Avatar Returns!

The bad taste left in our mouths by the terrible Avatar: The Last Airbender film has been wiped out by the promise of a delicious new series!

The immediate reaction, if you’re me (and I see no reason to assume you’re not), is to seek out every possible piece of information, rumour and speculation about this. And basically every aspect of this fills me with joy.
The Legend of Korra starts 70 years after the defeat of Fire Lord Ozai. We have a new Avatar, Korra, the next after Aang a Southern Water Tribe woman. She’s older than Aang was, a teenage, and has already mastered Water, Earth and Fire. She’s come to Republic City to learn Airbending from Aang’s son Tenzin (Aang is presumed dead, unless they’ve pulled a Buffy). There’s people of all nations* in Republic City, it’s crime-ridden, and there’s an anti-bender revolt which Korra has to work against while learning to airbend. This will apparently be a slightly more grown-up series.
If you didn’t see Avatar: The Last Airbender and want to know what was so great about it, Shaker Seraph’s series of critical posts does a great job of exploring the show’s highlights and problems from a feminist point of view. For those of us who loved the series, a lot of the good feelings we had from a series with capable women everywhere, entirely populated by Asian*** characters, with a level of drama and storytelling not neared by your average childrens’ cartoon, that actually used the word ‘sexist’ were soured by a live-action film with none of these virtues. The good people at Racebending did more than anyone to push back against everything that was wrong with the film. I’d like to think that it’s partly because of them that Nickelodeon commissioned a new series with all the things we loved about the old one. It’s probably just because the movie made some money, but still.
And the lead character’s a woman! But then, why wouldn’t she be?
The new ‘Avatar’ is a woman. What inspired you to change the sex of the protagonist of the series?
Michael DiMartino: It’s not so much about changing because we had Avatar Kyoshi before Aang. We’d established that the Avatar can be male or female and we just thought let’s explore one of those more in depth, because Kyoshi was a popular character with a lot of fans and it seemed like a great opportunity to not retread what we’d done with Aang, who was a great hero, we all loved him, but we really wanted to try something different. And we have so many great female fans out there, who really responded to Katara in the first series, we thought we have the fan base who are really going to enjoy seeing the Avatar be a female.
Konietzko: Mike and I, we love those characters too, and we’ve encountered countless fans who are male who really like those characters too. We just don’t subscribe to the conventional wisdom that you can’t have an action series led by a female character. It’s kinda nonsense to us.
More of this, please.
*In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, when the current Slayer dies a new young woman becomes the Slayer. In the finale of Season One, Buffy’s heart stops in a fight with the Master. Xander revives her, but her ‘death’ was enough to trigger the awakening of a new Slayer, Kendra. You’re welcome!
** ‘All nations’ is what this press release says. Does that mean the Air Nomads are back somehow? Perhaps some escaped the genocide!
*** At least, they’re as Asian as the characters of Lord of the Rings are white.
Endnote: we thought we’d pass on this announcement from Threadless, as some of our readers might be interested. We at GW are unaffiliated with Threadless and have no involvement with this promotion:
Threadless has recently launched their newest ‘loves’ competition entitled ‘Threadless Loves Comics’. Threadless is SUPER excited for this one, because the chosen design will actually be worn by a character in an upcoming issue of New York Times Bestseller, Chew! (which is now becoming a TV series)! And that’s not even the half of it! $2,000 in cash, a $500 Threadless Gift Certificate, Original art, an iPad, and a collection of graphic novels are up for grabs, too! All you need to do to enter is create a design that is inspired by comics. Entries are being accepted until August 12th.

