Comic Fodder

What do Women Want in Superhero Comics?

Most of the time I assume that comic blog eruptions are exactly that: Comic Blog issues which will remain comic blog issues.

However, yesterday the Mary Jane Statuette Scandal spilled out of comic geek circles and over to the New York Post, shedding a bit of light into the shadowy world of comic blogging. And, then, of course, the most shocking image of all.

Somehow this all blew up at the same time that Johanna at Comics Worth Reading had seen a post by a fangirl lamenting the idea that superhero comics were "not for girls" and responded.

The conversation produced no small amount of anger, some interesting and semi-useful statistics, and continued on for a lot longer than one would probably guess.

At points the debate got downright ugly, with one poster insisting that Johanna was supporting "separate but equal" treatment for comics appealing to women (which mostly suggested that the reader wasn't terribly familiar with Johanna's resume or the context of her blog. But, hey, that's okay.).

Bit of interest: Johanna's slightly dated, self-selected survey found a whopping 90+% of DC comic readers in 1995 were male.

David Oakes presented some statistics collected in Phoenix and beyond (at the Cactus Comic-Con? I'm not sure.) that suggested that Johanna's numbers may still be fairly accurate.

So all of this sort of raised a question in my mind...

In a general sense, women have a lot to be angry about in comics. The field is, in fact, dominated by men. More often than not, heroic and villainous women alike are portrayed in flesh baring, cheescake-y and down-right impractical costumes intended to appeal to the more prurient eyes in the audience. Violence against women, particularly as helpless torture victims, and instances of rape do make an appearance in comics (usually with the promise that a male hero will save the day).

And when there's not that, there's stuff like this, and this and whatever the @#$% this is supposed to be.

Some editors think they know what women are missing, such as Supergirl editor Eddie Berganza. Meanwhile, many women and girls have found themselves drifting towards Manga or independent publishers who are providing some of that intangible quality (possibly due to the many genres within Manga and indie comics).

Since the 80's, the Big 2 superhero publishers have added a great number of female characters who can hold their own alongside their male counterparts, from the revamp of Oracle to X-23. And, currently women hold the Chairman/personship of both the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America (coming in about two decades behind Storm leading the X-Men). Some moves have been made. Do they even get noticed?

The topic I felt was conspicuously absent from the discussion was any sort of feeling as to what women might actually be looking for in a superhero comic. At least "what women want in a superhero comic" got nowhere near the coverage of what some folks would prefer the publishers omit.

So, seemingly reading my mind, Johanna went on to post on some superhero comics she does read.

Honestly, I'm not interested in getting into redundancies here at Comic Fodder regarding what isn't welcome. I'd like to try something vaguely constructive.

And so I cast wide the net to ask:

(Assuming that things like Power Girl's breasts as depicted by Michael Turner are an obvious problem, and that the publishers don't plan to repeat the infamous scenes from Identity Crisis...)

WHAT DO WOMEN WANT IN SUPERHERO COMICS ? What would draw you in? What would have to happen in Superman, Batman, Wolverine, Wonder Woman, Ms. Marvel or any of the cape and tights comics to make you consider giving those comics a second glance? What sort of stories would interest you? How could the characters be handled in a manner which doesn't make you simply roll your eyes?

What's working for you now? What can you cite as an example? What can the publishers do more of?

Or is that not a good question?


before this goes the way I think it's about to go:

I am fully aware that I would get different opinions. I hope to God I get different opinions. But I also am trying to shed some light on the constructive side of the argument that women are underserved by superhero comics. How can that be changed?

And the question wasn't supposed to be "dudes, what do women as a mass want in comics?" It was supposed to be a forum for any woman who has an opinion on the topic to express it.

Hopefully that assists in clarifying my intentions.

Anyway, the point is to hear individual voices. If patterns emerge, great. If not, let's all have a cheer for diversity!

ALSO: FYI: the spam filter catches all entries with URL's. If your comment does not immediately appear, do not worry, I'll get to it. With the weekend here, I may wander off and get some sunshine or play with my dogs or something. I will post pretty much anything and everything that isn't a viagra ad.

And, dear God, how we get the viagra ad spam.


Ryan is your resident reviewer of DC Comics. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas. He likes Superman.

