Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why Defend DC?

Just got done reading an entry over at Pretty Fizzy Paradise.

The short version is that some bloke named Dick has asked, in his blog, why it seems the greater number of people pleading for more racial/sexual sensitivity in comics seem to be die-hard DC fans and further asking (erroneously in my opinion) why it seems we come down so hard on Marvel when DC has had a greater number of scandals involving its' portrayal of female characters.

Kalinara - who being an editor on When Fangirls Attack is in a better position to judge than I- notes that it was Marvel which had one long string of offenses after another with the Mary Jane Statue and then the scandal over the Heroes for Hire Hentai cover whereas DC has never really had anything of that magnitude.

I have to agree. Yes, DC has rised some ire among some of it's female fans but the key word here is some. Off the top of my head, here's a few things I remember reading more than one complaint about this year.

* the comments by one editor that every woman should be reading Supergirl

* the Power Girl cover of JLA

* Black Canary becoming chairperson of the JLA and then taking a backseat to Batman in nearly every JLA appearance anywhere

* Vixen being made to look panicky in JLA to the point that Roy Harper had to save her

* Black Canary being married off to Green Arrow and the circumstances around how she accepted his proposal

*Jodi Picoult's brief run on Wonder Woman, in which Diana could not pump gas without the help of a man

* pretty much the whole of Amazons Attack, for reasons ranging from Black Canary and Power Girl being background players despite being the JLA and JSA leaders to the entire Amazon race being made to look like blood-thirsty femi-nazi stereotypes.

I've seen spirited rants about all of these things by comics bloggers of both genders over the past year. But nothing - save perhaps Amazons Attack and Picoult's writing - has attracted the kind of overwhelming consensus needed to be a proper scandal.

So why the disparity?

I think why Marvel may have attracted more anger than DC may come down to how they react to scandals. DC, and the people working for them, listen better than their counterparts at Marvel. For the most part, they seem like they truly want their fan's input on their work. At the very least, they put up a better show of pretending they care.

For instance - Tony Bedard and Will Pfiffer (the writers on Black Canary and Amazons Attack respectively) have been quite open in talking with fans who didn't like their stories in a reasonable and respectful fashion on their own blogs and boards. The Power Girl JLA cover too was handled in a reasonable fashion, with the artwork being changed before publication.

Compare this to Marvel's approach - where comments demanding answers about the MJ statue were deleted off of Joe Quesada's blog, Joe Quesada failed to see any problem with the Heroes for Hire cover and then - presumably after it was explained to him - said that it couldn't be sexist or degrading to women because it was done by a female artist.

I don't know if that's the answer... but it could be a piece of the puzzle, at least.


  1. Oh, god, that MJ statue. I'm still seething over that one. I remember finding it, finding out comments were getting deleted from the page where it was being sold, and then seeing the Spidey version, which made me feel slightly better, even if it wasn't real.
    The end of "Amazons Attack" makes me want to yank out my hair. My only response, in finding out how it ended, was, "At least they're not in refrigerators". Because, really, they'd been demoralized and depowered, so the only thing left was some sort of violence where they'd still be alive or some type of violence where they'd be dead.
    And the less I think about that "Heroes for Hire" cover, the better it is for my blood pressure.

  2. I disagree only on one count for DC: the constant reminder that Stephanie Brown is not getting any memorial anytime soon as Robin.

  3. I wouldn't say it's CONSTANT.
    Lots of people keep bringing up Dido's comment from the one convention but that's not the same as... say... Joe Quesada's constant harping on how much he despies the Peter Parker/MJ Watson marriage.
    And to Dido's credit, based on what I read of the quote, he was respectful of the people asking the question but just stated that it was his opinion that Steph was never really Robin and as such wasn't worthy of a case.
    Is that a jerky answer? Yes. But it's still an answer with some kind of reasoning behind it, no matter how much I may disagree with it.
    So for all my issues with Dido, I do respect the man for being honest and respectful in everything I've read him say. That's a lot more than I can say for Joey Q.

  4. To be honest I think Quesada's beef with the Peter/MJ marriage stem not from misogamy but from dumb-ass fanboyish desire to set the Spider-Man titles "right" by returning them to the era Joe Q. was most fond of them: most likely the mid-70s to early 80s when Peter Parker had half a dozen different potential romantic interests. This is precisely the stupid logic that prompted John Byrne to insist that Mary Jane was written out of the Howard Mackie run of Spider-Man during the "Chapter One" era. It's still a dumb idea but I guess Quesada's life won't be complete until he sees a storyline about Peter Parker going steady with Gloria Grant.
    I find the fact Didio and Willingham were actually cracking jokes about Steph Brown clones being used as a food source at the San Diego Comic Convention much more disturbing.
    Also you forgot turning the first non-white member of the Batman family into a sneering homicidal stereotypical Dragon Lady/Dope Head. (Sexually and Racially upsetting in in one convenient package.)Also let's not forget the fact that Batgirl at the time of it's cancellation was outselling Spider-Girl by about 9,000 copies a month.

