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She Has No Head! – Cringe Like It’s 1995!

So an odd confluence of events lead to me drunk tweeting while watching 1995’s classically terrible Mortal Kombat at about four in the morning this weekend (don’t ask). It was mostly uneventful, a few good jokes, mostly banal observations, as those things tend to be. However, it operated as a particularly potent time travel device to the kind of media that a teenaged Kelly Thompson was absorbing (enthusiastically and of her own free will) in 1995.

Then and Now Header

1995: Avengelyne/Glory, Wonder Woman, Glory, Catwoman, and Dawn. 2013: Lazarus, Wonder Woman, Glory, Mara, and Angel & Faith

You see, in 1995 I went to see Mortal Kombat IN. THE. MOVIE. THEATER.

ON PURPOSE

AND I WAS REALLY EXCITED ABOUT IT.

While even 1995 Kelly knew it wasn’t a good film, I was excited for the simple fact that it was an action film that was going to have at least one female “lead” that got to kick ass (or should have). And that was in precious little supply in 1995. Sure there were some great exceptions (Strange Days was the best of them- Angela Bassett, forever!; Hackers was the one that couldn’t stand up on viewing even a year after release, but damn was Angelina Jolie sexy and cool; and Tank Girl was the one that should have been a great but didn’t work for me then and doesn’t now). Anyway, so Mortal Kombat got me thinking about all these other 1995 films, but COMICS were MY WORLD in 1995. So what were teenaged Kelly’s 1995 options if she wanted to read a comic book starring a lady – and more to the point, a lady that was the titular character?

Honestly, looking back at this selection, it’s kinda amazing I made it out of the 1990’s. Check it out:

1995

From Left: Avengelyne/Glory, Wonder Woman, Glory, Catwoman, Dawn. Rogue, Shi, Zealot, Glory/Avengelyne, Witchblade. Vampirella, Angela, Avengelyne, Shi/Cyblade, Lady Death (Lingerie Special!)

While there were a good number of female title leads (I got to this list using the top 300 books for sale in 1995 – I make no argument it is 100% accurate, but it should be a reasonable estimate) they came almost universally in the exact same flavor. Which was bad girl, barely clothed, and drawn in a way that made them all potential poster women for my “No, It’s Not Equal” post from 2012.

Edited to add: For clarity, because a lot of people are misunderstanding why the covers above have been picked. I am not making a judgment for or against the above 1995 covers (or for that matter the below 2013 covers). I simply grabbed EVERY SINGLE FEMALE LED TITLE THAT WAS NAMED AFTER THE FEMALE HEROINE/HEROINES FOR THAT YEAR THAT FELL IN THE TOP 300 COMICS.

Again, I am not saying that the above Rogue cover is cheesecake OR that the Wonder Woman cover is bad, or that all of these were shitty books (or even shitty covers). I do not think they are ALL bad covers, or that they were all bad books (I read a few of them, but not many). The sole reason they are here are so we can see THE COVERS THAT TEENAGED KELLY HAD TO CHOOSE FROM ON THE SHELF IN 1995. Are we clear, now? Also? OY.

Looking at these 1995 covers it got me thinking how lucky I am nearly 20 years later in my options. Using the same general guideline (top 300 titles monthly in 2013 with titular female leads) I ended up with the following list, which has not only grown by almost 10 titles, but has a whole hell of a lot more variety.

2013 R1

From Left: Lazarus, Wonder Woman, Glory, Mara, Angel & Faith, Velvet. Rachel Rising, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Bandette, Rat Queens, Captain Marvel, Danger Girl. Red Sonja, Catwoman, My Little Pony, Batwoman, Rocket Girl, Supergirl. Batgirl, The Powerpuff Girls, Katana, Witchblade, Birds of Prey, Black Widow.

It’s straight awesome.

And that doesn’t even include the books starring and co-starring women (from my pull list only – I can’t speak to the cast/diversity/representation of stuff I’m not or haven’t been reading, obviously) that have books that aren’t named after them:

Existing Books Non-Titular

From Left: Sex Criminals, Fearless Defenders (now cancelled), X-Men, Deadly Class, Ultimate Comics X-Men (concluded). Journey Into Mystery (now cancelled), Powers: Bureau, FF (concluded), Conan The Barbarian, Pretty Deadly. Revival, Fatale, Princeless, Saga, Coffin Hill.  Uncanny X-Men, Serenity, Trillium, Hawkeye, The Wake.

AND that doesn’t include all these incredible up and coming books already announced for 2014 – both books named for their heroines and those that aren’t. Sure, some of them aren’t going to last, and some of them will even be terrible, but it feels very encouraging on the whole, doesn’t it?

Coming Soon 2014

From Left: Avatar, All-New Ultimates, Angel & Faith, Buffy, Captain Marvel. Bitch Planet, Shutter, Tomb Raider, The Wicked & The Divine, She-Hulk. Veil, Bloodlines, The Wake (Part 2), Ms. Marvel, Elektra.

Interestingly, while I’d say we’ve made some strides in film and television – with awesome highlights – everything from Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003) to Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), there’s honestly a very one step forward one step back feeling when you look at the balance of film and television. I mean where is the equivalent of Angela Bassett in Strange Days? I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone get close to that ever since? And though we’ve got some great ladies on television shows, I’m not seeing anything that’s as feminist and groundbreaking for female characters as Buffy on network television (though admittedly it’s tougher to break new ground as you go along). And it IS depressing to realize that we had one of the best female characters and action stars – Alien’s Ripley – all the way back in 1979. Seems like it should just be standard operating procedure by now.

