The Boundless Creativity of Comics


If you follow comic books at all, you probably know that DC has been in the middle of a reboot of their universe. Some of the enthusiasm for the reboot waned when those involved in the writing were announced, and it was discovered that they were mostly (with a very few notable exceptions) the same group of white guys of a certain age who had already been working on these titles. Now that the titles are coming out, how are things going?

Well, the good news is that we do have some minority representation in the superheroes (even though they un-disabled Barbara Gordon in order to squeeze her back into the character of Batgirl). We still have a black, atheist superhero in Mister Terrific:

I appreciate that Wallace is frankly addressing the issue and what it means to be a black person in the DCU — and especially in high levels of academia and industry in the DCU — but it’s approached with all the subtlety of a speeding bus, a bus that Wallace throws no-longer-Power-Girl Karen Starr under to make a point and set up a love triangle.

And while Wallace is making a point about racial diversity and privilege in one scene, he’s employing tired stereotypes in another. Michael Holt is one of the DCU’s two avowed atheist heroes. Rather than coming to that position through reasoned examination of the evidence, Wallace makes it clear that Holt’s atheism results from his wife and unborn son’s tragic deaths (which occurred in his old DCU origin as well), and that he replaced belief in God with belief in science. The idea that atheists reject gods due to some traumatic event is one of the more persistent and pernicious myths about nonbelievers. Imagine if Holt were instead a Mormon character, and a comic talked about his multiple wives, or if he were a Muslim who hoped his superheroics would mean a reward of 72 virgins in Heaven. It may be true for some people, but it’s by no means common or representative, and for most members of the minority — including the ones who will be reading the book — it feels like an ignorant generalization.

Oof. Well, at least Catwoman and Starfire are heading up their own titles:

Here’s the question, though: Why? I know why Catwoman and Batman would have sex; there’s nothing wrong with the idea. We saw him hook up with Talia in Son of the Demon and that was pretty cool. I mean literally, why is that last page a full-page splash of Batman actually penetrating Catwoman? Why do we need to see that? What does it accomplish or tell us about the characters that would have been lost if that page had been omitted?

The answer is nothing. They just wanted to see Catwoman and Batman bang on a roof. And that is the whole problem with this false notion of “sexually liberated” female characters: These aren’t those women. They’re how dudes want to imagine those women would be — what Wire creator David Simon called writing “chicks with d*cks”. They read like men’s voices coming out of women’s faces. Or worse, they read like the straight girls who make out with each other clubs, not because they enjoy making out with women but because they desperately want guys to pay attention to them.

This is not about these women wanting things; it’s about men wanting to see them do things, and that takes something that really should be empowering — the idea that women can own their sexuality — and transforms it into yet another male fantasy. It takes away the actual power of the women and turns their “sexual liberation” into just another way for dudes to get off. And that is at least ten times as gross as regular cheesecake, minimum.

There are plenty of panels provided with that rant to explain why the author is strongly considering being done with comics. I don’t blame her.

This isn’t to say that everything is dire in the new DC universe. Batwoman sounds like it has some depth to the writing and characterization and is clearly gorgeous.

There are other titles that people are still waiting for with high expectations. But aside from that, the reboot starts to look and sound very much like what you would expect to get if you’re willing to provide more minority representation in your books than in your creative teams. Blah.

Comments

  1. D. C. Sessions says

    I’m seriously afraid that if you want to see any serious break from “tradition” in the DCU you’ll have to look the the whole Altiverse line. By promising not to make the stories canonical, they can afford to mess with their base.

    The trouble is, they’re trapped by that same shrinking base. Few women read DC comics any more, and so they don’t write for women. Thus the circle is complete.

    Except, of course, that it’s a spiral. And it’s spiraling inward.

  2. says

    Jon Stewart is a black Green Lantern and is a rather good character, but yes black characters are rather low on the ground. The new versions of Black Adam particularly during 52 are quite nice as are Osiris and Cyborg but these are the new breed of heroes (okay maybe not cyborg).

    D.C Sessions is right, atleast the new wonder woman is a step in the right direction (picking elements of the teen titans Donna Troy who wore jeans and a tank top rather than something like wonder woman or god forbid… power girl).

    Just remember the books do cater to a male audience mainly. And remember, just as there are very few “ugly” or normal looking superheroes (The Flash is ironically one of the smaller ones because his artist drew a sprinter rather than a muscle bound freak.)

    I also actually dislike the batgirl dealie. The oracle was a Superhero for an internet age. Someone who could create change despite disability and whose abilities made sense in an internet world where cyber crime does exist.

  3. Chris says

    I’ve never been much for DC, personally. A couple Batman comics here and there, and one or two Superman comics over the years. Maybe a Green Lantern in there for flavor. I understand that the occasional reboot allows for fresh creative direction while keeping some of the old familiarity of the characters, but to reboot an entire universe all at once? That seems a bit like going overboard to me.

    Marvel tends to use the X-men as a flavor of civil rights stand-in (perhaps allegory is the word I’m looking for?), but usually when I’m reading comics I shut down the critical thinking (not that I’m prone to doing a lot of it, admittedly) and am just looking to be entertained so I’m not going to presume it’s always (or even often) a good thing.