never fully committed to a marquee female the way DC has (though I obviously have some problems with their history as well).

Also, while the Steph Batgirl may be new (and I’m personally not a big fan), there have been other Batgirls and I suspect always will be. Cass Cain had her own ongoing for what 70+ issues, not to mention what Barbara did before her. Time will tell if Batwoman will be able to hold her own on Detective or in her own book or whatever the plan there is. But the point I was making in that direct comparison is just that I can look at the DC books and pick up nearly a dozen books in which the main character (and generally the one the book is named after) is a woman…and I can only do it a couple times at Marvel and most of those books are either mini’s or ending (like Ms. Marvel). And that seems like a pretty big gap to me.

I don’t think DC is less sexist than Marvel. I think DC is practically borderline misogynist.

This is the only company I know of that cripples female super-heroes permanently in their comic books but heals the spinal injury in male super-heroes on a regular basis.

This is the only company I know of that takes a positive female character from a kids cartoon and puts her into a continuity proper universe JUST to cripple her–that’s sick, and before anybody asks, the disabled are real people who have no magical or super scientific means available to reverse the process. If you’re friends with a guy who knew Zatanna from childhood onward and has three or four Doctor Fates on his Roladex in addition to being a long-time friend to an Amazon with a healing purple ray and best buddies with a Kryptonian, you have been crippled.

DC’s continuity has been punched, rewritten, reconstituted, but guess what? They make absolutely f’n sure that Barbara stays crippled, and now that dubious honor goes to Wendy as well. If Green Arrow had his legs hacked off in battle, he’d grow a new pair in the very next issue.

So spare me this idea of DC being lily white when compared to Marvel. While Marvel isn’t exactly pure, it’s still better than DC in that respect.

Marvel also has female counterparts to the DC Universe:

Wonder Woman—->Namora
Batgirl——>Tigra
Supergirl——>Ms. Marvel
Catwoman—>Emma Frost
Black Canary—>Black Widow
Zatanna—–>Scarlet Witch
Big Barda—>Medusa
Power Girl—->She-Hulk
Earth Two Huntress—->Spider-Woman
Manhunter—>Hellcat

They in addition have a handful of good female super-heroes that are unique: the Invisible Woman, Crystal, Captain Marvel, Elsa Bloodstone, Boom-Boom, Storm, Ultragirl, Giant-Girl, Thundra, Venus, Sersi.

Of the series you refer to, Wonder Woman and Supergirl are the only ones with staying power. That’s because they’re the only two heroes that are actually close to the original incarnations.

Batwoman’s dependent on the artwork. Once the artist changes, we’ll see how far she’ll last in Detective Comics, lesbian or no. Manhunter’s in the Streets of Gotham, for the time being, but both her series were cancelled. Gotham Sirens will survive so long as it’s porn. The new fake Batgirl will die soon, and good riddance. Power Girl, the only DC super-hero series worth reading as far as I’m concerned, is dependent on the current creative team.

Ms. Marvel, Spider-Girl and She-Hulk had decent runs, and Marvel has put out mini-series with women fronting them as well: The American Dream, The White Tiger, Black Widow–who has had minis before the Iron Man movie came out, Rogue.

Furthermore, DC has also killed more female super-heroes than Marvel–Infinity Inc’s Dr. Midnight, Wildcat, Jade, Inza Nelson’s Dr. Fate, Katma Tui, Phantom Lady, Pantha just to name a few. As far as I know, not counting Jean Grey, Marvel has only killed Namorita and the female Kree Nova, and those were recent slayings. DC has been destroying female super-heroes since the nineties.

Marvel on a uniform basis screwed up their universe, tainted the very idea of the super-hero, but they did that without gender bias. Sure they threw away Peter Parker’s marriage to MJ, and what Kevin Smith did to the Black Cat was heinous, but every female Marvel super-hero gets to live and walk. DC though targets female characters for destruction, humiliation and maiming.

Ray Tate

Barbara has stayed crippled largely because that version of the character still has a lot of fans. Most attempts to get her out of the wheelchair have been received poorly, because people generally like her better as Oracle than Batgirl right now.

(I’m sympathetic to people who feel otherwise, but you’re still a minority.)

It’s ridiculous to say this is because DC hates women. It’s clearly just because fans find Barbara more interesting in the wheelchair.