That said, in comparison when I look at the comics available to me — and that’s just the week to week monthly books — I am super encouraged at the idea that maybe we are finally actually taking two steps forward and only one back. I mean, I’m not ready to call it a day or anything, but we are seriously making strides even in just the last year. My reading list is filled near to bursting with interesting female characters starring or co-starring in books.

I’ve obviously spent a lot of time writing about these issues over the last few years and especially how much I want to see a solo female superhero film. And I do think we are well past time for that to happen. At the same time I often think back on Sue’s and my 3 Chicks interview with Geoff Boucher (then at Entertainment Weekly) and his excellent point that 15 years ago all he wanted was a great superhero film, and now we’ve come so far that we are demanding a great superHEROINE film.

It’s not a terrible position to be in if you’re feeling a bit optimistic. And today, for reasons unknown (still drunk?) I am!

All that to say, I guess, that though we’re a very long way from done fighting these battles and terrible things happen pretty much every month that bum me out on this front, it’s hard not to be kind of optimistic, excited, and generally encouraged by what creators seem to want to write and what publishers are actually willing to publish. It kind of feels like we’re pushing on that brave new world a little bit, no?

***

Speaking of brave new worlds, don’t forget to check out the crowdfunding campaign for my new novel – STORYKILLER. We hit our initial funding goal in under 72 hours, and now we’re steadily climbing toward stretch goals and such. To those of you that have already come on out and pledged – thank you! :)

76 Comments

It never before crossed my mind that actual girls would be buying those Bad Girls books. They seemed so obviously targeted towards horny, adolescent boys like myself. But I guess when that’s all you have…

I don’t recall anything inherently wrong about that Rogue limited series. But yes, the rest was pretty awful.

liefield. always liefield. ugh. the worst.

It does seem that comics are taking a few steps forward, though it seems the movie audiences are still stuck in the old days. I still hear movie executives complaining about how an adventure movie with a female lead just won’t succeed, even though films like Hunger Games and Brave prove differently. I also find it troubling that the main problem many fans have with Gal Gadot playing Wonder Woman is the size of her breasts.

yes in 1995, those books targeted horny guys.

With the advent of the Internet and video games, those customers are, for the most part, gone.

God, that was a horrible, horrible time for female characters in comics. I mean, how many of these artists were just absolute failures at drawing female anatomy correctly? I have been re-reading the Avengers as of late, and looked back at Big John Buscema’s run in the 80s and…damn! That man could DRAW WOMEN WELL. Bold, powerful, sexy at times, and ANATOMICALLY CORRECT! How hacks like Liefeld managed to get careers pandering to the lowest common denomenator when such great examples of how to do it right already existed just sickens me. Here’s to hoping we never EVER have to go through that again!

YES!!!! Finally, I see you mentioning some IDW output that ISN’T My Little Pony or The Powerpuff Girls!

Just how DID you like the recent Danger Girl miniseries? The only nitpick I’ve been having with the ones as of late have been they’re a little light on the humor. (Except Danger Girl: Revolver.) I mean the original 1998 mini was a great spy spoof, where the heck has that gone?

Awesome article…really enjoyed the step back in time. I grew up in the 90s, too, and didn’t notice how ridiculous the women were until looking back as an adult.

Hey, Kelly, have you watched Continuum? Canadian SF time-travel series with no less than THREE leading female characters, plus another in a supporting role. NONE of them are weak-ass ‘care-givers’. TWO are ass-kickers (including the series lead, Rachel Nichols as Keira Cameron) and the other two are actually intelligent brainy types who are smarter than some of the men.

it’s all kinds of awesome.

That Rogue issue stuck out to me as well. It’s not a classic, but there’s nothing objectionable about it to me.

What jumps out at me about those 15 covers from the mid-90s is how bad almost all of them are as cheesecake. Most of the artists have such a horrible grasp of anatomy that they are pretty repellant before you even start talking about them from a gender perspective.

To play Devil’s Advocate a bit on the modern covers, they are almost as one note as the 90s covers. There are lots of scowling women in pants with guns and/or knives.

You forgot two major films of 1995 with strong female leads THE LAST SEDUCTION and SHOWGIRLS.
THE LAST SEDUCTION was more a black comedy / film noir with a strong female lead as the anti-hero, but it stands out because the script doesn’t feel the need to justify her questionable behavior or victimize her with “daddy issues, etc.”
SHOWGIRLS does have Nomi Malone seeking revenge at the end and beating up a Michael Bolton wannabe.

I’m also curious about your opinion of AC Comics FEMFORCE. While most deride the series for being T&A, the series does give the superheroines different personalities, different facial features, etc. A major story line in the 90s involved Ms. Victory, an immortal hero from the 1940s, having to give up her civilian identity because she would have died from natural causes from the passage of time. Its a story line that would never be shown in a DC or Marvel comic.

@Michael P.: Yup, clearly that stuff was marketed to boys, but a young Kelly Thompson was trying to read too and these were pretty pathetic options for “female leads.”

@arts&Crash!: Yeah, there was nothing wrong with that Rogue series. Just to be clear, I didn’t pick out books that were bad – I just grabbed a cover for every titular book in 1995 (top 300) – so some of them may have been good, others bad.

Just from a cover point of view the Rogue and Wonder Woman stand out as pretty good/interesting. I would also say that there’s nothing wrong with some cheesecake covers, but when it almost universally comes on everything featuring a woman it’s pretty tedious/offensive.

