Thursday, December 29, 2005

Seven Reasons To Become A DC Comics Fan No. 7


Fishnets! (2)
Originally uploaded by Devon Sanders.
Women.

No where, I dare say, will you find stronger female characters than in DC's universe. This is a universe where, for the most part, women rule.

This is a universe where a sideways glance from Ma Kent can stop the most powerful man in the universe, cold.

Where a character can lose the use of her legs and through using her wits and mind, become more powerful than before.

A woman can lead a team of female superheroes from a wheelchair in The DCU.

A woman can be defined not by her gender but by her abilities to join a trinity of comics' greatest heroes.

In The DC Universe, the ability to pull off wearing fishnet stockings is a superpower.

This is a universe where mothers and fathers are proud of their daughters.


Read comics!

17 comments:

kalinara said...

Very nice post. I have to admit, that while I'm quite vocal about my dislike of a few female characters, in general, the most are very admirable and a lot of fun.

What I particularly like is how many female heroes are as casually sexual as their male counterparts, too. It makes for a nice change from most literary mediums where the good girls are "virgins" and the "sluts" end up evil or punished.

Iron Lungfish said...

(Trying again, because my first post apparently offended.)

As for DC's actual treatment of their strong, female characters... well, it leaves something to be desired, doesn't it? Zatanna may look good in fishnets, but she's been treated as a wishy-washy, neurotic ball of guilt and shame ever since Identity Crisis. Power Girl has often been portrayed of late as a confused and insecure naif who desperately seeks to tie her identity to that of a stronger, older man (Superman). Just recently the Amazons - all of them, with their island and everything - were forced to accept getting flushed out of the universe rather than stand and fight off a robot invasion. Sue Dibny was burned alive, then retroactively raped, just to provide a red herring for the underwhelming "Identity Crisis." Jean Loring became a homocidal maniac because her need for her man drove her crazy. The Spoiler was portrayed, in her last appearance, as a generally out-of-her-depth screw-up who inadvertantly started a gang war, then got tortured with a power drill, then was left to die by Leslie Thompkins, another female supporting character who inexplicably became a murdering psycho at the drop of a hat. Phantom Lady's death in IC#1 was disturbingly suggestive of being raped to death. And this is all within the last year or so - you could fill up whole posts with dead, debased and depowered women just from Ron Marz's Green Lantern run alone (and god knows people have). What's the point of having strong female characters if you kill them off, ruin them, or turn them all into victims?

This is not to say that Marvel's treatment of its female characters has been any better (see Scarlet Witch going crazy and killing everybody because she couldn't have babies), but really, is there nowhere outside the mainline DCU where I can't find stronger female characters? I would suggest that I could toss a stick at a pile of 20th century novels and probably hit one with a stronger, more progressive treatment of women than in the average Big Two supercomic.

There are plenty of reasons to read comics in general and DC comics in particular, but this is certainly not one of them.

Devon said...

Oh, it didn't offend me at all. The comment simply added nothing in the way of comment or discussion. I just didn't fell like bothering with it.

jnr said...

umm...gosh.

anyone have any comments--or counterpoint--on iron lungfish's post? else, i reckon i must scratch a lot of titles off my must-read-next-time-i-can-afford-to-buy-a-stack-of-comics list.

that will make me sad.

Ragnell said...

Just that bad things happen to all comic characters for the drama.

But there are more males than females, so it tends to be worse on females.

And so, we must have more females. At least as many as there are males, possibly more. Then we can get a decent comparison.

Oh, and all of the crappy females who keep being used because they are fan favorites for their cool design should be exterminated and replaced by better females.

Also, stop retconning sexual abuse into the backstories. It's getting old. Flawed is okay, but when the same flaw is used over and over again to give a character "depth" as opposed to writing her like a real person, we've got a problem.

I don't mind the death, and the insecurity, and the wavering self-doubt we see in females, because it would work with a male character also. But nothing will make me drop a book faster than a sexual assault story.

kalinara said...

Honestly, I think Iron Lungfish is getting a bit carried away here.

Zatanna might be a neurotic ball of guilt and shame, but that's because she's facing the consequences of mistakes she's made. Ray Palmer is in much the same situation, regarding Jean Loring.

Power Girl initially believed she was tied to Superman, but took the name *Power Girl* to seperate herself from him. She's largely kept distance out of embarrassment. Just because she's trying to find her *own* origin now, doesn't change the fact that she can and has forged an independent idea of her own.

Sue Dibny's rape wasn't just for a red herring but to provide motivation for one of the most controversial decisions made by the League. Mind-wiping/personality changing is a mind boggling moral decision, could they have reached it another way, probably. But it's definitely not just a red herring.

