Friday, September 30, 2011

Sexuality In Comics With Vaneta Rogers

Download The MP3 Here The comic news blogosphere has erupted this week in editorials and op-ed pieces over the depiction of Starfire in the DC Comic Red Hood And The Outlaws and The first issue of Catwoman, which ends with a sex scene involving Batman. Too much for mainstream comics? I debate the subject with Vaneta Rogers . We also talk about the overall success of DC's new 52, and their employing the Nielsen Company to conduct reader surveys.


Ricky said...

I hate to say it, but this is the first Word Balloon I had to turn off because it upset me. I think you guys were having the wrong argument in regards to why what they did in Outlaws was a bad choice.

The problem with the book is not a problem with characterization, at least in regards to Starfire. It's not about Starfire herself, it's about women in general. Swap any female character into that story and it would be just as bad. The problem with the book has just as much to do with how Jason and Roy act as it does with Starfire.

The book goes bad just as soon as Jason tells Roy "she's been with me". He says this for no reason. It's completely unprovoked. It immediately paints Jason as a scumbag. He sounds like the same scumbags car salesmen I worked with (briefly, thank God). They guy who points out a girl in a crowd and immediately tells you he slept with her whether you care or not. It's gross. Then they have some kid taking pictures of her in the bushes.

It reads like a 13-year-old wrote it. I understand about the "writing to a target audience" argument and I know we're no strangers to the objectification and sexualization of women in comics, but that doesn't excuse what was done. To say that it isn't a new thing doesn't let it off the hook. For one thing, we should be trying to rise above that. We should be trying to do better.

As for writing to the audience, well, this wasn't that. This was going for the absolute lowest common denominator without going full-on "Adult". It's blatant pandering and it's insulting to the intelligence of the reader. You can get that young male audience without doing such things.

The fact that neither of you were addressing this problem and instead focused on the fact that you saw the problem was with the fans being overprotective of the characterization of Starfire made me stop listening. I don't know what blogs you guys were reading, but I read plenty that dealt with exactly what I am talking about and weren't just focused on the fact that DC "ruined their Starfire". It was a bigger issue than that.

I look forward to the next Word Balloon and continue to be a fan, but please, try to better address these hot-button type issues with more educated debate. I know for a fact that you can because I've heard it before.

Thanks for reading, John. You have not lost a listener I was just immensely disappointed as I had been looking forward to you tackling this issue.

john siuntres said...

No problem Ricky. I just disagree. I think the Red Hood book is like The Expendables, Road House, Walking Tall, XXX, or any meathead action film you can think of. Comics by nature are an exploitation medium. They don't all have to made with lofty ambitious stories or art. Some have been and can be very base stories filled with cheesecake art and over the top stoies and characters. Comics should be for everyone, and that includes having a book for those who want a 16 yr old male's wish fulfillment of dumb sexy action stories.

Don't forget Some Heavy Metal stories, or Marvelville, The Boys, Mark Millar's Trouble. Even Penthouse Comix had the nerve to do sexy T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents for a few months.

Totally fine that you don't like those books, there are plenty of others for you to read. Leave these fans and books alone and let them rise or fall on their own merit, or lack thereof.

john siuntres said...

One last obvious thought. It's hard to accept judgement of our discussion if Ricky or anyone doesn't listen to the whole conversation.

Ricky said...

I completely agree with that last point. I fully accept my responsibility for that. Chalk it up to a knee-jerk reaction, which I'm a little ashamed of as I try to avoid that at all costs.

I can see your point about the story. I also agree that it probably shouldn't elicit the outrage that it has. If I had pass any judgement on the book, it would have to be that I just think it's bad, lazy writing, which is actually the part that upsets me. I definitely wouldn't put it on the same level as The Boys or any other adult themed book.

Yeah, it's just bad writing. The Larry the Cable Guy of comics, if you will.

You win this round, Siuntres ;)

Chen said...

