I feel pretty

Benes' Dinah

Editor’s note: This post uses many illustrative images. In most cases, a larger version is linked to the thumbnailed image.
FrancineOne of my favorite comic books to reread is Strangers in Paradise, which was not the comic book that got me into superhero comics, nor the comic book that got me into comics in general. Every time I reread it, it makes me — as a representative of the average American female’s body type — feel beautiful.
HungryThe reason for this, as best I can tell, is that Terry Moore, the artist, loves the way women look. One of the major characters is drawn and described constantly as both beautiful and overweight; a minor subplot focuses on a string bikini she once wore and pictures of her in it while she was the same rounded person she is in the rest of the story. He draws women affected by gravity, in all sorts of outfits and lack thereof, and manages to keep even the mostly naked scenes from feeling gratuitous.
Not only do the women have normal proportions, but they take up emotional space on the page. They are never there simply to be curvy background noise. When they are sexy, they know it; when they are posing, they know it, and they have feelings about it that show on their faces and in their postures.
Maguire’s Powergirl 2Moore’s realistic-proportioned women are not the only ones who succeed for me, however; far be it from me to suggest that all superheroes should be replaced by realism. The quintessentially unrealistic Power Girl as drawn by Kevin Maguire also has many of the same qualities. In the JLA Confidential arc ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League,’ she shares page space with the non-super Sue Dibny, and both are characters with whom I can identify.
Maguire’s PowergirlThe major draw of Maguire’s Power Girl is her ability to have facial expressions that express subtle humor. Her chest is an exclamation point — he does not minimize it, nor its amusement and titillation potential — but he makes it clear that behind and above her monumental bosom, there is a person who exists for more reasons than to have her breasts observed. Some of this is due to the text he is given to work with, but more comes from his evident study of expressions.
Maguire and Moore’s work is relatively realistic, as comics penciling goes, but realism per se is not required to have women who look like women. Darwyn Cooke’s Wonder Woman and Catwoman are heavily stylized, with thick lines, hourglass figures, and a more cartoon feel to the art in general. This does not keep them from being expressive and emotionally present because Cooke gives their faces something to do other than be beautiful. They are idealized women — Wonder Woman in a stocky, Rosie the Riveter way that harkens back to her original designs, Catwoman in a forties pinup manner — but they are women who must carry part of the plot by emoting, feeling, and reacting to the things around them.
Scott’s Batgirl and SpoilerScott’s BatgirlEven more stylized than Cooke’s art in some respects is Damion Scott’s, one of the major artists for the now canceled Batgirl title and penciler for the arc in which Stephanie Brown is Robin. His work is highly kinetic and he is unafraid to play with perspective and proportion when drawing men or women to attain his visual goals. When he drew Batgirl, he was working with a character whose main method of communication and understanding the world depended on movement, and whose costume covered her entire face. This gave him the chance to use his action drawing skills to their fullest in order to show the reader what his protagonist thought and felt. A setting that might have hampered an artist who relied on expressions was one in which he excelled.
When discussions of cheesecake art in women-centered storytelling come up, Ed Benes, previous artist on Birds of Prey and Supergirl, is often mentioned. This is due to his frequent use of frames that exclude women’s faces while focusing on their hips, buttocks, or breasts, which are constantly idealized. However, there are many instances in which he does draw faces, and when he does, the women become functional characters instead of ornaments to the page. They think, they feel, and they respond substantively to what happens around them. Their faces — and, particularly in Benes’ case, the faces of the men around them — are significantly prettier than the average, just as their bodies are idealized, but they are clearly individuals, not wallpaper.
Benes’ Dinah
In a medium where the visuals are inseparable from the storytelling, the use of expression and posture to tell a story is invaluable. The creators I have mentioned are notable for their ability to use the medium well with the tools they have developed, whether or not they consistently use that ability. Artists who portray female characters as dolls and do not learn to portray them with a sense of depth are far too common, and, unfortunately, they often receive kudos for their empty drawings. It is a shame that so many have discarded the chance to tell full stories about both men and women, and we as fans should celebrate the creators who care enough to do things properly. Perhaps then we can convince people with creative control over the properties we so enjoy to hire those who can use the full spectrum of emotion more often.