Acer: Well, I’m sorry to say that this is going to disappoint you…you may want to sit down…I’m sorry to say that I do not read Danger Girl, it is only included because it is (sort of) eponymously named and in the top 300 books in a month in 2013. I DID read one Danger Girl book recently-ish and I hated it. So…sorry…again?

http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=user_review&id=5904

@Dean: You know I am a SUPERFAN of you and almost always agree with what you have to say, but I disagree on the Devil’s Advocate comment for the modern covers – not only do they have a ton of different artistic styles but I see very little in the way of ladies in pants with guns/knives and scowls…if you are incredibly flexible in how you categorize that you can maybe get 10 of the 25 that have some version of “a woman with a weapon looking tough.” But these are largely action comic books, so I don’t think that’s too odd. And again, there’s a ton of variety…not to mention some real illustration talent that includes the artists that know the basics of anatomy.

You know, I wonder why the 1990s Peter David SUPERGIRL doesn’t get more love. It was one of the smartest superhero books going there for quite a while, it had a female lead, and it got its readership with storytelling and not T&A,

@Greg: But I think, unfortunately, Supergirl wasn’t going in 1995…unless I missed something, right? The newly launched Supergirl was 1996, right?

But I think, unfortunately, Supergirl wasn’t going in 1995…unless I missed something, right? The newly launched Supergirl was 1996, right?

Well, now I had to go look it up. You are correct. 1996. See, I just remember mid-90s… because I’m, you know, old and stuff.

Kelly, maybe on topic, maybe not–do you have any reactions to The Lego Movie debuting this week? I mean, it IS Wonder Woman’s silver screen premiere….

…Granted, she’s a secondary character in the movie. The female lead, Wyldestyle, is an ass-kicker, though, and apparently far more competent than the protagonist.

@Greg: I am also old. I only know because I had to do my research for this piece. And Supergirl def didn’t show up on my 1995 lists/research. Too bad though, because her series would definitely have offered a nice contrast to most of the 1995 covers above.

@Adam: I think it’s sad that Wonder Woman’s silver screen premiere is the Lego Movie…but I’ve heard good things about it, and it’s good for kids especially to get to see her there (hopefully being awesome) – so I guess I feel like it’s a weird silver lining to the whole WW nightmare we currently find ourselves in?

@Kelly

……..I stand corrected.

Well then, there’s only one solution–READ THE ORIGINAL DANGER GIRL MINI FROM 1998!!! I don’t know if you don’t like J. Scott Campbell’s art, but the story itself is a HI-LARIOUS spy spoof, right up there with the 1967 Casino Royale, Get Smart, and the Austin Powers films. The Ultimate Collection edition even features an introduction by Bruce Campbell!

And seriously, start picking up more IDW stuff up, STAT–G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is ending soon, but Ghostbusters is still going strong and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles seems to be going great.

Woah, when did they cancel G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero?

@ Kelly Thompson

Glad to disagree without being disagreeable.

The art is clearly better, more mature now. I guess that I was making the utterly deep point that everything moves in trends.

Captain Haddock

February 3, 2014 at 6:46 pm

I reread the Rogue mini series again, I loved that book growing up as it was one of the first books I read as a child and probably the first (but not the last) 2-D female crush I cultivated.
Book still holds up, and the art isn’t particularly cheesecakey. And a lot of this has to do with Mike Weiringo, who couldn’t draw an unattractive page if you paid him to do it.

I actually liked Glory. Well, that is to say, I liked the writing on Glory, which was by Jo Duffy. She did some interesting work with the character. Admittedly, yeah, the ridiculous amount of cheesecake and T&A did distract from the stories. That said, Deodato has improved tremendously as an artist since then.

Duffy, incidentally, also wrote the first year of the Catwoman ongoing series. But, again, she was paired up with the “bad girl” work of Jim Balent, who, while a really good artist, loves his chesty ladies.

Regarding Dawn, yes, she certainly was a very sexy, risqué manner, but Linsner drew her with a somewhat more realistic physique than most other women seen in comic books at the time. His stories also were very philosophical and metaphysical. It wasn’t just a half-naked lady running around.

Same with Shi who, yes, was scantily clad. But Tucci addressed themes of faith and spirituality in his stories.

All that said, yes, Kelly is on target. Most female protagonists in current-day comics are much more interesting, better written, and more tastefully rendered by artists than the ladies we got two decades ago. Velvet and Rocket Girl have both been incredible so far.

@Acer: I do indeed have a problem with Campbell’s work. Pretty hard to impossible for me to get through something of his. I don’t begrudge him Danger Girl, if that’s what he’s interested and wants to create, then more power to him, but the fact that he’ll give the same treatment to any superheroine he draws is pretty shallow to me. See his versions of “Disney Princesses” for perhaps the most egregious example of this.

In other IDW news, I bought my first TMNT comic just last week. ‘Cuz Ross Campbell is a badass and it looks ADORABLE. Can’t wait to check it out.

@Captain Haddock: Yeah, I make no argument that the Rogue mini-series was cheesecake – it’s there among the other covers simply because it was one of the top 300 books with a titular female lead. I read and liked that book back in 95. It was too cartoony for my tastes at the time, I suspect I’d like it more now if I read it again.

@Ben Herman: I didn’t read Glory or Dawn. I did read Shi and liked it (don’t know if I would like it if I revisited though). I also read Catwoman (and is the source of a giant fight between my father and I when I was 16) – Catwoman I eventually realized was utter trash so I’ve never thought of returning to it as an adult (the way I would consider to look at Shi a second time all these years later).