@Ray: I have no idea where you’re getting this idea:

“So spare me this idea of DC being lily white when compared to Marvel”

Nobody is saying that. I personally (and people are agreeing and disagreeing in the comments) am saying that I feel DC is more progressive than Marvel at this point in time. I never said (and I doubt anyone is saying) that DC is some bastion of ‘doing it right’. They are like to the power of 10 not ‘doing it right’.

Your character list is good, but not one of those women right now has her own book (except a very new Spider Woman and an about to be over Ms Marvel and two Black Widow mini’s that are clearly motivated more by a movie than anything else). Sure there have been millions of female character minis and one shots in the past and most of them are pretty bad and never end up equallng an ongoing title.

I sympathize with you on the Barbara issue and I absolutely see your point but I think the problem is more complicated than just DC being misogynistic about Babs. I think there has been incredible evolution in that character, which could have come without the chair, but happened to come with it. And people are afraid that they will lose that depth if Babs just wakes up healed one day (or whatever). I also think it has been a revolutionary and positive character for the non able bodied (which is incredibly rare in comics). And while I don’t like to say that Barbara should be singled out above all other (yes, likely male) heroes that would quickly get the fix, since I don’t like or approve of those kinds of stories in general (people not staying dead, not staying injured, etc.) it’s pretty hard for me to advocate a cure for Babs when I personally wouldn’t advocate or approve one for others. I don’t want her to be the poster child, but as Oracle she’s a character that has totally transcended mere ‘batgirl’ and while perhaps she could and would continue going on as Oracle if she found herself healed, I think a lot of fans are concerned that editorial (etc.) would have her running around in tights again, when she has clearly outgrown that as a character.

Marvel had a female hero named Jolt who died about a decade ago. As far as I know, she hasn’t been brought back. But there’s a lot I’ve missed. But Marvel seems to have very few heroes who stay dead.
Since I’ve read extremely little DC in the last couple of decades (I may be one of the few people who knows the old versions better than the new), I can’t really make an informed comparison. But it does seem that the complaints I’ve seen online about female characters being tortured and maimed and killed have been mostly in DC. The complaints about Marvel have seemed to be more about costumes and bad characterisation.

Marvel had the Tigra incident not too long ago, didn’t it?

Yep.

Yeah, that was a pretty big blow-up in the realm of “people upset because a female character was tortured for awhile on-camera in a sexually-charged way.”

I never heard of the Tigra Incident. I guess it happened before I started reading this site last year? I’m not sure I’ve even seen Tigra this decade.

Yeah, that was a pretty big blow-up in the realm of “people upset because a female character was tortured for awhile on-camera in a sexually-charged way.”

Particularly from a writer who normally does a really nice job with female characters.

I never heard of the Tigra Incident. I guess it happened before I started reading this site last year? I’m not sure I’ve even seen Tigra this decade.

Look around for information on New Avengers #35, that’s where the scene happened. I recall a lot of furious debate over what the sequence “meant” after the issue came out.

To Lynxara: Jolt was brought back and living on Counter Earth with the New Allies (yep the world the current teen female Nomad came from) … Her last major appearance was in the Avengers/Thunderbolts Mini: Best Intentions that was done by Busiek / Nicieza / Kitson / Grummett.

And when speaking of good characterizations of females (and overall all people) in comics let me throw Kurt Busiek’s name into the mix with his Astro City / Thunderbolts / Avengers / New Warriors runs….Hell his Power Company and Trinity runs also treated his characters as human (you know what I mean) instead of cliche’d stereotypes.

And although I am a Marvel and a Bendis fan, that Tigra incident still angers me to no end, just as much as te Sue Dibny retcon in Identity Crisis and the Girl in the ‘fridge syndrome revolving around Kyle Rayner…

I was the one who brought up Jolt, actually. Nice to know she’s not dead. (Sort of. I don’t much like all these resurrections, actually, but if they’re going to keep doing them, it’s nice that they do it with good characters like Jolt.)
There’s a new Counter-Earth? I only knew about the old one the High Evolutionary gave to Adam Warlock. Why would they bring back an idea like that? I had no idea there was a female Nomad, either. I guess you miss a lot when you go a decade without buying any comics. (Actually, I missed Jolt entirely, too. But I’ve since acquired some of the Busiek Thunderbolts, and that’s where I knew her from.)

