Not All DC Ladies Have It Bad in the New 52

Posted by Michael Sacco on Sep 24, 2011 in Comic Books |

Birds of Prey #1

DC’s “New 52” initiative, which rebooted/relaunched 52 ongoing comic series starting this month, is a great opportunity to challenge or completely destroy conventions that have been present in Big Two comics for a long time. As someone who’s purchased nearly half of said 52 books, I’ve actually been really pleased with the ones I picked up, but I’ve been choosy about which I purchase. I have a confession, though — I love female superheroes, so I bought every book that had one in it. Laura Hudson of Comics Alliance wrote a great piece about the unfortunate depictions of DC mainstay ladies Catwoman and Starfire (in Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws, respectively). Basically, Catwoman is offensively bad cheesecake — it looks and reads like fanfiction, with Selina walking around with half her bra showing and ending the book with a two-page spread of ┬áSelina riding Batman on a rooftop — and Starfire in Outlaws is some twisted male vision of what a “sexually liberated female” would be (read: a sex doll). It’s disheartening to see books coming out with content like that, because the relaunch was such a great opportunity to build some bridges with female readers rather than burn them down.┬áBut I’m here to tell you that the rest of the ladies in the new DCU don’t have it as bad. In fact, most of them seem to be doing pretty well for themselves. This week, I came home with Birds of Prey, Supergirl, and Wonder Woman, all of which star female characters, and I walked away really pleasantly surprised.

Let’s start with the Birds. For an all-female book, Birds of Prey is super-light on cheesecake or exploitative shots, or even on Male Gaze. The fight scenes, which could easily have made for some suggestive shots, were tastefully framed; the book looked and felt like a good action TV show. When an artist puts a woman in a rockabilly bustier and leather pants but doesn’t spend the book zeroing in on them, you know you’re doing all right. Jury’s still out on whether Black Canary is still wearing fishnets, though. What are you wearing on your legs, Dinah?

Supergirl could’ve made for a really offensive book, too, knowing Kara’s age and her previous costumes, but artist Mahmud Asrar did what I thought was impossible from DC up until now — they made her look like a 16-year-old and treated her like one. There are no butt shots. Her breasts are small. There are no contrived poses to show off her “goods.” She’s a teenager, for God’s sake, and as such the book’s creators apparently decided not to make her a sex object. Go figure.

Wonder Woman, the subject of some disapproval over her awful appearances in New 52 promotional art, receives an incredibly respectful treatment in her own book by artist Cliff Chiang. The Amazon princess towers over other female characters in the book, and has a body shape befitting a warrior, but still has that classical Greek beauty to her. Her breasts aren’t even popping out of the top of her outfit (which, by the way, you won’t even care doesn’t include pants). Now, another character spends the whole issue in her underwear, though with a t-shirt and long-sleeve shirt on over them, mind you. I think she might actually be wearing more than Wonder Woman, incidentally. I didn’t mind. It’s possible you might.

Last week we saw the release of Batwoman, too, but Batwoman is sort of an interesting case for me. There are not one, but two two-page spreads of Kate and her cousin changing into their costumes, which admittedly must be a rather everyday thing for them, but the prolonged focus on it feels … uncomfortable to me. Sexuality has always been a focus for Batwoman, and an admirably-done one in the past, but it’s mostly been dealt with while she’s in costume and fighting, not while she’s in her costume room with her female cousin. I’m hoping that this sort of voyeurism changes in upcoming issues, because the book is just so gorgeous and well-done beyond that complaint.

A last bit of praise has to be given to Demon Knights, too, which has a team that’s roughly half female, and all of them are fully clothed. In a fantasy setting. Let that one sink in.

My aim here isn’t to contradict Miss Hudson, who hit the nail on the head about Catwoman and Starfire and I’m sure lots of other superheroines, but my plea is this: don’t write off the whole DC reboot, or even comics in general, based on two characters. Support artists and writers who portray women as more than animated sex dolls. Don’t buy bad books by bad writers and exploitative artists. You may not have any superpowers, but your wallet does.

Michael Sacco is a freelance editor and writer, currently working as senior editor at WoW Insider, part of the Joystiq network.

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