  5. For some of the DC stuff you mentioned - I personally chalk some of it up to being bad writing, but not necessarily sexist.
    Having Wonder Woman not able to pump gas is just a stupid idea that is indicative of a bad portrayal of her, not necessarily a general sexist comment.
    Black Canary taking a backseat to Batman in JLA appearances I think is more indicative of DC writers over-using and over-relying on Batman. I think no matter who was the JLA chairman, man or woman, they'd be written to take a back seat to him. It's too easy for writers to use him as a deus ex machina who's just so smart and so prepared that he can get out of anything.
    And Amazons Attack has been universally panned - either for being sexist or for just being a lousy, nonsensical story (or both).
    I think DC has eventually responded to some of the complaints - witness how Wonder Woman and Supergirl are both being given new creative teams, that at least initially look like they'll be going in different directions.

  6. At San Diego, Dan Didio invited a female fan on stage in an attepmt to intimidate her -- she, to his surprise, accepted -- afterwards, he thanked her for being a good sport and she said, "But seriously, about Stephanie Brown, " and he turned and walked away.
    In public, on panels, creators and employees sing the praises of DiDio, but in private, I've yet to hear a creator or staffer say a single nice thing about DiDio the way I've heard them speak about other executives or editors at DC. The same goes with retailers.

  7. Gloria Grant? Bah! Everyone knows Peter Parker's one true love was Cissy Ironwood.
    I can't comment on any stories about convention behavior because there's too many stories that go both ways.
    And as for Cassandra Cain - my own opinions on her worth as a character not withstanding - hasn't she been pretty much fixed despite all of the admitedly stupid things that happened in the past year?

  8. Well, the stories things goes both ways. Until this, I hadn't really heard about the kind of jackassery Dido was allegedly pulling at cons.
    But as for what the writers and artists are saying... honestly, how many of you say happy things about the guy three layers of management above you in a normal conversation?
    Your immediate boss? Yes. Your boss's boss. Maybe. The guy you only see maybe a few times a year? You kiss their ass while you're in earshot but you don't really think about them the rest of the time.

  9. As far as Amazons Attack! goes, maybe this will be some comfort.
    As opposed to where they were after Infinite Crisis, they are alive. They are spread around the world. They don't know who they are. But they are no longer trapped in Limbo. Literal Limbo.
    And given who it is that has trapped them, her record of having her uses for female warriors and everything else that is being hinted at elsewhere in the DC Universe... I'd say that the Amazons will be back to form soon enough.
    In fact, with Gail Simone on Wonder Woman... I'm willing to guarantee it!

  10. Gail Simone coming onto the book certainly makes my day a little better. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, to be certain, but I'm not holding my breath.

  11. But the very first book will have monkey ninja assassins!

  12. And that's a fair assessment too.
    Wonder Woman not being able to pump gas? Great idea for a Year One story. Somewhat nonsensical when she's lived in Man's World for 10-15 years (depending on which timeline we're using) and has been operating with a secret identity for a few months.
    Batman as a Deus Ex Machina? Unavoidable, on occassion. But it just seems horribly inappropriate in a story that is supposed to center upon an invasion of strong women for Batman to be shouting magic words and supervising two teams when Zatanna, Power Girl and Black Canary are standing around doing nothing.
    And yes - with new teams coming on Wonder Woman (fans have been demanding Gail Simone take over for YEARS) and Supergirl (because fans have been demanding - uh - anyone but Frank Miller and Rob Liefeld take over for years) - it IS looking better.
    That, I think is another of DC's saving graces. In most of the cases where sexism has been cited, the male characters have looked just as bad as the female. The bad characterization of Supergirl's book tarnished Captain Boomerang just as much. And personally, I don't see Batman ever trusting magic enough to go shouting magic words at Circe. But that's just me.

  13. Yet, I heard nice things said about Mike Carlin, Paul Levitz and Jeanette Kahn, so ...
    It just really strikes me as telling that I've yet to hear a single off-the-cuff nice thing said about DiDio. It could be that I'm just happening to miss those conversations when I'm catching up with friends at cons or trade shows, but ...

