IGW proposes a final solution to dealing with inferior comics. Will anyone listen?
[Editor's Note: The following column contains discussion of adult themes and occasionally uses lurid descriptions to help illustrate its point. If DC were rating this column using its joke of a rating system, it'd probably would be rated T]
[Other Editor's Note: I apologize for the length of this column. I've included a TL; DR section that sums up the argument and solutions contained in the column succinctly. Feel free to skip about 2,000 words and read that if you don't have the time or effort to read a hilariously fleshed out description of the recent boobs controversy]
Catwoman's Boobs or In Which the Controversy is Explained
There was a bit of controversy last week due to the contents of Red Hood and the Outlaws and Catwoman, two of DC's New 52. Catwoman drew complaints because of the title character's inability to keep her catsuit on in a cheap attempt to make the book "sexy". The opening scene of the issue featured Catwoman jumping through a window with one of her breasts hanging out (because sometimes you just don't have time to tuck in a boob in your shirt when evading gunfire) while the closing scene showcased Catwoman's sexual relationship with Batman in a scene added to give the book a little bit more "sexiness" .
Meanwhile, Red Hood and the Outlaws became DC's most controversial title to date due to Scott Lobdell's reinvention of the character Starfire. Whereas Starfire had previously been portrayed as an emotional, scantily-clad alien who believed in expressing her love in an intimate matter, Lobdell recast the character as a emotionless, scantily-clad alien with the memory of a goldfish and a nymphomaniacal attitude towards sex.
The reaction to these two comics has been...fascinating to watch. Laura Hudson, editor in chief of Comics Alliance, wrote a poignant article detailing the double standard of how women and men are portrayed in comics and ended the article by hinting that DC's unflattering depiction of these two characters (plus tomorrow's Voodoo, which takes place primarily in a strip club) made her want to leave the industry as it proved that the publishers didn't care about women. Nick Hanover, co-editor of Comics Bulletin, decried the depictions of Starfire and Catwoman as stupid and hateful towards women, stated that reading comics that portrayed women in such a matter sickened him and blamed the slow death of the comic book industry on DC (and probably Marvel's) ongoing neglect of the cries of the blogosphere.
Vaneta Rogers, a longtime Newsarama journalist, interviewed a dozen different creators, both male and female, to get their take on the overarching gender controversy, prompting Gail Simone, the comic book industry's most prominent female creator, to bemoan that the series of articles perpetuated generalities about women in comics. Rich Johnston, Bleeding Cool's chief...whatever he is, simultaneously lampooned and stirred upthe controversy by pointing out how Superboy was paraded around his comic last week half-naked (in a non-sexual manner) and then revealed that Starfire was originally supposed to be shown in a see-through bikini for over half of her scenes in the book. Herald, prolific message board and self-proclaimed thorn in DC's side, decried the books as another example of why DC is failing to bring in new, younger readers. After all, he said, no twelve or fourteen year old boy would ever want to read a book about a voluptuous half-naked female alien that blows up tanks with her hands and has low standards for sexual partners.
I've seen both books described as disgusting, lascivious and declared to be atrocities against mankind on par with human genocide. Things have become so heated that a poster on another message board, mistaking a DC employee who digitally authored a copy of Outsiders for Scott Lobdell, told the poor employee that his girlfriend "f***ing hated him" for demeaning Starfire and went on to berate her for writing Red Hood and the Outlaws.
Needless to say the issue is a complex one. On one side are believe that the comic book industry has no need for obvious fap material for emotionally stunted fanboys. On the other side are those who believe that the controversy is overblown and that comics, like every form of media, will always have books that cater to those who want to be titillated by saucy drawings of fictional characters. One side believes that putting boobs in comics for the sake of boobs is demeaning towards women and holds the medium back while the other thinks that people should be more worried about dwindling sales, an apathetic fanbase and increasing pressure and meddling from corporate overlords than whether Starfire can remember her last forty sexual partners or not.
I will say that, to the two comic book reading females in my life, the controversy seems a bit overblown. When passing copies of both Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws to my wife and her best friend, neither of them seemed offended by the fact that the main females in both books were portrayed as highly sexualized. "After all," my wife said. "I do read Witchblade." (For what it's worth, Witchblade is a surprisingly enjoyable book, largely in part to the work of Ron Marz who built up the Witchblade universe far beyond a half-naked cop getting pinned to walls by nasty demons with tentacles). Red Hood fell flat for both women, as neither of them saw the draw in Kenneth Rocafort's art nor enjoyed the focus on Jason Todd and Roy Harper, the two crappiest characters to avoid being deleted by the reboot. However, both enjoyed Catwoman enough to want to read the next issue. While the Bat/Cat sex scene seemed to bemuse the two, neither found Catwoman using Batman to provide comfort on a rather traumatic day to be over the top or demeaning to women. To them, it seemed less believable that Catwoman would savagely assault a gangster in a bathroom without anyone noticing the rather brutal attack.
