Posts Tagged ‘female readers’

James Rowe of Roman on the Rocks joins Sam for a session mostly dedicated to all things DC Comics and their properties including Batman: Arkham Knight, Batman v Superman, Arrow, The Flash, and Batgirl.

 

Batgirl

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Dear Bruce Timm,

You probably don’t remember me, but we met briefly at this year’s Emerald City Comicon. Susan Eisenberg actually introduced me to you but since you’re not much of a talker and I was nervous/shy it was a very short “Hi” “Hello” kinda thing.

Anyway Bruce – can I call you Bruce? – I’m writing this because you and your teams on Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League: Unlimited, and Batman Beyond are the reason I’ve been a long time DC Comics viewer and reader. I live and breathe the DC Universe more than anything (I have Big Barda tattooed on my arm for crying out loud!), so when I saw that you were returning to WB Animation for more DC Animated Movies, I was stoked. And then it was announced that the next movie you’re working on after Justice League: Gods and Monsters will be an animated version of The batgirlKilling Joke.

 

Bruce, if I could make one request of you before this movie has its script locked down, it’s this: Please leave Barbara Gordon out of the movie.

 

I don’t say this lightly. I’ve thought about this a lot and I even had a lot of reservations writing it down, but my brain won’t shut up about the subject so I feel compelled to let you know why. Mostly it’s that I’m so tired of having this conversation because it really seems to confound some people as to why myself and a great deal of female comic book readers have a problem with The Killing Joke. To be fair, there are some aspects to Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s work that I enjoy, especially the philosophical dilemma of what turns men like Batman and the Joker into Batman and the Joker. But there are parts of the book that are problematic and you know exactly what I’m talking about because, should you decide to go all the way with this movie, you’re going to have to address it within the story. Namely the shooting, torture, and sexual assault of Barbara Gordon by the Joker. If you could please just do me the solid of taking this out of the movie, along with Barbara, I’d appreciate it. And if you’re worried about the integrity of the story without Babs in it, let me assure you…

Nothing would change.

Joker_0113Just hear me out for a second and bear with me because I’ll most likely be covering story elements that you’re well aware of but are important to point out nonetheless. Within The Killing Joke, Joker, as a means of torturing Jim Gordon and getting at Batman, shoots Barbara, paralyzing her, strips her naked, photographs her, and it is HEAVILY implied that she’s raped. And this is just to torture her father and Batman. The only times we see Barbara are when she’s shot, when Jim is shown the photographs, and when Batman goes to her in the hospital. At no point in this story does Barbara make any decisions or take any actions that effect the course of the story. She is a PAWN, a piece of the story that is actually about Batman, Joker, and her father. This is the definition of both “fridging” and the “sexy lamp” tropes. Barbara serves no narrative function except as an example of the Joker’s sadism in order to provide motivation for other characters.

Quite frankly, I could do without it. Preserving the integrity of the story doesn’t have to include the maiming and humiliation of a character who currently has one of the top-selling books at DC Comics, one that has attracted more young women and new readers than DC could have hoped for. I can only imagine what will happen when those girls and their parents decide to pick up the new animated feature that includes Barbara and the horror that would result from watching such intense scenes of violence committed against a woman. Yes, Jim Gordon is tortured as well, but he gets resolution at the end as well as a moment to assert how his moral compass hasn’t changed despite the machinations of the Joker. Barbara gets no such moment.

And please, if we could avoid the “but she becomes Oracle” part of the justification for including Babs in the story should you choose to do so. She doesn’t become Oracle in the book and it’s a logical fallacy to assert that The Killing Joke is directly responsible for her new identity. There was no plan in place for Babs to move on as a superhero post-Killing Joke and she was all but written out of i will end youthe comics until Kim Yale and John Ostrander laid the foundations for her second life in Suicide Squad and Manhunter. The Killing Joke is only responsible for showing just how much regard for Barbara DC Comics had when Len Wein gave Alan Moore permission to “cripple the bitch.” The Oracle argument is further invalidated when one considers that amidst the New 52 reboot DC editorial could have easily erased The Killing Joke from Babs’ backstory, putting her in the position of starting from scratch as Batgirl without the story hanging over her like the Sword of Damocles. Instead, editorial kept The Killing Joke as canon but eliminated her time as Oracle due to the truncated timeline. It was more important to keep her paralysis and assault then it was to show her character growth as a hero operating out of a wheelchair. I mean, are you planning on doing another animated movie where we get to see the rise of Oracle? Anything including Batgirl? I see the next movies after Killing Joke are Batman: Bad Blood (featuring Batwoman) and Justice League vs Titans slated for release next year but wouldn’t an animated movie celebrating Batgirl or Oracle make more sense as a followup?