‘It’s Not Real’

So what’s all the fuss about then? Why all the complaints about lack of female characters (and non-white characters, and gay characters and yadda yadda)? Why is it such a big deal, why all this PC stuff? No one’s going to be affected that much by a comic.
It’s just comics. They’re not real.
You’ve probably seen or heard that particular argument before, and also about film, cartoons, RPGs, whatever medium you’re into. Issues of representation just don’t matter and that fiction we pay money to experience, why that just has no effect on us. The way we think about women and what they can do, or about racial minorities, the stories we tell about them (or about the lack of them) will never really effect how we think about them in real life.
Except in Volume VI of Titan’s Charley’s War trades, writer Pat Mills recounts meeting an ex-squaddie who joined the army because he grew up reading war comics. He also recounts meeting two men from ‘traditional military families [who] didn’t enlist’ because they grew up reading Charley’s War and its brutal depictions of warfare. Grown men picked their careers because those silly comics made it look cool or made it look horrific.
Except that Dr Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, has cited Uhura on Star Trek as a reason she wanted to become an astronaut. And NASA hired Uhura actress Nichelle Nichols to recruit women and ethnic minorities, capitalising on her influence from Trek.
Except that Weird Fantasy #18’s Judgement Day!, taking on contemporary segregation through metaphor and then ending with a clear symbol of real-life segregation ending, was universally praised by readers as something that hit them hard. A school principal asked for copies for his school. Only one critical letter arrived, decrying EC Comics because ‘the North and South are like they are, so why not leave well enough alone!’… while other southerners praised it for what it had done.
Except that the group Racebending has done surveys to see what drew fans to Avatar: The Last Airbender, a cartoon where everyone is Asian or Inuit, and comments from non-white fans cite things like ‘It was fantastic being able to spot things from my own ethnic background on the show, which is something that I hardly ever get to see’. In response to the film, which cast Caucasian actors to play the three leads, one fan notes ‘I lost that self esteem’. One states that growing up, ‘I thought there was something wrong with me and wished to be Caucasian myself’ because that was all she saw on telly.
Except when reviewing MTV’s old cartoon Daria, Jezebel’s Margaret Hartmann recalls growing up with Daria as the only TV character she could truly relate to, a smart female character that was having experiences that she could recognise from her own life. And that the show ‘provided me with the sort of social guidance that allowed me to stay true to myself’, leading to her sticking with her best friend in the face of ‘social suicide’.
This is a list that could go on and on and on. What we see, read, listen to, and generally absorb from the media around us has an impact on how we think. At a young age, that’s even more important. Kids and teenagers come out thinking ‘I can do that’, ‘this is the right thing to do and it can be done’, ‘this stuff is possible‘. Or, in the case of young white boys, come out looking at things in a way they hadn’t before, or even just thinking ‘hey, that character’s badass!’ when looking at a character who isn’t a white male.
But of course, fiction isn’t real so none of it matters.
Except when the blog Crimitism took issue with Warhammer 40,000 retconning a black Space Marine platoon into white people who had been mutated into ‘daemonic’ looking dark skinned mutants, another blog went out of its way to decry Crimitism as talking ‘crackpot conspiracy theory kind of bullshit’. It went out of its way to bring up half-understand pseudo-facts about skin colour mutations and England’s racial demographics to try and prove the blog wrong. And then it ended with saying it’s just a game, ‘don’t take it too seriously’.
Except fans on the Internet have crawled out to complain about a prominent Muslim woman character in Captain Britain and MI:13, or there being too many black characters in Dwayne McDuffie’s JLA run (two of them).
Except Bill Willingham allegedly wanted to ‘gun down those girls’ who asked for a dead superheroine to get a memorial case like a male hero had received.
This is another list that goes on and on and on. Why is all this ‘PC stuff’ such a big deal to you, guys?

