Women In The New DC: The Good, The Bad, And The EXTREMELY UGLY
Out of the 40 DC comics that have debuted so far, I give 22 of them a favorable rating ("All In" or "Probation"). Some of the books were fun-filled triumphs. Others were average. And others were among of the worst comics I've ever seen. From my perspective, I'd say the rebooted DC books have been a mixed bag.
However, The operative words in that last sentence are "from my perspective". Said perspective being that of a straight white male.
But when I step back and picture how those same 40 books must look like from a female perspective? Let's just say, the picture looks pretty damn bleak.
I'm not talking the female-centric books or characters that were cancelled, erased, or exiled into Limbo in the wake of the reboot (the original Birds of Prey, the Steph Brown Batgirl book, Power Girl, Zatanna, Scandal and Jeanette in Secret Six) or pre-reboot characters erased or exiled into limbo.
I'm talking about what's replacing them.
Of the 52 titles debuting in September, I counted a total of six female solo books, compared with twenty-six solo male character books. In addition, one additional book, Birds of Prey, features an all-female team. As far as I can tell, the sum total of female writers or artists on DC books this September was Gail Simone.
Let's take a look at how female characters fared in the New 52 this month so far.
I've got to be fair-minded. There were some beautiful gems here:
Batwoman - This book FINALLY came out this month. And it came out strong.
Sure, I miss Greg Rucka, and I'm not entirely sold on the prospect of a Kate-Maggie relationship (for reasons which will become more obvious as this post progresses), but all-in-all, this book is wonderful.
Wonder Woman - The big controversy raging over this book was the "pants vs. no pants" debate. Personally, I don't care about that when Diana is depicted as well as this.
The only caveats I have regarding this book are 1) I could have done without the decapitation and beheading and 2) it seemed a little light on dialogue and exposition. Cliff Chiang, whose work was beautiful here, eased the former problem significantly by not indulging in gore porn. Also, not seeing the Amazons raped in the first issue? Major step up from the Perez reboot.
Birds of Prey - Let's be honest. I miss the pre-reboot version terribly. I miss Oracle. And Helena. And Zinda. And how they interacted. And Gail Simone writing them. Thing is, if I step back and look at the new Birds book, I have to concede it's a pretty strong work in its own right. The new girl, Starling, needs a little more to define and differentiate her, but I'm liking her so far. And Dinah? See for yourself.
I'll admit her outfit was in flagrant violation of the Ron Frenz Rule of Costume Design, but it wasn't degrading. Also, as you can see above, Jesus Saiz is at the top of his game here.
Justice League International -
A 5-4 male/female ratio? Not too shabby. Also, notice Vixen's new outfit. Compare it with her last one. I'll wait.
Miscellaneous - We saw the first signs of some of the best female characters making it through the reboot intact. In Blue Beetle, we saw the return of two of my favorite DC women, Bianca Reyes and La Dama. Animal Man brought back Ellen Baker, albeit in a small role in issue#1. An unnamed Caitlin Fairchild was in the Superboy book, without the oversexualization. I've loved Maggie since the Byrne Superman days. And even OMD'd, Lois is still....Lois.
Batgirl - For more of my opinion on the first issue, click here. Suffice it to say:
|"Hellooo? Still in the room?" - The killer|
Not a shining moment for heroic female characters.
Green Lantern Corps - From a male point of view, this was a solid, if sometimes overly gory, read.
Among those featured on the cover? Arisia and Soranik Natu. Among those nowhere to be found in the actual interior story? Arisia and Soranik Natu.
Supergirl - I'll say this for Supergirl#1: It was better than Kara Zor-El's last debut in Batman/Superman#6-10. Trouble is: That's not saying much. The art was good, but the book had two major problems. First of all, the story was decompressed as hell. It was "Supergirl lands on Earth and fights some armored guys". That was it. Normally, when the main story in a #1 is so thin, that should mean writers are cutting away from it a lot to introduce other characters and subplots. That wasn't the case here; the focus was all Kara, all the time. Geez, Hector in The Iliad wasn't dragged out this much. But that wasn't what landed Kara in "The Bad" section. What did it was the costume. That outfit made her look bare-assed in anything even resembling a side shot. Not a good look for a teenaged girl.
THE EXTREMELY UGLY
Fasten your seatbelts.
Mr. Terrific - Meet Karen Starr. Before the reboot, she was Power Girl, one of the strongest heroines in the DCU. After the reboot?
She's Michael Holt's "friend with benefits".
(Brace yourselves: This is going to be a recurring theme.)
Catwoman - We've seen the relationship between Bruce and Selina portrayed many times before, but we've never seen it....
.... as rape fantasy porn.
And let me be perfectly clear: This is NOT A GOOD THING!
"The Cat And The Bat" have had a flirtatious and playful relationship for decades, going all the way back to 1940. I've been a big fan of it going all the way back to Adam West and Julie Newmar. True, they have had more than their share of sexual tension. But their relationship in canon was never sleazy and degrading enough to make the reader want to vomit after reading about it.
Congratulations, Judd Winick and Guillem March!