That’s a great question. I can’t help but to notice that none of the comics that were intended for girl/women lasted, that there doesn’t seem to be any comic that has a huge bump in its readership because of women despite the fact that there are several superhero comics that aren’t particularly male-centric, and they say they don’t want the manga stuff. I would love for there to be more female fans, but the vast majority of women seem to turn their noses up to the vast majority of superhero comics. If we are to believe that it is the fault of comic companies that women don’t read comics in great numbers, we have to believe the there was even on comic that had a really strong female audience that was able to produce similar books. Usually, if something succeeds, there will be copycats, so apparently nothing succeeded. And the feminist fans keep saying that a broader audience will help the sales of a book, so which book is getting the feminist bump? I’m stumped.

And sadly, I often get the feeling the answer is that they just don’t want any comics to be made specifically with straight guys in mind.

-- Posted by: Scott Anderson at May 18, 2007 3:09 PM

I think that's a pretty harsh indictment of folks seeking a place in a genre that's pretty clear defined by heterosexual male ideas of adventure, romance and stimulation.

Speaking of the "female-centric" comics that didn't succeed in the superhero dominated era of National/DC's and Timely/Marvel's print history, I'm not sure I could count them on one hand. Surely there's a difference between a comic featuring a female protagonist and a comic actually geared towards women. (Think of the target demo for the "Tomb Raider" franchise.)

There's a middling ground between "they just don’t want any comics to be made specifically with straight guys in mind" and figuring out what qualities a superhero comic should contain in order to be geared towards a female audience.
And, yes, it is a question of whether it's a process of omission as well as addition.

I know my wife rolls her eyes at much of what she sees in superhero comics, but devoured the Jimenez and Rucka runs on Wonder Woman. Her answer for why she latched on to those comics was "because she seemed like a real person". All while wearing the All-American swimsuit.

-- Posted by: ryan at May 18, 2007 4:13 PM

First, everyone on both sides needs to accept that there are women who just don't like the superhero/action genre and nothing anyone does will change that. There are men that feel the same way, but in smaller numbers.

From my observations as a store owner, as well as a woman, it seems that women prefer group dynamic stories, like X-Men and Justice League, to single hero stories. They are also less tolerant of poorly written stories. Where men collect and will put up with stories that aren't written well just because they have to have them all, women will give up a book they've read for years if they find that they don't like the writing. And some women like stories about strong women, who don't necessarily need the help of a man to survive.

Mainly I think the comic book industry, to grow in readership with both men and women, needs to have good writing, and then not kill that by allowing the artists to treat female heroes like whores when they draw them.

-- Posted by: Lisa from Neptune at May 18, 2007 4:23 PM

Well let's see. I read Batgirl and loved it, until it was cancelled and she went evil and crazy. I read Robin for the brief time Stephanie Brown filled those tights, but then she was fired and totured and died. I would actually love to pick up Supergirl if I could get past my gag reflex half the time from looking at the art (though, yes, Garza is rocking the current issues and I'm actually thinking about picking it up). I was planning on picking up Amazons Attack because the art was pure love, until I saw that in the first few page the Amazons killed random civilias cuz they had penises. I plan on picking up Wonder Woman when Simone jumps on. I read X-Men, Runaways, Ex Machina, The Spirit, Shazam and the Monster Society of Evil, Gargoyles, Nextwave, Birds of Prey, and a random selection of non-superhero comics. What do they all have it common? The women in them don't suck. I don't require women with amazing superpowers that supercede everyone else in the book. I don't require that everyone dress in loose baggy clothes to hide their figure. I don't require that women be flat chasted, plump and 5'2". All I want is characters that I can relate too. Characters that are strong on a personal level and are there to further the story or be a hero (rather than only there for eye candy) That is all I want in a superhero comic. Well.. that and explosions, you can never have too many explosions... or dinosaurs in purple pants... seriously, Fing, Fang, Foom, Best. Villain. Ever.

-- Posted by: Ciella at May 18, 2007 5:00 PM

Good point on the OCD collector thing keeping titles alive when the comics are less than stellar. As a Superman fan, I'm often guilty of this habit.

As I mentioned, we're taking it at face value that our female heroes will not look like whores. But I think the whole "good writing" thing is a bit vague. For example: For whatever reason, I enjoyed the first six issues (plus issue 0) of Meltzer's Justice League of America. It's safe to say that many people did not. I felt the writing was mature and used the medium exceedingly well. Others felt that it was slow and the plot jumbled.

What makes up that good writing? Is it story elements? Method in which a story is accessed? So women have the monopoly on recognizing good writing? Surely DC and Marvel do not intentionally put out junk any more than networks intentionally put on sub-par programming or movie studios try to make the latest "Ishtar".

I'm going to keep circling back to the question at hand, not to be a pain, but because all the kerfuffle this week made me genuinely curious. We know what it should NOT be, so what should it be?