I ask only because the current Batgirl book from the creative team of Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr is ridiculously popular and directly responsible for bringing in new readers to DC Comics, many of them young women and little girls. The tone and the style of the book is lighter and brighter with an explicitly feminist mindset. The team has gone above and beyond to ensure the integrity of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl while keeping her accessible to all readers regardless of gender or age. The kicker being we’ve already gone through a Batgirl/Killing Joke controversy, one where the team asked that the Joker variant cover be removed from their book because it was the antithesis of the women-positive message the team had cultivated in actively distancing the book from the Killing Joke as much as possible.

black canaryBottom line: The Killing Joke is toxic when it comes to attracting female readers and I doubt the animated movie would fare much better considering the most recent batch of animated movies have been all but gleeful celebrations of the PG-13 rating with plenty of violence and coarse language that makes it impossible for me to show them to my five-year-old nephew who loves Batman. It just doesn’t make sense, from a business perspective, to develop an entire line of superheroine products and merchandise for girls aged 6-12, one of those heroes being Batgirl, and then put out an animated product that features said character being horrifically injured and abused. I doubt whoever ends up writing the copy for the DVD/Blu-Ray is going to mention what happens to Babs in the description, so won’t that be a fun family moment when mom and dad buy their young daughter the newest animated movie that features her favorite hero only to watch the awful events that occur.

As a female reader, as a person who loves the animated movies and DC Comics, please write Barbara Gordon out of The Killing Joke. I would prefer she not be featured rather than sit through a movie that’s just going to be uncomfortable on all counts. And this isn’t a case where “then don’t watch it” matters. What matters is the continual validation of The Killing Joke and the insistence from DC Comics and some fans that it’s an essential story regardless of how it treats Barbara. There are others ways to torture Jim Gordon and I’m sure you have plenty of talented writers who could think of a million ways to push him without using his daughter.

Thank you for your time,

Sam

P.S. That Batman short was awesome!

Ya know, for all the good that can come out of the comic book community, sometimes it really sucks. So I’m just gonna dive into this one because I don’t feel like any fancy setup intro. Even after a couple of weeks to mull things over I’m still pissed and the only way I can convey that, in the least destructive way possible, is to write about it.teen-titans_1-600x911

Two weeks ago Janelle Asselin, a former editor for DC Comics and Disney, did a guest article for Comic Book Resources in which she critiqued the cover art for the upcoming relaunch of Teen Titans that will debut in July with a new #1. In the article, Asselin was highly critical of artist Kenneth Rocafort’s depiction of the new Titans cover: the odd relation of characters to the background, the position of the single person of color, and the highly sexualized rendition of Cassie Sandsmark, a.k.a. Wonder Girl, standing front and center with her very large and unnatural looking breasts prominently featured. In dissecting Rocafort’s version of Wonder Girl, Asselin was also able to branch out and discuss not just the purpose of a comic book cover, but also talk about the demographic for which the comic is being made and marketed. Suffice it to say, women weren’t the target audience.

This critique, based on Asselin’s experience within the industry, however, came under fire from artist Brett Booth, artist for The Flash and former artist for Teen Titans. In some strange form of artistic solidarity, Booth began attacking Asselin’s credibility on Twitter, which then turned into a series of tweets from Booth and his supporters calling Asselin’s critique a biased nitpick with some sort of hidden agenda towards bashing DC Comics. The Outhousers has a great breakdown, including the tweets, of how this all escalated. The final tweet from Booth, however, is something I want to address. Because a woman dare question the costume choice and sexualization of a teenage girl on a book being marketed to a largely male demographic, Booth concluded:

 

 

Now, in all fairness, I’m not trying to demonize Booth. I would hope he’s a good person and he has said that his statements towards Asselin were in reaction to her criticism of the artwork, not the sexualization of Wonder Girl. While those two issues aren’t mutually exclusive in the context of the article, I suppose I can see where he’s coming from, but as with most things on the internet, intention gets lost in the translation. But even if he was just coming to Rocafort’s defense, his remark about putting female characters in burkas as a non-solution is in and of itself presenting a false dichotomy of how superheroines should be depicted in comic books.