Interview: DevilDoll

Before DevilDoll gained internet-notoriety by posting a sarcastic link to Sideshow’s Mary Jane Comiquette, I knew her as someone who regularly posted quirky, often comic related links to things I hadn’t seen. When I judged enough time had gone by that she’d recovered from the experience, I asked her for an interview about it, which she granted, and then took on a demanding volunteer position and broke her ankle. (I swear, the Hulk joke was timely when we started.) Now, finally, she is able to give her interview, and here it is!
Girl-Wonder.org: What’s your history with comics?
‘I was a pre-school fangirl! Complete with a pillow case tied around my neck as a cape, and death-defying leaps off the porch in pursuit of bad guys (which usually just resulted in crushing my mother’s flowers).
‘I read comics as wee child, both new ones I purchased with my practically non-existent allowance, and the ones I inherited from my father. (And boy, do I ever regret taking my crayons to those Silver Age books. I guess it was important to me at the time that all the women have dark hair like I did, and I was a little too young to fully appreciate the prospect of retiring early on the proceeds from my comic collection.) I was also a huge fan of any and all comic-related television shows such as Batman, The Incredible Hulk, and Wonder Woman. I had superhero-themed Halloween costumes, birthday cakes, the works.
‘Then I became a teenager, discovered punk rock and hair dye, and focused much of my attention elsewhere for several years. I came back to comics briefly in the early 90s (I still have the hologram covers to show for it), then drifted away again until about seven years ago, and have been a steady reader ever since.
‘I’ve attended a few cons, but I generally find them too expensive and too crowded. I work part time at my local comic shop, which usually fills any need I might have to be in the same room with other people who read comics.’
Girl-Wonder.org: Prior to thong-a-palooza, how would you describe your interaction with comics-fandom?
‘I would characterize myself as more an observer than a participant, because I tend to be out of step with fandom both in taste (I would not walk across hot coals to read Grant Morrison’s grocery list) and timing (my big Batverse phase pre-dated the DCU fandom explosion on LiveJournal, so when I wanted to talk about that stuff, no one else cared, and then by the time they did, I’d moved on). And because I tend to get behind in my reading, I don’t participate in discussion as much as I once did. Reading a book two weeks after it comes out is practically an eternity in Internet time.
‘I used to regularly post reviews of the books as I read them, but after a while you couldn’t swing a temporarily dead superhero without hitting a blog full of reviews, and it became a wall of white noise. I do still discuss comics, post news and pictures, and pimp things I like, but my days of steady reviewing are over.
Girl-Wonder.org: What was your view of comics-fandom as a gendered space?
‘When I first started poking around on the Internet for other comic book fans, the pattern I immediately noticed was that men outnumbered women on the discussion boards, while the opposite was true in fan fiction-focused spaces. It took me a bit to come around to the idea of reading fan fiction, so I initially floundered about on the message boards, not making much of a connection to anyone, feeling put off by the spelling-impaired hostility that passed for conversation.
‘Then I stumbled across a fan fiction archive that had a message board, and lo and behold, it was full of women talking about comics. The topics ranged from the serious and thought-provoking to the completely shallow, and we certainly did our share of complaining about the books (what fan doesn’t?), but we did it without insulting each other at every turn. That was the first place I interacted regularly with other comic book fans, and had fun doing it.
‘Not long after that, I opened an account at LiveJournal, which was intended to be more of an online diary than anything else. As luck would have it, shortly thereafter a sea change resulted in a large fannish migration to LJ, and it’s been my base of operations ever since. I like it there. It tends to be a female-friendly, civilized place; we certainly argue, and we disagree all the time, but we don’t threaten to, you know, rape each other over a difference of opinion.’
Girl-Wonder.org: Has [your view of fandom as a gendered space] changed? If so, how?
‘The biggest change, and the one having the most noticeable impact, is the explosion of women blogging about comics, and doing it from a feminist point of view. This has led, predictably, to an increase in the backlash associated with that kind of commentary. […] I think Lester Q. Fanboy was okay with us playing in his sandbox, and even critiquing comics, until we began critiquing them in relation to ourselves. Saying you think a story line sucked might spark a debate, but saying a story line treated a certain group badly causes a whole different kind of uproar.
‘Has there been progress in bringing those issues to light, and in getting them addressed? Absolutely, on both creator and fan level. But for every person who has had their mind opened, and realized that just because something has always been a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the best way, there’s another person digging in their heels and refusing to be enlightened.
‘Because of this polarization, because of the rising level of resentment, I think some forums are even less welcoming to women now than they previously were.
‘On the plus side, we don’t need those forums. The number of fannish spaces welcoming or catering specifically to women is increasing every day. And the dialog is there. People are bringing attention to feminist issues, and the Powers That Be notice. They might dismiss it publicly, but they notice, and in some cases are forced to acknowledge it. (I mean, really. The fact that Joe Quesada had to make a statement to the press about the Mary Jane statue because of something I said in my blog? That will never stop being funny.)’
Girl-Wonder.org: Tell me about any positive experiences you’ve had with men involved with comics.
‘One thing I find really interesting is how many great guy friends I made as a result of the MJ kerfuffle. I’m sure those lovely trolls who spent days sliming around in my journal during that time would like to think I made an enemy out of every comic fan with a Y chromosome, but that’s just not true. I actually have way more men on my LiveJournal friends list now than I did before.
‘And I like it. I like seeing what interests them and what makes them angry, and I like having proof, right there on my screen, that fanboys and fangirls can get along.
‘And of course I have to mention Craig, who co-owns the shop I work at (Neptune Comics plug plug). Not only is he a really nice guy who runs a really great shop, he gave me a job. :)’
Girl-Wonder.org: Do you remember your first reaction to the image of the Mary Jane Comiquette released by Sideshow?
‘I think it was a combination of ‘Ugh!’ and ‘Is this seriously official merchandise?’ I couldn’t believe it was real, because it was so over the top. The pose, the thong, the laundry. It looked to me like the sort of thing you see on a custom figures forum, something some dude made for his own personal enjoyment (the kind of personal enjoyment you don’t want to know or think about). The fact that it was a licensed product–unbelievable.’
Girl-Wonder.org: What kind of reaction were you expecting when you posted about it on your blog?
‘That some people on my friends list would comment, we’d talk about how incredibly over-the-top it was, and life would go on. I didn’t think it would be any different from any other post I’ve made.’
Girl-Wonder.org: Your post seemed to get linked all over the place. What was your impression of the people who linked to it?