Listening to the whole thing through, John, I have to agree with Ricky. The two main points seem to be that (a) People are mad with certain characterizations of their "ruined" characters; and (b) Veering away from aforementioned characterizations would pigeonhole creators.

Much of what I've seen online disproves (a): It isn't that Starfire and Catwoman specifically are written as sex fiends so much as it is that they're written the way a horny teenage boy would write highly sexual women.

As far as I remember (as I am several continents away from my copy of Batman Inc. #1), the Morrison-penned Bat-Cat scene left more to the imagination while clearly telling us that these two adults who run around in fetish gear are going to get it on. The final image of Catwoman #1 stays with us several moments past the point when most TV shows would fate out. There's a difference there that allows for Catwoman to remain a sexual character without what amounts to a rape scene ("Every time... he protests." If this scene was gender-flipped, I'd feel very, very uncomfortable).

This isn't Alan Moore re-contextualizing literary characters, all of whom will remain in their pristine condition since Moore's work in their regard is a form of fan-fiction.
This isn't The Boys, which DC doesn't publish because it deemed such depictions of its heroes inappropriate.
It may be Millar, but only because lately he's really enjoyed throwing in these big Shock & Awe moments into stories that benefit little from them.

I also don't think an intelligent creator would be pigeonholed if we veered away from this type of depictions. You can write Sexy, or Big Dumb (Space-)Blonde without being so immature about it.

As Ricky said, it's about women in general. In the eyes of the public, Starfire is indicative of what mainstream comics think of women, a line of thinking that goes from Vampirella to various other scantily clad, hugely breasted superheroines.

There are more Starfires than there are Wonder Women or Jenny Sparks', so women and girls don't find anyone to identify with in mainstream superhero comics.

To finish, I have to vehemently disagree with Vaneta's point about how we shouldn't push for the big publishers to experiment while they're restructuring. This is exactly the time to do so: there's no reason to fix it if it isn't broken, but if it is, and DC intends to present a DC Universe for the 21st Century, we should be telling them as consumers what it should and shouldn't be. It's that very "throw it at the wall and see if it sticks" attitude that'll give the DCNu its very own Ultimate Universe or Joe Q as EIC moments.

Mece said...

Unfortunately Red Hood and the Outlaws was Teen not Teen plus. Teen is 12 and up. I honestly think that they should have just pushed it to Teen plus. DC telling the readers to mind the ratings is meaningless. Not all of the T rated books had the same level of mature themes. Detective Comics and Batwing really should have been T + for levels of gore alone. But unfortunately they were rated Teen.

You guys seemed so busy discussing how wrong it was for people to be upset that Starfire was changed but you never addressed what she was changed into. Or how what she was changed into impacts the state of female characters in comics. It's not enough that there can be "sexy" female characters and "serious" female characters. I just hope that one day they actually make "beefcake" laden comics for people that enjoy that sort of thing, because the ratio of cheesecake to beefcake is off. Letting the "boys" have their fun is great. Too bad they are the only ones having fun. It is a double standard. The sexy book is always about selling female "sexuality". If the line up for the new 52 also included Voodoo as a male stripper or if Nighwing was about the sexy guy being dangerous and sexy (the same way Catwoman is about a sexy girl being dangerous and sexy)people wouldn't be as upset. There would actually be a little something for everyone. There is also the shortsighted idea that because Starfire has always been a sexual character that this change is acceptable. Some around the net have gone as far to proclaim that she is now sexually liberated and naysayers are prudes for not accepting the change. I have to wonder what grown woman operates like this Starfire? James Bond has had multiple lovers but they were all top tier ladies. And he almost always gains access to something to make his mission easier though his sexual encounters. Somehow we are supposed to believe that the hottest chick on the beach is not going to have even the shallowest physical standards? She can't even be counted as a femme fatal. She has no objectives. She could pull any guy she wanted and yet she wasn't shown wanting anything. Roy was just there and she asked him if he wanted to have sex. She didn't show any sexual interest in Roy. She wasn't pursuing Roy becase he is who she wanted and she is the type who gets who she wants. She is more powerful than he is so she doesn't need to lower his defenses. If he refused she stated that she would find someone else. If the genders were reversed she would be like that craptastic boyfriend who threatens leaving his lovestruck girlfriend because she wasn't ready for sex yet. And who would that someone else be? If the kid (the one taking pictures) had the courage to speak to her would she have asked him? If there was an overweight guy in a speedo (no beach trip is complete without one) would she go after him? The hot chick that has sex with anyone just because she is "bored" is a tired fantasy.