Harley QuinnWhen women criticize how female superheroes are depicted in comic books is isn’t necessarily a THIS OR THAT situation. We’re not prudes and we can appreciate the male and female forms in a variety of ways. Sexuality is not the issue, but the context of that sexuality and who that sexualized rendition of a female superhero is meant for are of greater concern. When Brett Booth uses the burka as the extreme opposite, he creates a duality that ultimately undermines the real issue. It’s the comic book equivalent of the Virgin/Whore dichotomy. Women are either pure as fallen snow OR wonton Jezebels. There’s no middle ground, no gray area, no actual understanding of human nuance. Just a nice, neat package complete with an easily identifiable label. I’m sorry, but no. Thanks for playing, now please exit the planet.

Sex sells. We all know it, we get it, and female readers of superhero comics specifically understand this because it’s pretty much shoved in our faces. Though we make up almost half of the reading audience, with our numbers continuing to grow, women and girls are still marginalized when it comes to marketing comic books. The same can be said for movies and tv shows involving superheroes or anything believed to be “for boys”. Don’t believe me, take a look at Giancarlo Volpe’s short comic about the focus groups for Green Lantern: The Animated Series. Three groups for boys of varying ages, one group for girls of all ages. Guess who gave the most thoughtful feedback. Or go back and listen to Paul Dini on Kevin Smith’s Fatman on Batman where he lays it all out that girls are considered unwanted afterthoughts when it comes to marketing products. The point is, women and girls, are still looked at as outsiders. Despite our growing presence, when we look to the superheroines of Marvel and DC, most of them are being written and drawn by men who’re catering to an audience that the companies at large perceive as, or want to believe is, predominantly male.I am Wonder Woman

I want to be clear on this, I’m not saying men can’t write or draw nuanced and dynamic superheroines. One of my favorite books is Wonder Woman, written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Cliff Chiang. This actually presents us with an interesting surface comparison of Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl. Chiang’s Diana is proportionally sound with her body type a reflection of her life and training as an Amazon. She’s athletic and muscular, but still possesses her femininity. And save for a brief glimpse of side boob, Wonder Woman, as depicted by Azzarello and Chiang has never been shown as a sexual object. Even her costume, by all accounts a one piece bathing suit with knee-high boots, looks more like plated armor with the silver eagle atop the corset covering her breasts in order to prevent spillage. Diana’s sex appeal is ostensibly left to the reader to interpret through the actions of the character. Cassie, as drawn by Rocafort, is, as pointed out by Asselin, proportionally wrong. She says:

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Wonder Girl’s rack. Perhaps I’m alone in having an issue with an underaged teen girl being drawn with breasts the size of her head (seriously, line that stuff up, each breast is the same size as her face) popping out of her top. Anatomy-wise, there are other issues — her thigh is bigger around than her waist, for one — but let’s be real. The worst part of this image, by far, are her breasts. The problem is not that she’s a teen girl with large breasts, because those certainly exist. The main problem is that this is not the natural chest of a large-breasted woman. Those are implants. On a teenaged superheroine. Natural breasts don’t have that round shape (sorry, boys).

So, yeah, Cassie’s one-piece costume stops exactly mid-breast. This is a girl who can fly and has to regularly throw a magical lasso and punch people. Unless she has some Acme-strength superglue on hand, the second she swings her arm or breaks the sound barrier she’ll be experiencing a wardrobe malfunction. This depiction of her is overtly sexual for the sake of being sexual with no consideration given to the character.