@doctoraquaman: Not sure what the Gal Gadot obsession is…? She’s not mentioned at all in the piece and I don’t see anyone arguing with you about Gadot in the comments or anything…? What’s happening?

That last Doc Aq comment looks to be straight-up spam.

I’m not sure what the problem is with that Byrne Wonder Woman – not exactly sexy, but showcasing a hardened warrior in pitched battle dressed like she’s pretty much always looked. I bought the Byrne WW run and thoroughly
enjoyed it, not as a form of titillation, but just a decently written, well drawn adventure.

I also bought Shi because i thought she was a visually interesting character in the vein of Shado and Elektra, and while it did have a few minor points of interest, became pretty bleh and standard “bad girl” fan fic.

@buttler: Could be, but it directly references his earlier non spam comment so I don’t know.

@Smithy: There’s nothing wrong with the Byrne Wonder Woman cover. I’ve added a clarification to this post because people seem to be accidentally or deliberately misunderstanding it. Hopefully more the former than the latter.

Regardless, even prior to my ‘edited to add” section, I think if you read again you’ll see that I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the Wonder Woman cover (or any of the covers) I only presented them as an example of what was available to 1995 Kelly if she wanted to read a titular female comic (these were all the 1995 female led and titled books in the top 300). I do comment that it’s a shame that there was so little variety – they are for the most part painted with the same very broad and uninteresting “bad girl” brush but Rogue and Wonder Woman are the two obvious exceptions here, at least from a cover point of view.

Dawn actually has real, human-like hips on that cover… but she also has a zipper on her panties, so…

What are you saying Ryan S? I have human-like hips and a button on my boxers…

Put me in the group of people who never imagined girls reading most of those books. How many of those titles did you read Ms Thompson?

I have to admit, I don’t have a fond memory of the writing on that Rogue mini. The story tied pretty heavily into that Thieves’ Guild/Assassins’ Guild stuff from the Gambit miniseries, and I just find that stuff so tedious.

No problem with ‘Ringo’s art, though. We lost him way too soon.

@kdu2814: I think you could make a strong argument that I read about 6 of those 15 titles.

I definitely read the Rogue mini-series and Shi, and Zealot, and Witchblade. I also recall picking up the Shi/Cyblade book, because I was reading both Shi and Cyberforce (at least initially) and Cyblade was in Cyberforce, so though I don’t remember it, it seems like a book I would have read.

I tried Wonder Woman off an on throughout my comics reading career, but it took me until Gail Simone’s run to become a regular reader, so this was way too early to guess that I was picking up WW. Catwoman was a book I had read religiously, but I think by 1995 I had been off it for at least a year, realizing that it was terrible.

Of those books I read, I don’t remember any with much fondness. As I said, I suspect I’d like the Rogue mini better if I re-read it now, since the art style wouldn’t be so counter to the “Jim Lee” style I so favored back then – but Michael P says the writing wasn’t so good, so I’m not remembering that aspect at all. Zealot was a favorite character but I remember almost nothing of that mini-series, which doesn’t bode well. I really liked Shi for what feels like a WHILE and under Tucci’s control it seemed smarter and different, and less objectifying than a lot of the other “bad girl” stuff. I don’t know if it holds up of course, but my memory is that it was one of the better books.

Witchblade was a strange book for me and I think in retrospect a turning point comic for me. I was initially incredibly excited by it, but I remember feeling conflicted about it even then. Some parts of it seemed like something I should be reading (and loving) and other parts felt very objectifying…even for teenaged Kelly that hadn’t figured out how she felt about a lot of those issues and was still rather naive and not very good at critical thinking when it came to comics. Still, instinct told me something was wrong, I remember feeling that and trying to justify it away…because I wanted to like it. In large part I suspect just because I WANTED to be reading some female led titles and clearly, my options were slim.

I don’t remember women in the 90s having such bad spine problems.

I dunno; I seem to recall the chiropractic business booming around that time.

The women havn’t changed….just their outfits. The top 300 titles are still bought by mostly men. Indy titles have always been more respectful and honest in their portrayal of gender.Artists and publishers seem to think we all want our super heroines to be athletic and sexy…boring…

“All that to say, I guess, that though we’re a very long way from done fighting these battles ” Seems to me that the article shows that we are very close to being done. All this progress puts paid to the common accusations that comics are a sexist industry keeping women in their place. In fact there is clearly a wealth of solid books about and for women available. And yet despite this wealth to choose from, not one of those female-centred books is a top seller other than the big exception My Little Pony (which is thanks to me buying variants for my wife). The evidence continues to mount that this supposed legion of female readers out there aching for someone to speak to them is all a sham as the sales do not reflect their supposed strength. Or that they’re just cheap and read the books at the stores without paying for them. ;)

I’d argue that Alien was a horror film and that Ripley wasn’t an action hero until Aliens, which is one of the best action films ever made.

“While even 1995 Kelly knew [Mortal Kombat] wasn’t a good film, I was excited for the simple fact that it was an action film that was going to have at least one female “lead” that got to kick ass (or should have). ”

I’ve always thought that by 1995 female ass-kickers were beginning to become more mainstream, albeit usually, like Sonya Blade, in roles subordinate to the star, or as villains. An Imdb list for 1995 includes GOLDENEYE, JUDGE DREDD, THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, POWER RANGERS MOVIE, TANK GIRL, the aforementioned STRANGE DAYS, JOHNNY MNEMONIC, CONGO, UNDER SIEGE 2, CUTTHROAT ISLAND, VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN and even (believe it or not) A KID IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT (sort of). I stopped looking after the first 150 in the list, fwiw.

