Saturday, 19 April 2014

Understanding Your Isms: What Is Misogyny?


It's not often that I get to address the problem with women in comics these days, especially not twice in one week. But to quote one of my favourite writers, Marjorie Liu, 'the shit has hit the fan again' and more.

Earlier this week, I discussed DC Comics' continued reliance on the women in refrigerators trope to solicit and sell a story. This week it especially hit close to home when DC Comics released a teaser image of Thomas Wayne holding the seemingly dead body of his granddaughter, Helena Wayne (the Huntress). You may recall this is the same character who's already had the misfortune of being unceremoniously killed off in a previous reboot, and systematically erased by having her entire origin completely redone as Helena Bertinelli for two decades. The point being that Helena Wayne fans have waited for a very long time to get this character back. Now that we finally have, DC Comics has been incredibly wasteful of her character by limiting her story potential in the New 52. To top it off, her place on Earth-2 has been handed over to her grandfather, Thomas Wayne, a character who never had a bigger role on Earth-2 than being Bruce's dead father. It also now appears that Helena will be functioning as a prop that services Thomas' narrative in the new weekly series Earth-2: World's End. It's both incredibly offensive and very rage-inducing.

Even earlier this week, the comics community has demonstrated the kinds of fans DC Comics attracted over the last two decades when an industry professional (who happens to be a woman) criticised the cover of an upcoming new Teen Titans series. In her critique, Janelle Asselin discussed the importance of marketing for attracting new readers, and how making basic mistakes in marketing can put off potential customers from checking out a product they may otherwise enjoy. (Look no further than my discussion on the Earth-2: World's End teaser for an excellent case in point). She specifically addressed the role that covers and other marketing campaigns play in enticing readers to buy a book. This began her discussion of Rocafort's art and--particularly--the continued sexist portrayal of women (including underage ones) in this industry. For women who are active in comics fandom, Asselin's article yielded very predictable results. Yet, people were very surprised to learn that threats of rape and violence against women who speak up against the institutional misogyny that dictates our media is actually a problem. Surprised! Let me repeat that: SURPRISED!

The funny thing is women have been saying for YEARS that this kind of behaviour exists and poses a very real problem for women. Yet, the industry itself has remained unresponsive to that problem. Even industry professionals who are men and women have said for years that the industry needs to actively change to be more inclusive of a wider readership if comics as a medium is to survive for decades to come. The industry will not--in the longterm--benefit from pandering to a niche market comprised of misogynistic adult men who think they have no other outlet for their bigotry and masturbatory fantasies, and feel entitled to having their toxic attitudes and behaviours validated in all media, including comics.

If artist Brett Booth is to be taken at his word that DC Comics is 'keeping things close to the chest' and are now at a point where they have to control their own interviews for fear of backlash, this is not symptomatic of a business being run smoothly. If they are legitimately feeling cornered by fans in recent times, it says to me that they need to reevaluate their current business model and figure out what it is they're doing wrong that's causing such a strong reaction from fans--their customers. I can safely tell you that no one gets mad or complains for the sake of doing these things, not even people who complain about people complaining. People complain when something upsets them or when they feel harmed in any way. People also complain when they are tired of being sidelined by others in positions of power, and the cries only get louder the more they continue to be ignored. Complaints and bad business practise do not exist independently of each other, and often influence one another.

Taken as a whole, this massive train wreck opens the door to a larger discussion of a much wider issue. The one that no one--especially not the current DC leadership--wants acknowledge and discuss. The elephant in the room that seems to go unnoticed every single time it comes stomping through the corridors of patriarchal society and into the female space. The very same one that stands at the very root of every problem we have seen with the way women are consistently devalued as an entire group not just in the comics industry, but the world at large.

You may recall my earlier discussion on sexism as part of a larger conversation I'm still working on about all the different ways Helena Wayne has been systematically hurt by sexist business practise. With all that has happened this week (one of which affects Helena Wayne directly), we now get to open yet another discussion on sexism's uglier cousin: misogyny.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Women in Refrigerators: Helena Wayne Appears to be Next

This is seriously turning out to be a roller-coaster of a week and not in a good way. Earlier this week, an avalanche of vile misogyny came crashing down on comic book professional Janelle Asselin for criticising the comic book industry on their failure to market books to a wider audience. It is a legitimate criticism when you consider that the goal of comic book publishers--like any other business--is to make money. She was especially on spot with the role that covers (and even teaser images) play in marketing:
Covers are important, but their job is also very basic. A good comics cover alludes to the story within, yes, but most importantly, it draws readers in. In comics, covers have an especially important role in marketing, a role that hits three or four times. A cover is often the project's first impression, debuting online either in solicitations or other promotional campaigns.
I agree. And consistent with this discussion, my first impression of the teaser for Earth-2: World's End is anything but good, especially since the teaser features the image of a young woman who appears to be dead in the arms of her grandfather. The seemingly dead woman in the teaser is none other than Helena Wayne (the Huntress) in the arms of Thomas Wayne, the new Earth-2 Batman. You can already imagine where I'm going to go with this.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Huntress and Power Girl to Become 'Official' in 2015?

