Thursday, September 29, 2011

DC Comics Presents: Sexism!


DC Comics recently reset their entire lineup of comic book characters and rebooted the universe. With the reboot comes new creative teams, new comics and in some cases, entirely new origins. Recently, a controversy has sparked at the core of not one, but two releases. Catwoman, written by Judd Winick and featuring art by Guillem March, and Red Hood and the Outsiders by Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort. Both of these titles feature writing and art that is sexist at its best and misogynistic and its worst.

Let’s begin with Catwoman. Right off the bat there is something odd. The first few pages are nothing but ass and cleavage shots of Catwoman as she is dressing up in her outfit. I can’t even accurately pinpoint when we finally get a good shot of her face. She wears red lingerie that screams “look at my massive tits.” This is supposed to be a new beginning. Essentially, this is the pilot episode. Now, I know for a fact that no self-respecting director would make a pilot that focused only on the main characters breasts for the first 20 minutes. Why would anyone in their right mind do something like that? Unless of course they are not in their right minds. At least that makes sense. Personally, I got no problems with playing things sexy, but come on! She’s half naked for how many panels here? And how many bras are seen on page 1 alone. Five or six, counting the one she’s wearing. It’s ridiculous and not too subtle over what the intentions were.

Things only get worse from there. As the issue ends, we are treated with the strangest panel of Batman and Catwoman having sex. In full costume. I’m going to be honest here, this page is facepalm worthy. It’s just weird looking. Now, Batman and Catwoman have had some steamy sexual tension over the years, but those years have been somewhat erased. My problem with this scene isn’t that the two characters have sex, but rather that it’s empty, emotionless, meaningless sex. There is no buildup of sexual tension, no trace of any sexy banter and absolutely no time for the readers to get on board with the romantic implications. It’s pretty much Batman and Catwoman standing on a roof. Batman then drops his pants and says, “Begin.” The scene doesn’t play out like that specifically, but the tone is similar enough. It’s not sexy. When sex is devoid of any emotion at all, it becomes creepy. This scene was creepy to me.

The other crippling example of the objectification of women comes from Starfire. That’s right, the sweet orange skinned alien girl from Teen Titans. Before the New 52, Starfire was a very happy, vivacious former princess who had very deep emotions. But beneath her sweet personality was the spirit of a warrior, and she would fight valiantly to defend those she cared about. The new Starfire is the complete opposite. She is a cold person who cares little for humans. She has sex with whomever and whatever she pleases and instantly forgets about her partners when she’s done with them. She seems to have a relationship with Red Hood, but that doesn’t stop her from propositioning Speedy. Speedy of course accepts and takes advantage of Starfire. Essentially, Starfire has been ret-conned into a super powered prostitute.

Everything about this situation is wrong. Aside from the complete obliteration of an already successful character, the fact that the writers view their female heroes as little more than sex toys for the male heroes is shameful. I guess women in the DCU have nothing better to do than have sex with superheroes and erotically pose for invisible onlookers.

There has already been enough controversy to force DC to make a statement. The statement was essentially, “We appreciate what you’re saying. Now kindly fuck off.” Judd Winick responded directly about the way Catwoman has been written. He said “This Catwoman for 2011, and my approach to her character and actions reflect someone who lives in our times.” That comment was supposed to defend his writing I assume. What that says to me is that women who live in 2011 and in our times are nymphomaniacs. Now it makes sense. Thanks Judd. I was worried you had no clue how to write an effective romance and were simply pandering to a mostly immature male audience. Thank God you weren’t being sexist or anything like that.

For the record, I don’t have a problem with sex. I’m not some prudish puritan that thinks that people should only have sex when they’re married. I’m also not offended about putting sex in a comic book or any art medium for that matter. However, there is a difference between building a romance (or at least sexual tension) and just throwing sex in for no reason.

Batman for example, is supposed to be one of the most controlled heroes in the DC-verse. When he is in Bat-mode, he’s barley human. Now, Catwoman certainly can kick start his humanity and activate his desires, but Batman just dropping down and begging for a ride is ridiculous. Batman would resist his own temptations for as long as he could. If you expect me to believe that 20 some pages is his maximum level of resistance, then God help Gotham. If Chris Nolan wrote Batman with this level of self-control in The Dark Knight, he would have handed Gotham over to the Joker on a silver platter in the first twenty minutes. That’s what made the Batman/Catwoman relationship so appealing. The level of self-control he has and the mutual attraction they shared caused friction. This friction built up over time and the sexual tension could be cut with a knife. There is an old saying (strangely one that was referenced in The Dark Knight), when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, drama occurs. Winick wrote this scene and said, “Drama? Tension? Emotion? Who needs that crap? Let’s just get them having sex right now!” Great writer indeed.

On the Starfire/Speedy end of the equation, we have the mindless sex-bot that Starfire has become, posing towards the reader asking Speedy if he wants to haves sex with her, just because he’s there. He hesitates only to be absolutely sure she wasn’t joking and then goes for it. He doesn’t consider Red Hood in all this, who he believes to be in a relationship with her. It doesn’t make him slightly uncomfortable that she has sex with whatever she sees. His actions demonstrate selfishness and a nearly bankrupt moral code. Why would someone who has chosen to become a superhero have little to no morals? Regardless of the type of superhero you create, morality will always be a central theme because superheroes essentially take the law into their own hands. A superhero with no moral compass is not a hero. He is a villain. If the point of separation between good and evil does not lie with morality, where does it lie? It is morality that separates Batman from The Joker, and Superman from Lex Luthor. If a hero has no morality, what separates him from his enemies? Nothing.

I find both of these issues to not just be demeaning to women, but also demeaning to men. What this says to me is that women are nymphos and men are pigs. Starfire seems to have one goal in life, and that’s sleep with as many people as possible. Speedy wouldn’t surprise if he began acting like Bill Paxton’s character in True Lies. Batman’s hero code is easily compromised by the sight of beautiful women in form fitting black leather. Catwoman meanwhile is just like all modern women of 2011, having sex on rooftops whenever possible. It’s a good thing Batman was there, because that scene would have been even more awkward if she ran into the building’s janitor.

This kind of bullshit reminds exactly why I began writing my own comic books in the first place, and why I would never want to work for Marvel or DC. I believe that the big two are set in their ways. No amount of discussion or debate will change them. This is why I don’t read mainstream titles as much as I used to. I got tired with all of the sexism, the irresponsible heroes, and villains that had more humanity then the good guys. I don’t know when comics became so cynical, but I don’t need to take part in that anymore. The industry needs to be less focused on sex and become more focused on telling a good story. Sex can certainly be in a good story, but it isn’t a necessary component. DC seems to believe they can mask a terrible comic by adding more meaningless sex. Some of us know better. Some of us like Laura Hudson, Ms. Snarky, and even the 7 year old daughter of Michele Lee know that this is BS. I would like to see the industry change, and who knows, maybe these great women can inspire it. I hope so, because the industry desperately needs it.

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