Thursday, September 22, 2011

In which I talk about comics fans and sex in comics (with little to no context)

Look. I get it, but no. Comics fans, I am not jumping on the gravy train of complaining about "sexiness" in a couple of DC Comics released this week.

I'm not reading any Red Hood comics. Partially because I'm not interested in either the characters or seeming arc of where DC is taking these characters and partially I'm just not interested in "back-to-life" Jason Todd. It was a bad narrative choice that should have been corrected with the ReLaunch.

I'm a little surprised by the one page I saw online that everyone is having conniptions over but

1) I have no idea what that exchange about not remembering any of Starfire's old pals the Teen Titans is about.  Amnesia?  Clever joke about continuity mishaps?  I have no idea.
2) Its not exactly out of character from what I recall about Starfire - and this is going back to middle-school
3) complaining about Starfire's look in 2011 is approximately 30 years too late and only demonstrates - you haven't been paying attention.  Those horses are out of the barn and across the state line.
4) she and Dick Grayson all-nekked-in-bed broke ground for comics... when I was in grade school
5) if Gail Simone wrote that scene, we'd all be throwing rose petals at her feet for being so darn clever
6) DC quit pretending to sell comics to kids with the conclusion of the CCA a year ago, so you are forbidden from playing that card
7) and most importantly:  a woman dictating her own sexuality and when and with whom she has sex, is not sexist.  For those of you who missed that class your freshman year of college: on the contrary, the power to make those decisions and not be sold to some guy over the hill for a goat and a couple of acres of land is the hardest won battle of women's rights next to the vote and pretty damned well ingrained in life outside your comic shop or, apparently, your Colorado City commune.*

Yeah, the scene was dumb and tasteless, but in comparison to what I see on prime time TV shows during the family hour, this was about par for the course. Any episode of Big Bang Theory is operating on about this level, or Bond movies circa 1967.  That doesn't excuse it being juvenile and silly, but let us not pretend, comics readers, that our virgin eyes have been tainted.

As per Catwoman and the "rooftop scene" - what exactly do you think the comics have been implying since Year One? I mean, wow, yeah... they sure as heck showed that... (whatever that was) but since when has Catwoman supposedly been Mother Theresa and Batman been Pope Bruce the 1st?

I wasn't going to read Catwoman for any number of reasons (Winick.  cough.), but it was advertised as being "SEXY" since the first solicitation.  So, there you go, team.  Sex.  Y.  Judd Winick brings a whole wing of comics fan-fiction into canon.

Me:  your expert on SEX

But a few things:  DC let Eddie Berganza run DC.  This is what Eddie Beganza thinks is neat.  See: his run on Supergirl.  His run on Green Lantern.  His statements in public at Cons.  This was going to be an issue.

I know comics have lots and lots of issues with portrayals of women, I'm not completely thick.  But I want to make sure we're in agreement about WHAT was offensive and WHY and not to just start declaring we saw Goody Proctor with the Devil every time we see sex discussed in a comic (which, really?  Suddenly this is an issue?).

The internet has certainly trained comics readers to see anything related to sex in DC Comics as an immediate reason to become furious, and spend 24 hours dog-piling on DC.  Sometimes its deserved.  Other times...  I have a hard time not reading it as a knee-jerk response devoid of critical reading.  Or reading comprehension.  Or something.

Looking at these two pages it seems that DC Comics, like a horny college freshman, is going about this badly.  And they might be pandering, but...  and I hate to use the word hypocrisy, but there it is.  I just don't buy the teeth gnashing and breast-beating and Why Does DC Hate Women?  Not in this case.

I don't know if the sex isn't what some fans have in mind for their favorite characters (do they need to see Bruce romantically laying rose petals down on a white bed for Selena?), or if we suddenly get squeamish thinking about the fact that superhero sex is a little to the left of vanilla (but we'll watch Game of Thrones and talk about how brilliant it is).  I literally have no idea.  Sometimes, by the way, bad sex is part of the story, and I don't think we should pretend that anyone is saying "oh, yeah, this is ideal".

I'd also point out:  You have the right NOT to buy these comics and to vote with your dollars.  Now, more than ever, that's important - DO NOT BUY ISSUE 2.  Don't do it!  I know its tempting, because you want to complain... but DON'T.

Honestly, I'm far more disturbed by the level of graphic violence appearing in some books, and perhaps more so that the graphic violence doesn't seem to be phasing the audience.  I want to read Green Lantern comics, but the preview art of bi-sected Lanterns, etc... just isn't doing it for me.  Yes, its upsetting and gross, and it sure seems like someone out there is a real threat to the Lanterns, but...  there are artful ways to handle these things, and there are teen-agers who think watching Faces of Death is hilarious.  I've never been a Faces of Death kind of guy.  And I'm making that decision right now about whether I can read my GL comics or if I need to vote with my dollars.

late edit:  We followed up on this conversation here.

