Women in Cape Comics: Doing it Wrong and Doing it Right

At last year’s San Diego Comic Con, the issue of women in superhero comics was brought into the spotlight at one of DC’s panels. I was at that panel, and the atmosphere in the room was uncomfortable, even as a spectator.

At first, the focus was on female creators at DC and Marvel, and there were legitimate questions brought up. With DC’s “New 52” initiative supposedly aimed at new comics readers (and lapsed fans), there was question as to why they did not include a more diverse group of creators in the relaunch, but mostly in regards to the male-female ratio. 

When DC’s “New 52” initiative launched in September 2011, the criticism shifted to the portrayal of female characters in superhero comics. There were a few glaring examples of how to not portray female characters in comics - gratuitous ass-shots, and the general feeling that the female characters existed to please a mainly male audience. A question posed by the comics blogosphere was, “If the New 52 was aimed at attracting new readers, why not make female characters that women young and old could relate to?” It was a legitimate question. At the time, DC’s Batwoman series was the example of “doing it right.” In that series, there was a character who was a hero and fully realized human being first, with her gender and homosexuality treated as aspects of the character rather than the defining characteristics of the masked hero.

DC’s “Second Wave” included a book called Worlds’ Finest, starring Power Girl and Huntress. I had no interest in either of these characters, especially Power Girl. Here was what seemed like a Supergirl knockoff with an overly complicated origin story who wore a costume with a giant hole in the front of the costume that seemed to exist simply to show off the character’s boobs. With the new title, Power Girl received a slightly less complicated origin and a costume without the “boob window.” Although the book is early in its run, with the second issue having just come out, I have to say that this is another example of DC “doing it right.” Karen and Helena, Power Girl and Huntress respectively, are treated as people first. There are no gratuitous ass shots, and no characters are drawn in awkward poses simply to show off T&A. Karen is not only super-strong, but she is an extraordinarily successful businesswoman. Helena is portrayed as exceptionally brilliant as well. As the daughter of the Earth-2 incarnation of Batman, she should be. 

What bothers me is that the blogs and news sites that, correctly, called DC out on their disrespectful portrayals of some of their female characters are silent when people at the company are creating a product that should be held up as an example. Yes, there are good reviews written, but there are no large editorial pieces applauding the portrayal of female characters in Worlds’ Finest in the way that articles were written criticizing DC Comics.

In no way am I saying anybody was wrong for criticizing DC Comics, and any comics company or creator, on this subject. It’s a problem, and not only confined to the portrayal of women, but that’s another argument entirely, albeit one with a similar solution. Treating characters like actual people isn’t just the politically correct thing to do, it is good storytelling.

It is so easy to be negative on the internet, and scathing, witty editorials are far more likely to get hits than positivity, but positivity is what the comics industry needs. Books like Batwoman, Earth-2, and Worlds’ Finest give me some hope that even if the corporations don’t learn from their mistakes, the creators working on the corporately owned books will.

Note: This post has been entirely stream of thought, so there are structural edits I’d like to make at a future date. I just thought that the idea behind the post was more important at the moment. I’ll do a rewrite in the near future.

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  1. mostlyuselessknowledge posted this