Someone at DC Comics has clearly been reading this blog lately, or at least they read my Happy Never After post where I talked about DC's relationship-phobia in the New 52, specifically their unwillingness to allow their characters to marry or have otherwise healthy relationships.

It turns out that will soon change because starting in 2015, Earth-2's Helena Wayne and Kara Zor-L will be doing a whole lot more than just returning home and reuniting with their respective families (what's left of them anyway). They may also become 'something more' according to Earth-2 writer Tom Taylor and Worlds' Finest writer Paul Levitz.

Exactly what that means, they won't say. But they do hint that it could be 'something a little more than just friendship,' and it could turn out to be 'what fans have long been suspecting.'

Sunday, 30 March 2014

30 March 1939: 75 Years of Batman Mythos and Awesome Ladies

Before we begin our discussion on what the Dark Knight has meant to me throughout my lifetime and why he has endured as a pop culture icon, it is important that we first meet the man behind the Bat, Bruce Wayne.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Worlds' Finest #21 Update

This is definitely Part 4 of the crossover, aka the conclusion.

I’ll talk about that happens in this issue in three weeks when we get Part 3.

Still baffled DC released these two issues out of order, but what can you do? At least when Marvel released Hawkeye issues #15 and #16 out of order there were two separate story arcs going on within their pages it didn’t really matter which order you read them in? :/

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Holy Continuity Clusterfuck Batman! We're Getting the Conclusion to First Contact Crossover Before Part 3!

Lately DC Comics has been silently delaying the releases of a few titles from Forever Evil #7 to Justice League 30, and now recently Nightwing #30 and Batman/Superman #9.

I'll be honest and say I've been a little out of the loop with DC Comics news these days, but I do think it's a bit problematic for them to delay the conclusion of one of their major events after it's already been announced months ago that all DC titles would be caught up to this event by April.

More interesting yet, it was learnt yesterday that Part 3 of the First Contact crossover event between Batman/Superman and Worlds' Finest has been delayed to 16 April, meanwhile we're still getting the conclusion (Part 4) next week.

If you 're scratching your heads yet, you're not alone because this makes no bloody sense. It's certainly not the first time DC has delayed the release of this event for unexplained reasons (it was assumed last time that Jae Lee needed more time to finish drawing his part of the crossover), but at least the first time it got delayed, both books were released on the same day. This time, however, it appears as though DC is proceeding to release the conclusion of the crossover next week as scheduled, but is delaying the part that comes before that for next month. Even Greg Pak confirmed on his blog that this is the case.

I'll be honest and say, I really don't know what to make of this other than I don't really see this ending well. If something came up with Batman/Superman #9 that needed fixing, it would have made sense to delay the release of Part 4 as well so that the crossover doesn't get read out of order. But who knows what goes on behind the scenes at DC Comics these days. With the Batman/Superman book in particular, I've been noticing a pattern of DC consistently delaying the release dates of upcoming issues, and apparently even shuffling the order in which its future issues will be released.

As of right now, even I don't know what story to expect starting May. According to Rich Johnston over at BleedingCool, Jeff Lemire will be writing a fill-in issue for issue #10, and the solicited story for the month of May (the last days of the Earth-2 Batman and Superman from a different point of view) will be pushed to issue #11. But, then a quick look at the DC Comics website doesn't seem to accurately reflect the change. Basically the covers don't even match their updated solicitations.

So yeah...I don't know. I've been liking the Batman/Superman book largely for its Earth-2 story arcs and Jae Lee's art, but I'm not sure I'm going to keep following this book once the First Contact crossover concludes. The constant rescheduling and reshuffling of issues for this series is starting to get too convoluted for my liking, especially since I don't like unnecessary disruptions to a story for reasons that never get explained.