‘In the beginning, it was mainly women who were as put off by the statue as I was. As word spread, and the gender divide widened, the one thing everyone had in common was that they felt very strongly about it, but the longer it went on, the fewer people seemed to actually understand what was going on. I saw a lot of ‘This bitch wants to ban sexy statues!’ and the like. Yes, that was exactly what I was saying. Except where I wasn’t saying that at all.
‘So, a lot of hysteria, a lot of really repugnant commentary. But also a lot of indignation from both men and women who were able to spot a nasty gender stereotype when they saw it. Strong reactions, either way.’
Girl-Wonder.org: What kind of audiences did it find?
‘That was probably the most surprising thing–the level of interest from people who normally don’t give a passing thought to comic books. It was immediately evident that it had struck a chord with women outside comics fandom, because the comments and the linking were coming from all over LiveJournal. It then made a similar jump outside LJ, where it went from a comic website topic to being featured on feminist blogs, and then to MSNBC, Fox News, and EW.com.
‘Some people scoffed at the attention it got, calling it a slow news day thing (and I don’t discount that completely), but I think the defenders of the statue really, truly don’t understand what something like the Mary Jane comiquette looks like to a person who isn’t in comics fandom. Comic fans are so used to seeing things like it (and worse), that they’ve lost the ability to see it from an outsider’s perspective. And that’s part of the reason why it got so much attention–for someone who has never heard of Lady Death, and thinks manga is a fruit, that statue was a shock.’
Girl-Wonder.org: Talk about the response your post got. (Any hilarious trolls you want to share?)
‘Well, the charming fellow who suggested some nice anal rape would straighten me out was one to remember.
‘While the threats and the insults were by no means pleasant, I couldn’t have asked for the trolls to prove my point any more thoroughly than they did. ‘Degrading and sexist images are not harmful! They don’t have any affect on society as a whole! And to prove it, I will make degrading and sexist statements about you! Wherever could I have learned that’s acceptable behavior?’
‘I mean, ya gotta admire the level of cluelessness being displayed there. It’s something you probably have to work on full-time in order to keep it so perfectly honed and impenetrable to logic.
‘Toward the end, people began sort of boggling in general at just how nastily I was being treated and just how long the whole thing was going on, and I did get a nice wave of ‘hang in there!’ comments, which countered the trolls quite nicely. The support that came pouring out was phenomenal. I’m far from a Pollyanna about fandom, and I think sometimes we treat each other horribly, but when the chips are down, man, you can count on the fans.’
Girl-Wonder.org: How long did it take before people stopped popping up to comment?
‘About two and a half months.’
Girl-Wonder.org: Has the reaction to your MJ post affected what and how you post on the internet?
‘Not really. Previous to this I had a very low-drama internet personality (no, really, I swear! That’s why it’s so funny that I still get singled out as an example of strident feminist harpies who bitch about everything!), so there was really no profile to lower or anything of that sort.’
Girl-Wonder.org: Has it affected your view of fandom?
‘It’s reinforced my belief that a fuss needs to be made. The images we see and the things we read do make a difference, and they definitely influence how we see the world around us, and the way we treat the people we share it with. I don’t think anyone can look at the things that were said to me in that post and deny that.
‘Am I trying to suck the fun out of everything? No. But I personally have a hard time taking enjoyment from something that I know offends or demeans a specific group of people. I don’t think the status of something as entertainment gives it a pass on offensiveness.
‘The majority of our entertainment is geared toward the white, heterosexual male gaze. It’s so pervasive, and has been like this for so long, that most of us don’t even realize it. I didn’t realize it for years, and I can completely understand why someone wouldn’t notice the bias–it’s what we’re taught to like and identify with from the time we’re young children. I don’t blame someone for not realizing it, if it’s never been pointed out to them.
‘But once someone points it out, well, that’s your cue to pick up the ball and run with it. Take an honest look, ask yourself some hard questions, consider what it might feel like to be on the other side.
‘I’ve been in that position, too, and still find myself there. Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I’m exempt from perpetuating sexism, and I can be just as thick-headed about spotting racism and homophobia as the next straight, white person. So don’t think I don’t know how it feels to have to accept an ugly truth about something you enjoy–I have to deal with it, too. It’s hard, and it sucks, and it means you have to face unpleasant things about yourself and about the things you like, and I absolutely respect anyone who has done it, because I know how difficult it is.
‘I don’t always agree with accusations of sexism or racism or any other ism, but I always do consider them, and if I disagree, I take an extra second to think about why I’m reacting the way I am, and ask myself some questions.
‘1) Am I just being cranky because someone criticized something I like?
‘2) Do I feel like I’m being called a sexist/racist/homophobe because I like something that has sexist/racist/homophobic overtones?
‘If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then I know I’ve got my head up my ass and I need to remove it.
‘And sometimes… well, sometimes I know the complaints are valid, and I have to suck it up and deal with the reality of that.
‘Here’s what I know: liking things that other people find offensive doesn’t automatically make you a bad person. Threatening to rape or kill someone just because they don’t like those same things? Makes you a very bad person.
‘Being active in comics fandom on the Internet is sort of like a form of role play, where you get to choose your own level of lameness. Some people are incredibly lame, some people are barely lame at all. Aspire to be less lame, is what I’m saying. It’s totally doable, and we all have things we could work on in that respect.’
Girl-Wonder.org: If you could shoot one Marvel character into space, who would it be?
‘Sabretooth. Yes, I know he’s currently in that spoilery state where Jeph Loeb put him, but we don’t really believe that’s permanent, do we? I’d love for it to last forever, though, because every time he shows up, there’s a woman in peril. (Usually a woman connected to Wolverine, and even writers I like to think are above that kind of thing fall into that trap. I’m looking at you, Greg Rucka.)
‘X-Men #28 hits the trifecta in that respect. Sabretooth attacks Jubilee in a dream sequence, overpowers Pyslocke, and is shown threatening Jean Grey on the cover. Jean eventually owns his ass at the end of the book, but the sheer number of pages devoted to portraying Sabes as a particularly potent source of fear and physical violence for the X-women is pretty telling.
X-men 28 Jean X-men 28 Jubilee X-men 28 Psylocke
‘Feminist concerns aside, the Sabretooth-as-threat-to-all-women plot was already over-used years ago, and no matter what they do to him, writers keep bringing him back to do it again. Obviously, the only way to stop it is to shoot him into space. Though that didn’t work so well with the Hulk…’
Girl-Wonder.org: Your dream comic: Who draws it? Who writes it? What’s the solicit?
‘The Adventures of Mary Marvel, written and drawn by Jeff Smith.
‘’If you thought the Monster Society of Evil was bad, that’s nothing compared to grade-school teachers and know-it-all brothers! Mary Marvel lets the bad guys have it, shows her brother Billy just how tough girls can be, and somehow gets her homework done, too, in this new, ongoing monthly book that picks up where the Monster Society of Evil series left off.’

