It’s been an up and down year for women in comics. Female creators and characters have faced a lot of problems in 2013–from sexism, to harassment, to sexualization–but it’s not all bad. Female characters are getting treated better, and female creators are getting more attention and adulation. So here is the good, the bad, and the ugly for women in comics for 2013:
Top 5 Best Things for Women in Comics:
5.) All Ages Comics featuring both prominent female characters, and a large stable of female creators
Both KaBOOM! and IDW have found cash cows in pre-existing television properties like Adventure Time and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Both shows are incredibly successful not only with their target demographic, but also with a (some might say) surprisingly older audience. Both shows have seen incredible success as ongoing comic titles and mini series, with first issues selling on par with titles like Batman. The best thing about these books is the fact that they both feature a huge cast of interesting and diverse female characters (the “mane six” of MLP and all the princesses of AT), and have a variety of big name female writers and artists, like Katie Cook, Meredith Gran, and Natasha Allegri, working on them.
Of course, the best female-led all ages comic (in my opinion) has to be Action Lab Entertainment’s Princeless, which features a number of princesses and women of color forging their own destinies without the help of a prince. Creator Jeremy Whitley has made concerted efforts to involve up-and-coming female writers and artists in the Princeless miniseries that were released this year.[divider]
4.) The reinvention of “sexualized” characters
Gail Simone’s Red Sonja is a stellar comic. Red Sonja is typically seen as a male fantasy character–akin to the art of Heavy Metal–but with Gail Simone at the helm, the Red Sonja title, and the all-female creator Legends of Red Sonja miniseries, becomes less sexualized and more empowered. Red Sonja still dons her iconic metal bikini, but under Simone’s pen, Sonja is shown as a compassionate, strong, and determined warrior. She is female, and her gender does inform her actions, but it doesn’t make her any weaker than the men. If anything, being a woman gives her a big edge in combat.
Red Sonja isn’t the first title to do this; Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell’s Glory, which wrapped up earlier this year, reinterpreted the Liefeldian Glamazon as a larger-than-life beast. While this version of Glory is less “sexy” than Simone’s Sonja, the same thought process was used in the recreation of both characters.[divider]
3.) Introducing more female characters in movie/TV universes
While I haven’t been the biggest fan of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD or many of the superhero movies that were released this year, it’s clear that both Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment are making the effort to include female characters. From Saffron Burrows’ Victoria Hand to Gal Gadot being announced as Wonder Woman in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman, plus the casting of the Scarlet Witch for Avengers: Age Of Ultron and the announcement of the Jessica Jones Netflix series, more and more female heroes are starting to appear. Even when the characters are civilians, like Lois Lane, Pepper Potts, and Jane Foster, they all have roles that are crucial to the success of the hero.
While The Wolverine may not have gained many accolades, I think it was one of the strongest superhero movies this year. Mariko and Yukio, not Wolverine, were the real heroes of the film, defeating villainess Viper basically without the titular heroes help.[divider]
2.) The continued success of indie comics featuring female writers, artists, and lead characters
Indie comics seem to be the best place to be a female character. With Saga still selling gangbusters, it’s no wonder that many creators are more interested in doing creator-owned content with Image or Dark Horse Comics. Titles like Rachel Rising, Ghost, and Mara all feature fierce, well-developed female characters of different races and sexualities. With stellar creators like Kelly Sue Deconnick, Fiona Staples, Ming Doyle, and Becky Cloonan actively working on a variety of creator-owned projects, indie and creator-owned titles are worth the look![divider]
1.) Marvel’s continued efforts in featuring female characters
While Marvel has canceled their fair share of great titles (I’ll get to that later), it’s clear that they’ve made a big effort to help female-led titles succeed. Captain Marvel has been a big pet project, not only for writer Kelly Sue Deconnick, but also for many of the editors, executives, and supporting staff at Marvel. Fans of the series, lovingly dubbed the “Carol Corps” seem to have inspired a lot of female-led activity at Marvel this year, with all female teams, X-Men and Fearless Defenders, taking center stage and the announcement of upcoming solo series, including Black Widow, Elektra, She-Hulk, and a new, Muslim Ms. Marvel. In addition to those titles, female characters have been more heavily featured in team books, and Marvel writers have created a number of characters who are taking on legacy names (Sprite, Warbird, and Ms. Marvel, just to name a few).[divider]
Top 5 Worst Things for Women in Comics:
5.) Female characters are still getting ‘fridged to fuel man-rage
Uncanny Avengers stands out as the most recent example of an age-old comic book storyline: lady (or ladies) get killed in order to provide a male character with motivation. What’s interesting is, this year, it wasn’t just male characters who were given motivation; in Fearless Defenders, civilian Annabell Riggs was killed in order to motivate Valkyrie. Now, Annabell came back from the dead (as, I’m sure, will Rogue and Scarlet Witch), but this tactic is so overused and clichéd at this point, I’m surprised that so many writers are still relying on it.