Game of Thrones or In Which the Controversy is Clarified
So what's my take on this super-controversial hot topic? I suggest that publishers take a page out of HBO's Game of Thrones series when deciding whether to dial up the sexiness in a series. Game of Thrones is a television series based upon George R.R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice fantasy series. The show brings to life a brutal and uncompromising world in which no one party is entirely good or entirely evil. The series had a wide cast of characters, a thick plot, and cinematography on par with most Hollywood movies. The television show was nominated for thirteen Emmys during its first season and was widely considered to be one of the best shows on what many consider to be the best network of television.
Game of Thrones also had lots and lots and lots of boobs. While some nude scenes were as simple as a women undressing herself in the privacy of her castle room, other scenes were as graphic as a full on lesbian sex scene complete with simulated hand penetration and orgasms. The latter scene took place in a whorehouse while a character revealed his motivations in one of the most awkward monologues ever displayed on screen. And while the forty-seven or so boobs were met with a litany of eye-rolls, Youtube montages and a cascade of spent tissues, the cries were a lot more muted than the ones we've seen out of comic fans last week, in part because Game of Thrones was a damned good television show.
So what can Game of Thrones teach us about dealing with sexuality in comics? It's that if you want to make a comic that has boobs flopping around like there's no tomorrow, at least make it good! To me, the biggest offense that both Catwoman or Red Hood and the Outlaws were guilty of was that they both were terrible comics! Catwoman had a bare bones plot existed more to show why Catwoman needed to take her clothes off so much than to keep the reader engaged in the story. It also had art that looked like it belonged to a high school student with no concept of how basic human anatomy worked.
Meanwhile, Red Hood and the Outlaws was a sloppy, poorly edited mess that featured as many typos as it did double d breasts. When there's an obvious typo on the first page, it's clear that the quality control wasn't much of a concern. Scott Lobdell filled his twenty pages with an ex-Robin who bragged about his prowess in bed while killing Middle Eastern goons, an ex-Speedy who looks and acts like he's only recently stopped injecting drugs between his toes and an alien princess that cares about nothing besides blowing things up and blowing things that are up. Neither of these books was worth the $2.99 cover price nor are they worth the amount of time and effort that's been put into eviscerating them on the internet.
Both of these books rank among the worst of DC's New 52 to date. When a company publishes a book that's poorly written, poorly illustrated, and has only a modicum of plot or substance to it, you begin to seriously question why the hell the publisher put it out in the first place. Was there really a demand for poorly drawn, anatomically impossible sex scenes? Is there really a demand for alien princesses to screw well-toned heroin junkies after taking her morning bath in the Atlantic Ocean? Because that's the only thing that I took away from the book after multiple rereads (I have to review both of these clunkers for 52apolooza). With the exception of some nonsense about Jason Todd briefly attending Hogwarts or something, there was no hook or catch other than to see how long it takes Batman to reload or to see whether Jason Todd will pick up a lightning scar from fighting magicians. These silly, stupid titles are the equivalent to NBC's The Playboy Club, a series that tried to play up its sexiness instead of even hinting at a plot and subsequently opened to the worst ratings ever received by a primetime NBC show. If there's really a need to put boobs in comics, couldn't Marvel and DC at least bother to put a little effort into it and give fans something besides Catwoman's choices in bras to talk about?
William Wilberforce or In Which a Permanent Solution is Proposed
My other major issue with this whole controversy is that while these comics may be some of the crappiest books on the shelves today, the blogosphere didn't exactly help kill them off. Instead of talking about the infinitely superior Batman and Wonder Woman series, the bulk of the buzz has been focused on these two comics, sparking sides to be taken, curiosities to be peaked and sales to rise as onlookers wonder what all the fuss is about. And honestly, this happens every time that a controversy like this kicks up. Certain bloggers get upset about a comics' content, sides are drawn, and interest is raised for the title in question. Bloggers hold the high ground, publishers get the money, and crappy books that exist only to raise controversy fill the market a little more. It's a frustrating cycle that has given both DC and Marvel the idea that what comic book fans really want is controversy wrapped in mediocre comics.