*see: what Western Culture decided in the 20th Century (or go rent Season 1 of Sex and The City.  Oh, go ahead, don't be such a Charlotte).


Anonymous said...

I think it's because:

1) Some editors on DC are profoundly stupid in thinking "pushing the envelope" in creativity means just more explicit sex and violence. That doesn't meant that DC, at this time, is inherently evill sexist. And,

2) DC makes an easy target. They have the cultural legacy (and damantion) of the "Women in Refrigerators" badge. That, plus a few other myriad examples that should make DC not more sensitive but aware like the Stephanie Brown murder.

That being said, the Starfire depiction is really unassailable. That is Starfire's personality. She has always been portrayed as a free spirit unencumbered by another "alien" society's morals. It wasn't even offensive compared to what has been depicted in a typical evening sitcom.

It's the internet, there's always someone having a cow.


Simon MacDonald said...

Well, I haven't bought Catwoman or Red Hood but I did see the offending pages posted up on line. While it is possible I'm taking things out of context here are my thoughts on the two issues.

Red Hood: Yes, Starfire (Kori) was always portrayed as a sexually liberated woman. She comes from an alien society where they have different morals so she was always more open about sex and nudity. I'm a big fan of the Wolfman run of Teen Titans that explored the character.

Now in Red Hood she is portrayed as an emotionless robot who will have sex with anyone. She doesn't care who the person is or the possible emotional impact of such an act. As an added bonus all of these guys she has sex with she doesn't even remember them as they are basically interchangeable to her.

This seems to be a male masturbation fantasy along the lines of "what if a space ship landed, a really hot alien chick came out and wanted to have sext with you. The bonus is no one would ever find out. Would you do it?"

Catwoman: Well the cat and the bat have hooked up a number of times over the years but this struck me as odd. Neither one of the characters knows the others secret identity so this is the very definition of anonymous sex.

Again this seems to be another male fantasy where this really hot chick wants to have sex with me, anonymously and no one will ever know.

The further and further we get into this DCnU the more and more obvious to me that I'm not the target audience anymore. Sadly the target audience seems to be pre-pubescent boys who want ultra-violence and anonymous sex in their comics.

The League said...

I am, perhaps thanks to reading Bratpack at an impressionable age, very open to the idea that the urge to become a superhero is part of an extreme and outside-the-norm set of behaviors. I don't tend to blink too much either at science fiction exploring concepts like alien sexuality (although I almost rolled my eyes out of the sockets at "Stranger in a Strange Land"), or at the personal behaviors of folks I know who don't have the same set of guidelines for their sexuality. Seeing all that in fiction doesn't phase me a whole lot.

Part of why I said "I don't have context" here is that - I don't. I don't know why Starfire can't recall the Titans but Roy can, and thinks she should, too. I don't know why she's coming on to Roy. I even had the passing thought that: that might not be Starfire (Blackfire? I don't know).

Its also a New 52. I literally have no idea what the status quo is for any of the characters I knew. If that IS the new Starfire, I can't say I'm particularly interested, or that I think they kept the better parts of the character that I did like.

I am in complete agreement that this SEEMS like a male masturbation fantasy, but so is looking at just certain shots from a show like Mad Men. I'm not going to make too much noise over one page of a comic, anymore than I'd judge a single page of Spider-Man getting beat up by Aunt May and think that was the new status quo for Spider-Man.

On the next page, we could learn Starfire is really shaking Roy down for information. She might be having a good laugh at him. I don't know.

Unfortunately, DC has a pretty awful track record here. And I think anyone who bought this comic with Starfire on the cover wearing the world's least probable top and thought they were getting something else wasn't paying attention.

What spawned the post is that I GET why fans are tired of giggly teen-age boy-writing in comics. I just want to make sure we actually know what we're talking about before we go crazy, not seeing one page out of context and then insisting on a public hanging.

Frankly, and I don't spend a lot of time reflecting on this, but we just spent the past ten years of popular culture outside of comics celebrating the sexually liberated and occasionally aggressive female. There's a reason the Sex and the City franchise is a huge moneymaker.

And what I'm seeing is a huge mixture of readers sometimes cheerleading efforts to embrace superheroes as three-dimensional characters and sometimes having personal apocalypses.

Can we bring diverse and mature attitudes regarding sex to comics? Yeah. But I think we need to see editors who know how to handle that conversation between writers trying to explore this space, artists who can unambiguously convey the writer's intentions and anticipate how readers will "read" the scene.

And that is utterly failing to happen. Thus: dead-eyed Starfire comes off a bit like a hooker.