Badass Comic Woman of the Week: 22 March 2014

The month of March continues to kick arse as comic book women continue getting more attention from the press and their books continue to climb the charts in sales. This week we have:

Kamala Khan in Ms. Marvel #2 

Since issue #1 last month, I've been genuinely enjoying this book. From the talents of renowned writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona, we get a down-to-Earth teenage girl who wants nothing more than to feel like her existence is validated and that she has a place in the world. She is well aware of the fact that she is a part of a different culture that isn't part of the American mainstream, and she is reminded of that from her everyday interactions with her more privileged classmates.

Despite all of the different ways she gets marginalised in her daily life, Kamala also makes it clear that she is very much an American girl with a lot of the same desires, ideas, interests, values, and behaviours as her more privileged peers. She wants to participate in a lot of the same activities as her peers but also doesn't want to disrespect her family, so she has to find ways around both. Like all other teenagers, Kamala is in a place in her life where she is still exploring her identity as an individual, even as she takes on the former superhero identity of Carol Danvers, Ms. Marvel, who is also her role model.

What makes Kamala such a great character to read about is that her life's story is everyone's life story in some form or another. While some of her life experiences are in fact unique to Islamic children growing up in the US (who are largely invisible in American media), she also shares a lot of the same experiences as other teenagers around the world, such as figuring who she is as a person and where she fits in the world. I very much look forward to reading Kamala's journey every month, and I can't wait to see the person she eventually grows up to become.

Suzie Dickson in Sex Criminals #5

It's not everyday I get to read a comic about female protagonist who's sex life is central to the plot and isn't actually presented in the male gaze. Even rarer yet is getting a comic where male nudity is just as (if not more) prominent than female nudity. From the talents of Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, I openly admit Sex Criminals has been a guilty pleasure for me. (No pun intended). One of the things I've enjoyed about this book is its female protagonist, Suzie Dickson. Since issue #1 of the series, Suzie has been written as a woman who enjoys sex and sleeps with anyone she finds attractive. The thing I find most appealing about this development is the fact that Suzie is presented as a woman who owns her sexuality. That is to say her sex life is entirely her own and doesn't exist to further the narrative of the book's male protagonist, who in this case, is treated as her equal.

Aside from Suzie's identity as a sexual person, Suzie is also presented as a librarian with a strong passion for books---a passion she developed early on in her life when she tried to educate herself on sex. Furthermore, I love how Suzie is characterised. As the book's main narrator, Suzie often demonstrates that she is funny, optimistic, feels good about herself, and is very open to trying different things provided they won't actually get her into trouble. She is also written as intelligent and cunning as seen in this week's issue where she demonstrates knowing how to get out of 'sex handcuffs,' and even rescues herself and her boyfriend, Jon, from the self-proclaimed 'sex police.' On the flip-side, however, Suzie also demonstrates a hesitation to break the law and emphasises careful strategy if they are going to proceed with doing so. She also gets annoyed with Jon when he either does something stupid or things don't go according to plan. When they are on good terms, Suzie is also affectionate and isn't afraid to show that she enjoys his company and worries when he doesn't call.

All in all, Sex Criminals is a fun book about two people who love to shag, but it is also refreshing to see a female protagonist who is written like a sexual human being, but is other things as well.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Badass Comic Woman of the Week: 15 March 2014

I haven't done one of these posts in a while largely because there haven't been too many crowning moments of awesome from DC's ladies as of late (except for Lois Lane last month, which I already reviewed), but I have to say Marvel is kicking arse with their ladies this year. Enough to say I started off the year subscribing to more of their female-fronted books, beginning with the new Black Widow series by Nathan Edmonson and Phil Noto, Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona, and Captain Marvel by Kelly Sue DeConnick and David Lopez.

This week, we begin discussion on two that are on this list, both of which were released this past Wednesday:

Natasha Romanova in Black Widow #4

This book has been a goldmine, not just for Black Widow fans, but for fans of female superheroes in general. From Nathan Edmonson and Phil Noto, this creative team delivers us a Natasha Romanova who is morally ambiguous, crafty, strategic, but also well-intentioned, fun, and witty. It is an action-packed series that features everything I like in a narrative: intelligently written characters, witty dialogue, an engaging plot, and very recently, a compelling villain! Natasha even has a neighbouring black cat that loves to hang around her flat and sort of 'adopted' the very reluctant Natasha as its new owner. The art in this book is equally beautiful and pleasing to look at and is not exploitive of Natasha.