There's a twofold solution to permanently ridding the industry of crap titles such as these. First, battle lines need to be drawn on a much wider scale. Instead of demanding comics fulfill a certain list of quasipolitical, highbrow standards that limit the amount of voices or perspective that could be featured in a comic, let's just start demanding higher quality comics that probably live up to these standards anyway. No one complains about a book like Morning Glories, which is populated with teenagers dressed in schoolgirl and cheerleading outfits and has a voluptuous headmaster that has no problem seducing her students. Why? Because the book is good! There's no need to abolish sexiness in comic books, there's just a need to eliminate crappy comic books that rely on cheap tactics to sell.
As a fanbase, we need to raise the bar a bit and start pushing back against the publication of inferior books is we want titles like Catwoman, Hawk and Dove, Red Hood and the Outlaws, that tenth X-Men title, and their ilk to go away. If a publisher really wants to throw in a couple of bra shots in their comics, make them do it in the context of a captivating plot that doesn't rely on the titillating factor and instead keeps the reader interested because of quality writing and art. Let's make it clear that no one is really interested that both Roy Harper and Jason Todd banged Starfire in the same issue. No one is going to purchase Red Hood and the Outlaws #2to see which crappy sidekick Starfire sleeps with next. However, people would be a lot more interested in a thicker plot (like the one that Lobdell eventually hinted at fifteen pages in), and would make Starfire's four ass shots a lot more tolerable.
Secondly, I don't think that sexualized females (or any other controversy) in comics will go away simply by banging the drums and standing on soapboxes. To be blunt, the publishers really don't care what a bunch of internet bloggers have to say as long as their books move off the shelves. And those books filled with what many consider to be demeaning depiction of women are sure to get picked up by casual readers who want to know what the fuss is about. While bloggers such as Hudson, Hanover and (maybe) Johnston may be able to claim the moral high ground, stirring up the teapot only benefits DC in the end.
If the comics blogosphere really wanted to make a difference and get rid of those books they find to be demeaning, I suggest taking a page out of the playbooks of one of my personal heroes, the British abolitionist William Wilberforce. When faced with a Parliament unwilling to abolish slavery, Wilberforce and his allies played dirty. After realizing that the moral high grounds and public outrage was not enough to force a ban on slavery, Wilberforce instead eliminated the slave trade by changing British maritime law to eliminate the slave trade. Without a steady trickle of slaves coming into the British empire, slavery quickly lost its economic benefits giving the abolitionists the extra push they needed to ban slavery outright.
I'd suggest a similar tactic. Instead of drawing attention to these offensive and hurtful books, simply ignore them and treat them like the trash they are. Demand higher quality books that do more than titillate a few horny shut-ins. Promote the books that you want to see instead of showcasing the lowest denominator of titles. Ignore the crap titles and let them sink to the bottom of the pile. If a smaller site like the Outhouse averages more visitors per month than the sales of all but the highest selling comic books, think of the impact that a larger site such as Comic Alliance, Bleeding Cool or CBR could have simply by quietly stonewalling books of an inferior quality. If Red Hood and the Outlaws were to simply quietly disappear from the front page of half of the major sites, would anyone remember the book outside of the thirty or so people who actually thought that magic Jason Todd was cool? Wouldn't public interest begin to wane after a few months of not being reminded that Catwoman has boobs on parade? It seems to me that the best way of dealing with crappy comics is not to loudly complain about them and drive sales but instead to just ignore them and let them die the quiet, sad deaths that they deserve.
TL; DR or A Conclusion to this Column
So to sum up this overly long column, Red Hood and the Outlaws and Catwoman were crap comics. We, the fans, neither need nor deserve being peddled crap comics. Instead of writing five pages about the indignities of crap comics, let's do something about it by actively pushing back in a way that doesn't benefit the publishers of crap comics. Draw interest away from the crap comics and towards the comics that are actually deserving of our praise. Books like Red Hood and Catwoman don't hold a candle to books such as Daredevil, Batman, Wonder Woman or Witch Doctor, all of which came out this week. Instead of letting DC win by stirring up pre-fabricated controversy, it's time to start making a difference and leading a charge that involves more than just words and empty threats. So who's up for actually trying to change things instead of complaining about the indignities that crap comics cause? Anyone?
Written or Contributed by: Christian Hoffer