Whoops sorry about that Mary W. Counter-Earth was the Earth from Heroes Reborn rotating on the other side of the sun from our Earth…lol head spinning ain’t it?

Also Mary this is where I feel Marvel has missed the boat in collecting things like New Warriors, Quasar, Thunderbolts in essential format since a lot of those books laid the groundwork for their major storyline themes today…

@ Dean.

I have to agree with Kelly. Your assessments are blowing away what was left of my nostalgia. I think I will go read those X-books with new enlightenment…not the Jim Lee era though…I knew all hope was lost by then.

@Kelly,

I see your argument overall, and my response to Marvel Girl Comics was more directed at the comments. I won’t argue that DC has more “female lead” comics than Marvel does, because it obviously does. Perhaps it’s just a matter of different fanbases and their tastes? I mean, they do give females the opportunity to shine brightly in their non-character titled comics. Female Black Panther, X-Men Legacy is very Rogue centric feeling (at least it was when I read a few issues), even Jessica Jones and a group of female heroes busted Ronin out of the H.A.M.M.E.R. slammer recently. So, while these characters aren’t toting their own comic named after them, I think it’s because these characters have always worked better as a supporting cast, and a few break through into the limelight, such as Ms. Marvel for example.

I don’t think it’s sexism or a lack of being proactive, it just feels like Marvel could be trying to keep series together and tell these characters stories through back-ups, etc. I mean… sure Batwoman & Batgirl are good characters, but I’m feeling a bit of a bat overdose with this whole “new series launch” thing they’ve been doing. Who knows what the reasoning behind it all is, but I personally feel that while DC does succeed at bringing women to the forefront, they also have a notorious record for dumbing their female characters down and/or treating them poorly IE rape, paralysis, etc. when compared to Marvel and what they do with their female characters (show some boobs.)

@Link: I have to say, I don’t say how you can say “I don’t think it’s sexism or a lack of being proactive” while you argue that Marvel’s female characters just work better as supporting cast. That’s the very definition of not being proactive.

The sexism, I’d argue, could be as much or more on the part of readers or retailers than Marvel, but it’s still clearly keeping Marvel from publishing a lot of books with female leads. That’s pretty much the definition of sexism. It doesn’t need to be malicious or pre-planned to be sexism.

I don’t know why the Oracle card keeps getting played as “proof” that DC is terrible to its female characters. Maybe it’s just me, but I think Oracle is ten times the character the Barbara Gordon Batgirl was.

(Can’t fault people for playing the Identity Crisis card, though. Love it or hate it, that story didn’t really think through what it was saying with its treatment of the female half of its cast.)

I never heard of the Tigra Incident. I guess it happened before I started reading this site last year? I’m not sure I’ve even seen Tigra this decade.

It was much ado about nothing in my humble opinion. I’d read it myself before taking these guys’ word on it.

@ Kelly Thompson, Ben Cohen:

Thanks. I have enjoyed the thread (obviously). While I think that the problems depicting dealing with gender in comics are real, I really do not think they result from malice. Most of the people who have making decisions at the Big Two over the past decade are very demographically similar to one another. You could draw a 400 mile radius around Pittsburgh, PA and get most of their birthplaces. They are close enough in age that they all read the same comics at around the same age. They are all (of course) the same gender.

Naturally, the biases that were in the work of Frank Miller’s DAREDEVIL and Claremont’s X-MEN would sort of migrate into their own work and not get questioned by anyone on the inside.

@Kelly and Dean.

Agreed…Thanks again, Kelly.

@T.: The ado doesn’t have to be about anything to be a matter of record.

@Dean: I think precious few gender issues result from malice. Most I’ve encountered were just the result of a lack of consideration. I think this is especially true in comics.

Marvel wasn’t always so behind the times. The 90s and bad girls screwed everything up. Storm used to be not only the leader of the X-men, but the better leader. Now she’s been married off and had to sacrifice her career! Emma Frost is written fairly strong, but she’s still a leader mainly by sleeping with the real leader. Spider-Woman shows promise, but nothing else on Marvel’s plate compares to the way Batwoman is being written and drawn. There is still a tendency to think that in order to draw an attractive woman, you have to head down that porn-thong road. Both companies are guilty of this, recently with Marvel’s Psylocke and DC’s having Starfire’s unintentionally hilarious thong butt on the cover of Titans.