X-men 28 Psylocke

How not to write a hero

I’m not sure how long this is going to be, so I’m going to make it easy for those of y’all reading and tell you my point right up front. Ready? Here it goes:
Heroes shouldn’t be built on fear, or on all the niggling insecurities that can make us poor, workaday humans sometimes behave like pricks to our fellow humans. Heroes, one hopes, are made of the best parts of ourselves, our higher urges, our dreams, and that which is left once we strip away all of the things which make us too afraid to step in when injustice occurs.
Can we agree with that? Can you roll with me for a little while?
I hope so, because this is where I’m going to lose a whole bunch of you:
Frank Miller doesn’t write about heroes. Frank Miller kind of misses the point entirely.
You’re protesting already, I know. I can hear you heading to your bookshelves and longboxes, and you’ve got a bone to pick with me. Luckily, none of you can get into my apartment, so I’m just going to keep talking.

There’s something which always gets to me when I see someone talking about all the good Miller has done for the comics industry, about how much his vision has helped shape the world of comics and how grateful we should all be that he ever deigned to turn that unique vision of his toward superheroes: It doesn’t work.
It doesn’t, for lack of a better term, fit.
Now, I think we can all agree that Bruce Wayne has just a few issues. Part of the charm, the mystique of Batman is that he’s not like the other kids. His parents die, and, instead of seeking therapy for his rage and pain, he dresses up like a giant Bat and heads out to fight crime, so that no one else will ever have to feel the way he does each and every day.
However, I’d like to point out that there are two parts there. Not one. He isn’t just out there to fight crime, he’s out there to expiate his suffering by protecting other people from it. For all that he’s made himself out to be as terrifying as he possibly can, Bruce recognizes that that’s only part of the job.
I could say something about this being where Robin comes in, and I could point to various works by people ranging from Darwyn Cooke to Alan Grant to Chuck Dixon while I’m doing it, but this is only tangentially my point.
My point is that, when you start out with fear and the propagation of fear, the best you can say is that you’re only approaching part of the problem.
Let’s drift astray for a moment. After all, Miller had his influences, too, and if John D. MacDonald wasn’t one of them, I’d be a little shocked. What you need to know is that MacDonald wrote a lot of books known for their rollicking action and gritty — that is to say, possessing of grit — protagonists and excitingly sleazy locales.
Perhaps his most famous protagonist was one Travis McGee, the sort of man who never started a fight, but by damn he would finish it. He didn’t go looking for trouble, but it always seemed to find him. Often, a beautiful woman was wrapped up in that trouble, and if one thing were to lead to another, well, that was how the world worked.
And if that beautiful woman got herself raped and/or murdered during the course of that trouble, well, that was how the world worked, too. The important thing is that McGee cleaned up that mess, and went back to his solitary existence while he waited for the world to turn a certain way again.
Of course, Batman doesn’t wait for trouble to find him –
Er, except for how that’s the way DKR kicks off. And Carrie was much younger than the women in — er. We can certainly all agree that rape and murder was only threatened!
Now, see, I rather liked DKR the first couple of times I read it. There are quite a lot of things I find interesting and even enjoyable about the genre of noir, and clearly Miller felt the same. There’s even a sort of logic to it: If Batman is the world’s greatest detective, then shouldn’t there be more detective stories about him?
Certainly, there’s room for that sort of thing, but, you know what? Not all that much.
Noir is built, in part, on dozens of detective types who wait for trouble to walk in the door — hopefully on a pair of long, long legs — who have a love-hate relationship with the grim and dangerous cities in which they live, who are, in the end, just doing their best to get along. There are any number of things which scare these heroes, and often they will do their best to avoid those things — until, of course, something affects their personal lives deeply enough that they must face those fears.
There’s some Batman in there — let’s remember the milieu in which Batman was born — but that’s just the problem:
It’s only some of him.
Batman is also Bruce Wayne, the president and CEO of Wayne Enterprises and a philanthropist. We could throw ‘playboy’ in there, but that’s only part of the act. What isn’t part of the act is the fact that Bruce Wayne’s response to that which frightens him — whether it’s a living being or the crushing weight of a problematic city — is most assuredly not to hole himself up and attempt to live a quiet life away from the scary thing.
What also isn’t a part of the act — and hasn’t been since 1940 — is the rather important part of Bruce who can’t stand to let anyone suffer, and who identifies rather strongly with hopeful, cheerful, loving young people… and then turns them into vigilantes.
This still isn’t about Robin, but, you know, I’m just going to say this and have done: You can have a Batman without a Robin, but, if you do, you really only have part of the story. Deal with it.
Of course, Miller gave us a Robin, too, which was great. She even stayed Robin until Miller decided that she was old enough for Batman to be screwing her. I’m going to leave that alone, save to mention how interesting it is that so many of Miller’s grim, gritty, half-broken, loner, male protagonists wind up with teenaged girls as lovers.
We all have our tropes.
In any event, let’s take a closer look at that Bruce Wayne of Miller’s. It’s rather nice that Carrie helps Bruce take an interest, once more, in the wider world, but — really. Should she have had to?
If Batman is supposed to be a hero — and I really do hope we’re all on the same page about that — then shouldn’t he have been out there, anyway? Of course, part of what makes Batman fascinating is that he’s ‘just’ a brilliant, dedicated human being, and all human beings are subject to moments of pain and fear, but, well, heroes are supposed to stand a little taller than that. This is not to say that I don’t think Bruce should’ve been allowed time and space to grieve after the loss of his Robin, or the space to consider the question of his own mortality.
It’s just that the Mission — such as it’s been defined — does not change. Heroism means getting up again, no matter how much it hurts, and no matter how terrifying the prospect must be.
There’s a certain selfish cowardice — something far, far beyond ‘enlightened self-interest’ — which is all but hardwired into the incautiously written noir protagonist. A certain flaw built of fear and pain — they won’t let the world hurt them (anymore). They know ‘better.’ And, of course, they get hurt just the same — usually by that gam-tastic trouble — but they move on, alone and perhaps a little bit ‘wiser’ — for values of ‘wisdom’ which involve a decidedly non-global variety of thought.
Noir protagonists, as a rule, tend to have something against sticking their necks out. Just because we don’t normally see the dozens upon dozens of moments of injustice they pass by every day on their way to the next bottle and/or adultery case doesn’t mean they aren’t happening.
Are you seeing those heartless streets of Gotham?
Should you be? Think about it.
Gotham may have a lot in common with certain sections of L.A., Miami, and all of those other noir backdrops, but it isn’t the only city in the world. Or the universe, for that matter.
The DC universe. You know the one I’m talking about — the one with all of those brightly-colored other heroes, and a Justice League, and all of the various ways in which, if Bruce Wayne is — play that tiny violin, maestro! — all alone, it’s only because he had to work at it. Philip Marlowe didn’t have a League of Superdetectives to fall back on, and work with, and advise. Rick Blaine was part of no one’s World’s Finest.