All in all, this book has everything I wish all female-fronted books (especially from DC) had. Every time I flip through this book, I find myself asking 'why isn't Helena Wayne--who has roughly the same skills as Natasha--being written this intelligently in her own book?'

Carol Danvers in Captain Marvel #1

Carol Danvers is essentially the Hal Jordon of the Marvel universe, only far cooler since a lot of what motivated her into becoming a pilot for the US military (and subsequently the person she is as an adult) is rooted in her desire to be seen and treated as equal to men. Ms. Danvers even functioned as an inspiration for the young Kamala Khan, an islamic teenage girl who is next in line to become the new Ms. Marvel!

Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick returns to the character in this revival series and really shines in the way that she brings Carol to life. Carol is charming with a witty sense of humour (as evidenced by her opening scene in this issue alone), and she's also a very straight-to-the-point kind of woman, which I really like. She reminds me a lot of DC's Power Girl on that front (especially since she too keeps an orange cat in her New York flat). Furthermore, she demonstrates her skills as a pilot in this first issue and is even seen looking after a little girl named Kit who heavily idolises Carol. (I see she's quite the role model for young girls on Earth-616). ;)

This book along with this week's Black Widow is a must for fans of comic book women. Like Natasha, Carol is presented as a nuanced character with many layers to her personality and the way that she functions in various roles. She's written in a way that celebrates femininity without resorting to stereotypes, and embodies many of the positive qualities that make her a great superhero, not just to the reader's eyes, but even the eyes of other young girls from Marvel's universe who aspire to be something great as well! :)

Saturday, 8 March 2014

International Women's Day Special Review: Lois Lane #1

Title: Superman: Lois Lane #1
Story: Nostalgia
Characters: Lois Lane, Lucy Lane
Creators: Marguerite Bennett (writer), Emanuela Lupacchino (artist), Meghan Hetrick (artist), Diogenes Neves (artist),  Ig Guara (artist)
Publication Date: February 2014

Summary: The issue opens up with a flashback of a young Lois and Lucy Lane playing together on a tyre swing near a playground. Lucy climbs the tyre swing and counts on Lois to catch her even though Lois reiterates that she's never caught her. The flashback ends with (what appears to be) a military vehicle blowing up.

In the present, an adult Lois wakes up and reflects on her inability to sleep following a coma (when did this happen?) and how her memories and dreams often intersect with one another. An hour earlier, Lois' sister Lucy and her flatmate were asleep on their couch when some men break into their flat with guns in hand. They capture Lucy's flatmate but Lucy manages to escape and runs to Lois' flat on the other side of town. Lucy manages to break her way in, which wakes up Lois who suspects a burglar. Lois goes to confront her 'burglar' with a baseball bat and discovers her sister in the kitchen looking pretty beaten. She asks Lucy what happened, and Lucy tells her she 'fell.'

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Worlds' Finest #20 Summary

Title: Worlds' Finest #20
Story: First Contact, Part 2
Characters: Huntress (Helena Wayne), Batman, Power Girl, Superman, Kaizen Gamorra
Creators: Paul Levitz (writer), RB Silva (artist)
Publication Date: February 2014

Special Note: As I touched upon in my review for Batman/Superman #8, there have been many flaws throughout Paul Levitz' run of World's Finest that resulted in a lack of build-up for this story. Many of those flaws have already been discussed in past reviews, including the one I did for Batman/Superman #8. As such, I don't see the point of addressing those same problems again for this issue.

While the first half of issue #20 is admittedly better than what we've seen of Levitz' past work on this book, many of those same aforementioned flaws remain present here. As such, there are major inconsistencies in characterisation between Pak and Levitz, and there are even forced, last-minute developments that are literally as old as a month ago. The only improvement Levitz made here was better execution of plot.

Lastly, the MAJOR plot point that ruined this issue for me was the complete mischaracterisation of Power Girl in the second half of the story, which was so ungodly out-of-character for her, it ultimately factored into my decision not give a full review for this issue. Even the way her part played out didn't feel like a natural course of action given the build-up that led to her spoilery scene, which made it feel contrived in a rather irritating way. Even with the current characterisation of Power Girl in the New 52, it still didn't make sense. You will see what I mean when you get to that part of the summary.

Without further ado, this summary is for everyone who is currently reading Batman/Superman and doesn't want to drop the book because it's tied to another book they're not currently reading. I still recommend buying the book since Pak's issue is still solid with great character moments and excellent artwork from Jae Lee.

Spoilers ahead obviously, so don't click on this yet if you intend to read the Worlds' Finest instalment of this crossover.