@Lynx,

Well… maybe I am sticking my foot in my mouth or not conveying my point well. On a personal level, I don’t see how a lot of these characters could hold their own book. I mean… I mentioned Black Panther, and maybe if they would’ve killed T’Challa or at least removed him from the book and focused more on his female relative it’d be a stronger story. Unfortunately they spent 6 issues teasing you about a female character, and then by the time they DO get around to having her as the main spectacle T’Challa is still horning in on her spotlight time by doing his whole “recuperating from my injuries, I will walk again” sort of routine. So, I just dropped the book, I invested way too much money and it was probably the LAST thing I wanted to read in my comic pile most days.

So… what I’m trying to say here is basically this: Most of the female characters out there are part of a team, and they work better as part of a team. Most people who are in a team book don’t really have the opportunity to hold their own title comic, and if they do it’s a mini-series/limited sort of thing. In Marvel, the “big” title owning characters are essentially:

Spider-Man
Wolverine
Deadpool
Hulk
Thor
Iron Man
Captain America

I’m sure I’m overlooking someone somewhere, but, still… that’s the BIG names (yeah, Moon Knight & Punisher and some others have titles, but they’re not what I’d call the A-List title characters.) I think it speaks MILES for Marvel’s reading community that a character like Deadpool (who quite often can have his comics about toilet humor, violence, and T&A and non-serious stories) has THREE comics to his own right now. I have a feeling the problem is more with the type of person who reads Marvel as opposed to Marvel being sexist.

Back to the point… I just feel that Marvel doesn’t have an “easy mode” to write a good story with a female character. Characters like Wolverine, Hulk, and Spidey can essentially write themselves. Making a comic about Ms. Marvel, Spider Woman, Black Widow, and Black Panther take a lot more effort I’d imagine, and even then their comics can be hit or miss. I also feel that Marvel readers aren’t as interested in these types of characters, heck maybe even the writers aren’t interested in those characters.

To make a wall of text short, the opportunities are there, but a majority (not all but a majority) of the female Marvel characters have never really been strong established characters. Maybe in this economy they’re too afraid to take a large chance due to some of their other female titled comics ending (or doing poorly) for one reason or another. Here’s hoping something will come out of this “female initiative” thing they’re taking in 2010.

As a side note, just because these characters don’t have their own titles, doesn’t mean they’re being mistreated. I think a lot of these characters who appear in “team” comics or “co-stars” are actually really awesome and are portrayed very well.

@Link: All keep a book about any character going requires is a golden trifecta of marketing, good art, and good writing. Marvel has the bad habit of relying on inertia for marketing even when they bother to get a solid creative team together on a book with female leads. Inertia is why Deadpool has three titles right now.

Heh, I can’t help but say that I dislike Wolverine as a solo character and think he “works better” as part of the X-Men. I think what “works better” doesn’t matter so long as there’s someone willing to pay for what-the-hell-ever starring a particularly marketable character.

Ms. Marvel and Spider-Woman were introduced in solo books they starred in during the 70′s. Ms. Marvel’s even lasted awhile! Marvel can make female leads if they want to, they just frequently don’t. (Or even if someone makes a good new female character for them, they don’t know how to market her effectively.)

Kelly Thompson wrote: “I sympathize with you on the Barbara issue and I absolutely see your point but I think the problem is more complicated than just DC being misogynistic about Babs. I think there has been incredible evolution in that character, which could have come without the chair, but happened to come with it. And people are afraid that they will lose that depth if Babs just wakes up healed one day (or whatever).”

Except this is a trap. Personally, I believe Batgirl was always written as an intelligent arch-detective. Criminals feared her, if not for her mien, then for her skill. To be frank, all the heroes of the pre-Crisis were written smarter than they are now.

However, people continue to think that Oracle because of the chair is smarter than Batgirl, and that’s not true.

The truth is that a character’s intelligence depends solely on the writer and how much research he or she is willing to do. A fully mobile Barbara Gordon could be written as smart as she is perceived to be when paralyzed.

Being disabled does not magically give a character intelligence. If that’s the case, then people should be advocating that DC should cripple all of their female characters, because then they would be smarter than everybody else.

The intelligence of the character all depends on the writer. A bad writer who didn’t do the research could make Oracle the dumbest person on the planet. A good writer is capable of making Barbara Gordon as Batgirl smarter than Oracle. However, Batgirl can kick people in the face, and Oracle cannot negotiate steps. Even the Daleks have mastered the talent.