That’s okay — they didn’t have to be. Those aren’t the sorts of stories they were created for.
Batman… well, all right. I know as well as you do that Batman, as created, probably had a lot more to do with Marlowe than not. That didn’t last for very long, however; and ultimately, since we’re talking about a larger universe which evolved into something quite different from what Kane was originally thinking about, that’s a good thing.
Anti-heroes and other noir protagonists aren’t supposed to care about reducing the overall level of suffering in the world. It’s too complicated, and, in their worlds, no good deed does go unpunished. I could quibble — and I really, really do — about the role of women in those worlds, but, in the end, I’m only talking about them here in the hopes that people reading this will realize that there’s a big difference between there and here.
The DCU. Where Heroes Live. Remember that one?
I do, and I hold it pretty damned close to my heart, thank you very much. And this is where Miller lost me. In DKR/DKSA, the very idea of a larger, more global heroism is rather roundly discounted — or am I the only one who remembers that rather deeply mocking and not just a little homophobic treatment of Superman?
At best, the idea there is that Superman doesn’t live in the ‘real world,’ and never mind the fact that Batman isn’t supposed to, either.
And also never mind the fact that what Miller calls the ‘real world’ is just as much of a long-standing fictional ideal as anything else. There’s a value judgment there, and a rock-solid belief that one brand of deeply romantic fiction — oh, won’t anyone save Mr. McGee from another heartbreak? The last ten raped and murdered female characters really got to him! — is, somehow, superior to another.
This is where I start getting a little testy. I mentioned the selfishness inherent to this sort of protagonist, but it’s really the romance that twists my undergarments into interesting shapes.
As with Marlowe, Blaine, McGee, and all of the others, we, as readers, are supposed to — without qualm — surrender our sympathies and our vaguer, more numinous, and more difficult-to-define identifications to this Batman who is capable of just letting the world fall apart around him, just because he has been hurt in the past.
We’re supposed to both be with him and be him as he finally gets off his lard ass and tries to do something worthwhile, and to do it his way — with neither sympathy nor pause. We’re supposed to agree with him that the best response to the world’s pain is a punch to the face — or a murder.
Miller makes it easy. He tells us and shows us, time and again, that this broken shell of a walking flaw is, in fact, Better than everyone else. He’s stronger and he’s smarter. He’s harder and he’s colder — but Miller has shown us that he has to be that way. The world he lives in — increasing in difference from the actual DCU exponentially — demands it, and so Batman will be it.
If it’s a world built on fear and pain, then, well, Batman will be scarier than everything else and will damned well inflict more pain. If you think about it a little bit, you can see the cheat in there.
Can’t you?
Let me try to say it another way: If you want to make your character seem smart, then you could, if you weren’t very much of a writer, make everyone else very, very dumb. If you want to make your character seem strong, then you could, if you weren’t very much of a writer, surround that character with people who fall apart at the slightest stress. If you want to make your character look like a hero…
In Miller’s world, no one’s suffering is eased without the clenched fist. (One wonders, from time to time, why that fist wasn’t ever drawn with a fasces, but subtlety pops up in the strangest places, sometimes.) Anyone with a different point of view is shown to be — at best — ineffectual. Anyone who tries to live a different way is either mocked or pilloried.
Intellectualism — you know, that thing without which the principles of detection can’t exist — is shown only in its most worthless, poisonous, and damaging form, as is compassion and anything — anything at all — which could be labeled liberalism.
In this world, the most stunted emotional troglodyte walks very tall, indeed.
And oh, it’s romantic, isn’t it? If you set aside the physical strength and the various toys only vast amounts of money can buy, practically anyone could be Miller’s Batman. All you need is rage, and fear, and pain. Everything else is frippery — if it isn’t something which will get you in trouble in that world. That world, when you get right down to it, is a very simple place to live. If anything, the villains are even easier to spot than they are in the actual DCU — many of them, quite helpfully, are no longer entirely human. There’s none of that complicated business which tends to happen in any place where actual humans congregate, either –
Or did any of you actually think Carrie, as Miller wrote her, would ever question the man’s gender politics? What do you think would happen to her if she ever decided to be a woman, rather than a ‘girl?’ Anyone?
There’s something almost freeing about it all, isn’t there? After all, characters like Superman are much friendlier, much nicer than practically anyone else in the whole world. That’s damned near impossible to live up to — and why should you try?
In the end, Miller’s world is just another male fantasy, and one not especially alien to the mind which gave us things like Gor. Instead of trolls, there are mutants. Instead of sensually grateful slave girls, there’s a Catgirl. Instead of ineffectual and corrupt kings and grand viziers, there are politicians and police officers. Everything’s been updated and coated with a nicely modern layer of sleaze, but nothing is very different.
The protagonist, in the end, stands alone, but that’s okay — he doesn’t need anyone else. He’s strong. He’s secure in his rather limited definition of masculinity. Somewhere — a little beneath, a little behind — there may be a female who is fully on-board with her role, which is, of course, to shore up the protagonist through her essential weakness and inability to effect any large degree of change. If you want to make a man seem masterful, then why not surround him with slaves? All of that complicated and annoyingly think-y stuff is happening in another country –
And, besides, Robin is dead.
I’m not here to say that there isn’t room for that sort of story — everyone needs a fantasy to cling to, and there are far worse things which can be done with loneliness and fear than just writing a comic — but I hope, at this point, that I’ve made it clear that this isn’t the sort of thing which leads to a good story about heroes.
Heroes don’t have the luxury of cutting everyone else off at the knees to make themselves look taller, and, yes, sometimes heroes have to think of ways to get things done which don’t involve either murder or ‘just’ the worst sorts of brutality. Heroes are bigger than that. Heroes are smarter than that.
Heroes can and do make mistakes, and have horrible things happen to them either because of those mistakes, or just because they’re heroes — but they don’t lay down the fight. Heroes understand that the worlds they live in are not perfect — not just as a reason for them to go out there and fight, but as a reason for them to think about what they’re doing and why.
Heroes are the light in the darkness, and the hope we have for a better tomorrow.
Heroes understand that, in the end, bringing themselves down to the level of the bad guys in order to win a fight is just another way that the light can be dimmed.
Heroes understand that there are just as many ways to increase the light in the world as there are to dim it, and that, often, it’s far better to reach with an open hand than to strike with a closed fist.
Heroes know full well that they aren’t the only heroes in the world, and that working together for that better tomorrow is always, always the better option.
Now, it seems to me that these last few paragraphs have taken us rather far away from the Millerverse. But the DCU… is close enough to touch.

