WOMEN IN COMICS – Summer 2014 In Review

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It’s been a tumultuous few months in the comics industry. From new titles to new creators to new scandals, it seems like every piece of news that comes out from Marvel, DC, other publishers, and even webcomics causes a gale storm of fan response.

The first announcement that really caused response was the early July DC news that Batgirl was getting a new creative team. After fans fought so hard for Gail Simone to stay on the title, it should have been a surprise that DC chose to get with a new creative team, but when the artist and tone of the book was revealed, it was widely met with praise. Tumblr-famous artist Babs Tarr (previously best known for pieces like her Bosozuko Sailor Scouts) was brought onto the book (and had been requested by name by a number of DC writers), while Cameron Stewart and Brendon Fletcher landed the writing gig.

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The book takes a much lighter tone as compared to the rest of the DCU, incorporating current pop culture into Bab’s new look: “Barbara is forced to make a new costume for herself when her old one becomes unavailable. The new one is something she’s able to make herself, shopping at the various boutique and vintage stores in Burnside. It also reflects her youth and style. Unlike Batman or Batwoman, she no longer needs to stay in the shadows, and in fact learns to embrace the spotlight,” said Stewart in his news breaking interview with MTV.

Quick on the heels of the Batgirl announcement, Marvel made their big pre-SDCC reveal that Thor was going to be a woman. “This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR,” writer Jason Aaron was quoted as saying. This was followed shortly by the announcement that Sam Wilson was taking over the mantel of Captain America from a newly aged Steve Rogers (paired with a relaunch of Mighty Avengers, now called Captain America and the Mighty Avengers).

SDCC saw many more exciting announcements: actress Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman’s costume for Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice was revealed, and Spider-Woman was once again getting her own title. The beginning of August saw Sony revealing plans for the first female-led superhero movie since Catwoman was a box office flop. Though the specific character has been kept under wraps, many speculate that Black Cat will be the star due to Sony’s ownership of the Spidey Universe, and “Felicia’s”brief cameo in Amazing Spider-Man 2, (with Firestar or Jessica Drew as other possible potential leads).

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These announcements made it seem like it was a great time to be a woman in comics as a character, a fan, or a creator; but not all the news has been so positive for women…

The Thor (and Cap) announcement garnered a lot of negative response from “long-time” fans, saying that Thor could never be “a gal” (per-Fox News), and Captain American “couldn’t be black”—despite the fact that both of those had already happened as plotlines in continuity, sometimes multiple times.

Wonder Woman’s new creative team was scared of using the f-word: artist David Finch tweeted “Really, from where I come from, and we’ve talked about this a lot, we want to make sure it’s a book that treats her as a human being first and foremost, but is also respectful of the fact that she represents something more. We want her to be a strong – I don’t want to say feminist, but a strong character. Beautiful, but strong.”

Yes, a character who has been inherently associated with feminism since her creation by a known feminist, the character who was on the iconic first cover of Ms. Magazine, could not possibly be a feminist character (never mind the fact that the tweet implies that being strong can never be synonymous with beauty).

Finch later tweeted an apology of sorts: “I wasn’t saying Wonder Woman is not for being equal, and therefore a feminist. I just want her to be a human being, fallible and real.” Because feminists are infallible and unreal?

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Spider-Woman’s new title is helmed by artist Greg Land, something that bothered a number of fans. While Land’s art is beloved by some, he is also notable for tracing, specifically for tracing his female characters from porn stills. On top of that, the variant cover for the first issue of Spider-Woman features some extremely sexualized art by erotica artist Milo Manara. While Manara and Land are both considered to industry “greats” by some, the fact that Marvel chose to use not one artist, but two, who are best associated with the objectification of women on a title that Marvel has explicitly stated is meant to “attract female readers” smacks of poor judgment.

Writer Dan Slott disappointingly responded to the fan outrage of Manara’s cover and Land’s interiors by excusing their poor anatomy and sexualization for “style” in a tweet: “Some artists have iconic styles & stick to specific subject matter. If you see ‘em solicited for a cover, & they DO that, why act surprised?” But Slott misses the point that it’s not just the artists, but the editors at Marvel who have made the executive decision to use art that can be seen as dehumanizing in a female-led title.

Women in comics are progressing in a very new, very exciting way, but there’s still a lot of hesitation for real acceptance in the industry. The inherent sexism of comics (not to mention other geeky industries) shows that women are clearly still “outsiders” in the eyes of many professionals. With the added news of more “sex scandals” (Yale Stewart’s now-infamous dick pics), in-panel rape, and harassment, it’s simultaneously one of the most promising and one of the worst times to be a woman in comics.

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About Author

Ellie Hillis

Ellie Hillis is a Heroine Addict...which is to say she loves super heroines. A comic historian and an aspiring author, Ellie wrote her thesis on the endurance of superheroines in comics, and has been published in Capes, Cowls & Villains Foul and the Gallery of Evil, both published by Spectrum Games. When she's not reading, writing, or drawing comics, she's probably watching television comedies, making costumes, listening to nerdcore, or analyzing popular culture.