And to Ciella: The comment about wanting strong women. How can a comic exemplify that quality? Are there any good examples (aside from pre-Crazy Batgirl? BTW: DC realized that didn't work and she's all better now).

-- Posted by: ryan at May 18, 2007 5:15 PM

Asking what women want in anything is kinda like... well, asking what blondes want or what left-handed people want- we're not a monolithic entity sharing the exact same tastes and interests. Ask five women what they want in a comic, you'll probably get five different answers.

So no, it's not a very good question.

-- Posted by: furikku at May 18, 2007 5:29 PM

before this goes the way I think it's about to go:

I am fully aware that I would get different opinions. I hope to God I get different opinions. But I also am trying to shed some light on the constructive side of the argument that women are underserved by superhero comics. How can that be changed?

And the question wasn't supposed to be "dudes, what do women as a mass want in comics?" It was supposed to be a forum for any woman who has an opinion on the topic to express it.

Hopefully that assists in clarifying my intentions.

-- Posted by: ryan at May 18, 2007 5:44 PM

I've been reading comics for a couple of decades now. What do I want in superhero comics?

I like talking chimps. I like mad science, and explosions. I like three-dimensional characters, who while they aren't perfect, are strong, emotionally-grounded women and men who take joy and pride in being a superhero. I like teams that work together and respect and like their teammates. I like witty dialogue, black humour, and stories that make me cheer, make me giggle like a maniac, make me think, and make me cry (not necessarily all at the same time).

I like artwork that doesn't throw me out of the story by making me go WTF/that must hurt/what happened to her intestines? (I would happily live with the skimpy costumes if no more porn poses (arched backs, hip thrusts, etc.) were done.)

My favourite superhero books currently are: Welcome to Tranquility, PS 238 and Shadowpact. I also enjoyed 52 and N.E.X.T.wave. I enjoy JSA, Green Lantern Corps, Birds of Prey, White Tiger, Manhunter.

Women definitely don't have the a monopoly on defining good writing. What makes good writing? Well aside from the obvious (grammar, a plot, etc.) mostly it's subjective (pace, style of story, type of characterization,etc.). Personally it's dialogue that makes or breaks it for me most of the time. I forgive a lot if I get to read good lines. I dislike angsty characters in angst-ridden stories as a general rule, I drop titles like a stone if they get too angsty for my taste.

From my experience of book/comic pushing on my friends/family of both sexes, there is no "women's secret formula", just like there is no "American male secret formula" . However, in a very broad scope (and limited to my friends, family, and their children), I've noticed that we like solid 3-d relationships as part of their stories (not necessarily romantic ones either, in an unscientific poll of my other women comic reading friends, the team relationships in Birds of Prey or the JSA are more interesting than most comic-book romances because they are better developed), and we like to see female superheroes being treated like superheroes.

As for Scott's comment - Most superhero comics are only found in the direct market. While I love my LCS, it is a destination shop that is, it is a shop (like a hunting store, or a candle shop) that a person typically goes to when they want to buy that specific thing. Then go look at the Buffy fans showing up to buy comics or the Manga fans, or the superheroines who show up in "romance" novels. I personally have addicted non-comic reading women to Fables, Girl Genius, PS 238, NEXTwave. However the monthly format and trade sizes don't work for a lot of them. Many of my friends are working mothers, and their reading time is waiting to pick up kids from school, while at practices, etc. The monthlies are too fragile, and the trades too big to be tossed into a handbag and brought along. That makes creating a casual reader a lot harder.

-- Posted by: Cindy McShane at May 18, 2007 7:01 PM

by booksforlunch ( a woman, the last time I looked )

I want entertaining stories, centering around extraordinary people, facing off against extraordinary dangers, preferably in over the top settings.
And there should be HEROES. Their actions don´t have to be always correct, but understandable and logical from the context.
But in all these stories about extraordinary events, there should still be room for the human sides of our heroes, their quirks, their families and friends.
I want good artwork. `Good artwork´ in MY definition does not mean, the latest uphyped fanboy darling who can do the splash pages of scantily clad `superheroines´ so well (though I sometimes do not get what is supposed to be done well in these). The artwork doesn´t have to be polished or perfect, but they should have LIFE in them ( I don´t think that I´m good enough in english to EXPLAIN what I mean, but maybe you still get it ). Actualy, they should be drawn by artists that are good visual storytellers first and foremost, but with the ability to create recognisable characters varying in such `unimportant´ details like bodytype, height, facial expressions and bra - sizes.
The different titles should offer a vast variety of themes, from mature stories tangenting real world problems, to pure fun all - ages escapist fun, so that I can choose a bunch off them in all flavours and colours availlable.