Missing the Punchline

You see what they did here?
My approach to reading the Marvel and DC solicitations this month was a little different than previous months. This time around, it wasn’t the overhyping text or vague promises of importance that I focused on, it was the covers that really had my attention … after the MJ zombie and Heroes for Hire hentai bruhahas over the last few weeks, I looked at all the images and wondered, ‘So what cover’s going to drive people nuts this time?’
Apparently I’m not the only person thinking about this, as I had several people point out to me some covers that are possible contenders for ‘Internet controversy of the moment.’ I’ll let you guys decide which one we should freak out over, if any. Place your bets and let’s spin the wheel…
My first thought on reading it was… well, okay. My first thought was: I really wish I’d seen this cover before using up my monthly quota of dinosaur/sodomy jokes.
But my second thought was, Oooooo. Clever.
There is currently a bit of backlash against feminist comics bloggers, but it’s pretty obvious where most of it is coming from.
This article, however, is subtle, and the message is hidden underneath a layer of humour. (I do love humour it’s a great weapon. The initial response of an audience is to align themselves with the joke teller, because, hey! Jokes are a social thing, and not laughing at the punchline is akin to admitting that we don’t belong ‘round these parts. The last thing we want to admit to being is humourless.
And there’s a social contract there. By laughing, we agree to dismiss what the joke teller is telling us to dismiss. We agree to agree with what they aren’t saying. We are laughing after all, and the second to last thing we want to admit to being is dishonest. )
Here’s the underlying message in the article:
Feminists bloggers ‘freak out’ that is, they are not rational in their response to issues they deem objectionable.
The images that feminist bloggers choose to respond to are as random as a game of chance.
Feminist outrage is in fact a game – and it is a game for the benefit of spectators, rather than one for participants. The discussions are best understood as for the amusement of the people watching from the outside.
JK Parkin positions him or herself and any rational reader – as outside (and dismissive of) the sphere of feminist comics debate, and does so in a manner to make the reader uncomfortable with objecting to that categorization.
See what I mean? Clever.

