It’s a tough time to be a woman who likes superhero comics.
Some people scoff when women separate themselves from the fandom pack but in this instance I would hope that they understand. While the issues I’m about to discuss are shared by both men and women, I’m discussing my perspective as a woman and what I hear from other women. The DC relaunch was billed as changing the comics game, gaining new readers and making drastic changes to characters. I’m not going to paint the entire relaunch with one brush but it’s safe to say last week’s controversy put a black mark on it. For women, everything seems to have stayed the same.
Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws drew the ire of countless individuals, men and women alike. The problem? New readers were introduced to breasts instead of female characters. And I mean that literally. If you’ve somehow managed to miss all of this up until now, the first page of Catwoman is focused on her breasts. Her face isn’t even shown. In Red Hood and the Outlaws, Starfire is introduced by her actual breast size. Thirty-eights, in case you where wondering. But wait, this is superhero comics, right? This is what they’re about, right?
Wrong. That’s what superhero comics used to be about. The DC relaunch was supposed to be a new beginning, one that would get people who weren’t interested in comic books before, into comics books.
You want everyone to read comics? Comics should be for everyone.
You may disagree. You may think that DC’s main titles are and should be purely for adults. Sorry to break it to you but pretty much the entire non-comic reading public thinks otherwise. A lot of you have grown up with your comics so this stuff may not affect you, but where’s the room for new readership in the younger demographics? Sure, DC has put out some fantastic kids titles in the past but when you think about the amount of material put out on their main line, it’s practically nothing. Why aren’t DC’s main titles all-ages? Do you know what all-ages means? It means all-ages, not “FOR KIDS.” They are books everyone can enjoy and books that adults won’t be worried about kids finding when they’re at your house. And there is a big demographic between children who will read Tiny Titans and the 18-34 year old males who apparently read everything else. Like I said, most of the non-comic reading public thinks superheroes are for kids. Even the companies behind the comics think so. Most of their merchandizing is aimed at children. But for a company who wants to increase comic book readership, they sure aren’t making the transition from what they see to what they can read very accessible.
Now, I’m not here to judge what’s appropriate, not for you, not for your children, no one. DC aimed its relaunch at 18-34 year old males and that’s exactly what we got. But… they already had that demographic. So how is this anything but business as usual? The characters are younger, and in some cases more inexperienced than before, but nothing about how comics are being made has really been altered.During the whole Catwoman/Red Hood and the Outlaws controversy I heard some interesting things. Lots of folks are upset so emotions are running high. I’ve seen a great deal of ranting but I’ve also seen a lot of intelligent discourse. What surprised me are the individuals who have told me, “Don’t report on the negative things. It just gives them more attention. Talk about what you liked instead.” I’m sorry, what? Forgetting the fact that I’m a journalist who writes mostly about comics so it’s my job to talk about these things, this is not like ignoring some troll on a message board, you can’t ignore these things. We need to talk about it.
Why do we need to talk about it? Because it will never change if we don’t. People used to keep quiet about spousal abuse but when we finally started talking, more became aware and change started happening. And yes, I made that shocking comparison because you know what? A lot of folks have become numb to the norm. Domestic violence and sexism in comics may be on two completely different levels but the lessons learned from one can help influence the other.
So I’ve been told to write more about things I like or the positive things I see. I agree that this should happen and I try and make an effort to do so (as I hope others will) but you know what? On the whole, the positive stories don’t get nearly the same amount of attention as the negative ones. People don’t reblog them or write anything in response to them. That’s just an unfortunate fact of life. You turn on the 5 o’clock news and see stories about murder, rape and robbery and maybe one or two happy, slice-of-life stories near the end of the broadcast. While some bloggers/journalists may write splashy items to get more page views, sometimes it’s just that this is what’s happening in the world and they want to talk about it. I try not to let hits get in the way of what I choose to write about but if this is what’s going on and I feel strongly about it, I’m going to write about it, end of story.People like to discuss/argue things in general because we are social creatures for the most part and people write online to give their opinions, right? Sometimes people agree but most of the time… surprise! They don’t. Sure, this is my job, but countless others put their thoughts online simply as an outlet and to be heard by more than just their usual social circle that may not even be into comics. So you can tell me not to give these negative things press but that’s not always the answer.
People also say, “Don’t buy it.” Well guess what? Myself and countless others won’t buy the second issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws but here’s the thing, we want to read about these characters. We’re either fans of them already or are interested in learning more about them because of what we’ve heard or what people told us about the relanch. I was legitimately interested in the concept of Red Hood and the Outlaws when I first heard it but the story turned out to be nothing like I expected. What could have been a cool team book turned into a buddy book with a groupie.Remember when DC said they were going back to the most iconic versions of the characters in order to gain new readers who knew them from other properties? Barbara Gordon is once again Batgirl, OK, I get it. Why isn’t Dick Grayson Robin? Do you think anyone outside of current comic readers knows who Damian is? No. And what about Starfire? Sure, she was always a “sexy” character but I don’t think anyone knows this new Starfire. The general public knows her from the Teen Titans animated series which was effectively realized in this comic strip by Shortpacked. Would current readers get up-in-arms if Starfire wasn’t wearing a string bikini and posing for them? I doubt it. You’ve seen Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman costume with the spiked heels, right? Will viewers scoff that she's not sexy enough wearing just boots? Most likely not. If they did, they’d have to reveal the real reason they read comic books and that can’t possibly be the truth, right? So why do you, instead, choose the path that will anger and alienate potential readers?
Do you get it? Do you understand why we are aggravated? You say one thing and do another. Or you pick and choose where your new rules apply. How are readers or potential readers supposed to trust you? More importantly, how are readers expected to separate themselves from their money for you? For my part, I think the “adult” material should be left for the non-continuity stories, individual graphic novel releases etc. I mean, Vertigo was created as an adult line because obviously there is a market for that and that’s great, I want adult stories too. I also want the comic industry to be around longer than I am. If you want to cater only to 30-year-old men, fine, but don't claim you want readership to grow and then don't actually change how comics are made and who they are targeted to. You want everyone to read comics? Comics should be for everyone.
So yeah, it sucks to be me right now; the woman who has loved superheroes for as long as she can remember, the DC fangirl who loves and is attached to their characters (I’m extra critical of them because I want them to succeed), the woman who wants more people to discover comics and find entertainment that she takes such joy in. But right now? I’m discouraged and depressed about the comics I love so much and I know many others who are as well. I don’t know where to place the blame for these missteps. DC is a large company with so many creators who have their own take on things and editors who can either say yes or no to those ideas and people above them who I’m sure have a hand in things as well. Not everyone there thinks the same way just like not every book in The New 52 has bummed me out. On the contrary, I’ve very much enjoyed Birds of Prey, Batman, Blue Beetle, Deathstroke, Demon Knights, Nightwing and Wonder Woman, just to name a few.
I don’t expect you to be perfect, DC — no one and nothing is. But I do expect you to do what you say and say what you mean. All eyes are on you and right now, readers, non-readers, women, men and children are criticizing what you’ve done. They aren’t saying your rating system is wrong, they’re saying that as readers, non-readers, women, men and children they want to read your books. Let that be a possibility.For all of Jill Pantozzi's past columns, check out the Hey, That's My Cape! topics page! Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!