Jean Loring went crazy because she's the demonized ex. Donna Troy's ex turned into a total jackass. That's a factor of being the ex, NOT a woman.

Spoiler was always something of a screwup in over her head. That was her charm. She'd get in trouble, Robin would get her out. It was a pattern since the Dixon run. She was interesting, fun and personable, but honestly, she wasn't very bright.

Leslie Thompkins was an unfortunate choice, but she was a figure close to Batman who wasn't a hero or Alfred or Gordon. I don't think it was because she was a woman, it was because she was non-hero minor support.

Phantom Lady's death was suggestive of rape, but so was the reference to Robin's death in Miller's DKR. And Kyle Rayner is often put in sexually-violent suggestive situations as is Nightwing and Robin.

Marz's Lantern run gets a lot of flack, but if you go through and read it, Alexandra DeWitt's death was backstory, Jade's depowering was editorially mandated, and Marz didn't destroy the Darkstars. And he's written quite a few other strong female characters.

As for the Amazons, they're written out, as they were before, only to come back as a stronger force. It's a bit cheap, but it's a Wonder Woman staple.

But the fact is, because these characters resonate so strongly you remember them. But Lois Lane, Power Girl, Diana of Themicyra, Barbara Gordon, Dinah Lance, Cassie Sandsmark, Courtney Starsmore, Kendra Saunders and many many other women are still very strong, willful, independent female characters that are in general positively portrayed and enjoyable to read. And there's nothing wrong with using them as a reason to enjoy DC.

Whew. Now I'm tired.

kali said...

I totally agree with what you're saying, iron lungfish. I've pretty much given up on getting any positive portrayal of women from Geoff Johns, Bill Willingham, Ron Marz, or Frank Miller (I'm holding out hope for Meltzer). I don't know if they actually hate women, or if it's some subconscious misogyny they're don't know they're doing. It really does pile up, though. I felt like crap after reading IC #1. Phantom Lady's death was just horrible, and there were some creepy fear-of-female-sexuality vibes to the Wonder Woman scenes. Not to mention the little-girl-lost characterization of Power Girl, who I remember as being a kickass, unapologetic bitch in Justice League Europe.

But at the same time, DC has people like Gail Simone who totally do justice to the wonderful female characters they're writing. Birds of Prey, Batgirl, Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Legion of Superheroes, and the Outsiders all feature interesting, powerful, and REAL women. So while I get your anger, and I share it, I'm also gonna continue to support those titles and enjoy the hell out of them. Basically, I just try not to let a few crappy writers ruin my love of DC's female heroes.

kalinara said...

Addendum:

*sigh* that was supposed to read: that Power Girl has created an independent *identity* of her own.

Sexual assault storylines tend to annoy me in general, though I would at least be a little intrigued whenever they have the balls to pull it on a male character (particularly from a male aggressor). Because that would at least be less overdone.

But yeah, I do tend to wish there were more female characters without a background with sexual assault/rape/molestation. But I also choose to view it somewhat positively, these characters may have been brutalized (as 1 in 4 women in real life tend to be, 1 in 10 males), but they've moved on and remain strong individuals in spite of it.

But it does get tedious. Especially in Green Arrow. Are there *any* women in Green Arrow who haven't been sexually assaulted?

Ragnell said...

While I made the same mistake myself judging Ron Marz's ability to write women based on his Jade and Donna, I've found it not such a good idea to judge a writer's entire body of work on such a restrictive criteria. (Particularly since Johns wrote Power Girl with the kick-ass characterization earlier on in JSA -- the little girl lost bits seem to be a result of stress, and if you haven't noticed, males do get wavering self-doubt also.) Attacking the writers doesn't help your point, especially when you need a greater body of evidence. If you want strong female characterization from Johns, look at his Courtney in Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. or his Ma Hunkel and earlier portrayal of Power Girl in JSA. Willingham wrote Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella in Fables in ways that made me actually like them. And Ron Marz actually did write a good female in Alex DeWitt before he slaughtered her (He stuffed her in the fridge to give Kyle an Uncle Ben, not to express misogyny).

Andrew said...

"I've pretty much given up on getting any positive portrayal of women from Geoff Johns, Bill Willingham..."

Now I guess we're all just talking about DC comics here, but I have to take issue with these seemingly blanket-statement. If you read FABLES, you'd know that many (most?) of Willingham's strong and/or even-minded characters are women. Arguably the book's "main" character (as much as that is possible since the focus is constantly changing) is a smart, powerful, and interesting recent-mom. So let's say Willingham doesn't write good female characters for DC (not that I'd know), and leave his REAL good stuff out of it.