This year’s list could include: Lois Lane (Injustice, Earth-2, and Worlds’ Finest to name a few…), the Kaplan family (Young Avengers), Catwoman (Worlds’ Finest), Dr. Ashley Kafka (Superior Spider-man), and Bette “Flamebird” Kane (Batwoman).[divider]
4.) DC’s great creator exodus
This year, DC had a lot of creator movement. From the firing and re-hiring of Gail Simone, to the Twitter rants of Rob Liefeld, to the straight up exodus of creators like J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, it really seems like DC cannot hold on to its creators. Many who have been fired or left of their own volition, including Amy Reeder (fired for “lateness”) and Joshua Hale Failkov (left because DC wanted him to “kill off John Stewart”), have made comments regarding the stringent editorial control that prevents them from telling the stories they want to in a timely manner. Indeed, even creators who are still working at DC have made vague statements that last-minute editorial changes are common place, and we have even witnessed DC straight up ret-conning trades after the single issue goes out of print (Teen Titans being the most outstanding example of that, where Tim Drake referred to his time as “Robin” in the single issue, but the trade ret-conned this, with him stating he never took up the Robin mantel, instead opting to be “Red Robin”).[divider]
3.) Marvel’s cancellation of great female led books
Marvel’s had a rough time. They’ve been trying really hard to make female led titles work, but for some reasons they never do. The only female led title that has survived since the dawn of Marvel NOW! is Captain Marvel, with Red She-Hulk, Journey into Mystery featuring Sif, and, now, Fearless Defenders all being canceled. Marvel’s had a bad history with female solo titles, such as X-23, simply not selling well. The same could likely be said for all three titles above, while fans are very verbal about these titles online, they simply aren’t buying the book; or, more importantly, they are pre-ordering at their local comics store. You can speak with your money, but the words really won’t be heard by Marvel or DC unless you pre-order (comic sales statistics are almost entirely based on pre-order sales).[divider]
2.) DC’s less-than-ideal treatment of female characters
DC has tried just as much (if not more) than Marvel in terms of having female led solo and team books. Sadly, sexism, whether intentional or not, seems to be rampant at DC. It’s not just female characters who get shafted, but almost all characters: it wasn’t just Batwoman who couldn’t get married, it was all DC superheroes, from Superman to Earth-2‘s Green Lantern. But when your first issue of a female led book includes more panels of the female character naked and/or having sex than clothed and/or fighting crime, there’s a very clear problem.
I appreciate that DC has stepped up, going out on a limb with titles like Katana and de-‘fridging Lois Lane in Earth-2 by having her reborn as Red Tornado, but it seems like a lot of sound and fury that ultimately means very little.[divider]
1.) Sexual harassment, much of it linked to big name comic creators
Definitely the worst news of the year for female creators (and fans) is the amount of sexual harassment towards women by big name creators that has surfaced. Brian Wood and Scott Lobdell are just two new names to add to the pile of others, like James Gunn and Tony Harris. Their words and actions are beyond the understandable faux pas and are legitimately harassment. The comics industry is mired in an archaic attitude, where women are still the “other” and men can be the only “true fans.” From physically assaulted cosplayers to emotionally and mentally assaulted creators, harassment is this year’s biggest buzzword in terms of what is happening in the world of comics, and that’s a dangerous and depressing thing to hear.