As a PERSON, I want to read stories about interesting, admireable heroes, written as funny, witty, clever and entertaining as is possible without the writer selling his/her soul to the devil.
As a WOMAN, I wish that there, in the reign of admireable, cool heroes I read about, are women, as strong, confidant and competend as there male counterparts. I want BELIEVABLE heroines, as in female characters I can believe being heroes, and not just a projection of the male readers sexuality.

In summary :
I want GOOD COMIC BOOKS of the superhero genre.
Too much to ask for ?

Was this in any way helpfull ?

-- Posted by: booksforlunch at May 18, 2007 8:26 PM

You wanna know what my favorite comic right now is? Blue Beetle.

Yeah, that's right. It's not the most popular comic right and the hero is little now outside the regular DC fans, but I think it's the best superhero comic book that DC is publishing right now. It is a perfect example of everything I want in a superhero comics.

It has a wonderfully lovable and relatable hero and equally lovable supporting cast. The feel of the book is unique because of its location and regular cast. The art is good and fits mood of the book. It has action, adventure, mystery, AND comedy. It isn't a gory and grim angst fest nor is it cracktastic and only comedy. It's a good mixture of both. I like witty banter. I like guest star cameos from DC's other superheros. I love the basic myth-like storytelling of a rookie hero learning his (or her) place in the world. I love buddy moment and family moments. I love quirky civilans that add more color and interest to the enviroment the main character lives. And most of all, I love good storytelling. Blue Beetle has all of this. This title has been running about a year now and I haven't to be dissapointed in a single issue. I can't say the same for any other title I read.

Other titles I'm enjoying at the moment include Birds of Prey, Detective Comics, Teen Titans, Robin and JSA.

I fell in love with these character with the Bruce Timm animated series of the 90's and more recently JLU and Teen Titans. I also came to know Marvel's heros through their 90's Spider-Man and X-Men cartoons and later X-Men Evolution. Eventually, I miagrated over to the actual comics as I got older which is what I expect the companies had hoped for when allowing these cartoons to be made with their characters. Unfortunately, they didn't prepare me how unappreciated I would be as female fan. Saturday morning cartoons can't afford to alienate one group over another. Ratings are ratings to them and they wanted their show to be acessible to as many people as they could. It's sad that DC and MARVEL weren't as prepared to welcome same diversity as readers.

So essentially, I love the comics but never feel that they live up to their cartoon counterparts in many ways. If more comics were written like JLU, Teen Titans, and Batman: The Animated Series, I would buy more. Luckily, Paul Dini (one of the major writers of DC's cartoons) is writing for Detective Comics at the moment and each stand alone issue does read like a 30 minute episode of B:TAS. It's quite grand and I love it.

-- Posted by: Sinyaa at May 18, 2007 11:14 PM

Hey, all. Thanks so much for participating today. I'm not planning on any "Springer's Final Thought" on any of this, so I hope this conversation can continue organically. And please don't take it as a problem if I ask for you to clarify a point. I may be playing a bit of devil's advocate, but it's for the sake of clairty for my own reading.

And Sinyaa... I like Beetle, too. Especially recent issues. Good to see other BB fans out there.

-- Posted by: Ryan at May 19, 2007 1:06 AM

Well, I'm a woman who reads comics, but not "superhero" comics....

Black Orchid (Neil Gaiman's run). Does that count as a superhero comic?

I really enjoyed Arkham Asylum.

Astro City is just awesome.

Actually, I read a good portion of the Vertigo line. But I don't read any of the more mainstream DC/Marvel comics. I have no objection to violence or eye candy, I like both, but in order to truly want to own something it needs to be more than just those two things. I want a story that's interesting and funny

I think the Spiderman movies have been pretty enjoyable (that scene in the second movie right after he saved the commuter and the X-Men movies too. The new movie incarnation of Batman was absolutely wonderful. Casino Royale was the best Bond movie I've seen in ages. I know Bond isn't a superhero but the movies were not ... doing anything interesting with the character. He wasn't changing, he wasn't learning, he wasn't a dynamic character anymore. He was a guy in a suit with a cool car, some toys, and he always got the chick. It wasn't interesting anymore.

Um, it's late and I'm rambling... Really what I want is a story and reason to relate to the characters. I want them to be more than a guy/girl in a suit with superpowers who never changes, never learns... It's just not interesting after a while.