“I don’t want her to be the poster child, but as Oracle she’s a character that has totally transcended mere ‘batgirl’ and while perhaps she could and would continue going on as Oracle if she found herself healed, I think a lot of fans are concerned that editorial (etc.) would have her running around in tights again, when she has clearly outgrown that as a character.”

There was nothing “mere” about Batgirl. Gifted with a photographic memory, an honorary member of the Justice League. She saved Batman’s bacon on several occasions and was welcomed into the fold, and I think it’s ridiculous to suggest that Batgirl outgrew the character. She went into retirement specifically to prepare her for the crippling in Killing Joke. Both stories could be eliminated from continuity.

DC appears to believe that a female component to the Batman family is necessary. Batwoman should have been Barbara, and if need be, she could have come out of the closet–Barbara’s lovelife hasn’t really been set in stone, Jason Bard, post-Crisis Dick Grayson.

If DC has proven anything, it’s that these characters are malleable–though they twist them in the way you opposite you hoped. Why not do something good and consistent for once? I’m just sick and tired of seeing everybody walk, except Barbara. I’m sick and tired of seeing DC emphasize that she will never walk again. It’s why I’m practically boycotting their books.

The excuse that Barbara is a good role model for the disbled is ridiculous. Any one of the men could have been an equally good role model, but cosmos forbid a man be crippled permanently. Besides, exactly how many disabled people read comic books? How many of that minority would object to Barbara regaining her ability to walk? Is it really acceptable when people who have the full use of their legs demand a character stay crippled in a universe teaming with magic and super science that has been used in the past to heal men?

Oh, and to those who mentioned the Tigra incident, I’m well aware of it. Bendis hates Tigra, and frankly, I don’t think much of his ability to write for women. However, Christos Gage is returning Tigra back to her fans in Avengers Initiative. She’s starting take names now, throwing criminals through windows, etc.

Ray

I haven’t read anything with Oracle, so I don’t really know how the character is portayed nowadays, but it seems to me she was quite intelligent and mature as Batgirl. Wasn’t she a Congressman in the old days? That’s what she was doing back when I first read a story with her. I know Congressman aren’t necessarily intelligent in real life (I usually get the impression most are pretty stupid), but it is a prestigious occupation with a great deal of responsibility (in theory, at least), and as a fiction archetype a Congressman is commonly seen as intelligent, mature, wise, and insightfull.

In re: Mary Warner

“I haven’t read anything with Oracle, so I don’t really know how the character is portayed nowadays, but it seems to me she was quite intelligent and mature as Batgirl. Wasn’t she a Congressman in the old days? That’s what she was doing back when I first read a story with her.”

Yes, Babs was a Congresswoman, and originally Babs was older and more mature. Batman was maybe five to seven years older than her. She was about five to seven years older than Robin. She had already debuted as a college graduate and a brown belt, whereas Robin at the time was a high school senior. After the Crisis of Infinite Earths, DC decided to make Babs younger in order to create a potential Nightwing/Oracle relationship. Of course, age is reversible in the DC universe. Paralysis for women not.

Ray

Against my better judgement, I am going to weigh on the Barbara Gordon thing…

To me, about half of a good superhero is a good origin story. If the reader gets why they do what they do on an intuitive level, then a everything else digests easier. The other half is a strong metaphorical connection between how the superhero operates and their personality.

Simple, but not easy.

By those standards Batgirl 1.0 was not a very good superhero. Yvonne Craig was stunningly sexy on TV, which causes me to have a personal fondness for her. However, her origin was terrible and there was not a clear connection between the Barbara Gordon side of her personality and the Batgirl persona. In the early ’80s, she was headed into the Riddler Zone of formerly popular Batman characters.

Then, Alan Moore gave Barbara Gordon a second origin and Kim Yale gave her a new modus operandi.

Now, Oracle is easily one of the ten best characters in the DCU. “Shot by the Joker” is an absurdly better origin than “crush on Batman”. Being herself the nexus of all information in the DCU has a much stronger tie to her personality than “female Robin”.

“Dean
December 18, 2009 at 11:30 pm

Now, Oracle is easily one of the ten best characters in the DCU. “Shot by the Joker” is an absurdly better origin than “crush on Batman”.”

That’s not her origin.

