I’ve made an awful lot of comics posts recently, and I shall be getting back into writing video game posts soon enough. I’m going to finish Blue Toad Murder Files and finally write about it, as well as writing about Skyrim and Batman Arkham City when we get those. But right now, I wanted to talk about DC’s new 52 comics, and the ladies thereof.
There’s been a lot of press about the these new comics, and some of it not very favourable in regards to female characters. The first I heard of these apparently bad ladies was a lot of negative press surrounding Redhood & the Outlaws – hearing that Starfire is some mindless nymphomaniac. Having not read the comic at the time, I didn’t comment (which is the sensible thing to do in my opinion). This seemed to escalate a bit and start to cover other characters. Catwoman was also getting negative press for her new comic.
So, my opinion is thus. Starfire’s representation is a huge shame – from the little research I’ve done into her character, she’s had relationships in the past. Long term…’normal’…committed…relationships. But now she seems to casually seek sex with anything around her because she ‘can’t tell the difference between humans’ (which is lame and lazy, by the way). Now, I don’t know what the thought process for this change really was. I’m pretty sure the writers claimed they felt they were making her ‘sexually liberated’. To me it looks like they’ve made her eye candy for young male comic readers at the expense of her character. Because I appreciate that sexual liberation is a…subjective, shall we say, idea. It means different things to different people. Weather it means that a couple can have a loving sexual relationship outside of marriage, that women can have sex for pleasure – using contraception because they don’t want kids, or the Starfire end – wanting to sleep with men casually.
There is a perceived difference, generally, between a man who has casual relationships and a woman who does the same thing. He’s a stud and she’s a slut. So, my problem with Starfire isn’t that I think she’s a slut (slut shaming being a bit beneath most people). It’s that she’s not acting like Starfire would. She’s doesn’t have the same personality that made her such a fan loved character in the first place, and that is a shame.
Now, moving onto Catwoman! It’s been accused of being gratuitous, showing more boobs in the first panels than needed, not showing her face first and of course, generally being a sexy dumbed down female comic character. And of course, the Batman and Catwoman canoodling. Now, again, I don’t know everything about Catwoman. She’s had a long history, from what I can tell, her complicated relationship with Batman has been pretty much constant. In some versions she’s been married (to Batman), she’s had a kid (with her own comic, Huntress), she’s been a prostitute (apparently a revised origin story), she’s been a teenage runaway, a villain and a thief, and sometimes a not a villain (having reformed, as it were).
And I don’t think the new comic has done Catwoman an injustice based on her history. She’s a complicated person, she’s had a bad past which has lead her to have a complicated life now. She’s dangerous and drawn to danger. And running away from a bunch of villains who have just broken into your apartment without having time to change doesn’t some how not fit with this. The same way that she has a complicated relationship with Batman still, having had a shitty night and wanting some comfort – and being able to seek that in sex. Isn’t that sexually liberated?
Many other comic openings hide the main characters face initially – it’s for dramatic effect. Catwoman is half dressed after the aforementioned running away from villains, even if she wasn’t – she’s always been a sexily drawn character, that’s her character. So, unlike Starfire’s ‘sexy’ direction being at odds with her previous iterations, Catwoman is acting like Catwoman.
The final big issue seems to be the end. Shock horror, Batman and Catwoman have sex. Now, first off I wanted to mention the problem I do have with popular complaints about the Internet. One of the big ‘shock!’ arguments I’ve heard is that a young (7 years old, I think) Starfire fan read the new comic, and said they didn’t like it and wouldn’t want to read it more. Along side this being a touch irresponsible considering they know the comic is adult oriented. I have the same problem with this as I have with a lot of violence/sex in video game arguments I’ve seen. Put simply, comics don’t have to be for kids. If anything, comic’s now just are not for kids (at least the DC ones, there are a host of kid show comics). The same way that most big money video games are not for kids. They’re for adults who can read and understand ratings, who can have a mature attitude towards sex and violence. Who want to read or play something with sex or violence in it because they can and that’s fine! I want to read a Catwoman comic with a sexy Catwoman who has the same relationship with Batman that she’s always had.
Now, a niggling point of contention floating in the background is that women Supers tend to be physically attractive and fit. Which they are – well, you would expect them to be fit to fight and run around as much as they do. But then so are the men – most of them are also generally physically fit and handsome. And normal men and women far and wide aren’t all attractive. And that’s great, we’re all more interesting that way. Villains tend to be physically unattractive so we can fit them into the ‘ villain category’. Obviously, these are very general rules and aren’t always followed. But comics are a visual medium, and nice looking people are likeable and have presence. It’s the same reason a hell of a lot of advertisements have women in them. Pretty ladies sell more stuff.
Now the other aspect of this issue is costumes. Female super heroes and villains do tend to have a lot more flesh shown than their male counterpoints. Not all Supers fall into this category – the recent Batwoman comic had a very full covering and dynamic looking costume, which I think looked great. Wonder Woman in her comic wears her usual shorts and breastplate bustier affair – but I don’t really see that as sexy, she’s a tall big strong Amazonian woman, and while I’m sure she can be sexy, I think her costume is more for recognisability and character. But the point is is that the majority do seem to be showing flesh for the sake of it, and I don’t know whether to assume it’s just because that’s become a trade habit or it’s assumed that it makes ladies appear more eye catching and dynamic. You can be eye catching and dynamic without needing to be in a bikini – and in that aspect comics do need to try a bit harder.
Moving onto other things, I did want to say that while these two comics have a heavy sexy theme, a lot of the other female lead comics don’t. So I do think it’s a shame that people reacting badly to Redhood & the Outlaws seems to have been painted across the internet as meaning DC comics don’t represent women. They do. There are 7 comics about female leads. There are at least 10 more that feature female leads/sides as integral to the main story. There are ladies that aren’t super heroes.
Basically, what I wanted to get across was that one bad comic doesn’t ruin the work of lots of other writers and artists, making strong female characters that are not just boobs and spine breaking poses. Catwoman is sexy and dangerous. Wonder woman is strong and capable (and probably my favourite comic of the new ones). Barbara Gordon is both very happy and equally terrified to be Batgirl again. They have strong personalities, and great stories. People should be reading those ones and talking about how great they are.