  14. Doesn't it seem that simians seem to strike solely in the DC world? ;p
    (Yay for alliteration!)
    And yes, you'd have to go absolutely wrong to do monkey ninja assassins badly.

  15. It does seem to be the reaction to me too, tho I'm not all in on what everybody's said when. :\ But Joe Q's "we've done nothing wrong you stupid ppl" attitude rly didn't help. :\

  16. That's because Modern Marvel - with the exception of Dan Slott - deny that The Red Ghost and His Super Apes were the coolest idea Stan Lee ever came up. :D

  17. No, it didn't. And for every story I've heard about Dido being a jerk in public, I've heard too many stories about Quesada being a jerk in public AND read too much of his own writing where he sounded like a jerk to concede much past "Fine. They're both jerks. But Quesada is the bigger jerk."
    This isn't a debate that's going to get solved anytime soon.

  18. There was also that new Star Sapphire costume over in Green Lantern.
    But you're right about DC being better at course correction than Marvel, and not just in terms of sexism-related things:
    Bruce Jones' godawful Nightwing run? They brought in Marv Wolfman instead.
    The storylines in ACTION COMICS being off-schedule and out-of-sequence? They brought in Gary Frank as regular artist.
    Problems with the Wonder Woman book quality? They brought in Gail Simone.
    Sometimes their course-corrections are handled badly (the death of Bart Allen), but generally they improve things.
    Also, as far as Black Canary's chairmanship in JLA, I noticed that while other books (Amazon Attacks in particular) seem to fuck up this dynamic, Meltzer and his editor Eddie Berganza on JLA didn't.

  19. One thing gals seem not to notice is that DC is doing a TON of stories now involving female characters. There are several female characters in Countdown, Amazon's Attack was about gals, Birds of Prey, The first issue of Wonder Girl just came out, Teen Titans has some fun gals on the team, Checkmate and Shadowpact both have important female characters on the team. The JLA is now being led by a woman, and there are some great female characters in the JSA. While they might mess up once in a while, you have to also notice that they are really putting a lot of females into their comics over at DC.

  20. Really? I haven't seen Cass since that Teen Titans issue which was how long ago? The issue where she comes back to her senses and swears she'd kill Slade (even with rage issues, that violent reaction is still out of character for her...).
    She hasn't shown up in any comic since then. And her existance hasn't been acknowledged at all by the Bat people. It's like she never existed. She's simply in limbo. I'd hardly consider that fixed.
    But I will give in this much...Didio has been reported as saying that Cass will " seen" in Gotham Underground, a Countdown tie-in, "along with the Bat Family".
    Nice of him to distinguish her from the Bat family, btw. Apparently, working with, being led & taught by, provided and cared for by Bruce and Oracle isn't enough requirements for Cass to be considered a member of the Bat family.
    That her character's existance has been ignored this whole time in the comics as well...
    Yeah, it really does not inspire any confidence in me about her reappearance.

  21. Don't be so quick to chalk the new Power Girl cover up to DC's attentiveness to fans. They have seemingly focussed on reducing the size of her breasts over the broken-looking anatomy that most outraged fans were commenting on. Most macros (before the alteration) showed the sharp angle of her spine, and several fans commented about the location of her breasts (too high on the chest), her expressionless face and static pose.
    As I recall, several fans put the offending image side-by-side with an Alex Ross cover of the same character wearing the same outfit, as a sort of good-and-bad guide.

  22. Well, given that they were the ones who made her Chairman and that it was Meltzer's idea, I would hope not...

  23. DC has always been somewhat better about this, though.
    Marvel Comics - all of their superhero teams had a token girl and they didn't give a female character a book to headline until the early 70s.
    Also, there is a difference between including female characters and properly portraying female characters. Stephanie Brown had a major part in War Games - and yet you can't really applaud DC for making sure a female character had a prominent role in that case....

  24. That's my point. DC changed the image BECAUSE of fan reaction and attentiveness. True, this isn't as good as them having the sense to stop hiring Michael Turner or any other artist who draws such horrible work in the first place... but at least they admit to their mistakes when they make them.
    I'm reminded by a quote by Terry Pratchett regarding the American and British attitudes toward dealing with the inconvinent and I think that paraphrased, it describes the gulf between how DC and Marvel deal with fan-reaction.
    "A DC editor hears the readers complain and wonders 'What's wrong with this?' A Marvel editor hears the readers complain and wonders 'What's wrong with them?'"