Barbara Gordon was tired of people thinking that she was a mousy, unexciting person. So she creates a Batgirl costume for the Policeman’s Ball that’s designed solely to wow anybody who views her in it.

On her way to the Policeman’s Ball, she witnesses the Killer Moth attacking Bruce Wayne. So, she intervenes. She liked the thrill of beating up bad guys. So she continues. The Killer Moth becomes her arch-nemesis as a result of this first encounter. He becomes obsessed with killing her instead of Batman.

“Being herself the nexus of all information in the DCU has a much stronger tie to her personality than “female Robin”.”

Batman does the same thing as Oracle only with working legs. He operates the Bat Computer, or he used to before he “locked” Oracle up in the Clocktower.

I don’t see anything particularly inventive about Oracle. Batgirl holds a PhD in library science. She always gathered information from the Gotham Central Library to help her solve cases. She could have continued to manage information but do so with working legs. Batgirl could have become just as adept at computers as Oracle did. She used the Canary as her legs. Well Batgirl wouldn’t have needed the Canary, but they certianly could have teamed up.

Look, when I first read the Killing Joke, I thought it was just a story. DC then incorporated it into continuity proper. I wasn’t happy about it, but I tolerated it..

For a while, DC continuity was sacrosanct, but that’s not the case any more. More and more of the older stories started being retrofitted into the continuity, and the wheelchair no longer made sense.

The Killing Joke no longer made sense.

That’s because the Batman I know would have immediately called Wonder Woman on his JLA signal device to get Babs to Paradise Island. Wonder Woman has been reconstituted into Batman’s personal history, but it gets better. Turns out Batman knew Zatanna since childhood. So here’s another person he could have called after the Killing Joke occurs–she healed her own throat in a recent Detective Comics after being shot by the Joker! Then writers started giving back Superman more Kryptonian knowledge, and here’s another out. Batman knew Aquaman, so there’s Atlantean technology available to him.

Now, Alan Moore wasn’t thinking about this when he wrote the Killing Joke. He wrote the Killing Joke when Wonder Woman was a new hero, Zatanna didn’t even exist, Superman wasn’t aware of Kryptonian science, wasn’t part of the Legion, etc.

The Killing Joke is obviously dated. If you read the Killing Joke, Batman has a framed picture of the original Batwoman, the original Bat-Girl, Ace the Bathound and Bat-Mite. How much more dated can you get? Of the group, Bat-Girl sort of exists as Flamebird, but it’s likely that she was lost in the Superboy time punch given DC keeps pushing the new and unimproved Batwoman. Occasionally when the wind is just right and the DC talent is drunk enough Bat-Mite exists, but that history of Batman didn’t exist. To Alan Moore, this was just a story.

But even when continuity was fluid, Batman gets healed by Shondra Kinsolving. Lucky for Babs she goes catatonic so Shondra can’t repeat the feat. Grant Morrison heals the Chief, he’s not the same as a super-hero but still. John Stewart, effin John Stewart, a third tier character, gets up again. Why because of the cartoon? Batgirl was in the Batman: The Animated Series cartoon, yet DC didn’t lift a finger for Barbara Gordon.

It’s got nothing to do with what origin is better. It’s got everything to do with fairness and what makes sense given the continuity, and now what has DC done? They’ve crippled another woman permanently. So, I think the case for at least sexism if not full blown misogyny is valid. And getting back to the original point, this makes DC much worse than Marvel.

Suppose Nightwing were crippled? How long do you think it would take DC to reverse it? What purpose does Nightwing serve except to be a substitute Batman and the guy who sleeps with every woman in the DC Universe? I’m sure he has fans, but so did Batgirl.

Ray

This is off the subject, but all the stuff Ray just said is why I stopped reading DC in the ’80s. The way they changed the history of everything. And for someone who wasn’t a dedicated reader, it was impossible to know who was what anymore, and what old facts were still valid, and which weren’t. (To be fair, I was reading them only occasionally by this time anyway, but this drove me away completely.) I know they’ve done many great stories since then, and I have looked at a few issues here and there, but it’s not the Universe I once knew. Marvel’s history gets twisted up really badly sometimes, but all the old stories still happened, even if they have to stretch things a bit to smooth out the contradictions. They don’t just throw anything out. (Unless you count Heroes Reborn. I’d stopped buying comics the year before, when the comic-book store closed, but I still planned to keep buying when I could. When I read about Heroes Reborn in a newspaper, I thought Marvel had been ruined too, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever buy any more. It was nearly a decade until I found out the change wasn’t permanent.)
My money’s pretty limited, so I pretty much restrict myself to the characters I know at Marvel. If I can afford it, I may start buying DCs again, as well as other companies, because I know that they still produce good stories. But I hate the idea of having to start from scratch with characters I thought I knew.