(Although, come to think of it, what about Day of Vengeance? That's actually his only DC work I think I've read. Enchantress was pretty cool in that, and Nightshade didn't seem too bad either.)

James Meeley said...

All I'll add, in defense of Ron Marz, is that before you want to label him a "misogynist", read his current run of Top Cow's Witchblade.

The man can do strong female characters, when he doesn't have editorial mandates (like the one taking Donna out of GL for John Byrne's WW run or depowering Jade to give he the useless "plant powers") hampering him from doing so. He has single-handedly taken one of the foremost female-centered comics, which everyone thought was just a "T & A action book, and brought it a sense of direction, deepened the lead female character and injected a good dose of plot development.

Marz can write good, strong female characters. As can probably most of the ones on kali's list. But have you ever stop to think about things like editorial interference? Somehow, given how fans usually react, I highly doubt it.

Maybe that's something to think about in the future, before you want to label a male writer as a candidate for the "Women in refigerators" treatment.

Mallet said...

Sigh...

This argument again.

kali said...

I....really wasn't that interested in talking about Ron Marz, actually. There were serious problems with his Green Lantern run that had nothing to do with Alex, Donna, or Jade. And I doubt he cries himself to sleep each night because of what those mean ladies on the internet say about him. However, James, I'm guessing you've had this discussion a few times before, and I doubt anything I say will change your mind.

I chose that particular list of writers for a reason. They vary in quality from good (Johns), to bad (Marz), to really uneven (Willingham). But they all seem to have difficulty getting into the heads of their female characters. They take interesting women and make them bland. They take powerful women and make them victims. The female characters get shat upon so the men can have something to angst about. If it doesn't bother you, that's your business...we all have different tastes. For me (and a lot of other female readers), it's a deal breaker.

My original point was that DC has tons of great female characters, like Devon said. It just makes it easier for me to like said characters if I avoid the writers who tend to mistreat them, in all the ways iron lungfish listed.

James Meeley said...

kail:

The thing of it is, I think female readers are taking the whole matter very personally. When such insults like "misogynist" are slung at writers, because of the way they handle a female character, it really does nothing to make me feel there is a true issue there, just a woman (or women) who are overreacting.

I think the reason you see female character take a few more "bumps" than male ones is that most lead characters are male. As great as DC might be with having female characters, there is a vast amount more of male characters.

As a writer, you have to create conflict and personal tension for your lead character, which in most cases is male. Now, as Ragnell and kalinara could point out, male character do get beat on pretty heavily themselves. Kyle Rayner (Ron Marz's own creation) has been physically beaten and tortured many times (which usually ends up with him wearing tetters, much to kalinara's delight). But you don't see male readers getting upset by that. They know it's just a part of the story. So, women, too, should accept that if the series has a female lead. Superhero comics are basically "action-adventure" types of stories, so injury and the chance of death are always going to be a part of the process. It's what added excitment to the story.

The only other way to make your lead male suffer, is mentallt/emotionally. And what is the best (and probably easiest) way to accomplish that? Hurt their female love interest. After all, how many men in REAL LIFE would be distraught if something happened to the special women in their life.

Now, might this be cliche? An "easy out"? Probably, but then, most comic writers (especially superhero ones) will tell you that they aren't out to create Shakespeare.

So, since the overwhelming majority of lead characters are male, the female characters in their life will always be a target for suffering.

The real issue shouldn't be "writer treat female characters badly." It should be "we need more female leads in comics."

As I noted, Marz's work on Witchblade has been incredible. Sara is a strong and capable woman. She's nobody's vicitim. But then, she's in the minority as being the lead of the series.

That's the real issue here. Not how the writers are using the women, but the fact women as not in enough leading roles. Once that starts to change, I'm sure you'll see less "damsels" in distress and more "dudes" in danger.

The treatment of female characters, by DC and even Marvel (as well as the writers) is not wrong. It's fair, given the ratio of male to female leads. Any women who attacks the treatment of womne is superhero comics, is attacking the wrong end of the problem, which is probably a part of why it hasn't changed very much.

You are right that I'd had this discussion before, as well. That's why I know the mistake women make in attacking writers and companies over the treatement of the female characters. They need to be "attacking" for more female leads, not less suffering of female characters.

Just some food for thought, ladies.

kalinara said...