Ms. Marvel to Captain MarvelFor another comparison, let’s look at the costume change for Carol Danvers, formerly Ms. Marvel now Capt. Marvel. As Ms. Marvel, Carol definitely had a few costume changes, but the most iconic one was the one piece black bathing suit with a lightning bolt, sash, arm-length gloves, and boots. Carol Danvers, a former United States Air Force pilot, though superpowered but not invulnerable, was flying around in a uniform her former superiors would probably classify as unbecoming of an officer. So when Kelly Sue DeConnick took over the newly minted Capt. Marvel with Carol as the titular character, she made sure the costume reflected the character, making Carol’s new costume more in tune with something a soldier would wear even if they happen to associate with mutants, aliens, and a giant green Hulk. Does it cover her up? Yes, but so what? It has everything to do with how the uniform is an extension of the character. When we see a superhero in their outfit it’s supposed to evoke specific feelings: hope, fear, inspiration, etc. When we look at Wonder Girl, what’re we supposed to think of her? Who is she being drawn for?

The depiction of superheroines and how artists draw them extends, to no one’s surprise, into the world of cosplay. Cosplay is itself a fascinating sect of fandom and the time and effort people put into their costumes is something to be commended. Women who cosplay, however, have to deal with more unwanted attention than men who cosplay simply because the costumes available to them are derived from characters who are regularly drawn with more skin showing than their male counterparts. The amount of anti-harrassment and zero tolerance signs that go up during conventions, if they bother to put them up at all, is a direct correlation to the actions of men who think that because a woman dresses sexily it gives them the right to ogle, harass, or solicit them. She dressed like Power Girl, so that means she wants the attention, right? If she didn’t want the attention she wouldn’t have chosen to dress like that character. Never mind that the woman in question is dressing as a character she identifies with who happens to have a costume with a boob window and no pants. Nope, clearly anyone dressed as Power Girl, Black Canary, Huntress, Starfire, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, or Harley Quinn wants people to stare at them to validate their sexuality, not because the character means something to them.best-of-cosplay-power-girl

This leads to the final point I want to make regarding the Scantily Clad OR Burka dichotomy: the double standard of sexuality, superheroines, and female readers. The standard male response to women criticizing the sexualization of most superheroines is that male superheroes are equally as sexualized or presented as an unrealistic ideal because COMICS! Again, it’s people making assumptions who don’t understand the issue. Are comic books essentially power fantasies? Yes, but with the dearth of female creators, especially at DC and Marvel, this means that most of these power fantasies are coming from the male perspective. Heroes like Superman and Batman get to be muscular, tall, and handsome while exhibiting strength of body and mind. They’re also entirely covered up. Female heroes like Power Girl, Black Canary, Huntress, and Wonder Woman are shown in one-piece bathing suit outfits, thing-high boots, fishnet stockings, boob windows, and bare midriffs. They’re idealized, but they’re also highly sexualized. Let’s face it, we’ll always get the fan service bare-chested man, but you know what will never happen in a DC or a Marvel book? Dick slip – and I’m not talking Dick Grayson slipping on a banana peel. There will never be even the slightest notion of a male character’s fly being down or his pants being ripped off while going commando based on the design of his costume. They will always be covered up, no matter what.

Wonder Girl -Cassandra-Sandsmark (2)In the case of female readers, our power fantasies are being dictated to us, but our means of ownership or reaction to those fantasies put us in a no-win situation. A lot of women identify with superheroines who dress in the aforementioned style of dress. In fact, those women own that sexuality and find it and the costume empowering. And what do they get for taking ownership of those characters? The words “slut”, “whore”, “attention-seeker”, and “fake” get thrown around a lot. Hell, even in Justice League: War Wonder Woman is called a whore by the leader of a mob who’s hanging her in effigy based on her costume. In an animated movie supposedly for kids! And should women go the opposite route and critique the costumes of superheroines, we’re called “prudes”, “femi-nazis”, and told we’re “over-reacting” and “nitpicking” because we have an agenda against men in general.

God forbid female readers just want to enjoy reading a comic book without having to think about how Starfire’s spine bends like a snake or how low the zipper goes down on Catwoman’s outfit. That’s our agenda, folks. We just want to be able to read our comics and enjoy ourselves without having to explain to our daughters, sons, nieces, nephews, friends and family why we feel uncomfortable talking about or showing them our passions.

And if you’d like to see a more distilled version of this argument, I’d highly recommend the Nostalgia Chick’s look at the Charlie’s Angels movies.