Boom! (Kids) Could Be Dynamite

You know what’s great? The kids line from Boom! Studios is great. Since last year they’ve been publishing a fleet of comic books based on various Disney and Disney-affiliated properties, and every book I’ve picked up under this line has been golden. The Muppet Show has somehow managed to take a variety show with puppets and translate it beautifully to the page, with all the heart and all the excruciating puns. The comics featuring the classic Disney characters (like Donald Duck and Friends, Mickey Mouse and Friends, and Uncle Scrooge) have brought translations of popular European tales to America for the first time in an accessible and affordable way. I haven’t read much of the Pixar-based comics like Cars, The Incredibles, and Toy Story, but what I’ve seen has looked great. And one issue in at the time of this writing, Darkwing Duck is already the best comic I’ve read all year.
But there’s one big problem with the Boom! Kids line: there’s not a single female protagonist in the bunch.
Boom is currently publishing 12 ongoing titles for kids, plus a string of four-issue Muppet parodies of famous stories (Muppet Robin Hood, Muppet Snow White, etc.), and a couple of completed Pixar minis (Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo). Of the 13, The Incredibles probably does the best on the female character front, with the kickass and competent Helen (Mrs. Incredible) starring in an upcoming arc (check out this gorgeous cover featuring her and Mirage! I am so getting this), and just generally being a prominent character in the series, as is her daughter Violet.
Beyond that, female characters tend to consist of The Girlfriend (Minnie Mouse, Daisy Duck) or That One Girl in the Cast (Miss Piggy, Jessie from Toy Story). Sometimes The Villain. Or The Daughter.
Never The Star.
This isn’t really surprising, given the franchises Boom is working with, all of which are boys’ clubs. Pixar has already taken heat for this; in 11 movies they haven’t had a single female protagonist, so how can a comic based on a Pixar movie provide one? The Duck and Mouse books are working from the 1950s tradition of Disney comics, where women exist only as girlfriends who will hector you into adventures and then require saving.
And the Muppets basically have Miss Piggy, who is a glorious character, but can’t represent the gender all on her lonesome. It seemed Boom! was balancing the gender ratio slightly when they introduced an adult Skeeter, Scooter’s twin sister from Muppet Babies, but she was written out again a few issues later. Meanwhile, the Muppet minis go through agonized contortions, trying to find enough female characters to make their parodies work, and settling for B-listers like Janice and Camilla the Chicken (or appalling new character ‘Spamela Hamderson,’ who plays Snow White to Piggy’s Evil Queen in the currently-running Muppet Snow White).
It doesn’t have to be this way. Jessie was marketed as if she was the third protagonist in Toy Story 3, when in fact she wound up being a damsel in distress who existed only to engineer conflict for Buzz. Why not rectify that by giving her an arc in the comic?
Or, hey, Minnie Mouse has been around for 82 years. I think she can carry her own comic book by now, especially considering the vast network of friends and relatives she has in the comic book universe. I’m awfully tired of seeing her as Mickey’s wilting flower. And while we’re at it, can we see less of Daisy the vain, selfish nag, and more of Daisy the plucky career woman from the otherwise-awful 90s cartoon Quack Pack? Mickey and Donald have always contained multitudes, to allow them to play whatever role necessary for the story; Minnie and Daisy can too.
But if none of those work, well, it’s not like Disney doesn’t have a wealth of properties designed with little girls in mind. There are the princesses, of course, and the Tinkerbell line; ordinary little girls like Alice and Lilo; live action properties like Wizards of Waverly Place and Hannah Montana. It’s a little past its prime, but Kim Possible would’ve made a wonderful comic book. Disney is not exactly starved for female protagonists, if you catch my drift.
Because here’s the thing: there are exactly as many little girls out there as there are little boys. Statistically, they read more, and they spend more (or their parents do). And they want to see themselves as main characters, too. So it’s not just right to include female protagonists, but it opens up a whole new potential stream of revenue. Sure, not a lot of little girls read comic books now. I bet a lot more would if they started seeing girls on the cover. (And hey, maybe a boy might read a comic about a girl! Just like girls read comics about boys all the damn time.)
I’ll say it again: Boom! Kids is great. I’ve enjoyed every single comic I’ve picked up from them. But I’d enjoy them a whole lot more if I knew Boom! was telling stories about both halves of the population.

Heroines, Assemble!

Welcome to the new GWOG! It will be updated each Monday by a member of the Gworg Board of Directors, on a rotating schedule whose particulars are a closely-guarded secret. I have the honour of the first post of the new regime.

