Sunday, April 19, 2009

So, intentional disgrace or just mere ineptitude?

You decide! I am referring to this week’s batch of boobalicous comics, which I briefly highlighted in yesterday’s post. Now I am all lemsipped up feel I may be able to take a more considered and thoughtful approach to the subject, to ask DC, really, what the fuck were you thinking?

(In case I’ve put anyone off, or in case people think I’m being I’m being a bit melodramatic or dumb, I take the position that considered and thoughtful approaches can also involve coarse language. Having finished writing this post I now am not sure how considered it is. My lemsip may have worn off.)

This post was originally going to be a conventional review post, but after brooding on the issues in questions I have decided to focus around the women in each issue.

I bought 4 comics this week

Action Comics # 876
Oracle, the Cure # 2
Superman/Batman #58
Green Arrow/Black Canary #19
Included in each of these comics was DC Nation, with some promo art for JLA - Cry for Justice

Of these, all except for Superman/Batman #58 included Human/Kryptonian women. Superman/Batman #58 had the two heroes in the microverse, both encountering new civilisations. Whilst the folks Batman met may have included female people, they weren’t obviously coded as women and no mention was made of their sex. Although I enjoyed the issue I shall not discuss it here, because depictions of gender and sex differences were not apparent.

Let’s start with looking at the three remaining covers. In Oracle we are standing above Babs looking straight down her shirt. Her boobs are so pert and separate that I can see her torso. Her facial expression is one of emptiness, vapidity and shock. Bloggers had an issue with Kara’s Final Crisis cover. Although I quite liked that art and disagreed with the criticisms it has nothing on Bab’s positioning and facial expression.

Having read the issue, I can see now why Bab’s is shocked – she’s found the Calculator in the internet and he’s threatening to rip her apart. But if you compare the cover with the actual art in the issue, they are miles apart. In the issue we view the scene from the left and just behind the characters - there’s no breasts on view, in fact her chest is obscured by her arm. Her expression is of shock, horror and dismay.

The cover doesn’t really have the same effect. She looks full of wide eyed wonder, of innocence. While I have my doubts as to whether that is a true representation of Oracle’s character, that isn’t really the point. The point is that by giving her that expression and juxtaposing it next to that specific breast shot it becomes really exploitative. She looks like she has all the wordly guile of a child. To then also letch on her and choose that particular viewpoint would indicate that the artist (or editor, or whoever decided on the particular setup) is not able to think beyond his own knob. The colouring doesn’t help.

The birds eye view is also tied in to power relations, I think. If you’re standing over someone like that you have the upper hand. Now Babs in the comic would be able to defend herself, no problems (and in fact does). Babs on the cover looks like she couldn’t lift a finger. Because the point of view gives us such a sexual image, it could be read as another rape threat. You know, there’s just not enough of those in popular culture.

Next up, is Green Arrow/Black Canary # 19.
That cover is bad art. Bad bad bad art. I will forgive Cupid’s costume, she’s a new character, that’s her suit, she’s all about the obviousness. Dinah on the other hand…..her hip seems to be twice as long as you’d expect, her waist has shrunk to nothingness and her breasts are bigger than her head.

So, artists and editors. Couldn’t get past the breasts could you?

I have said previously how I loved the cover to GA/BC #17, and I stand by that. There’s a massive difference between the two covers. On #17 we see Cupid's expression. she's daring you to make something of her. Also, she’s in proportion, big breasted, sure, but in proportion. Whereas there is no in context explanation that will redeem the cover of #19.

What about inside the comic. Well, Cupid is bonkers and more than a little bimbo-etteish, she reminds me of ‘maths is hard’ Barbie. Dinah actually gets to do something, e.g. saving Ollie, and I enjoy the way she psyches out Cupid. But, Dinah can’t direct her sonic scream anymore? She doesn’t carry lock picks around? And she hits Ollie? I would rather this couple weren’t so much with the spousal abuse. That’s not a happy, healthy relationship. This needs to be picked up within the text and explicitly stated as being wrong.