Sometimes I see comments on here saying that Marvel shouldn’t worry about continuity and that there’s nothing wrong with erasing parts of history to make it better. But it should be known that companies do lose readers by doing that.

I really hope I don’t sound too petty with this.

… what should The Killing Joke be to Alan Moore besides a story? What should it be to anyone but just a story?

In comics, people get out of wheelchairs when it’s interesting. That’s why it happened with Batman, with John Stewart, with everybody else. Barbara is still in the chair for the same reason that Charles Xavier keeps getting his spine re-injured shortly after every fix: it’s what people want to see.

Making this about gender is absurd, unless you’re willing to argue that Marvel is deeply misandrist due to its appalling treatment of Charles Xavier.

“Making this about gender is absurd, unless you’re willing to argue that Marvel is deeply misandrist due to its appalling treatment of Charles Xavier.”

That doesn’t wash, Lynxara. Simply because the Marvel universe is less powerful than the DCU. Xavier was healed, a couple of times. He gets re-injured again, yes, but the Marvel Universe has less options for the truly fantastic.

The most powerful entities in the Marvel Universe are less involved with humanity. They’re usually cosmic Jack Kirby types that don’t interfere or have strict rules on what they can do. There are exceptions. The Eternals for instance, but the idea is that these people do not know Charles Xavier. Neither does the Silver Surfer, who is the only Marvel character I’ve seen actually use the Power Cosmic to heal people.

I suppose you could argue that Reed Richards or Dr. Strange might be able to help, but Reed is more of a gadgeteer. Dr. Strange’s mysticism is poor when compared to that of Zatanna or Dr. Fate. If I recall he couldn’t use his magic to perform a brain operation. He had to use his surgical skill. Wanda might have been able to do it, but even she has limits. This was covered in JLA/Avengers. DC’s magic is much more powerful and it infuses and raises Wanda to a level she never dreamed was possible.

Marvel also has something called the MC2 Universe, and in that universe, the American Dream’s origin is partly based on forcing herself out of a wheelchair after a horrendous car crash. The American Dream was Sharon Carter’s daughter and was inspired by Cap. Through sheer force of will, she overcame her crippling pain.

So, Marvel is still in my book a way more hospitable place for female characters, even if they don’t have their own titles. The preponderance of evidence: The Identity Crisis, the gleefully executed gruesome deaths of so many a female characters, the enablement of men only all speak of an undercurrent of sexism if not true misogyny in the writing of DC. Now perhaps, you can argue that the writers and editors are unaware of it, but I cannot see how. It’s so obvious, and it could be reversed. Anybody know how many women were killed horribly in the Black Lantern “saga?” Do the male deaths outweigh the female deaths? Did DC bring back a rapist from the dead? Why, yes, yes they did. Will he be raping anybody again? Oh, I’m sure they’ll get around to it.

Jason Todd, he can come back after being beaten to death with a crowbar and blown up. Dr. Light rapes Sue Dibney, and he comes back as an unstoppable zombie who doesn’t even have the decency to fall when you shoot him in the head.

Barbara? Still in a wheelchair. Wendy? Still in a wheelchair.

Ray

Now, at long last, I understand what made Garth Ennis write “The Boys.”

Sticky the stick

December 20, 2009 at 5:25 pm

Aaaargh! I am SO sick of hearing about how comics has always been a male-dominated medium. It is simply not true.

Girls comics have been around since comics began. During the 1960s Marvel was selling more Millie the Model and Patsy Walker than Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. It wasn’t until the mid-seventies that the publishers stopped bothering to produce stuff to interest half their audience.

[...] Why when a new ongoing is released for a strong female lead, and with a strong female writer on board – why does it HAVE to come with objectifying imagery?  Do they not know what they’re doing?  Or do they just not care?  These are the kind of releases that lead me to giant columns asking whether Marvel is just stupid or cloaked in misogyny. [...]

While I agree with what you would like to see happen (more great female-lead material, less cheesecake) – I do think the editors in general are not piecing information out the way you assert. Or at least not as you do on a ‘bad day.’