Huntress in "Batman: The Brave and the Bold"

Like lots of fans, I’ve been enjoying the new BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD animated series. It’s campy and fun without being overly knowing or self-referential, accessible to everyone while still being clever. One problem keeps hitting me, though: the lack of female superheroes. If you’ve never seen it, there are two notable features of the show’s set-up. First, the few minutes before the title sequence are usually used for a mini-adventure unrelated to the main episode (although they are sometimes used to set up the episode’s backstory, or to further the overarching plot of the season). Second, and most fundamentally, the theme of the show is team-ups. Batman is never alone, always coming together with at least one fellow hero to beat up baddies. Which makes it quite striking that no female hero has had the full BatB team-up treatment, a one-on-one team-up with Bats in the main episode. Only once has a woman Black Canary been in such a team-up, and that was in a pre-title sequence. Every other super-heroine appearance has been alongside other male supers. So far* only five female superheroes have put in an appearance in their professional capacity, and only three have appeared more than once. Let’s go through them spoilers abound past this point.
Katana in “Batman: The Brave and the Bold”
Katana has made three appearances as one-third of the Outsiders (with Black Lightning and Metamorpho). Katana is, as you’d expect, Japanese, and carries a lot of stereotypes she wears a schoolgirl uniform, her powers are skills with katana and shuriken (she has a magic sword in the comics, but it’s not put in an appearance yet in the cartoon), and in her first episode, ‘Enter the Outsiders!’, she’s silent, speaking only to tell her fellow Outsiders how to perform a sort of super-CPR on an incapacitated Wildcat. Her silence means the other two get more limelight, and she remains quiet during a pre-title sequence with the Outsiders being trained by Batman. This is somewhat made up for by ‘Inside the Outsiders!’, in which Psycho Pirate has trapped the three in nightmares, and Batman has to save them. Each of the Outsiders gets some meaty psychological stuff, but only Katana gets backstory the death of her sensei in her native Japan. She speaks a lot during her dream sequence (in a strong Japanese accent which she didn’t have in her first appearance) and we learn that her silence is in honour of her master, so at least it’s a stereotype they’ve taken the trouble to justify. In the end, most of Katana’s character is defined by her ethnicity, and she can be crowded out by the other Outsiders quite easily, but she’s still good to watch and they do seem intent on doing something interesting with her team.
Huntress in “Batman: The Brave and the Bold”
Which is more, really, than can be said for Huntress, probably this show’s greatest disappointment for me as I’m a big fan of hers. Huntress gets two main-episode appearances, one as part of a big ensemble in ‘Death Race to Oblivion!’ where she’s rather overshadowed by Green Arrow, Guy Gardner and Plastic Man, and one alongside Blue Beetle in ‘Night of the Huntress!’***. Huntress’s whole thing in this episode is ‘sexpot’ her tooling-up sequence mostly consists of her letting her hair down and applying lipstick, and the main thrust of this episode is Jaime’s crush on sexy Helena. She flirts constantly, with lots of double-entendres. The writers just don’t seem to see much of her character beyond her sexiness (she’s also somewhat more violent, although Batman doesn’t seem to be bothered by this).
Black Canary in “Batman: The Brave and the Bold”
Black Canary is another favourite of mine, and the best woman in the series. She’s the only female hero to get a straight team-up in a pre-title beatdown on Solomon Grundy. There are still wrong notes in her portrayal, though her unrequited love for Batman feels a bit forced and uninteresting. In one of her episodes, the musical ‘Mayhem of the Music Meister!’, she’s largely passive, apparently under the Music Meister’s mind-control for most of the episode, and though her Canary Cry saves the day Batman has to goad her into using it. Her best episode is ‘The Golden Age of Justice!’, in which she and Batman are still being treated like sidekicks by an ageing Justice League (of the Flash, Doctor Mid-Nite, Wildcat, Hawkman and Hourman). It’s another ensemble episode, but most of the spotlight is on Canary and she swings the climactic fight. Best of all, nothing is made of her Bat-crush.
Two other heroines have minor appearances Fire cameos in a Plastic Man pre-title adventure, and one of the Metal Men, Platinum, is really a Metal Woman but that’s it for woman as heroes in BatB. And over thirty-four episodes, that’s not great.
Part of the underlying problem is revealed by looking at the treatment of women as wives. In the pre-title sequence to ‘Last Bat on Earth!’, Batman and Mister Miracle escape a death-trap for charity, following which Big Barda hectors Miracle for not cleaning out the garage Batman chuckles and tells him, ‘That’s one trap you can’t get out of’. In ‘Aquaman’s Outrageous Adventure!’, Aquaman’s wife insists that he take her and their son on a vacation rather than fight evildoers. In ‘Long Arm of the Law!’, Plastic Man’s wife Ramona insists on him watching the baby rather than going out and fighting crime. It’s a time-honoured position for the wives of male superheroes, from Mystery Men to The Incredibles a dogmatic insistence that their husband give up that silly crimefighting and concentrate on his family. It’s all part of the general stereotype that men put their time and effort into Big Important Projects, whereas women are concerned above all else with their homes and children.
It’s also a genre problem. BatB is trying to recapture an element of light-hearted, old-fashioned fun. Like a cargo cult, they do it by replicating elements from the original purveyors of that fun. And when you do that without some discretion, you replicate the flaws of what you’re making an homage to. With luck, they’ll learn to take what they need from the past and leave behind the unnecessary baggage.
*Which is not to say that this is BatB’s only problem; it’s just the problem I’m talking about here.
**I’m up to episode 34, ‘Sidekicks Assemble!’ but from the episode list, I don’t think there’s been an uptick in female representation in the episodes I haven’t seen yet. There is apparently a Birds of Prey episode coming up, which should be fun.
***My least favourite episode so far, I think. Not only is it ill-treatment of Huntress, there’s also the awful Mrs. Man-face as a villain.