An Open Letter to Misty Lee

Dear Ms. Lee,
In Episode Four of ‘Almost Live with Paul and Misty,’ broadcast on June fifth, you say
And you know, also, someone raised the point in, I don’t know if it was in a forum I was reading but it’s something I’ve heard a million times before – but usually, the strongest and loudest protest over sexy things come from ugly fat girls. And now I don’t necessarily agree with that and I’m probably going to get some awesome flame mail as a result of this, but as somebody who’s relatively secure in her sexuality – I don’t think I’m the hottest broad out walking around – I definitely don’t think I compare to some of these comic book chicks – but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like to look at ‘em. I find the feminine form very appealing and I’m not at all offended by that…
I was raised to believe that the weight and appearance of a person were irrelevant to the justice of their argument, but I am willing to defer to the customs of your people and have recorded the following:

icon for podpress Since it’s important to you [1:08m]: Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
Sincerely, the Editor.

So I just finished reading the Runaways collection Vol 1…

I bought the first volume of the Runaways collection when I was down at WisCon and I just wanted to make a short post on my initial feelings after reading it. Once I finish my WisCon writeup for Cerise I might return to the subjects I touch on here and do a better analysis (oops, I got my rant on by accident… I think I’m almost incapable of doing short posts).
So, first off, I’m definitely buying the next two volumes. I have no idea where I’ll put them, as my bookshelf is filled to the brim, and that’s not counting all the books I bought at WisCon, but, that’s life I guess. The first story arc was fun, the art was overall pretty cool, and I think I have a soft spot in my heart for rebels with a cause. Or maybe it’s just a soft spot for a team that’s mostly kick ass women, or girls in this case. I also like the clothing, and if I knew how to tie a tie I would so be wearing the shirt and tie getup that Nico was in for a bit.
That being said, I had two major issues with what I read. But since they are spoilers, especially the second one, I will put them behind the jump. SPOILERS AHEAD. You have been warned.
I. Well, they’re all just skanks anyway!
So, the first one isn’t so spoilery. It involves Cloak and Dagger. Or, no, wait, rewind that. It starts with Sue Richards and the Fantastic Four MMO (which has way more RP functionality than any MMO I’ve played, but I digress), who is called ‘Mrs. Skank-tastic’ because of her costume, which is a leotard with thigh-high boots. Whoever her player is starts in on how Sue hits on everyone and therefore the costume is appropriate.
Contrast this to when Captain America throws around the word ‘retard’ and at least gets called on it (granted, the manner in which it was called out was inappropriate in itself, but at least it was brought up that maybe that word isn’t an appropriate insult). Since these things both happen within the same two pages, the message is clear: ‘retard’ is an insult of questionable merit, but ‘skank’ is A-okay.
Fast-forward a few issues with the appearance of Cloak and Dagger. Now, granted, I cringed at Dagger’s outfit because it was so stereotypically Marvel in a book whose art is, thankfully, anything but. However, I thought it would be a great way to bring up the contrast between the inappropriate sexualization of most adult female superheroes with the way the girls of Runaways are portrayed as having a varied fashion sense. But, no, again the ball was dropped and the only commentary that was made was when Chase calls Dagger a ‘skank’ (are we sensing a theme here?).
I find this to be highly problematic, especially given that most of these ‘skanks’ are characters created by men, for the purpose of being titillating to the assumed male audience. Instead of raising awareness for a problem of characterization that plagues the Marvel universe, and perhaps causing one’s audience to think (especially if it is primarily made up of boys and young men), the blame was, yet again, foisted off onto the women. It may be realistic for those kinds of insults to roll of the tongues of adolescent boys, but if Vaughan could realistically call out one form of bigotry, then why not another? The team is, after all, mostly women — some of whom might just object to gendered insults.
The point here is that Vaughan had a prime chance here, the chance to reach out and make his readership question the casual sexism that is part of their lives, and he dropped the ball. Hard.
II. Who’s the traitor? The shifty Asian girl? The manipulative black boy?
The second issue I had with the story arc isn’t as well formed as the first. But it bothered me that Alex was the traitor. Not that I think it was poorly done; on the contrary, the setup was good and it was completely in character as far as I could tell. But it felt like a let down, like the only reason they ‘allowed’ a person of colour to be the leader of the team was because they knew that he was going to die.
Now, granted, I would like to see one of the girls emerge as the leader, seeing as the team is mostly girls. But it still felt good to see that Chase didn’t default to leader because of his magical white man powers of privilege. I liked how they showed Alex to be smart and capable — capable enough to get by without fancy gadgets or special powers, leading through sheer intelligence, talent, and will alone.
But I felt a growing apprehension as the traitor storyline got stronger. Maybe it was my comics cynicism, but I knew the white members of the group (Chase, Karolina, and Gertrude, with the exception of Molly, who I did wonder about for a couple of seconds) were safe. There wasn’t a whole lot of speculation on their potential traitor status, and it just didn’t make sense for their character types. I wasn’t overly worried about Nico until the part where she starts moaning about her sins, which in hindsight was an obvious red herring designed to shift suspicion off of Alex.
I was pretty much sold on Alex being the traitor when he started in on wanting to tell Nico something. And it was so perfect, wasn’t it? If Stephanie Brown, Batwoman and all the Women in Refrigerators had taught me nothing, it was that the Big Two love to set up minority characters to take a spectacular fall. They start you in on them and you learn to love them. In fact, I think one of the reasons that you love them is precisely they are found so rarely in positions of power. They let it continue for a while, sometimes giving you hints of things to come, sometimes not. And then one day you turn the page and the character you have grown to love is dead.
If there were a thousand other Alexes it wouldn’t bother me so much. But there aren’t and so the next character who steps up to take his mantle is more likely to be a heterosexual white man than any other kind of character. And that sucks.
X-posted: The Official Shrub.com Blog.

