Thursday, October 6, 2011

Comic Book Women: Bend and Snap

by Allison Pang

Given the controversy of the recent DC reboot of several comics in the last few weeks, I thought this week's topic was rather apropos.

As discussed earlier, there's a rather interesting perspective of the male gaze that occurs in much of the content we consume - the virginal woman that only puts out for her man, and who must remained wrapped away from all other eyes, for example...or the woman of no value who's only there to to service whoever desires her, and then discarded to the wayside as being "unclean."

We see this in literature and tv, movies and commercials. We see it in video games (chain-mail bikinis, anyone?) and comics books.

And admittedly, part of the charm of superheroes is the costumes. Sometimes they're hot. Sometimes they're ridiculous (male or female). Like anything else, sometimes comics are more about the eyecandy than they are about the plot. And sometimes vice versa. If you're really lucky, you hit on one with both.

But the fact remains there is a huge discrepancy in the way that women are portrayed in comics vs the men. I'm not even talking about the skin-tight costumes - both genders tend to have them - and most sport bodies of physical impossibility - that's a stylization that tends to come with the territory. You accept that when you read them. (Though most women know that if their bewbs are larger than their heads, they're probably NOT doing leaps off of rooftops. A large rack hurts your back, if nothing else. Remember how those bad-ass Amazons of legend used to cut off a breast in order to be able to draw their bows better? There's a reason for that - tits get in the *way*)

And sure - superheroes have ginormous muscles and codpieces. But really - I sorta feel like if you're going to have chicks with melons bolted on their chests, we really ought to have a hero named Tripod the Ballbarian if we're going to be fair.

However, even given that, there's a distinct ick factor in the way women characters are displayed. Sure, a lot of them have super powers or what have you, but having them doesn't really level the playing field at all. Regardless of what these women characters do or don't do...they're all required to be sexy. If this were the 1950's, I'd get it to a certain degree. Comics were for "boys." Girls in comics were there to be cheesecake or to be rescued.

But it's 2011. And we should be well beyond this line of thinking.

Even non-heroes are subject to it. Check out Mary Jane in this recent edition of Spider-man. I don't object to what she's wearing, or what she's doing...but what's the reasoning in the way she's sitting?

Who the hell sits like that?

Try it. Comfy?

Not really. (As well as probably physically impossible). So very Madonna/Whore. Mary Jane, the good girl, sitting and waiting for her hero. And drinking coffee. And thrusting out her chest like the little whore she is. (Tongue-in-cheek there.)

There was actually a fabulous run on tumblr several weeks ago dealing with this, where many artists popped in and did their own interpretation, redrawing her in more human proportions (and more casual posing).

The big news from last week is the DC reboot, however - dealing with both Catwoman and Starfire. Both have always been sexy and sexualized in comics. After all, who would Catwoman be without that smexy catsuit? She's a thief and unapologetic about it  - and the outfit makes sense to a certain extent. But in this latest issue? It's all Catwoman getting dressed.  Which - fine - I'm all for characters getting dressed...but it's all just body parts. Her ass. Her abs. Her breasts. You don't actually see her as a character until well into the comic book. And it ends with her banging out Batman on the rooftop. (Okay - I grant she's sexual and there's nothing wrong with characters having sex. But it might be sorta nice to have her first issue standing on her own here, and not just relegated to softcore porn.)

Hell, she can't even STEAL something without falling out of her god damned clothes.

When was the last time you saw a male superhero get put on display like that?  (Or as I put it on Twitter last week... Remember that issue where Batman did the bend and snap? No? Me neither.) We don't see Superman pulling on his big red panties in that phone booth, do we?

And then there's Starfire.  Quoting directly from this fab article:

Starting from the beginning: Starfire is an alien warrior who also happens to be a very busty, golden skinned hottie. She’s always been such (like I said, comics have always sexualized women first, unless they were Sue Storm, and then she got turned right into a mom). She’s also always been a sexually aggressive character, a woman who engages in passionate relationships with superhero men, such as Dick Grayson, aka Nightwing. 

That aspect of her personality was actually fairly progressive once upon a time, back when comic books were hugely chaste. The new Starfire is still busty. This is probably her preeminent trait; her costume has even been further reduced to glorified pasties in order to emphasize her knockers. She’s still an alien. She’s still golden-skinned. And she still is sexual. Very, very sexual. 

 But what Scott Lobdell has done is to turn her from a character into a jerk-off object. See, Starfire has no long term memory. While she used to be with Dick Grayson in this New 52 universe she can’t remember him. Or any of her past lovers. And what’s more, she has a hard time telling humans apart. Since she can’t tell humans apart, she’s happy to have sex with whatever human is closest to her at the moment. 

 She’s not all sex, though! She’s also a powerful destructive force… who takes explicit orders from the man she’s fucking. 

 Let’s put it this way: Starfire is a woman who is memory impaired, who doesn’t know the person she’s sleeping with and is fully open to suggestion from men. She’s the first Rohypnol superheroine. Scott Lobdell has turned Starfire into a metaphor for date rape. Not just that,  a CELEBRATION of date rape. See, she’s so willing to fuck that she just goes from Red Hood to his good buddy Arsenal. Everybody gets a shot at that Tamaranean pussy. Hell, even a little kid in the comic gets his rocks off by filming Starfire as she endlessly poses in a teeny bikini on the beach.

Harsh words - and the ultimate Madonna Whore. And perhaps an easily brushed aside opinion...until you realize that even a seven year old girl picked up on it.

And while admittedly some of these comics are definitely not intended for children, it's still extremely telling. For a heroine, I can't relate in any fashion...and she's certainly nothing I'd aspire to being.

And it doesn't have to be that way. Just look at Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example - (Dark Horse) -->

She's still sexy and strong...but she's PRACTICAL.  (At least in the comic book world). She's wearing real clothes. She doesn't have gratuitous T&A shots every other panel.

Is it perfect? No - but at least it's a body I can sort of relate to. Buffy's a character who makes her choices and suffers consequences for them and she isn't just there to be dressed up and paraded around.

And the Spike and Angel notwithstanding - sure, they're love interests, but Buffy doesn't exist to simply be propped up by those relationships...and she certainly doesn't need them to justify what she does.


  1. I think this about sums it up:

    As a woman who loves comic books, and always has, I'm very disappointed with the way things have gone.

  2. Ha! Tripod the Ballbarian. Fair is fair, and somebody ought to create him. You know what? I think Buffy is sexier - and my man would think so too.