If you think of the number of books and story lines those editors work in a month (12-40 per sub-division) then think of the fact that the story lines you reference take place over a 6 YEAR span – I think you can gather that many examples even if a company were practicing equality.

Granted, too many of those are the crux of major events. But Marvel LIVES for major events. Other ‘events’ in that time that weren’t sexist (at least by central narrative) include World War Hulk, Secret Wars, Annihilation, Ultimatum, Masiah Comlex, Civil War, Manifest Destiny, Nation X – and that’s just off the top of my head. Plus, that Namor thing was part of a one-shot. And most people didn’t like it either (myself included).

But again – I AGREE! Some of my favorite Marvel books have been pro-female. Runaways, Dan Slott’s She-Hulk, the original run of Excalibur. But Runaways, She-Hulk, and the recent Patsy Walker: Hellcat all sold consistently under 15,000 copies. The cut-off at Marvel is somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000.

So maybe it’s not a question of NOT buying Marvel UNTIL they represent women well.

Maybe you need TO BUY copies WHEN THEY DO GET IT RIGHT.

(and then maybe my favorite books will stop getting canceled.)

A well written, thoughtful article. We need a Dazzler comic again!

@Lynxara (VERY cool name, by the way!!!): I don’t remember DC making a big deal of my writing Wonder Woman at the time.

@Dean: Ahead of my time? Hmmm…..I always did have lousy timing!!!! :-D!

Mindy

Hey, guys!

Re: Barbara Gordon…I loved what Alan did to Barbara in THE KILLING JOKE. It was so totally unexpected, so gruesome, and SO MUCH a turning point for The Joker…I’ve always wondered if Heath Ledger read KILLING JOKE….

And thanks to Dean for giving my girlfriend Kim Yale (whom I so much still miss and love) a kudos!

Mindy

Don’t be ashamed of discovering comics through the cartoon. I was the exact same way! (And yes, I am a girl). That was a fantastic series that really stayed true to the comics and was pretty hard core for a kid’s program (I also loved the Batman cartoon).

I also agree with you on so many points. There are only a few female superheroes (and villians) whose sexy costume actually matches the sensuality of the character. Considering how virtuous and innocent Supergirl is, I always felt like the artists were trying to give her a schoolgirl porno look. I also really, really hate when smart, strong characters are drawn with an enormous bust. I understand using an exaggerated art style, but come on. And that Rogue picture you posted is a perfect example.

While sexiness can be power, can’t we have female heroes that don’t use it as a crutch? Can we have heroines that are seen as people first?

I wouldn’t mind enormous busts on characters if most superhero artists were capable of drawing women with… you know, different bust sizes. I mean, real-world super-attractive women don’t all have the same chest or face type… so why are so few artists capable of reflecting that in superhero stuff? The samechest gets especially tiresome in big crossovers, where different body types would make the cast easier to keep track of.

I agree with you, Lynxara.

It’s ironic that the first pic in this article is drawn by Alan Davis. Alan Davis is the perfect comic book artist in my oppinion. The man is one of the few artists that designs a different body type and face for every character – male or female. If you see one of his pages in JLA – The Nail, he draws Barry Allen as athletic, but slim. The Martian Manhunter as much bigger and square-looking than the others, Hal Jordan bulkier than the Flash but not as ellegant as Aquaman, etc. His women too: Wonder Woman is buxom like an Miss America contestant from the 1960s (only more athletic and firm), while Hawkwoman is sleeker, somehow more predatory and wiry. Not only their bodies are different, but their posture.

Man, I’d love to see more artists like Alan Davis.

@Rene: Guys like Alan Davis are precisely why I qualified my statement with “most.” If all sexy women in comics were drawn at Alan Davis’s level of proficiency, comic book readers would have a lot less to complain about when it came to depictions of women.

I’ve only seen Alan Davis’s old Excalibur stuff, but you’re right. He is great at drawing different types of bodies and faces.

Honestly, when I think of Gambit I think of Rogue not the other way around. She is one of my favorite Characters in X-Men because of how independent and free spirited she can be. I am only 16 so I dont read many of the comics but thats my personal opinion.

Great blog here! Also your site loads up very fast! What web host are you using?
Can I get your affiliate link to your host? I wish my site loaded
up as fast as yours lol

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