First, a confession.
I did not read Catwoman #1 or Red Hood and the Outlaws #1. I didn't read them because I didn't buy them. I didn't buy them because I didn't think they'd be any good. And based on the reactions I've seen online and on the several scanned pages from both books that have been circulating on blogs, I think I was right.
I don't need to have read the books to see some of the problems with them. But since I didn't read them, I won't review them. And rather than offer a big rant about them, I will just link to two very excellent and well-argued pieces about them:
- The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their 'Liberated Sexuality,' by Laura Hudson, at Comics Alliance
- 52 Problems, by Andrew Wheeler, at Bleeding Cool
Meanwhile, at Newsarama, Judd Winnick defends the sex scene in Catwoman #1 with this:
This is a Catwoman for 2011, and my approach to her character and actions reflect someone who lives in our times. And wears a cat suit. And steals. It’s a tale that is part crime story, part mystery and part romance. In that, you will find action, suspense and passion. Each of those qualities, at times, play to their extremes. Catwoman is a character with a rich comic book history, and my hope is that readers will continue to join us as the adventure continues.Well, I hope they don't. Ugh.
But seriously, I'm baffled by how tone-deaf this writer can be about the character. It's weird, because when I first started following comics closely about two years ago, I kept hearing about this writer that people online really seemed to hate. I hadn't read any of Winnick's books, but the constant complaint about him on message boards was that he was using comics as a soapbox, constantly writing about gay or HIV-positive characters, and pushing his annoying liberal agenda down readers' throats. Those complaints made me really uncomfortable. It was the first time I started to realize just how conservative and bigoted comics fandom can be. There was something creepy about how much hate this guy was getting for writing about gay characters.
Now, two years later, I feel like his bad rep was largely unjustified. I haven't read a lot of his work, but he just seems like an average writer who sometimes gets it right and sometimes gets it wrong. Or at least that was my impression before this whole Catwoman debacle happened. From the early interviews in his whole take on the character boiled down to "sexy sexy sexy," to the awful pages I've seen from the actual comic, to his add-insult-to-injury response quoted above, I'm starting to think maybe he's just a terrible writer who doesn't know how to write female characters. And this is a guy known for his liberal politics?
I guess this serves as a useful reminder that even liberals can be sexist. (Or, if that sounds too much like an ad hominem attack, at least say or do or write sexist bullshit.)
Another thing that bothers me about this controversy is the way people who don't see the problem respond to it by caricaturing the criticism and reducing it to prudishness. I've seen dozens of comments in response to blog posts that go like this: "What's the big deal? They're two consenting adults. What's wrong with them having sex?"
There's nothing wrong with Catwoman and Batman having sex. None of the criticism I've seen has been anti-sex. It's about how this was portrayed, not the fact that it happened. It's about characters masquerading as "strong female characters" when they are actually male fantasies. It's about pandering to the lowest-common-denominator male fanbase, when this relaunch is supposed to be about attracting new (and potentially non-straight-male) readership.
While I was commenting on some of these issues on Twitter this week, someone told me I was basing my rants on two comics only and that, in fact, this doesn't reflect any widespread problem in DC's New 52. But, first of all, no, it's not just two comics. Do I need to remind you of Harley Quinn's new costume in Suicide Squad? Or Amanda Waller's sexy new supermodel look? I'm not saying every single book DC has put out this month has treated women like sex objects, but there's enough of a pattern here for us to really call them out on their shit and ask how that much-touted commitment to diversity somehow resulted in this.
Still. It's worth remembering that DC is also putting out some good books this month, including quite a few that feature really good female characters. I'm pretty sure that Batwoman is one of those books, but unfortunately I wasn't able to get my hands on a copy of the first issue. I had mistakenly left it off my pull list and it sold out within hours before I could make it to the store. I've ordered the reprint.
I did, however, get a copy of Wonder Woman #1, written by Brian Azzarello with art by Cliff Chiang, and I thought it was fantastic. I've seen some complaints about the level of gore and violence in the book, but I personally didn't have a problem with it. It's too bad that there isn't an all-ages Wonder Woman book that people can give to their kids and I agree that DC should publish such a book. But just because that book doesn't exist doesn't mean there's anything wrong with this one. It's violent and creepy and weird, and I loved it. The opening issue sets up some interesting villains while firmly establishing Wonder Woman's character, and Cliff Chiang's art is absolutely phenomenal. This might very well turn out to be the best looking book out of this month's 52 first issues.
So DC is getting it right some of the time. And I'm very thankful for that. Those books that I enjoy are all going on my pull list and I will continue to support them. But I'm not going to stop criticizing them when they fail. (And, no, the fact that "Marvel's not going any better" is no excuse either. I'm not "singling them out" by pointing out DC's failings. I'm just concentrating on what I know. How well Marvel is doing has nothing to do with it.) If we want DC to finally get the message and stop putting out books that alienate their (real and/or potential) female readership, we have to stay vocal about it.
Finally, check out this alternative take on Batman and Catwoman's relationship, by Mike Hawthorne. I like it a hell of a lot more than those last few pages of Judd Winnick's book.