The problem with bringing up specific examples is that people have every right to challenge the examples as they see fit. And thus we will, whether you want to talk about Marz, or any of the others, or not. And blanket statements like: "I've given up on getting a positive portrayal of women from Author A" pretty much ensure that dissenting opinions will be offered.

Marz has already been addressed. All I can say is that I really like his GL run and am looking forward to Ion.

Willingham is a poor fit for the Bat-Universe. He's got some good ideas buried there, but his tone/style and execution don't fit. However he's not the one who decided that Steph would die (that was editorial mandate, they wanted to kill a Robin to torment Bruce and didn't want to kill Tim Drake), and probably wasn't the one to decide that Leslie was evil. But his work elsewhere has been really good with regards to women. (Fables is the big example of course, there are no false notes in the women of Fables).

Miller...well, I can't actually argue much with Frank Miller. I'm not a fan. However, I think his treatment of women has to do with the style of his storytelling.

James is right though, it's all about having female leads. If you watch Alias, for example, Sydney Bristow's love interests get horrible things happen as much as any comic love interest does. La Femme Nikita as well. This is because certain heroes/heroines work better single and unattached. As well as a quick and easy way to cause angst.

And James is right about another thing: I very much enjoy seeing Kyle Rayner in tatters. :-)

Ragnell said...

Here's the thing that make this argument necessary.

This attitude, this assumption of misogyny, is way too easy to fall into, and fairly harmful overall.

If you pick up a book assuming that the writer can't write women, but this is giving him that one last try, you're not looking at the story objectively. You're looking at the female character. And if she's that way for a legitimate reason (Power Girl, for instance -- who is a powerful character elsewhere under Johns pen and is not going through any emotional weakness he hasn't put male characters through elsewhere in JSA), or that is her actual accepted characterization (Spoiler and Jade have been consistantly less competent and less skilled than the males in their respective franchises since conception), you miss it and see the poor showing as a result of the writer not understanding the character.

I know this because I've done the same thing. I refused to pick up several writers' stories with female leads simply because I was sure they couldn't write women based on a book I read that had a male lead.

What did I base the assumption on? Well, it was the time of the WiR list, and I was actively watching the female supporting characters and sensitive to the result.

So, I gave up several things that I've only recently found were worthwhile in back issues.

If seeing a female you identify with used in this manner is just too much, I suggest you try out more books with female leads for a little while rather before just give up on a particular writer. This way you can keep their sales up so that DC is more likely to put them out. And supplement your comics reading with other media. Try Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters. Folktales have a lot of the same appeal as comics, and that is an excellent book for female portrayals. She even has a version of Little Red Riding Hood that makes the main character seem a lot more intelligent.

That's one reason I argued, I was kind of hoping you'd rethink your position and not write off the better portrayals.

The other reason, is that this form of protest gives a blanket protection to many female characters. And some of these female character need to die. They are pitiful, pathetic, representations of womanhood no matter who is writing them. But many feminists champion their continued existance, based solely on the fact that they are female. But when it comes down to it, there's something fundamental in the concept that makes them a weaker character than the males they are surrounded by, and they often have an interesting design or character ties that make them more likely to get panel time than another female character.

So, what I'm saying is, not only am I not totally against killing females, I'm actually for it in some cases.

(But again, we could do without sexual assault)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, James, we wimmiz is just being hysterical, right? Cuz bitches is crazy!;-)

But seriously now, if female readers react more strongly about the mistreatment of female characters than male readers do about male characters, it's because there are a lot fewer comics women to choose from. Take a look at the JL roster sometime; is it 50-50 divided between men and women, like the real world is? No, it's more like 6-1 or 5-1, depending who's writing it. On bad days, you get Wonder Woman and/or Black Canary as the token woman, and that's it.

If a guy doesn't like how one of his fave superheroes is developing, he can always go read about 20 or 30 supermen. Superheroines are few and far between. Positive role models that happen to be ordinary women (like Jean Loring, Iris West, Carol Ferris, or Renee Montoya) are as rare as square eggs. There aren't enough to go around, let alone waste as wantonly as IC does.

Besides, even if the superguys do get knocked around more, we know they always bounce back. Batman may be banned from the League temporarily (as in "Tower Of Babel") but they'll always forgive him. If he gets banged up, all Alfred has to do is give him a few stitches, and it's off to the next battle. Develop an attachment to a superheroine (whether it's Jean Grey, or the Spoiler, or Donna Troy, or whoever) and she'll be killed off, not to return for years (if ever). Or she'll be revealed as a villain, to be beaten up by the good guys (and they're always guys)

So yeah, female comics readers tend to feel like hemophiliacs in a razor blade factory. Can you blame us?