Suddenly this looks like a pretty sexist issue all round. Hell, the creation of the Cupid character and the premise of two women fighting over their man could be argued to be a sexist one. I won’t go down that path, because I think there’s room for many different characters in the DCU, and so long as you’ve got good women characters than we can also have some crazy obsessional ones. Or indeed alien princesses with no nudity taboo.

My third beef of the week is the DC Nation column. How I’ve been waiting and longing for this series. I only wish it were an ongoing and not a mini. So on first reading I was all hurrah for the new book, wonderful art, great characters, yaaay! Then the positioning of the art struck me.

Now I’m going to be charitable and say that maybe DC wanted the S logo to be central to the page. Maybe this indicates Kara will have a big role in the new team. Now how were they going to make the S logo central? Well zoom up on her chest of course, isn’t that what they do with Superman? Well, yes it is, but zooming up on a woman’s chest has ve-ry different connotations to zooming up on a man’s chest.

The image disembodies her. By not using her face we see no personality, she becomes a passive object. She has no agency and no input into the scene. We’ve seen images like this before. see Supergirl \1 by Peter David for instance, but they haven’t been so offensive. In that particular image the symbol itself is the focal point of the piece, you can see at least part of their faces and there is no one else in the scene.

In the DC Nation column you have 4 other characters, all men, and no other women. The men are all shown standing and we can see their whole bodies, none of which are sexualised. If you get a kick out of them then that’s you projecting onto the image, not the image saying sex sex sex sex sex see my bits sex sex sex.

If you want the S logo to be central to the image then you could have had Kara floating above the other characters with a similar expression on her face. Or put her in the middle of the group – but that option seems unlikely as Green Lantern needs to be central, being the team leader and all. Still, there are plenty of ways to make the S shield central.

If you don’t want to be charitable, then DC produced this image deliberately in the same way that the Oracle and GA/BC covers were done deliberately.

There has been a lot of discussion of this column going on over at Supergirl Comic Box Commentary. I would recommend reading the comments. Some bloggers think it is a crap and exploitative piece, others disagree and believe that it was DC’s way of highlighting the symbol.

Jeff Caporizza makes a fair point when he questions what Supergirl written by a woman would be like. To quote:

“What I'm saying is that for Kara to be what she could and should be, it only starts with making sure her breasts and belly are accompanied by her head and legs, it ends with some real effort made to capture what a 17 year old demi-god would really sound and act like against a landscape filled with fantasy and wonder. Until then she may as well just show that skin, because who needs to read the word bubbles anyway?”

Landry Walker (writer of Supergirl Cosmic Adventures) then steps in and there is an interesting discussion about who is qualified to write what.

So overall, those two issues and the DC Nation column seem to say:
‘Women, you may be intelligent and capable and well respected, but what’s really important is your breasts! Your other achievements pale into comparison beside those breasts! Who cares what you’re actually like, you’ve got breasts! And because 'I' like breasts I‘m going to focus on just those, forever and ever and ever.’

And this is important because it doesn’t occur in a vacuum. This is not a one off example, and it’s tied in so deeply with women’s position in society in the real, non fictional world, that it’s worth pointing out, again and again and again, that judging women by their bodies is wrong. To judge women does a disservice to both men and women.

I know that DC can do it right, because I have read this week's Actions Comics. Action had none of the above problems. None at all. No objectification and no gratitutous breasts, despite the skin tight and ripped costumes. We are getting three dimensional characters. Oddly enough, the story was pretty good too.

The thing about bad art is that it detracts from the story, it pulls you out, or throws you out if you will, and suddenly you're an observer, not engaging with it. That is a problem in storytelling. It means the finished product isn't very good. It needs to be fixed.

Fix this problem, DC will get a bunch more readers. And I doubt will lose any.


SallyP said...

It really was not a good week for DC when it came to objectifying women's breasts.

notintheface said...

Yeah, that JLA book is supposed to be called "Cry For Justice", not "Cry For Jugs".