-- Posted by: Mischa at May 19, 2007 5:02 AM

I can't believe I forgot Blue Beetle. BB is terrific. I also like Planetary Brigade and Hero Squared from Boom!

Ryan, you asked how can a comic exemplify strong women? I define a strong woman as one who actively takes part in creating or solving the problem, who makes her decisions, acts on them and accepts responsibility for them. One of the classic strong woman moments for me is when Power Girl takes down the villains with a stomp. It was in character, appropriate, and fun. Tommy Lindo is another strong woman character, as is Ma Hunkel, and Jaime's Mom in BB.

Like I mentioned earlier, I drop like a stone comics that annoy me or I don't like, so I can't comment on the current Supergirl (the art in the early issue turned me off so badly, I have no idea what the story was like.)

Truthfully, any passive superhero annoys me. (I finding myself ranting "you are a superhero, unless you are tied up stop panicing/angsting/whining and do SOMETHING) Hmmm, make that any passive/angsty protagonist, Frodo was extremely annoying to me.

-- Posted by: Cindy McShane at May 19, 2007 11:26 AM

Honestly, what I want in superhero comics is superhero comics like they are now, except without the bit that feels like being spit on. Are Wonder Woman's high heels really integral to the story telling? Do we really need panels constructed in such a way that no boob shot is ever obscured?

-- Posted by: Betty at May 19, 2007 12:46 PM

OK, so here’s what I see. There ARE comics that women like. Quite a few. They say they just want good stories with good characters and intriguing plots … and then they might add, I don’t want to see what they think are sexist portrayals of women. I’m guessing any comic company creator or publisher would have guessed that very thing. Further, we can see that there are comics that meet those criteria. Daredevil, Manhunter, Captain America, Runaways, Astro City, Ex Machina, and many others would all arguably fit the criteria that women say they want in comics. Soooooooo, why aren’t women buying them in bigger numbers? The some feminist comic fans say that there is a big female market out there that would give titles like this a big bump, practically double the buyers, so why isn’t that happening?

Some say it’s because these comics are hard to find. They’re only in specialty stores. But I don’t buy that. I mean, how are the new male readers finding these stores? They weren’t born in them. Aren’t female comic fans sharing their interest? Don’t male comic fan’s share their interest in comics with the women in their life. I don’t hide my comics from the women I see. One of the posters here said his wife ate up the Rucka and Jimenez Wonder Woman, so did she then go out and start buying comics? Did she share them with her friends? On one hand, we have women saying that there are enough female buyers of comics that comic companies should listen to them, but on the other hand we have female readers of comics saying that women can’t find out about good comics. Why can’t women find out about good comics in the same way that men do, from the comic readers they encounter in life?

Some say it’s because there are “sexist” comics out there that make women think comics are only for men. Really? Because there are magazines on virtually every magazine rack that are clearly intended only for men because they are entitled things like “Gentlemen’s Quarterly,” “Men’s Fitness,” and “Playboy,” but somehow women are perfectly capable of finding the magazines that are specifically for women or that have no gender preference. In toy stores, there are toys that clearly were created with boys in mind and yet girls don’t stop buying girls’ toys or gender neutral toys. There is gender specific music, adult literature, children’s lit, adolescent lit, candy, bedspreads, furniture, cartoons, sitcoms, dramas, dramedies, talk shows, reality competitions, etc. etc. and yet male and female consumers have been able to find stuff for them. In fact, even in the manga section of bookstores, there are trades for boys and trades for girl, and somehow both groups are able to find the comic books they want. Not only that, but in Japan were comics are bought more and by a more diverse group of people, more females buy comics, comics aren’t less gender specific, with less with sexy posing of women in the men’s comics, they are more gender specific and there are far, far more of those smutty poses. It is only in American, monthly comics that suddenly the presence of Lady Death and Fathom keeps women from reading Manhunter and Birds of Prey. Can that be possible? Is it really possible that Hustler and Maxim don’t stop women from reading Cosmo and Time, but somehow Turner Powergirl cover will stop them from reading NEXTWave and Shadow Pact. (Why the hell weren’t both those books HUGE hits!?!)

I don’t buy either of those reasons.

-- Posted by: Scott Anderson at May 19, 2007 3:24 PM

>>Ryan, you asked how can a comic exemplify strong women? I define a strong woman as one who actively takes part in creating or solving the problem, who makes her decisions, acts on them and accepts responsibility for them. One of the classic strong woman moments for me is when Power Girl takes down the villains with a stomp. It was in character, appropriate, and fun. Tommy Lindo is another strong woman character, as is Ma Hunkel, and Jaime's Mom in BB. <<

As much talk as there is about sexism in comics, who are the weak women? The submissive women? The passive women? The timid? The powerless? The stupid? The duplicitous?