Mece said...

IMO the writer really dropped the ball. All the tools were in the toolbox. This didn't have to be such a big deal. The continuity issues could have been avoided. They know how comic fans are with continuity. Why give them something to ponder? Characters like Superman and Supergirl have been rebooted. Easy. Batgirl's time line has been altered but we know that we are picking things up sometime after the Killing Joke. Easy. Nightwing's history may have been altered but we do know that he spent time as Batman. His book is basically a continuation of his story. Easy. They could have had her fresh off the space ship. It's pretty obvious that the writer wants to drum up her past as a slave. Instead her ties to the Teen Titans and Dick Grayson were mentioned. And there is no way any of that could have happened if Starfire has issues telling humans apart. But even if the writer wants us to buy that everything happened but with a twist there is a more convincing way to do that. Roy shouldn't have needed Todd to explain her behavior if she has "always" been this way. If anything of the Titan's time line has been kept Roy knows who she is. He should have been nodding along. He should have affirmed Todd's assertions of her character. He could have talked about how she has always been flighty and kept getting him and Grayson mixed up. His confusion just made it harder as a reader to suspend belief.

Changing Starfire's personalty was bad enough. Giving her a whacked out short term memory was bad enough. But in the first comic she did not contribute anything. They could at least have given her equal a** kicking time. Instead of showing her destroy the tanks they just gave a shot of her posing in the aftermath. If this really was supposed to be like a dumb action movie how does not showing tanks go boom make sense? They just opened them selves up for criticism(and accusations of sexism) by downplaying her combat capabilities in favor for more panels of cheesecake. I get it. She is supposed to be "the girl" I just don't think it works in this situation. If she were a civilian or another superhero without powers maybe but she is the strongest one on the team. We were given no reason why someone that strong and who apparently doesn't hold any affection for humans would be following one around. Is she getting paid? Does she think Todd is a good leader? Are they at least good friends? Lovers? Nope none of that. And without her own objectives there is no reason for her to be there. They really could have just replaced her with any female superhero and the result would have been the same. The first comic sets the tone for the rest and the writer choose to not treat her like a full member of the team. I suppose we should be happy she's not just the secretary.

Tonebone said...

I think another point has been missed... even if it wasn't wrong for reasons of sexism, etc., it worked against DC's STATED GOALS... to reach out to younger readers and broaden the reader base of comics, thus preserving its longevity.

How the hell does this kind of fanboy wank material do this?
There is nothing new or different here, just the same crap DC has been producing for the past few years.

Starfire is one of a handful of "known" characters of DC's universe, via the Teen Titans cartoon. How many mostly young viewers saw this show? Milions. Without a doubt, more than ever saw her in the comics. I'm no marketing expert, but even I know to capitalize on this exposure and not present a complete 180 from what they know.

Catwoman is even more well know to "new readers" than Starfire. DC seems to believe the smart route is to take advantage of those untold millions of Bomb Queen fans and emulate that. How about this, DC... Ever heard of a little production called The Dark Knight Rises? How about getting Catwoman lined up with what they are planning, so that when the movie hits, and potentially makes another BILLION in revenues, the comic is there to catch some of the interest.

