Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Oncoming (Susan) Storm

Oh, the fangirls are not going to like this...

SOURCE: Male heroes draw comic fans

(Side-Note. Isn't that one of the worst headlines ever? It sounds like Captain America and Iron Man are doing caricatures on the street!)

The basic upshot of the article is that it puts forth three main ideas:

1) The reason why comic book movies that center upon female characters do worse than comic book movies centering upon male characters is because most men are uncomfortable with powerful women.

2) Fantastic Four is some kind of exception to this rule because the three main male characters balance out the one female, who is in many ways the heart of the team.

3) Jessica Alba as Sue Storm is a step up from Halle Berry as Catwoman, because she gets a costume that covers her whole body.

And what experts do they get to promote this idea?

The guy who runs Comics2Film and one of the bimbos from G4 TV, which is described as a channel for "video gamers and comic-book devotees".

This seems a bit inaccurate as the only time I can remember G4 covering anything remotely related to comics was when they had some of their staff at The San Diego ComicCon - and then they seemed to be more interested in the girls dressed as Princess Leia than interviewing Jeph Loeb. But I digress.

Let's just say I think there's got to be someone a bit more qualified to discuss women in comics and fanboy psychology. Someone who works for a comic company? A psychiatrist who is an expert on human sexuality and how men view women? At the very least, someone whose career doesn't depend on being vapid eye-candy for a bunch of stoner frat boys who use words like "pownz" in every-day conversation?

Just a thought.

Anyway, this article just disturbs me because:

1) The real reason Spider-Man and Superman made more money that Catwoman and Elektra had more to do with...

a) Familiarity. Nearly every kid knows who Spider-Man is - hardly any know who Elektra is.

b) Advertising. Spider-Man and Superman were more heavily promoted than Catwoman and Elektra. And despite all the movies having PG-13 ratings, Spider-Man was marketed as a family film while Catwoman featured a hot woman in bondage gear. Not exactly the type of thing to make mom want to take the kids out for a day at the cinema.

c) Quality. Superman and Spider-Man were made by experienced film directors who were fans of the comics and endeavored to stay as close to the look and spirit of the original books as possible. Catwoman had absolutely nothing in common with the comics on which it was based - apart from the name of the character - and was made by a special-effects man and first-time director. I know for a fact that fanboys - perfectly heterosexual, red-blooded American fanboys - stayed away from Catwoman in droves simply because they heard about how far it deviated from the comics. The fact that Halle Berry was wearing next to nothing was not even a consideration.

2) I never thought I'd see the day when Sue Storm is held up as the vanguard of feminism in superheroines. The woman who was the epitome of the girl hostage through the 60's who evolved into a stay-home mommy who just happened to be one of the most powerful superbeings on the planet?

And lest I be misunderstood on this point, let me say this. I do believe feminism is about choice. You can choose to have kids and stay at home with them just as easily as you can choose to focus on your career. It doesn't make you any less of a woman or a womyn to want to devote your life to raising a family.

It's just that the idea of Susan Storm as a feminist icon - after all the insane and undignified and stereotypical things that have happened to her because of her gender over the years... the Eskimo said to the air-conditioner salesman, "I'm not buying it!"

3) Fantastic Four is also an established franchise, so it's doing so well probably had more to do with that than their being a female character in a body-covering costume. And let's not forget - that costume is TIGHT. And tight is just as bad as skimpy.

I dunno. Anyone else have any thoughts on this?


  1. I think you're spot on about the familiarity and quality parts. Since I don't live in the US I can't comment about the ads.
    Also, keeping in mind the sheer numbers, it's pure idiocy to compare male vs female MCs:
    Spider-Man: 1-3, Superman 1- ?? is it 7 now?, Punisher, Batman has five movies, right?, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Blade, Hulk...
    If we count in animated movies, the count goes way high.
    The females have... Catwoman, Elektra, and Supergirl. None of these films had a decent script. None of the MCs were well known. I'd go so far as to say that Catwoman and Elektra are powerless heroines so there shouldn't be anything for the men to be afraid about.
    And hey, are X-Men movies also an exception with Storm, Rogue, and Jean? Because they were mighty popular... Both the movies and the characters.

  2. Batman has 6 if you count the Adam West movie, actually. :)
    But yeah... it's a huge difference either way.

  3. Sue Storm
    Well...I haven't seen either of the F4 movies, but when the article holds up Sue Storm as a 'feminist icon', I think they're referring to her portrayal in the movies, not how she was portrayed in the 60's or any other era of comic. Many people (such as myself) know who the Fantastic 4 are without ever having read many comics. To people like us, it's the portrayal in the movie that matters, not the the comics.

  4. Well, I don't agree tight is just as bad as skimpy. They could be considered equally revealing depending on who you ask, but skimpy leaves you absurdly vulnerable to minor scrapes and scratches (often in uncomfortable places) that even an old raggedy t-shirt would have protected you from. The assertion that any woman would deliberately choose to wear such a costume into dangerous situations completely invalidates almost all credibility a comic can hope to have, as far as I'm concerned.
    But yes, the article's conclusions are dumb. The movies aren't successful because they handicap them with bad scripts and shifty directors.

