Likely many of you out there have seen some of the fervor over some of the decisions that have been made in the DC comics reboot. There have been a number of good and interesting changes, and there have been some that leave many of us scratching our collective noggins. Leading the pack of controversial decisions about the portrayals of Harley Quinn, Starfire, Catwoman and the return of Barbra Gordon to the role of Batgirl. Catwoman and Starfire are the ones I know better so they will be my focus.
I’m not a comics feminist scholar so there maybe some blind spots in what I say, please try to not pick on those, I think there is a point that can be made clear without a über deep knowledge of the back issues. While I may not be a feminist scholar, I do have some, rather long held thoughts, on the comics industry and the portrayal of women.
It doesn’t take a Rhode Scholar to see a major flaw in American Superhero comics, although to be fair the problems extend well beyond our shores. The covers and inner pages are a wash of distorted views of femininity and sexuality that are played off as liberated or self-acutated. It seems much more like a bunch of guys sat around saying, “Wouldn’t it be hawt if *insert name of character* was more like *insert male fantasy* while wearing *other male fantasy*. Did it go down like that? Not sure, many of these comics are by professionals and many of them have a reputation to uphold, but it does no make them above curious decisions. The dubiousness of the decisions made more glaring because so much of it seems sorta bolted on and adding nothing to the character.
This seems most obvious in the changes made to the character of Starfire [wikipedia]. I knew her best from the animated TV show Teen Titans, where she was an interesting mix of Mork and a foreign exchange student. The TV version of her was delightfully fun and interesting. She was devoted to her friends and even reached out to those that wanted to destroy her (Terra). Her focus was on the good of those around her, which often made her a little naïve but in a very likable way. Her depiction in the comics has always been more sexual, see wikipedia and Comics Alliance, but there seemed to be an earnest heart behind her actions. Not seeking to do harm, but not always understanding the human heart. The ernest of her heart may not excuse her from being a poor female role model but it is at least consistent to her character.
Now if you read the linked Comics Alliance article you’ve read a very clear and pretty smart rationale about the dislike of this new take on the character. While a “restart” often pushes an “edgy” version of the character forward it really seems that this Starfire is less well developed than she could have been. It was not a necessity to take the character from the Teen Titans TV show as some would suggest, but it could have been really interesting to see some sort of meshing of the comic and TV version. That is a character i could have cared about, the one I see in Red Hood and the Outlaws isn’t one that I can even begin to understand let alone care about. Well, at least they can’t take the TV show version from me.
Catwoman makes for a more complicated situation since her character is a foil for Batman in both skill and sex appeal. She is the “unattainable” yet seemingly perfect match for him that creates a unique tension in her and in Batman. In years gone past she has often been plauged by poor and sexist writing that often played up the sex appeal. This left her often rather flat as a character. Yet in Batman: The Animated Series, there seemed to be a resurange of the more cunning, self assured, sensual, and more than a match for Batman. A Catwoman who had more in common with Julie Newmar than Halle Barrie (no offense to Ms. Barrie, but that movie was awful). This type of Catwoman lately seems to be falling by the wayside in favor of one that makes much more liberal use of the front zipper of her costume. The current one is still smart but it often seem she is more body than mind, and not in a really good way. The costume is much more believable as one being worn by a stealthy cat burglar, and yet the creative team seems much more interested in her being out of it than in it. Again, reference the Comics Alliance article for a very good breakdown of the way this is portrayed.
This misuse of an excellent character really bugs me. Especially in light of her excellent use in Batman: The Animated Series. While the show is not new, it did a really good job of using the tension between Catwoman and Batman to show her as probably the only woman who had a chance of understanding him as a man and as a mask. Sure Talia al Ghul also understood The Great Detective but Ra’s al Ghul and the tactics of the League of Shadows would always keep them apart, Selina Kyle had fewer complications, other than burglary. Interestingly enough both Talia and Selina are accomplished heads of organizations and major companies, when they aren’t partaking in their “pass times”. Which may not make them super standout but they do acquire some respect for this. It can’t be easy to be CEO and masked adventurer at the same time. It is hard to accept Catwoman as being something less than all that. She should be free to make her own choices and adhere to her own morality. It also seems to me that these can be expressed in a what that is more positive about her as a woman than as a sexual object.
So to wrap this “little” rant up I close with some posts by Aaron Diaz the talented artist and writer of Dresden Codak. Why? Well to me it shows that there can me a male behind a reboot/redesign and it not be annoying and crapy. His redesigns may not be perfect but they seem to be much more senseable and interesting than what the “pros” have done.
- Top 10 worst hero/villian redesigns
- Top 10 Best hero/villan redesigns
- 5 Essential Superhero Redesigns (I really like his Superman)
Other good related stories:
- The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their ‘Liberated Sexuality’ – Laura Hudson of Comics Alliance
- A Female take on superhero costume design
- Another humorous take on a character redesign; the new Harley Quinn as a dude