Conversation Starters

In honor of the return of When Fangirls Attack, I am making a devious post of links that wouldn’t be linked directly, but can inspire posts that will be. So read! Get angry! Blog! Troll!
Pictures of Real Women to use when drawing? They’re not hyper-thin, but at least the sample pictures are definitely stingy on the plus-side. Of course, so are traditional comic book women. Which is kind of the point…
Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women Of The S.S. Comic Book Cover!
Umm. I don’t really know what to say about it. But SOMEBODY has to. So, here it is. Go for it.
San Diego Comic-Con 2008 – A woman’s perspective . | CollectionDX
Posted for the novelty value. This is a woman who didn’t seem to have any problems with oversexed idiots at SDCC.
Portrayal of women in comics – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This and the link of women comics creators should probably be a perma-link on most of our personal blogs.
The Hackenblog » Middle-aged women in comics shops rock
Just because I hadn’t seen this last year. Yes, they do.
Bored now! See you later!

Who’s up for Free Comic Book Day?

As far as I’m concerned, Free Comic Book Day should be printed on every calendar in America. It’s one of my favorite holidays, and why not? A day celebrating comics, when the comic book stores give you free comics! What’s not to like?
And, after all, what are we at Girl Wonder but comic book lovers at heart? This is a holiday for us, too, why shouldn’t we claim it as our own? Why not take this day to celebrate all the things we love about comics, and all the things we hope they can become.
Free Comic Book Day is a great time to give the curious a taste of comics. And hey, while the comic shops are recruiting new readers, why not recruit new G-Wers?
So I don’t know about you, but I’m going to wear ‘Ask Me About Girl Wonder’ proudly, and hope someone asks. I’m going to post Girl Wonder flyers proudly. I’m going to blog about my favorite woman-friendly comics and let people know Free Comic Book Day is coming. And also, I’m going enjoy all those free comics!
If this sounds interesting to you, here’s a link to the Celebrate Free Comic Book Day with Girl Wonder forum.

They’re Just Breasts

In the state of New York, it is legal for women to go topless. Photographer Jordan Matter took pictures of women in NYC doing just that – as if it was an unremarkable, everyday occurrence for women going about their days – and the results are here.

The exhibition is thought-provoking, frequently beautiful and sometimes saddening, and should be compulsory viewing for anyone who’s ever drawn Power Girl without a bra.

He Also Says Nice Things About New Zealand!

You may have read Perry Moore’s Hero, a YA novel about a young gay superhero. If so (and very probably if not) you might be interested in this audio interview!

Talking to Tommy Roddy of Prism Comics (the writer of excellent superhero comic Pride High) Moore discusses the inspiration behind the book, his experience in the publishing industry, the controversy sometimes occasioned by gay heroes and teases at the sequel.