  5. Tight isn't just as bad as skimpy. Tight has some sort of justification. Tight is the same as what many (most) male superheroes wear. Granted, we're unlikely to see a woman in armor a la Iron Man, but given that swimsuits are the alternative, and given the need to balance protective gear with freedom of movement, unitards and skintight space suits aren't half bad.

  6. True. A tight skin-covering costume IS more practical in that sense.
    What I meant is that tight is just as bad in terms of bodily exposure. I mean, if the costume is tight to the point that it accenuates every curve of the body and all the details can be made out (I'm thinking of Greg Land butt-shots here) - then they may as well be wearing something skimpy.

  7. Re: Sue Storm
    See, I'd like to think that.
    But then I consider the movie. And how she's basically Reed or Doom's groupie through-out.
    And I laugh.

  8. Well, that's what I meant. I was speaking in terms of objectifcation, not protection.
    In terms of how it objectifies the female form, a skin-tight outfit that hugs every curve and leves nothing to the imagination is about the same as... oh, say a chainmail bikini. To my mind anyway.
    Something ironic I just realized: given her powers (force-fields, can't be seen), Sue is one of the few heroines who could justify walking around practically naked. And yet, apart from one period in the 90s, she's always been one of the most conservatively dressed heroines there is. Which fits her personality perfectly.

  9. Actually, to be fair Blair Butler is hardly your typical "G4TV bimbo". She's a genuine femme comics fan and host of AOTS's comics segment "Fresh Ink", as well as the former Head Writer of X-PLAY (and I suspect a major influence on the creation of Morgan Webb's character on that show). She also wrote, produced and played Cheetah in the really funny Wonder Woman sketch AOTS's Olivia Munn starred in.
    USA TODAY just went for the most high-profile woman, at least to McPaper which clearly doesn't know the first thing about current comics culture, involved with comics they could find. To those more cognizant, it's clear Gail Simone (who they didn't even credit w/coming up w/the WiF phrase!), Karen Healey or Lea Hernandez would've been better choices - but Blair Butler's on TeeVee!...and they're not.... :(
    Other than that - yeah, the article had the depth of analysis and thoughtful commentary we've come to expect from USA TODAY (unwrapping today's edition to get the fish inside). >:)
    Tim Liebe
    Dreaded Spouse-Creature of Tamora Pierce
    - and co-writer of Marvel's White Tiger comic

  10. Re: Sue Storm
    That may be. As I said, I haven't seen the movies.
    Anway, I doubt Sue Storm's portrayal one way or the other had much of an impact on the sales.
    I think you're right in that familarity is the key. The Batman and Superman mythology is pretty deeply engrained into the popular knowledge. The F4 probably less so, but people are familiar with them. Elektra, on the other hand, is relatively obscure.
    For an obscure comic book character to be sucessful as a movie, it better be a pretty good movie (I liked Blade, although I never saw the sequels). Familiar comic book characters can get away with mediocre movies and be sucessful (Fantastic Four?? I haven't seen it, but the reviews were pretty bad). An obscure comic book character in a bad movie (League of Extraordinary gentlemen) is going to do badly.

  11. Nah, tight may still objectify, but at least it's a realistic choice a person might make. A skimpy costume is an artist deliberately violating common sense just for the sake of more T&A, which is an insult to the intelligence of all readers, both male and female. But unfortunately most fans have been desensitized into thinking it's okay for comics to fall short of even the low standards of believability set by a James Bond movie.
    (Chainmail bikini is even worse, though, because it implies the character is making a real attempt to actually protect herself from lethal injury, but is somehow unaware that leaving vital areas of her anatomy completely bared to the world for all her opponents to see renders the effort utterly impotent.)

  12. I agree partially, but in that respect most heroic male characters suffer similarly, a few of them are Hephaistus-types cursed by their mostrosity (Hulk, The Thing and Beast from X-Men, although Beast is more cuddly than monstrous), a few are evil-ugly (my best example being the Spider-Man villain Vulture) and a few more are just old. I can only think of two old women in superhero comics, and women's "ugly" is usually just the usual body, a bit taller and green (think She-Hulk's hot but huge vs. original Hulk's huge, ill-proportioned and scary).
    So, yes, male characters have a lot more exceptions, not least because of their enormous advantage in numbers. The standard heroic male, however, will still be ridiculously hyper-masculine, uncommonly tall, almost grotesquely overmuscled and generally look like the bastard son of Ken and GI Joe on stereoids. Juxtaposing the male ideal and the female ideal shows us what pop culture is really saying about gender aesthetics: men = strong, women = delicate. In comic books, that ideal is taken to the extreme, often making both grotesque.
    Regarding the exploitative nature of even comparatively modest superheroine costumes, I think the butt-shots and panty-shots and cleavage-shots are the real culprits here, and in comics with decent artists (like Astonishing X-Men) the tight costumes aren't any more sexualized on women than they are on men. Some of the best comics (like X-Factor) show characters in iconic civilian gear rather than costumes. I prefer my heroes to don their own clothes as often as possible, because I think that does something to highlight their individuality, rather than reducing it as the genre so often does.
    Tight costumes are a problem when they have simulated underwear sewn into the pattern, or are so tight on the back they give the poor superheroine a permanent wedgie. They're also problematic in that they highlight the impossible standards for the feminine form. Speaking for my hypothetical alter-ego self, even a little belly or thighs would dissuade me from wearing Sue Storm's costume; women know they are constantly being judged. That's why I love the new Supergirl sketches so much -- her breasts are average-sized, her limbs and torso are visibly well-muscled and she looks strong and compact with only modest curves, giving an overall impression of physical power.
    I've rambled too much. It's just I've spent the last five or six years thinking what an acceptable standard of body would be,for a superheroine.