Also: "It doesn't last long"? Too. Much. Information.
Yeah, that was a vital piece of the storyline.
Look, I'm not begrudging cheesecake in comics. I'm a huge fan of Mike Grell, for heaven's sake! And, to be fair, there's been a strong cheesecake element to Starfire since Marv Wolfman and George Perez introduced her. The thing is, they still made her a fully realized character. The last Starfire comic I picked up before seeing Red Hood was New Teen Titans Annual#1, in which she fought her sister to the death. We saw the cheesecake, but you know what we also saw? A fierce warrior and a strong, resolute, heroic character.
But here? Scott Lobdell threw all Kory's personality out the window and turned her.....
Allow me to clarify: I read Laura Hudson's moving post at Comics Alliance Thursday. It was part of the inspiration for this post because reading it triggered a wide variety of reactions in me. Among those were sympathy, anger, and frustration. But it also triggered something I'll call The "We're Not All Like That" Reflex. A person's "We're Not All Like That" Reflex is a defensive reaction that often occurs when hearing or reading someone's account of a bad experience or series of bad experiences with people in your particular demographic. Example: many Muslims undoubtedly had this reflex triggered after 9/11. Depending on the situation, you may or may not want to stifle this reflex when it hits, as it may or may not be appropriate in light of the other person's bad experience.
In my case, my "We're Not All Like That" Reflex was brought on by my status as a straight male or, more specifically, a straight male superhero comics fan. Let's face it: There are a lot of douchey males in general, and in comics fandom in particular. (Although not all or even most.) They're the arrested adolescents who give the rest of us a bad name. They're the types who do misogynistic things. Like bullying and harrassing women at comic conventions, on the streets, and even online. Like victim-blaming in rape cases or even committing rapes themselves. Or high-fiving each other about their sexual conquests. Or putting women into degrading scenarios. And especially insisting that the comics medium cater to THEIR every fantasy to the exclusion of everyone else's.
They're the loudest, most vocal and, unfortunately, the most memorable. They leave the biggest lasting impression. And worst of all, they also do the most damage to women in their wake. In light of the scope of that damage, it's usually best for the rest of us menfolk to try to stifle that "We're Not All Like That" Reflex, natural and valid as might be, because how those actions affect men's image ranks dead last as far as what we need be concerned about.
But sometimes actually expressing this "We're Not All Like That" Reflex can serve another purpose. It can serve as a reassurance to women that they are not alone in their concern and frustration with the status quo. It can serve to add additional voices to a rising chorus for change. And it can serve to put douchey males and those who pander to them on notice.
Too often, superhero comics have been among those pandering to this "douchey male" demographic, especially in recent years. Couple the rash of women as "fuck-buddies" engaged in emotion-free trysts in the New 52 with the erasure of marriages like Clark/Lois and Barry/Iris, and you can see a trend of arrested adolescence at work. The problem is that, in the case of DC's recent offerings, this mentality reaches up all the way to the top.
Contemplate this: Winick, Lobdell, and the rest didn't just publish these issues on their own as a pirate company. Both Red Hood#1 and Catwoman#1 had to be approved at several levels before they could see print. Editors. Group Editors. CEO's and Publishers. They all signed off on these two comics because they found nothing objectionable in them. If they had found something they felt was too objectionable with the content, at any stage, those books wouldn't have been published. Period.
Just ask Chris Roberson about the original Superman#712.
You may remember Superman#712 as the one that was supposed to feature Superman teaming up with a Muslim hero named Sharif. For mysterious reasons, it was pulled at the last minute and replaced with a filler story about Krypto. On a recent War Rocket Ajax interview, Roberson revealed a crucial piece of the "Grounded" saga that was in that original issue: Superman concluded the issue asking Sharif if it would be easier if Sharif had assumed a hero identity that didn't call attention his heritage, at which point Sharif responded by pointing out that Supes himself, by virtue of his public hero identity, calls attention to his alien heritage. The heritage of an alien race that had recently attacked Earth, no less. See the parallel?
Why was this so important? Because the beginning of the next issue, Superman#713, has Supes announce to Superboy and Supergirl his decision to abandon his Superman identity and just do his heroics anonymously. That's a big decision. But without seeing the inspiration for the move, it looked to readers like Supes just pulled this decision out of his ass.
And so this crucial piece of a 14-part story arc involving one of your flagship characters was sacrificed, and for what? Despite the shifting reasons given by DC, the real answer was obvious: To avoid offending a minority of Islamophobic Americans still sore over Superman's citizenship decision in Action Comics#900.
And yet DC had no such concern about the release of Catwoman and Red Hood. In DC's eyes, Islamophobes were important enough to fear offending, but women, who constitute 52% of the world's population, weren't.
Let that swim around in your heads for a moment. Potentially offensive to Islamophobes? KILL IT! Potentially extremely offensive to women? LET IT FLY!
Just ask Sue Dibny.
Now imagine an African-American female wanting to read about Voodoo, the sole black heroine in the new DCU with her own solo book. Imagine her enthusiastically going to check out this heroine's adventures....
....and seeing her in "powerful and heroic" poses like THIS.