They seem to be very, very, very much in the minority. As a rule, women are powerful, frequently leaders, competent, self-confident, loyal, and intelligent.

-- Posted by: Scott Anderson at May 19, 2007 3:31 PM

I want continuity porn, not actual porn.

-- Posted by: Ragnell at May 20, 2007 2:40 AM

I know using the word "porn" is intended to make some sort of loaded statement, but isn't it sort of one of those meaningless conversation enders, like "adolescent male power fantasy"?

-- Posted by: ryan at May 20, 2007 5:54 PM

A few of my favorite comics, from when I was reading more mainstream superheroes:
* Wonder Woman (George Perez's run)
* New Teen Titans (Wolfman & Perez)
* Hawk & Dove (by the Kesels)

I started putting brief writeups after each, but they started getting repetitive. Aside from WW, the superteams were 50/50 male/female, and all had large and diverse supporting casts. Stories were focused on the characters' lives beyond just superheroics, with majory subplots regarding the heroes everyday lives which might be considered soap-operaish.

-- Posted by: Lis Riba at May 20, 2007 6:56 PM

Oh, one more from that time period -- the Giffen/Dematties Justice League books (JLI/JLA/JLE) -- also gender-balanced casts with strong backgrounds, skewed more towards the comedic than melodramatic.

-- Posted by: Lis Riba at May 20, 2007 6:58 PM

A new week is coming, and I sort of assume that interest in this post is going to die off by Tuesday morning. I just want to extend my thanks to the folks who wrote in to the comments, linked back to the post and, in general, were willing to play ball.

I'll never say that superhero comics don't occasionally need a punch in the face, but sometimes it's good to hear a bit in the area of addition, rather than omission.

Best to all!

-- Posted by: ryan at May 21, 2007 1:48 AM

What I want in a superhero comic is pretty much what's there now, only without the stupid parts.

All superheroes wear silly costumes (those capes!); but do the women's costumes have to be impossibly uncomfortable and revealing?

Male superheroes are athletic and muscular; why aren't the women athletic as well? "Thin" is not the same as "athletic", even for women. Female athletes generally have so little body fat that their breasts become quite small.

Superheroes should stand firm and straight, ready to block the villain. Including female superheroes. I don't understand why female superheroes always stand leaning a little off balance, with one hip stuck out in an uncomfortable pose, toes pointed as if they're going to pirouette.

Finally, I want to see women who don't keep falling back on women's traditional weapon of last resort, sex. When a female superhero or villain seduces someone, it makes her look weak to me. If she were truly a strong character, she wouldn't need to resort to "feminine wiles" to defeat the bad guy or be a threat to the good guy. Why be sultry when you can be super?

-- Posted by: Beckyzoole at May 21, 2007 10:51 AM

Hey Ryan. Sorry it took me so long to get back to your question, too much work. It's really hard to describe what I mean by a strong character, because it can vary so much. Mostly though I wan't someone I can emulate, someone I can aspire to be. If I'm reading a superhero comic, I want a hero, not someone perfect, but someone heroic. Someone who believes in helping others and is willing to risk all to do it. As for Batgirl, well, "better" isn't really accurate. She went from being arguably the DC universe's greatest martial artist, to not being able to land a blow on anyone and being taken out with one punch by Nightwing. She's not evil anymore, but she's certainly not "better".

Re: Scott Anderson
Well, yes and no. We, as readers are promised smart, strong, independent, heroic characters, but what we get is Wondie crying in a park because everyone's being mean to her. What we get is Storm being told to be a good wife and let the men talk. What we get is Batgirl being treated as mentioned above. Even with secondary characters like Mary Jane, we're promised a smart, sassy woman who manages to bring home the bacon, emotionally support her superhero husband, and look sexy doing it. What we get is a degrading T&A statue. The characters are there, and we want to read them, but they're being torn down in front of us.

-- Posted by: Ciella at May 21, 2007 11:49 AM

Ryan -- I've got a link from an actual pornographer reacting to the Heroes for Hire #13 cover if you don't believe that the lines are blurring.

-- Posted by: Ragnell at May 22, 2007 3:30 PM

I think it would be beneficial to link over. However, please throw a MAJOR DISCLAIMER if there's anything offensive on the other side of the link.