Me and Stephanie Brown

I have to start this story with the third Robin, Tim Drake. In his first appearance, A Lonely Place of Dying, by Marv Wolfman, I’d found Tim a bit too conveniently competent. I was supposed to believe that a thirteen year-old boy could do all that? Oh, I believed he had figured out Batman’s identity, that never seemed like a terribly well kept secret, but I couldn’t believe he’d traveled to New York and back, and more incredibly to me, made it outside of city limits to watch Batman fight over the reservoir, all on his bike!
(This, by the way, is the story-line in which Tim bluffs his way into the manor, and then, against Batman’s direct order, steals the Robin suit from Jason’s case and wears it out to fight crime, becoming Robin of his own resort, as it were.)
I first fell in love with Tim Drake in Rite of Passage, a mini by Alan Grant. In this story, I found the Tim I would imprint on like a young duckling. Tim was entirely aware of all the ways he was inadequate; he was supposed to be a partner to Batman? Tim was terrified, had nightmares of being eaten by a giant looming bat, and reacted by training harder. He knew he wasn’t good enough, but he was determined to be the best he could be. No one was harder on Tim than Tim was on himself. He was determined to be a Robin worthy of the name, but half-certain he would fail.
And then Stephanie Brown showed up. I resented the hell out of her. Tim hadn’t considered himself worthy of the name of Robin until he’d travelled the world training from the living masters; Steph thought a cape and a code-name was all she needed to be a costumed vigilante. Tim was willing (and eager!) to learn from those who had been in the business longer than him; Steph wanted to do everything her own way, and frequently screwed up. Oh, how she screwed up. She couldn’t climb as well as Tim, she couldn’t fight as well, she wasn’t as meticulously devoted to detail in fact, she seemed to think the whole thing should be fun!
And, the most petty reason of all for disliking her, she stole panels from Tim. She shared the limelight! She sometimes got whole story-lines dedicated to her stupid family. She pestered Tim to have a social life, when I wanted to see his freaky crime-fighting brain.
A diversion: some women of my acquaintance just can’t identify with a male character. They can like, enjoy, or sympathize with them, but they can’t identify with them. I think I’m being clear here that I’m not one of those women. It’s not really something I consider a special ability, but I’m actually more likely to identify with male characters than female.
I eventually got over my resentment of Steph, a little. She seemed to be making Tim happy, and she was getting better at the vigilante gig, which did a lot to reconcile me to her. She got some really good story-lines, from Peter David in Young Justice, in Batgirl, and from Jon Lewis in Robin.
But when I heard that Stephanie Brown would be replacing Tim as Robin, all my resentment came back. How did she think she could even compare to Tim as Robin? Why was DC taking away the best Robin ever (I don’t claim to be impartial) and replacing him with someone who was still learning how to use a grappling hook? It didn’t help that the textual reasons given for Tim leaving the position of Robin depended on Tim making a series of mistakes I saw as stupid and uncharacteristic of him.
I would later learn that editors at DC had mandated that Steph be killed, and Robin writer Bill Willingham had decided to make her Robin before her death. Thank you, Mr. Willingham.
My point is: DC, I was on your side. I didn’t like Steph as Robin. I half-resented her. I wanted her out of there.
But even I, who had a low opinion of Steph, could not believe how badly she was treated in the story leading to her death and the aftermath. I could not believe that she was tortured to death, slowly, over multiple issues. I couldn’t fathom that Steph would set in place a plan that she didn’t really understand, and which clearly had so much room for drastic, fatal error.
And I could not, and still do not believe that Batman would use her as a tool to get Tim Drake back as Robin. I was baffled that the Batman who appeared in Detective Comics after her death would agonize over whether he shared responsibility for the death of Cassie Wells, a walk on character with whom he shared a brief conversation. Had he completely forgotten that his lack of faith in Steph was instrumental in her death? It seemed calculated to rub in how unimportant Steph was; one poor young blonde girl dies, no one talks about it, a rich young blonde girl dies, she gets a twelve part exploration of Bruce’s guilt.
Kevin at beaucoupkevin says: ‘A glass case being drawn into a single location won’t change anything substantial in the medium, will it? It’s not a solution; only a reminder that there was a problem.’
Shoving it under the carpet isn’t a solution either. There needs to be a reminder. DC comics seems all too eager to forget.

Public Apology with Regard to Recent Events

Girl Wonder regrets having caused an appearance of clandestine discussions and would like to apologize to everyone who was involved. A thread discussing exciting site possibilities was accidentally sent to our feed, where, deprived of context, it caused distress and offence. It is not our intention or policy to expose private business and we are taking steps to prevent it in the future.