Any writer knows the cardinal sin of having interesting sexual tension between characters is to break the tension, and therefore dissolve the interest.

Which part of the elusive NEW READER's interest or budget is this supposed to capture? Does DC think that this kind of fan-boy titillation is how the average 14 year old gets his kicks, sexually? I guess if their main competition is the Sears catalog bra section, sure, but have they ever heard of internet porn? No competition.

I think what disappoints me most about the majority of New DCU books is that it is completely evident that Didio, Johns, and Lee have no faith in the characters they are the stewards of, and, instead of improving the QUALITY and ACCESSIBILITY of the stories, they just want to change things.

Character protection? Sure, since the characters themselves are not the problem. The problem is the constant incestuously fan-boyish content that they hope will pass for "fresh ideas". From their initial press releases, they claimed to be setting out to save DC, and the comics industry as well... this is not going to do it.

Rob said...

The main problem I had with both issues - Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws was not the overt and graphic sexuality. I DO read The Boys, and have read other comics with similar scenes. What I objected to was the fact that those scenes occurred in DC comics. I hold DC and Marvel to a different standard than I do other companies. I realize that DC is trying alot of new things and taking some chances. I commend them for doing it. I just think that some things should be left to the imagination. Implied not shown. For example, I feel it was a mistake to have Starfire come right out and ask Roy if he wanted to have sex with her not because it was offensive, because it wasn't. Starfire has always been a sexy character. It was a mistake because it now tells readers and critics that some DC comics are definitely NOT for kids. This has always been true for most companies, but not so for DC and Marvel, who DO have licensed properties, and I always felt were safer, had more integrity and were a little more wholesome.

Yes, a comic seller and a parent should both be aware that adult themes are present in these books, and they may not want their children reading them. It might be easier for a parent to just not buy any comics for their kids because it's too much of a hassle to look through each book. Why open themselves up for that kind of criticism.

A few years ago there was a Batman Confidential issue where Barbara Gordon Batgirl was chasing Catwoman and they wound up in a hedonist club, where clothing was optional. With the help of well places statuary and the like, a nude Batgirl chased a nude Catowoman through the club. It was a goofy scene, and funny. Much like the bra scene at the beginning of Catwoman. That kind of stuff is harmless. Where Catwoman went south for me was the end scene. I mean, it's not really a secret that they have a relationship, I just didn't think it was necessary to show even what they showed. That kind of thing should be more implied. This isn't Secret Six. This is Batman, a flagship character, and he should be handled more professionally.

JoeComics said...

This episode seemed to express that the argument against Red Hood and Catwoman was because the characters changed. That's not it at all. Catwoman is a sexy, sensual, flirty character. My biggest problem with the issue was actually seeing them have sex. We all know they do it. It just I don't want to see my heroes have sex. Same goes for friends and family, I know they do but I don't want to watch.

An earlier poster quoted the line "at first he resisted" Selina says this about Bruce. Reverse those lines and it's pretty sleezy. I think it's out of character for Bruce to just give in at this moment too. I just don't see Batman doing that. I think he's has more self control and holds himself to that.

The Red Hood and the Outlaws problems are that Starfire wasn't even a character in that book. She was just there to be ogled. Everything you learn about her is through Jason. Not to mention the bad puns. We has a some 38s coming, lines like that. The few times she talks and its, "have let's have sex." You could easily have taken her out and that book would be the same. She's not needed. only there for cheesecake.
These are the problems I had with those two titles. Catwoman was the better read even with the problems I had with it.

That's the thing I think is going to hurt DC. They want new readers. But they are only really targeting the same audience as before. They relaunched/rebooted with all the same creators as before.

There's already some continuity issues happening. Wonder Woman is a perfect example. In the WW title she's really tall. But look at all the JL images, of them all together, and who's the smallest one there?
It was mentioned in the cast that this was really well thought out. I have to disagree. I feels like a lot of these issues were rushed, in both, writing and art.