But this is nothing new. One can go back to the pulps of the 30's to see bound women in various states of undress about to be assaulted by tentacle beasts, robots, etc... Beyond that, I'm not sure what was on the cover of "penny dreadfuls".

Is the "Heroes for Hire" cover ridiculous? You bet. Is it somehow something new that lines are blurring? The only difference here is the cup size of the women in peril.

I'm lazy, so I Image Googled "Pulp Art Women in peril", and voila...

Tentacle porn.

And, of course, there's the "Spicy" line of books:

Which, I think, may have been produced by National.

Superhero comics and pulp adventure have long teetered along this ledge, for good or ill. And an adult audience and dissolution of the CCA have absolutely changed the sort of content finding its way onto the page (and covers).

Unfortunately, when new books with characters with which I'm basically unfamiliar appear, such as the HfH cover, I have to assume the content of the book is going to be more of the same.

I'm not a fan of the term "porn" due to the loaded nature of the word when its been used by so many special interests when media hasn't met "community standards". It's an inflammatory comment and draws parallels between genres based loosely upon a few criteria rather than the actual content.

But I think you're discussing intent.

If the question is "the male gaze", then you're opening a fairly wide scope for your definition of porn to include the Venus de Milo and other works which may depict women in an erotic or lurid fashion. Were Degas' dancers all innocent? Should the work of Bosch be condemned for depiction of all sorts of interesting acts?

It's when we get folks like John Ashcroft covering up statues because the naughty bits make him nervous, and one must apply the morals police (now gladly serving in Iran) to tell them what is too erotic for decent human consumption that the line begins to blur. Obviously the definition of "what's porn" isn't a topic upon which everyone can agree.

While clearly nobody is suggesting a burka for Wonder Woman, I'd like to think the debate can continue without the erotic immediately being equated to the extremes of sexual exploitation that are associated with pornography, which is, in itself, a fairly complicated industry.

And, no... I do not know what to make of artists who trace pornography for their comics. Mostly I think it's kind of weird and lazy.

-- Posted by: ryan at May 22, 2007 5:06 PM

hey, Ciella. Thanks to you and others who came back to fill in a bit of detail.

I hadn't really read Batgirl prior to its cancellation. I also was only reading Nightwing and Robin very occasionally. But I did buy the trade of the first issues of Batgirl, so I know the basic idea behind the character.

I can completely understand wanting your favorite character back, and I don't think it's too late for DC to rehabilitate their treatment of the character. When I said "better", I meant "not chemically induced to be leader of The League of Assassins". Within the context of the DCU, that actually made some sense, but it wasn't a satisfying long term direction for the character. (I'm a dork, so if I had to pick one: Checkmate's youngest operative. Discuss amongst yourselves.)

Initially I actually found the Batgirl costume to be almost violently anti-woman. A clinging, bare-all suit with the mouth sewn shut and eyes obscured? It was a sort of S&M look I wasn't entirely sure should be applied to an adolescent character. Luckily, it seems the character outgrew the outfit.

-- Posted by: ryan at May 22, 2007 6:15 PM

(A bit late to the discussion, sorry!) Just wanted to add my 2 cents as a woman who has followed the superhero movie/cartoon franchises for 15+ years but never had any interest in the comics themselves until very recently. One thing I know has stopped me from getting into the books themselves is the perception that superhero stories are like the soaps my grandma watches - they've been going on for decades, involve huge casts of characters I don't know, and I don't have any idea where to even begin. It's been a lot easier to follow manga series which clearly start from scratch at volume 1 and don't expect me to know any history or backstories of the characters/franchises. This is why the movies work for me - they know that they have to appeal to the general audience as well as the hardcore fans, and they just feel a lot more accessible. Sure, every time a superhero story breaks apart or is reworked, it sort of starts from scratch, but for someone who isn't paying a lot of attention to things it's all a huge jumble of characters and timelines.

I am more of the "Smallville" school of fan (ignoring some of the horrific turns the show has taken), I want to know about the characters more than the battles to the death with supervillians, and above all I want to see how being a hero affects their day-to-day lives. This means relationship stuff (and NOT the girlfriend-of-the-week, make her crazy/kill her off variety), and being more down-to-earth about some things and more soap opera-y about others. I feel kinda gross when I see the comics with the girls in the ridiculous oversexed costumes and poses, and I would be ashamed of myself if I bought something with that on the cover. Cheesecake has its place, but feeling like I'm after cosplay porn doesn't make me want to hand over my cash.

