[Dunno why the comments weren’t working but they are now.]
Every time I think I want to just leave this be, I read Journalista and get fired up again. From telling us how we’re wasting out time to saying he agrees from me, from calling it all “eminently bloggable stupidity” one minute to linking to Cheryl Lynn and a particularly stupid image of Supergirl the next, he seems so completely set on having his controversy and making fun of it too that anyone who continues to take him seriously is just falling into his sandtrap.
Anyway, where was I. Oh yeah, talking about female action heroines. Despite the desperate pleas for a cease fire, the uproar over the Mary Jane statue really had nothing to do with the statue, per se, but rather is the end result of comics readers sense of unease over the mixed messages being sent by the comics industry, i.e. Marvel and DC over their continuing efforts to broaden their audience.
Now to be fair, both Marvel and DC have done a lot more than pay lip service to the idea of, at the very least, appealing to kid readers. DC has a long running line of kid comics based on whatever the WB happens to be showing on Saturday mornings, from JLU to Kyrpto. Likewise, Marvel has attempted to branch out with it’s own kid-themed line, although it changes names fairly often. As we’ve discussed before, neither of these lines is a creative priority at either company — which isn’t to say that they don’t care, just that they are perceived as an entry point, not as an end in themselves.
Mary Jane is one of the main characters in the most successful movie serial of all times. While I can’t see MJ being used as a role model for kids, there have been not even one, but SEVERAL attempts to market her as a YA character: The mini series SPIDER-MAN LOVES MARY JANE, as mentioned here being one:
Following up with our coverage of the new Marvel summer launches, THE PULSE found Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley and Series Editor MacKenzie Cadenhead for a few more details about Mary Jane. The House is hoping to attract not just the teen readers, but readers of all ages. Buckley cited two major reasons for MJ taking center stage now. “The first is the manga boom has proven that girls will read comics. Second the Spider-Man movies have also raised MJ’s ‘Q Rating.'”
There was also a series of YA novels starring Mary Jane by Judith O’Brien which, we were told at the time, sold surprisingly well.
Over at DC, the message is equally mixed. Wonder Woman is perhaps the most powerful female image in the entire comics world, but a look at the covers indicates the book is not being marketing with an eye to the women who made Xena and Buffy hits. As much as I love Gail Simone, the new Wonder Woman writer, and one of only a handful of women to write the character, she is no Laurell K. Hamilton, with a built in fan-base among genre-loving women. I’m not saying that that’s even the tack this book should take, but at least trying to build a female friendly world for one of their female-oriented books would seem like a reasonable goal for a company that is going “one year later.”
The really alarming thing is that sometimes you get the idea that DC actually thinks it IS doing this. Editor Eddie Berganza’s plea for women to give Supergirl a chance being the most notorious.
Sure, some of you may not be keen that we didn’t go straight into America’s Sweetheart mode with her, but, hey, we know that’s what she will eventually become. For us, it’s the hero’s journey that’s interesting. I compare this to what’s being done with Clark on SMALLVILLE. Already, we’ve seen Kara try to be normal, whether partying or in a disastrous attempt at a secret identity. She’s come up short at being a wicked bad vigilante hanging with the OUTSIDERS. Now, she has a new love interest in Power Boy, a “hero” that Ian designed, keeping in mind the great attributes that are usually associated with female characters…and the reason most women don’t like the super-hero genre. Like the chest window of his costume? His constant posing? Yes, he’s a mimbo, but he’ll be a lot worse to Kara when issue #15 hits. Then things heat up for the last daughter of Krypton with #16, when Joe is joined by new artist Ale Garza (as Ian will eventually be going on with Joe to one of my other books) and co-writer Mark Sable for a story arc that runs through issue #19, which will delve further into the fragments of Kara’s past and give us a new understanding of the character.
I like Eddie — he’s a good guy, and has at least one daughter himself. I ran into him at Toy Fair this winter and mentioned the controversy over the comments, and I got the impression that he was completely genuine in them. I didn’t know how to break the news to him. Maybe this is what passes for female-friendly in the DCU…but it’s probably by default. (Berganza has since moved on from editing duties on the character.)
With the eyes of the world turned to comics, media coverage at an all time high, and the very “novelty” value of comics for girls contributing to the high level of press (and favorable press) for the Minx line, you’d think DC or Marvel might really try something new, and create a girl hero that girls can actually relate to and wear on their pajamas without shame or innuendo. As pointed out in my own comments section, lesbian Batwoman was sort of presented as a new entry point for female characters in the DCU (although one can’t really imagine her being marketed to the YA crowd) however, she’s been put on the shelf for over a year.
You see that’s what really gets me about all of this. All artists have stories about commission sketches that were a little…off. Batgirl on all fours, the Scarlet Witch with a chain around her neck, Betty and Veronica having sex. There’s a booming business in such stuff for the artists who are willing to draw these and far, far worse things.
So what is really surprising (although maybe it shouldn’t be) is when the companies cash in on this lucrative fantasy market with their own products and pervert the equity of their own characters in the process.
Having worked at Disney for nearly a decade, I can assure you that there is a rich fantasy market for pictures of Disney characters doing very very naughty things. In fact, I used to get some of them in the mail. The Marvel statue of Mary Jane isn’t quite as bad as Disney suddenly leeching coin off this crowd by making statues of naked Pocahontas and Mulan getting it on, but it’s definitely playing to the same kind of mindset. I mean, yeah, Disney WOULD do such a thing to make money if they could get away with it, but their image and their branding is too strong to allow it.
Marvel and DC don’t have brands that strong. Batman and Spider-Man appeal to young boys but that doesn’t stop them from doing appalling things in various muti-verse or variant takes. Of course, older readers are thrilled by the occasional SPIDER-MAN REIGN and this success ensures that Spider-Man will continue to do unexpected things and make his comics a dodgy enterprise at best for parents. (Spidey licensed books have no such doubts and do very well by all accounts.)
I’m not saying that licensing concerns should trump artistic expression. Of course we are all free to be a grim and gritty as we want to be, and murder and rape whoever we want for those fantasy thrills.
But can’t we just have SOMETHING unsullied? Something for US? Can’t Stephanie Brown get that little plaque or whatever??? But no, there must be endless panderings to a single crowd, like the Ame-Comi line of statues (above). While some people make fun of the GirlWonder.org/Ragnell/Kalinara axis for sticking with a genre that so obviously doesn’t want any part of their money, its really about having a room of one’s own, as I keep telling you.
It’s NOT impossible. Back in the day, girls read X-men, and they have always read the X-men and various spin-offs. It’s this audience that has made the franchise one of the most successful ever in comics and movies.
Marvel and DC are pretty much tone deaf, for various reasons, to actually making a superheroine for the Buffy/X-men audience. Instead they send out the message, over and over again, that having big boobs is great. Far from this being over, this outcry is an itch that wants to be scratched and it won’t rest until it is.
OKAY out of time again…part iii to come! Some pictures to keep you busy until then.