Monday, 27 December 2010

What Women Want (from comics)

I'm as feminist as the next girl. As a reader/viewer of fiction I get annoyed by the lack of decent female characters and as a writer I make sure to write them. But what does slightly annoy me is the idea producers/writers seem to have that girls only identify with or enjoy female characters. That idea often ends up creating tokenism, a feeling of "right, better throw a woman into this film or no girl is going to want to watch it. We'll make her hot but relatable". Die Hard has one woman in it - one who is really little more than motivation for the male lead - but it doesn't stop it from being one of my favourite movies.

Comics are consistantly guilty of believing that women are only interested in female characters. They have their 'girl friendly' titles. You can tell that Supergirl is aimed at women because the logo is (oh dear God) pink. Still, at least DC are making a vague effort to accept that girls read comics. Marvel, with the exception of the X-titles, have been ignoring half the population.

The issue of women reading comics has risen its head with a vengenace since Paul Levitz pissed off thousands of fangirls by saying "The fundamental dynamic of the superhero story has historically been more appealing to boys than girls". Maybe that's true, maybe "historically" comics were more appealing to boys than girls. Historically comics were only drawn with three colours and were considered only suitable for kids to read. The comic book medium is new, it's still evolving. It took decades for novels to be considered art. In the last 30 years comics have been coming into their own. It's not all about heroes clad in the colours of the American flag lifting tanks over their heads. The stories are more complex now, more a blend of action, drama and soap. The characters have become more than just costumes and superpowers. They're fleshed out and far more interesting. And that, in my opinion, is what women are interested in.

We don't need a pink logo on a cover to pick up a comic, we just want good stories and interesting characters. Don't get me wrong, I love DC women. I came to comics through the New Teen Titans run from the early 80s, so I was lucky in that I was given good female characters from the get-go, and since then I've become a fan of all the Birds of Prey, Scandal Savage, Power Girl, Catwoman, Zatanna, Renee Montoya (as The Question and as a cop), Amanda Waller, even Wonder Woman, sometimes. But the characters I've always been most fond of are the Batfamily, especially Batman and his Robins. Boys. Not because they're the coolest or most heroic, but because they are some of the most developed characters in the DCU. I've seen Dick Grayson go from Robin to Nightwing to Batman, just as I've seen Barbara Gordon go from Batgirl to 'cripple' to Oracle. Most characters remain static over decades of comics, but the Batfamily grow, age, develop, change, becoming ever more complex, layered and interesting. That is what I'm drawn too, regardless of the gender of a character.

Comics aren't just about explosions and well-drawn fight scenes anymore. They're changing organically, just like their best characters are, and it's time the Big Bosses accept (and start promoting) the fact that their product isn't just for 10 year old boys anymore. Without realising it, they've created something that, when it's written well, is positively girl-friendly. But hey, maybe I'm not a great sample of the female population. The cover that caught my eye this year was Bane riding a dinosaur. But who says women have to be into cute puppy dogs and make-up?


  1. The product may not be for 10 year old boys anymore, but the comics industry isn't what it once was. For better and worse. When comics were about action and explosions they sold millions, not that more drama and a near $5 price is on them, they sell less. U can't have it both ways. And marvel is not ignoring half the population, but they are not condensending them either by just making female versions of their characters (spider girl/woman exceptions).

  2. I think the price tag is probably responsible for the drop in sales, that and the fact that you can now often find scans of the comics you want online, or updates on storylines on comic book sites so you don't need to buy every issue to know what's happening.

    And my favourite DC ladies are the ones who aren't remotely female versions of male characters - the likes of Scandal Savage, Starfire, Black Canary, Oracle etc. Although I suppose Oracle did begin life as Batgirl, and I agree with you that it's annoying when they just do female versions of male characters - bit of a waste of time.

    I'll give Marvel credit for their X-women, but other than that I think their female characters are thin on the ground compared to DC.