Whoever mentioned the portability of the books is onto something as well - I love buying manga as they're the same size as mass market paperbacks and fit into my bag without getting crumpled, and the covers are usually publicly acceptable. The whole changing artists/writers all the time also confuses me - with manga, it's always the same people and general quality (not always great, mind, but pretty standard). I will start buying some comic books, but it feels like I have to research what I'm getting into, and making the extra effort isn't always appealing if the rewards aren't immediately tangible.

-- Posted by: Jenn at May 25, 2007 9:53 AM


I have to moderate the comments to some extent, so no worries about posting a bit after the initial flurry.

I can understand your point on the difficult entry into a comic that's ongoing and has been for decades. As well as the swapping around of writers every few issues. I've got complaints with the latter topic, myself.

In some ways, the two problems cancel each other out as writers focusing on only 6 issues at a time don't dwell on a soap-opera style approach to the characters in a series. But, especially in recent years, writers probably assume readers are far more familiar with the characters than they actually are. That kind of insularity isn't good for a series.

This may be sending you in to the lion's den, but I'd suggest posting to the comments section or a discussion board as per entry points for characters you are interested in. Depending on your location, asking at your local comic shop. There may not be a great entry point to some characters, but the good news is that the origin and/ or entry point to many characters will be collected in a paperback that you can put in your bag without worry of crumpling. My "Essential Spider-Man" and "Showcase Presents: Superman" books have gone on flights and to many places with me where I knew I'd be doing some reading.

-- Posted by: ryan at May 25, 2007 2:19 PM

So after reading a few comments, it seems like this is getting out of hand. it seems that most people posting are men and women aged 20 +, well i am woman at age 16. and heres what i see in the comic industry:
too much action, too much sexual references, too short of a story plot or none at all.
i must say im not your average teenage girl that likes hair, nails, and 400 dollar pants. i hate the new age comics, the only comics i read are old school ones. like the original x-men, spider-man, sandman, alpha flight, cloak and dagger...and much more.
all of those comics have so much science involved. i want more scientific stuff, like if its about mutation then i want the DNA mutation process being figured out while the world is coming to an end and everything will depend on a couple of people to do something amazing. i want old school story guidelines with a better perception of the world today. i want to feel like whatever is happening in the comic can happen in reality.
as for the image of women superheroes, well im not a fan of women with big breasts that can run for miles, and lift heavy things without braking their backs and being out of breath and complaining.
it doesn't seem real to me. they all seem manufactured and fake. it's wack.

i don't know anymore, maybe im just complaining, i probably didn't have a good argument, but hey i said what i wanted to say.

p.s. its not just women who "definitely don't have the monopoly on defining good writing." EVERYONE CAN. good writing is just an opinion. someone might think that the backyardigans is good writing, where as another person will think that crime and punishment is good writing.

-- Posted by: Brynna at August 14, 2007 12:29 AM

Hi Brynna.

Looks like you caught up a bit after the main event. I still moderate comments (for Spam purposes), so I saw you'd popped up.

I think you've got a pretty specific idea of what comics you like. I suggest checking out Uncanny X-Men from around issue 190 - 260 or so.

What I don't think you're going to find in superhero comics will ever be much in the way of a reflection of too much reality. There are comics out there, from the new Doktor Sleepless series to stuff a bit more mired in the day-to-day such as the work of Daniel Clowes and Harvey Pekar which might be something you can check out. Unfortunately, superhero often equates to nonsense science and fantasy.

Try new stuff. Read lots of sites like "Comics Worth Reading". Ask your shop owner what they like. Try it. If it stinks, move on. I'm glad to hear you're looking at back issues or reprints to get your fix if the comics you're finding on the stand today aren't working for you.

BTW, calling Sandman "old school" makes me feel really, really old. I was reading Sandman off the stands when I was in high school.

-- Posted by: ryan at August 14, 2007 1:28 AM

well i don't usually read comics, but i just ran into this comic from i think 1992-94 it is just pictures but it drew in my intrest about the charecter. The comic is called "Lady Death" :"the swim suit issue 1".
It does depict a sexy woman in string clad outfit but i have looked her up online and i have found that she is a powerful charecter and to me she depicts a strong feminity.

-- Posted by: amandia at September 11, 2007 9:40 PM

well i don't usually read comics, but i just ran into this comic from i think 1992-94 it is just pictures but it drew in my intrest about the charecter. The comic is called "Lady Death" :"the swim suit issue 1".
It does depict a sexy woman in string clad outfit but i have looked her up online and i have found that she is a powerful charecter and to me she depicts a strong feminity.

-- Posted by: amandia at September 11, 2007 9:40 PM

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