Well, geeks, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week or so, you’ll know at least a little bit about the drama going down in the DC Comics universe. To give a brief recap, in the midst of the ‘new 52’ reboot of several old character standbys in the DC world, much ruckus has been raised regarding the overtly sexualized portrayals of Starfire (in Red Hood and the Outlaws #1) and Catwoman (in Catwoman #1). The big bone of contention is whether or not these two characters are parading themselves about, scantily clad, as a nod to their own “liberated sexuality”, or if it’s merely pandering to the ribald tastes of the ever-important male 18-24 demographic.
There have been many, many opinions lobbed about regarding this topic, but here’s an abbreviated list of the most well-written discourses, rants and manifestos (along with a quote from each):
- via Comics Alliance, “The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their ‘Liberated Sexuality'”, 9/21/11, by Laura Hudson:
This is not about these women wanting things; it’s about men wanting to see them do things, and that takes something that really should be empowering — the idea that women can own their sexuality — and transforms it into yet another male fantasy. It takes away the actual power of the women and turns their “sexual liberation” into just another way for dudes to get off. And that is at least ten times as gross as regular cheesecake, minimum.
If you really want to support Starfire’s “liberated sexuality” like she’s somehow a person with real agency, what people should really be campaigning for is more half-clothed dudes in suggestive poses to get drawn around her, since I’m sure that’s what she’d like to see. But people don’t really want that, do they? Because it’s not about what Starfire wants. It’s about what straight male readers want. And they want to see Starfire with her clothes falling off. And hey, hey — there’s nothing wrong with that specifically, but let’s be honest about what’s happening and who we’re serving (or not serving) and at whose expense. And let’s be honest about the fact that this treatment happens almost exclusively to women, which is a huge part of what makes it so problematic.
- via newsarama.com, “Two Comics That Make DC Become WTF”, 9/21/11, by Graeme McMillan:
These are just embarrassing, unnecessary scenes that reinforce the idea of superhero comics as an inherently misogynistic genre favored by uncomfortable boys with no idea of how to talk to women, and in both cases, they’re completely screwing up the cross-gender appeal of characters who actually have name recognition outside of the hardcore comic fanbase. Seriously, DC, these were just completely embarrassing, horrible moves. This is the best foot forward for selling these characters to a new audience? Honestly?
- via bleedingcool.com, “No More Mutants: 52 Problems by Andrew Wheeler”, 9/22/11, by Andrew Wheeler:
Now, when it comes to transparent attempts to pander to the sexual fantasies of fanboys, this one looks unusually progressive. The woman is clearly in control of the situation and is using the willing male for her own satisfaction. This must be what nerds think feminism looks like. The scene is dressed up as female empowerment, but it’s not there for female readers. Like two straight girls making out in a bar, it.s all about pandering to male hormones. Catwoman is not trying to please the man in the comic, but she is trying to please the man holding the comic.
On the face of it, when each case is looked at on its own merits, there is nothing wrong with any of the decisions DC has made. Apart from the no-pants thing. There is room in comics for sexually aggressive female heroes. There is room for under-dressed bad girls, and heaven knows there always will be….But first you need to build a diverse landscape. Even with good books like Wonder Woman and Batwoman, DC isn’t doing that…A diverse landscape is a key part of DC’s strategy to find new readers. If they can build that landscape I hope there will still be a place in it for silly teen-friendly sexploitation comics like Catwoman. It just won’t stand out so much next to 26 books about strong, independent crime-fighting women with pants on.
- via Ms. Snarky’s Awesometastic Comics Blog, “A Response from a Female Comic Book Fan”, 924/11, by Ms. Snarky:
I’m not upset just because Starfire is in a bikini or because Catwoman and Batman had on-panel sex. I’m upset because those comics were not about women being sexually empowered or liberated in any way. They were about the male readers getting a chance to ogle each one of Catwoman’s body parts and getting to fantasize about having no-strings-attached sex with Starfire. And in the meantime, all the women who love and read comic books are slapped in the face. And just like being told a Transformers Happy Meal isn’t for me or that I shouldn’t be in a comic book store if it doesn’t sell “girly manga,” I’m told that in order to be a comics reader, I have to be complicit in my objectification. And you know what? I’m not okay with that. And as a person who likes to be treated like one, I have the right to be upset about that.
You know what? No. I am sick and tired of being told that what I want and need from my comics comes second to what men want to read. I have been a fan of comics for almost my entire life. I’ve paid my money for not only the books themselves, but the movies, the toys, the clothes. I’ve spent hours reading comics, discussing comics, loving comics. Why on Earth is my opinion and what I want to see in comics so much less valuable than someone else’s? Just because I was born with a different set of reproductive organs, I have to be passive in what I read, while a certain sector of men get to be catered to? That’s bullshit, plain and simple, and I am not okay with it. Yeah, this is the Twenty-First Century, and I am liberated with a mind and voice of my own, and I’m not just going to sit down, shut up, and be reduced to my parts because hey, comics are really for boys.
- via MichelleLee.net, “Dear DC Comics,”, 9/24/11, by Michelle Lee (who gave the Starfire comic to her 7-year-old to look at the pictures and determine what she thought about them):
See, it’s not about what they’re wearing, though that can influence things. What makes a hero is WHO they are, the choices they make and the things they do. If my 7 year old can tell what you’ve done from looking at the pictures (there is no way I’m going to let her in on the whole emotionless random, amnesiac sex plot line) why can’t you see the problem here?
If this is your attempt at being edgy and reaching out the huge female comic audience out here then I look forward to when this crap collapses around you so someone who gets it can take your place. We’re looking for good stories and great heroes. This just isn’t it.
So what did DC have to say in response to these statements? According to DigitalSpy, they stuck to their guns and gestured towards the comics’ ratings in their defense:
“We’ve heard what’s being said about Starfire today and we appreciate the dialogue on this topic,” DC wrote on Twitter. “We encourage people to pay attention to the ratings when picking out any books to read themselves or for their children.”
Furthermore, in specific response to Michelle Lee’s blog post involving her young daughter, DigitalSpy reported DC as saying “Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 is rated ‘T’ for teen, meaning it is aimed at readers over 12 and ‘may contain mild violence, language and/or suggestive themes’.”
The author of Catwoman #1, Judd Winick, also sprang to the comic’s defense, asserting that “this is a Catwoman for 2011, and my approach to her character and actions reflect someone who lives in our times. And wears a cat suit. And steals. It’s a tale that is part crime story, part mystery and part romance.” (via DigitalSpy, again)
Hmm. Perhaps it’s just me, or does DC seem to be willfully missing the point? Regardless of individual comic ratings, this kind of hypersexed, vapid femininity does not fly with a large percentage of readers – across the boundaries of age AND sex. If a reboot is what they’re after, ostensibly to appeal to a new generation of readers across multiple new demographics, it seems that this isn’t the best bet. Clearly, any response from DC will have been carefully crafted by its legal team, worded to respond as blandly as possible without taking any sides, but even still, one might have hoped for a bit more from DC when coming up with these concepts in the first place.