Whether some or all were satisfying in the thrills they offered is a separate question. But they were there, and their existence does indicate that filmmakers were not unaware of the appeal. And for those who frequented video stores, most of them had a smattering of tuffgirl films, if only those of martial artist Cynthia Rothock, who had her most prolific period in the early 90s.

Guess Darkhorse’s Empowered would be considered a step backwards in the world of cover art.

Though not exactly a female led comic, I’m surprised that the Walking Dead cover featuring the introduction to Michonne was featured. That, for me at least, is a milestone of sorts in how women have been depicted in cover art.

“Honestly, looking back at this selection, it’s kinda amazing I made it out of the 1990’s. Check it out:”
That is not a judgment statement?
But I think I get your point: It is not necesarily bad that there are/were so many cheesecake, male fantasy comics, the real problem is that there was not anything else showing any other kind of women. And on that I completely agree as I have a 7 year old daughter and I would like her do anything she wants be that read and write comics or be a scientist or even a housewife if that is really what she wants (for the record I wish I realized that I wanted to be a house husband when I was still married. sigh.) And having role models both real and fictitious is always a good thing.

Well well well….always was a fan of Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Huntress even Maxima and some more back in my late 80’s early 90’s days until I skipped out and retuned in around ’97, still loving those female characters but my favorite in away turned out to be Warbird back when Busiek was on Iron Man and Avengers, oh and Catwoman.
Still love me my female characters but didn’t get much of their books back then excluding Catwoman, got over 10 in my collection and that says a lot for her, because I have only 2 Thor, yep, and about 5 Captain America to name a few.
Interesting article btw, because a few months back, I dunno what happened but my female character fetish has been on an high, I have added Birds of Prey to my list of must haves, and I did picked up Vol.1 of the New52, mainly because of Katanna, but Poison Ivy was a nice addition to the team. I also got FF Vol.1 this weekend mainly because of She Hulk and Medusa, and was wondering what that Ms. Thing was about (well Allred’s art was a must have along with Saiz on BoP).
That said, in order or maybe rearranged in time, Worlds Finest, Defenders, Glory, Saga, Ms. Marvel, Wonder Woman, Supergirl are all on their too, among others both male and female.

@Kelly Thompson Interesting to read that you did not read Wonder Woman (regularly) back then. Within the last hour I was rereading Morrison’s Batman RIP and saw an ad with Wonder Girl (Sansmark) in it, and wondered what you though of her change from the girl Byrne created to the girl she was at the end of pre-52.

What’s funny is that, while the WW & Rogue covers are the only ones that don’t hurt my eyes, they are essentially the same cover: warrior woman over tons of bodies.

The Dawn cover, except for the weirdness that is her right hand and the sword lying against her left shoulder, is nicely done, but it’s also essentially porn. Or, rather, it looks like an invitation to porn to me. The rest? Gah.

I remember liking the Catwoman series because it was…fun. While far, far inferior to the awesomeness of Darwyn Cooke’s Catwoman, which wouldn’t come til much later, Chuck Dixon wrote Selina with a certain glee that I think he later carried over to Birds of Prey. There’s no doubt, though, that her bust grew from big to impossibly big as time went on, until Balent could fully realize his fantasies of gynormous-ness in Tarot.

Ugh. You guys, I don’t know what to do here. I admit that this piece can be confusing and I’ll take responsibility for not making it more clear what I was doing here…but so many of you are not getting what the covers represent. I don’t know if people aren’t reading the copy or what…? Suggestions (non-assholish ones) welcome at this point.

@Nicole: That great Michonne cover is not featured for a TON of reasons.

#1. This is not a collection of “great covers featuring women” the same way that the 1995 image is not “a ton of terrible covers featuring women” – instead it is a LITERAL selection of the comics named after a woman in the top 300 available to Kelly Thompson circa 1995 and then circa 2013. The additional images are also identified – the first as additional books in 2013 that star or co-star women but are not named after them, and then a second image of forthcoming announced books starring or co-starring women both books named after women and not.

#2. The Walking Dead comic is not called Michonne.

#3. That great cover you’re referring to did not come out in 2013…not even close.

#4. Though TWD has some great female characters (Michonne and Andrea forever!) I would not say it co-stars those (or any women) at best I’d say it’s an ensemble piece that has a few relevant women.

@James V: You can argue that is a judgmental statement but I’d actually argue that it’s more an objective fact. You can like or not like what you see there, but it’s almost impossible to deny that what was available to Kelly circa 1995 was ALMOST universally one very specific flavor.

@kdu2814: I was pretty late coming to DC generally (except Batman) in part because my entry point was X-Men and thus Marvel. Then because it was the Lee/Silvestri stuff that I had cut my teeth on, I kind of naturally began reading their Image stuff before I got deep into DC. TBH, I have never cared much for Wonder Girl or Donna Troy. Possibly just from lack of depth in reading, but they’ve never been characters I knew much about or cared much about.

Comics go through “fashionable” trends that have their day and eventually fade. Remember the Manga craze in the late 1990’s-early 2000’s? Or how every team-based comic tried to be the Jim Lee X-Men? In 10-20 years, we’ll be complaining about the style and looks of comics coming out today.

Kelly, years of experience have taught me that there’s nothing you can do to prevent people on the Internet from completely ignoring your point and engaging in compulsive nitpicking instead.

If you go back another 10 years or so, I think you’ll find this was a real ’90s phenomenon. The male covers were pretty beefcake back then, too.