  13. Re: Sue Storm
    I wonder how many people actually saw Blade knowing it was a comic book movie? I think it is the exception as vampires and swords and Wesley Snipes are cool enough on their own to attract attention.

  14. True. But on the other hand, depending on the genre, a skimpy costume MAY be acceptable for either gender.
    Case in point: Conan isn't any better protected from the cold or sharp pointy objects by his famous fur boxers than Red Sonja is by her chainmail "armor". But in high fantasy, you can get away with saying that "Ah, well they are so good that they CAN fight in next to nothing and not get hurt" or "They are so tough that they can take all those wounds and still keep fighting."
    Superhero comics are a little more grounded in reality, or at least the modern world. Which is why you hear more complaints about fighting in heels and fishnets - we can imagine that because we've done it.
    Well, those of us who got into a fight at Rocky Horror, anyway. ;)

  15. Hey, I've written four different articles on the physics of Green Lantern rings and postulated how the Yellow Weakness worked before it got retconned away as "a giant space lizard feeds off your fear". I can't fault anyone for rambling about something regarding comics. :)
    And see above for my comments on Conan vs. Sonja and equality and impractical costuming.
    You are right though: there are just as many male fashion victims. It's just rarely do we see Beast stretched out like a centerfold in his spandex shorts.

  16. Well, forgive me for the general lumping.
    Admittedly, I have purposely limited my exposure to G4 TV after I tried watching G4TV once after my cable company picked it up. My brain-cells still hurt from the listening to the woman who hosts "Cheat" trying to sound spontaneous and unscripted.
    I gave it another shot after I heard they were covering ComicCon last year and... yeah, more about the booth babes than the comics.
    So, yeah. Lumping is bad. Mea culpa.

  17. No apologies needed - just wanted to clarify that Blair Butler's a cut above the G4TV average. :)
    As for the rest of your comment - absolutely yeah! The only G4TV show I still TiVO is X-PLAY - I'll occasionally catch a couple errant minutes of AOTS to see if it's gotten any better (it hasn't - in fact, it's gotten even LESS informative and more fratboyish!), or if a show advertised on X-PLAY looks promising I'll give it a glance (usually to my regret - way to destroy my lifelong love of STAR TREK, guys!). I hung on for longer than made any sense b/c of an enduring affection for the old TechTV, which was informative and didn't insult my intelligence - but now I get most of my TechTV love off of the collection of podcasts the wired, fired former staff do, like Leo Laporte's TWiT Netcast Network, DL.TV hosted and produced by Patrick Norton & Robert Herron, and for you masochists John C. Dvorak's CRANKY GEEKS. If I absolutely positively need a pretty girl to deliver my technology to me, I far prefer GEEKBRIEF's Cali Lewis or Amber Macarthur of CityTV and COMMAND-N to most of G4TV's female on-air talent (Kristin Holt is the host of CHEAT!, BTW - and your assessment of her's pretty much dead-on).
    Tim Liebe
    Dreaded Spouse-Creature of Tamora Pierce - and co-writer of Marvel's White Tiger comic (#6 out soon!)

  18. Yep, it's the posing we need to fight against. Unless a character is seducing, flirting, or engaging sex, s/he shouldn't (wouldn't!) assume a sexualized pose. Of course, if they want to do a spread of Luke Cage in the shower just to balance things out, who am I to stop them?

  19. Nice to know my snap-shot critical skills are still up to par compared to the experiences of one who has walked through the valley of the shadow of brain-death. :)
    BTW, tell your spouse that I just read Trickster's Queen and I loved it. For what the opinion of some random guy on the Internet is worth.

  20. Yes. This is one of the thing that annoys me the most about the new Red Sonja series. I think it is well written, most of the time and while I wish the book was more about Sonja the Lone Wolf than about Sonja being the most capable warrior in a team of adventurers trying to save the world, I recognize that the story works for what it is.
    And yet, most of the covers for the book depict Sonja is a posed style. And not the good action pose of her in the middle of beheading some enemy or pressing back against the wall as she faces a horde of monsters. No, I'm talking back-arched, butt out posing with her sword at her side or before her in a passive stance.

  21. Will do, and positive comments and constructive criticism is ALWAYS welcome. :)
    Tim Liebe
    - who REALLY misses TechTV....

  22. Harley's a good guy??