Saturday, September 24, 2011

Women in the New 52: Catwoman, Starfire, Wonder Woman

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:

Read them both.

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.

6 comments:

lead sharp September 25, 2011 at 3:42 PM  

I agree on the Wonder Woman book.

BUT

If all Woman in the DCU were the same that wouldn't be diversity.

Yan Basque September 25, 2011 at 3:52 PM  

If what you got out of my post was that I want all women in the DCU to be the same, then you misunderstood.

lead sharp September 29, 2011 at 2:01 PM  

Actually what I got out of your post was this...

"I don't need to have read the books to see some of the problems with them."

Yes you do because context is everything. What you've done there is what every fanboy does with every still of a up coming superhero flick, judged the whole by looking at a small piece.

And

Your fine with a bit of brutal horse mutilation but not a semi naked woman.

Yan Basque September 29, 2011 at 2:48 PM  

I think what you're really saying is that you disagree with my analysis, and you're using the fact that I'm honest enough to admit that I've only read excerpts of the books (along with other people's descriptions and reviews) against me to invalidate my arguments.

This is fine. You have the upper hand in that argument and short of downloading illegal copies of the books to read them and then get back to you (which I won't do), there's nothing I can say to that.

But it doesn't change the fact that you haven't actually addressed any of my arguments or provided counter-arguments for them. You're discrediting my opinion without engaging with it.

I think I have enough information about these books to be able to put the scenes I've read in their proper context. And my problems with the characterization of Catwoman and Starfire in these two books has absolutely nothing to do with how much clothes they wear, so I'm not sure what that last remark of yours is all about.

As for the brutal horse mutilation? I don't give a shit about it. No real horses were harmed in the making of the book. No horse will read the book and be upset by the way they are represented. Nobody is going to read the book and be inspired to go mutilate horses. And there's no history of horse-prejudice in comics (or the media at large) that lends the scene some kind of social justice weight. It's completely irrelevant to my concerns with the other two books.

In other words, all you're doing is derailing the discussion. You haven't contributed anything of any value.

lead sharp September 30, 2011 at 9:28 AM  

Yes I do disagree with your brief assessment of a few pages.

And your problem is the depiction of these characters apparently having sex, though if you can show me the panels were this is actually shown I will show you the folly of man.

"As for the brutal horse mutilation? I don't give a shit about it. No real horses were harmed in the making of the book. No horse will read the book and be upset by the way they are represented."

Rather missing MY point there but never mind.

"You haven't contributed anything of any value."

At least I DID contribute something but rest assured if you can't handle debate or criticism I will vanish like a fart in a typhoon.

Yan Basque September 30, 2011 at 10:35 AM  

I can handle debate as long as you are willing to engage with the points I make, which you haven't. Whether you reduce my criticism of these characters to showing too much skin or having sex, you're still not paying any attention to what I've actually said about them.

You think I hate every book in which someone has sex? You think I hate every movie in which a naked woman appears?

It's not about WHAT happens, it's about HOW it happens. All you did was skim through my post and come to the conclusion that I dislike this because of some puritanical impulse that causes me to react negatively to flash or sex.

So, no, you haven't contributed anything worthwhile to the discussion.

Goodbye, I guess.

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