@Michael P: I know you’re right. It just bothers me on this one because the point (which was not as much op/ed as usually, just an observation) is so getting lost and I don’t think it has to. I’m not saying anything controversial (or I don’t THINK I am) I’m just showing some damn comics and then being kinda hopeful about where we’re headed. :( Doesn’t seem like rocket science! SIGH.

@MegaGearMax: I agree that trends will always happen – in comics, in most everything. But I disagree that we’ll be looking back at (for example) those 2013 cover with the same disdain as the 1995 covers if only from the sheer amount of variety in art style and content. The 2013 covers might later show trends that we find unfashionable in 15 to 20 years, but they’re never going to look as homogenized as the 1995 group. The 2013 covers present a pretty reasonable variety in both style and content as well as composition and color – there are hugely cartoonish styles – like Bandette, My Little Pony, Powerpuff Girls, and even Rocket Girl and highly realistic styles like Red Sonja and Velvet. And there’s everything in between as well. Stylistically you’ve got very simple covers with few elements like Mara, Glory, and Captain America and then you’ve got busier work like Batgirl, BoP, Wonder Woman, and Angel & Faith. The 1995 covers with the exception of the Rogue cover and perhaps the Shi cover (and MAYBE the Wonder Woman cover but only because it understands anatomy where many of the others don’t) are all VERY similar across the board.

I agree with you here and I don’t agree with you on everything. LOL! I have nothing against bad girls in particular–in fact, I think characters of all types have their place. But I’m against the market being saturated with the same type of character or groups of characters. Variety is always a good thing.

The 90’s creators pretty much copied whatever was big. Marvel even tried to have their own version of Spawn. Numerous people wanted their own Witchblade and Lady Death. The Avengers and Youngblood copied the X-Men style of having jackets with symbols on their belts. Even the Invisible Woman wore sexy clothes and had a bad girl-like attitude. Everyone started carrying guns, jackets, pouch belts, shoulderpads and combat gear…even characters who never needed them before.

This article made me realize almost half of my pull list stars women.

Doctor_Deadpool

February 4, 2014 at 4:27 pm

I think the main issue is that the whole format in general rarely appeals to women like it does to men, so appealing to them within the format can be a bit futile.

@Kelly
Well, at least you have the TMNT angle covered. Take a gander at Ghostbusters, G.I. Joe, and Transformers (which is currently introducing three new female Autobots in the form of Chromia, Nautica, and Windblade to join Arcee), and we’ll talk more. I’d take you up on your offer to check out Campbell’s take on the Disney Princesses, but A) the only Disney stuff I tolerate these days are Gargoyles and Tron, and B) the thought of seeing those particular characters rendered by Campbell makes me shudder. I respect his work, but I wouldn’t even take a glimpse of those designs.

If you want to read some non-Campbell drawn Danger Girl stories, there’s:
-Danger Girl Special, drawn by Art Adams
-Danger Girl: Hawaiian Punch and its direct follow-up Viva Las Danger, both drawn by Phil Noto
-Batman/Danger Girl, drawn by Leinil Francis Yu
-Danger Girl: Back In Black, drawn by Nick Bradshaw
-Danger Girl: Revolver, drawn by Chris Madden–whose style is basically a softer version of Campbell’s, but less cheesecake-y. (Almost Disney-like even…)
-Danger Girl: Trinity, drawn by three different artists (John Royle of the UK, Brian Stelfreeze of the US, and Stephen Molnar of Canada)
-And the most recent mini, Danger Girl: The Chase, drawn by Harvey Tolibao

@Kelly- Actually the cover I am referring to came from Walking Dead #19 back in 2005. I only mentioned it more as an example of the departure from your comic book cover examples back in the day. That was all I was doing. My apologizes.

@Nicole: You don’t have to apologize, it’s just frustrating that a lot of people are missing what I was trying to do here.

And I know exactly what cover you’re referring to. It’s a favorite of mine, I love it (and use it pretty much anytime I write about Michonne): http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2013/12/23/she-has-no-head-25-favorite-fictional-females-2013-edition/

@Vizator: That was one of the things that inspired the idea for this piece (well, that along with Mortal Kombat’s general awfulness) – my pull list is just BRIMMING with interesting female led and co-led books and there are even more to come. It’s awesome.

@Doctor_Deadpool: Couldn’t DISAGREE more.

@Acer: I tried Ghostbusters, two issues. Didn’t like it. I’m never going to be interested in Transformers…the whole robot thing is never going be a go for me, no matter what their gender. G.I. Joe I have been meaning to try. I don’t think I have much interest in Danger Girl period, but if there was one I was willing to try it would certainly be the Phil Noto version. We’ll see. I have a lot to read these days – embarrassment of riches, really.

@Purple Hayes: I am a fan of FemForce, and I still pick up the book from time to time. I’ve reviewed a couple of recent issues on my blog. It’s still a fun series. I always thought the characters were interesting and well-written. Certainly they are sexy, but in a “good girl” sort of way, and definitely not in a 1990s “bad girl” manner.

Rob Liefeld has long been derided as one of the worst comic book artists of all time. We take a look at 40 of his worst offenses to the medium.they stopped at 40?comics talk about needing to understand anatomy to get into the business and you see Rob.

The Nine Lives of Chloe King is a wonderful show I feel totally justified calling the Buffy of this generation. Refreshingly feminist. Unfortunately, look how long that lasted on the Pretty Little Liars network. Check it out if you have the time.

I’d re-read some of those ’90s books to see if they’re as bad as they appear, but apparently there was some sort of printing issue with all of those type books — all the pages are stuck together when I go to look at them.

Yeah, I went there. Don’t judge me.

I do understand that you were looking at the top 300 and the point of this post is that things are getting better overall, but I feel I must point out a couple of female-centric gems that were around in the mid-90s, despite not being the title of the book — Strangers in Paradise and Love and Rockets. And Ghost World might have been serialized in Eightball by that point, too.

But yeah, the ’90s were pretty dire for female characters. I’m glad that the new stuff is mostly so good, too. More choices, and more importantly, more GOOD choices.

What FF cover is that with Shulkie? I assume it’s a variant, but for which issue?

You missed mentioning La Femme Nikita, one of the most badass strong women TV roles ever, around 1999 I believe! My mom LOVED that show!

@Kelly:
Ah, just wanted to point Shi out of that lineup but that was one of the titles you read, so ok.

That Shi/Cyblade crossover was actually a bunch of independent comics creators mashing their characters into a show case thing. Savage Dragon and Bone (even Hellboy?) show up among and lot of others, it also contains Witchblade’s first appearance. Billy Tucci was really big on getting more creators out of the grasp of the big two at the time.

Shi is weird, I remember it as being far better written than I expected but, like you, I don’t know how it would read nowadays. I’m a bit afraid of trying really. It trades a lot on Japan fetishism which doesn’t really work that well anymore now that culture is far less mythical to my mind than it was back then.

The Nagel tribute cover still works for grabbing attention though at least.

That 90’s batch contains a lot of double titles (three Avengelyne covers for example). But then again the only thing that could balance it a bit more is maybe a Kabuki cover. Then again, basically anything else from that era is more cheesecake. Razor anyone?

Lady Death in Lingerie always cracks me up. That’s actually MORE clothes than she usually wears. Like FFX’s Riku who runs around in a bikini but when she goes swimming (in FFX-2 admittedly) she puts on a bathing suit… wha?

It’s too bad to see that Amala’s Blade and Ghost didn’t make the 300 in 2013 as I thought both of those series feature great female leads.

This was a great look at how far the industry has come since 1995. There was some good stuff back then but it was a lot harder to find back then than it was now. So I would definitely say there is progress. I also applaud both Marvel and DC for continuing to try female characters in solo series.

It’ll be interesting to see where the next 18 years takes us.

Shi does not hold up- the writing is clunky and the art’s flaws are way more noticeable now- but I liked it back in the day. Tucci gets credit for trying to make a comic that had some ambition and even tried to look at issues around faith.

My go-to ’90s female-led comic was Kabuki. Beautiful and thoughtful, it was the anti- bad girl book.

I’m glad we’re out of the dark days of lingerie specials and swimsuit issues.

I agree with Paul O’Neal above. When some guys make the argument about the inevitability of cheesecake, one only has to point to pretty much every artist in superhero comics that came before the 1990s. Yes, there was sexiness. Storm’s classic costume as drawn by John Byrne would sometimes take me out of the story, because he made her look so hot (that was before Byrne started drawing women as super-thin), but it was still many steps away from the collection of covers pictured above.

And many of the 1990s covers aren’t even that sexy. They try so hard that they came out the other side of sexiness into grotesque, I guess. Those girls look so plastic and artificial. The only ones I find sexy are Catwoman and perhaps Dawn. Well, Lady Death if you’re feeling fetishistic. The others are almost repulsive.

@Kelly
Well, like I said, at least you have the TMNT angle covered, and it’s nice that you do want to give G.I. Joe a try. Do so when you have the chance. Same with the Phil Noto Danger Girl stories, they still retain some of the humor that made the original good.

Doctor Deadpool is bang on. Alan Moore famously described the industry as designed to appeal to pubescent teenage males. While the industry has made great strides in opening up to other tastes, at its core this is its bread and butter and if you stray too far from it you kill the golden goose that keeps the new eggs going. It would be like trying to make Harlequin books more appealing to guys by having less sappy dialogue and more explosions. You might get a few more male readers but you burn your core audience. That’s a pyrrhic victory if ever there was one.

DC in particular has historically done more for female and minority readers than any other mainstream publisher. Look at how many female books and characters are constantly in print in their own titles – Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Birds of Prey, Catwoman. When has Marvel ever had even a fraction of this? And yet DC seems to be the one that gets taken behind the woodshed most often, like for that non-event at the start of the new 52 when for one exceptional month there were fewer than usual female creators on their books. You’d have thought the sky was falling. But then that glitch passed and everything went back to normal and the detractors were suddenly less than forthcoming with mea culpas. Look what happens when creators are taken off books. Liefeld got turfed from 3 books simultaneously without warning and no one cared other than to criticize his profanity-laced response. The same thing happens to Gail Simone on one book and all of a sudden she’s a victim of some old boys conspiracy (apparently and strangely including Asian American Jim Lee who surely would not be part of any old boys club I’ve ever heard of) to keep women down. Now Scott Lobdell is unceremoniously turfed from 2 books and no one is pointing a finger at that same prejudiced boys club. Ditch the tinfoil hats. These are business decisions and they are driven by money. If people aren’t producing they are dumped. If books don’t sell they are cancelled. If you want more female this or asian that, buy the books when they are published rather than complaining later when they are cancelled. Money talks, BS walks.

@jeff Yeah, Alan Moore is soooo in touch with what’s going on in the industry right now because his hands are right there in the dough as he hides in his castle. My observations lead me to believe 1. Prepubescent boys couldn’t give a monkey’s ass about comics these days and 2. Most females I see in the many LCS in my area seem to prefer all the great stuff Image is doing like-such-as Velvet and Lazarus to traditional superheroes. Let’s get away from 20 year old opinions from guys who haven’t been in the industry in that long either and focus on the now. Comics these days are geared at 20-40somethings and occasionally older. Except for the brightly coloured section by the door that’s aimed at preteens.

I agree things are better but I still like looking at the bewbs.

There’s always been a strange dichotomy in the world of comics; respect for the art form is desired, and yet it seems that a large contingent of fans and creators alike can’t progress past adolescence where the presentation of (and obsession with…?) the female image is concerned. If that is changing, it can only help the overall image of the medium.

Here’s the things that makes these things hard to talk about (well, some of the things): Every time you have this discussion, people always come out of the woodwork to say that comics are a male-driven medium and so anyone trying to fight that is stupid and wasteful. A couple things are wrong with that.

1) As a few have said already, the industry is not NEARLY the pubescent-male-focused one it once was.
2) If it was, that would be awful, and something to fight against. Even what remains of that old industry are something to try to eliminate. Do young males not deserve to have things to enjoy? Of course they do, but they don’t deserve special treatment, especially when that treatment results in less variety, or in work that is blatantly disrespectful or offensive.
3) Even if those previous 2 points didn’t stand, an industry that makes no attempt to grow its fanbase, that just says “Yep, this is all we’ll ever get. Let’s ONLY try appeal to this demo forever” is the DEFINITION of stupidity in business. “Growing your business” is one of the first ‘Golden Rules’ of business that anyone will tell you.

Aside from all that, any discussion related to gender-politics always brings out those who seem not only intent on telling us that it’s useless to fight for equality, but who seem deeply offended by the implication that there’s a problem. You want proof that some people just plain hate the idea that anything should ever have to change? When Kelly writes an article saying things are bad and need to change, people always show up to tell her she’s an idealist ultra-feminist. When Kelly writes an article saying things ARE changing for the positive, and making no call-to-arms, people STILL show up to tell her she’s an idealist ultra-feminist.

I will never discount my gender, I will never deny that we like pretty ladies (yes, Starscream, boobs are awesome and always will be), but anyone who argues that the more open and inclusive comics industry nowadays (with a ton more variety, great art, and well-written stories) is not 10 times better than it was in the mid-nineties, is an idiot.

I liked Mortal Kombat.

@VichusSmith: Have you seen it lately? It was rough. Like…REALLY ROUGH.

@Acer: TMNT it will be!

@TJ Coolguy: I’m glad I’m not the only one that noticed that I cannot win no matter what I say. Good times! :)

Busty characters are not bad, and it’s strange that a body feature as real as any other is so vilified. Nothing wrong with Jim Balent’s art of Catwoman, or her breast size.

Comic artist Holy Golightly, who works her husband Jim at Broadsword comics, she has said a lot of good stuff on the subject. Like how she had been judged for how she looks in life, people get made fun of for having big breasts, and having bigger breasted characters than usual in comics and having them and not having it define them is a very positive message.

Beats the overly “PC” made by committee body type choices they make for female characters in “serious” books these days, since any woman in real life with a DD or GG bra can’t be “serious” to them, or is a “distraction”. We shoudn’t cator to bigots with prejudices, and that’s what this kneejerk reaciton we often see against a real body type is.

As for the vilification of sexuality, also odd. Catwoman using her wiles to get the advantage on the scummy villains who would of course be pervs is perfectly fine. Plus there is room for many different styles and tones in art, and that can include over-the-top and pulpy as well as completely stark and “realistic”.

Also, Amanda Conner pointed out how drawing Power Girl so busty and curvy, a body type fools scoff at, and having her kick ass and be well characterized is a very good thing.

Long story short, not every piece of art needs to fit your agenda, say no to censorship and prejudice.

Also for the record, Buffy is my favorite TV show. Doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with 90s Catwoman for example.

One more for the road, I never see an article complaining about shouji manga in Japan, made for women with sexualized shirtless pretty boys being a complete fantasy. Because of course, anything catering sexuality and taste is sacred, anything catering to male sexuality and taste is EVIL. So evil!

What a puritanical crazy culture we have, comics get more and more violent gory and disturbing (nothing wrong with that), but apparently the very natural thing called sexuality is the one taboo still left.

Agreed it would be odd if every single comic had tons of cheesecake and blatant sex appeal. Doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with comics that do have this.

@Wolfram1:

Wow, you REALLY did a good job of personalizing this and infering a million things simply not being said AT ALL.

There’s no hatred of sexuality or boobs on display here. There’s a dislike of homogenized material, of lack of VARIETY.

Seriously, try re-reading the piece (or, I suspect, reading it for the first time, as your comments imply you didn’t actually read it the first time around…just saw some 90’s bad girl covers with a lot of unrealistic anatomy and assumed something was being said about it)

tl;dr : Try again.

– Kelly (possessor of giant double d-sized tits and therefore probably someone that does not hate boobs, hate their appearance in comics, or think that they should mean a woman can’t be taken seriously) Thompson

Well, now, I can’t take you seriously anymore, Kelly, because I’m a prejudiced bigot against teh big bewbs. Such a distraction.

Back on topic: if the new female starring books are going to be as awesome as Ms Marvel 1, things really are looking up. Such a great #1! And like I said over at Burgas’s WIB, despite me being a straight white dude, I found myself relating to Kamala a fair amount. Go comics! Can’t wait to see She Hulk this week.

I’m just as guilty, seeing as how I still have my Jim Lee X-Men posters with super busty Psylocke and Rogue. My college buddies and I would discuss which ‘x-babe’ was the hottest. Yes, very sad………

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