The Bustier is Here to Stay! Wonder Woman, Society and the Role of Otherness in Comics

Sprung from the mind of psychologist William Moulton Marston who believed that one day women would seize economic and political control over the world, Wonder Woman was hailed by many as a step towards woman’s liberation (O’Reilly 274). Marston’s intent was to create a strong, matriarchal figure that would bring peace to the violent, male dominated world through a combination of sexual dominance and a nurturing approach (DiPaolo 152-153). Wonder Woman, Marston believed, could provide a strong, sexy, assertive figure of emulation for females while simultaneously stimulating adoration in males, thereby inspiring a shift in the established patriarchal system (DiPaolo 153). Unfortunately, Marston’s dream was never realized. He died, taking his vision with him, and his Wonder Woman became a limited agent of the super hero world, held back by the very traits that were supposed to lift her up. As a result Wonder Woman is half of what she was meant to be; she is strong and beautiful, but without Marston’s ideological message, these qualities create a character that is little more than an idealistic object for the male gaze. Some believe this created a precedent. Female superheroes following in the shadow of Wonder Woman have been defined by their position as other, and have yet to escape their explicit role as providers of visual pleasure for the primary, male. But did Wonder Woman create this problem or did she simply fail to cure an already existent disease? Though many things about a woman’s role have changed and adapted through the 70 plus years of the American comic book’s history, the position of women has never ceased to be defined in relation to the position of men. As a highly visual medium, comic books lend themselves to the scopophilic fetish prevalent in American society much more readily than they function as agents of radical social modification. By viewing comic books as a mirror, through which society’s triumphs as well as shortcomings are replicated, it becomes clear that it isn’t Wonder Woman that has failed, but her readers and perhaps the nation at large; as long as American society views women as submissive others, only capable of action in context to their relationship with men, comic books will continue to reflect that viewpoint.

Though there were other females in comic books before her, the true genesis of the female superhero occurred in 1941 with the birth of Wonder Woman (Robinson 27). She is an indisputable icon of the genre, partially because of her longevity, but also because of her unique origins, both inside and outside of her comic books. This is because creator Marston uses his eccentric feminist belief in her creation, a belief which was loosely based on Freud but was combined with Marston’s own strong belief in women’s innate superiority to men (Robinson45-46). He stated in an interview that, “not even girls want to be girls, as long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength and power…The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman” ( Robinson 46). Marston identified what he thought was an inherent social problem, he believed women to be the superior sex trapped in the inferior role. And he believed that he could make a difference by giving girls a positive female role model and writing comics that portrayed her changing society in positive and distinctly female ways. He also believed though, that in order for women to be the agent of change he thought they could be, men had to willingly submit to them (Robinson 51). Women, Marston asserted, would rule through the power of love, but what he meant was that women would be able to keep men in check through the men’s desire to have sex with them (Robinson 53). This is where the need for superior physical attraction enters the equation; because for Wonder Woman, and the regular girls she was meant to influence, power comes from their relation to men.

Marston may have, as he claimed, created this wonder of a woman to empower. However, on the page she had the opposite effect. He placed his princess in the position of object, and he emphasized her position in the patriarchal hierarchy as one of other, albeit  a physically ideal version of other. Perhaps Marston had some grander plan that he never had the chance to execute. Perhaps it was his untimely death that left Wonder Woman in the hands of DC craftsmen more interested in selling issues than espousing feminist ideals that changed the trajectory of the female superhero. Or, it could have been the result of the images being more vital to the message than the words that framed them. Either way, Marston’s feminism soon gave way to “themes of heterosexual romance” (Robinson 65). Her message of self-empowerment was slowly etched away, while the other part of the essential Wonder Woman, the physical, which was “coded as being as close to perfection as the female body can get” remained (Robinson 62). And it is that physical ideal, rather than her superiority as a female, that remains as her legacy.

Comic books are, above all else, a visual medium, and so it should come as no surprise that the most influential element of Wonder Woman has been the flawlessness of her physicality. But, it was as a result of placing Wonder Woman’s body “at the center” (Robinson 62) that Marston, whether he intended to or not, set a precedent that would always call for this objectification of the female, and furthermore, would always place her in relation to the male. In her article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Laura Mulvey applies the idea of Sigmund Freud’s notion of scopophila, “the taking of other people as objects,” and applies it to cinema which, because of its highly visual nature, places great emphasis on the human form. This theory, as Mulvey modifies it, is also highly adaptable to the comic book form. Mulvey states that in a patriarchal culture, woman is “subjugated to her image as bearer of the bleeding wound. She can exist only in relation to castration and cannot transcend it” (59). In other words, women can only operate in regard to their lack, their otherness, their relation to men, and they are therefore dependent upon men for their position and agency. It is this position that continually perpetuates the female superhero’s objectification. Furthermore, this position of other can be seen as something that does not have its origins in the comic book genre, it is instead a reflection of the larger society which the comic books are in the business of reflecting upon. In this sense, Wonder Woman is an adaptable construct, but only insofar as the scopophilic nature of her audience will allow her to be.

The physical form clearly plays a crucial role in the medium, whether male or female centric. But, it should also be mentioned that the comic book industry is quick paced, and highly reflective of the society and times. As a result, history in regard to the various ways in which women of this society have been viewed, can be revisited within the histories of various comic books’ stylized pages. As comic scholar Lillian Robinson states in her book, Wonder Women, comic creators during the 40s and 50s “were uncritically echoing social norms and attitudes it never occurred to them to challenge” (76). Once can see this working in the themes wartime effort comics of the 1940s juxtaposed against the postwar comics of the 1950s. When strong women were necessary, a strong and hard-working Wonder Woman was needed and encouraged, but when the men came home and a female workforce was not only unnecessary but unwelcome, Wonder Woman, like other women of the time, acquiesced. Suddenly Wonder Woman was more interested in catching herself a man than she was in catching crooks and her “pro-female persona” all but joined its creator in the grave (Madrid 51). After the war, society wanted women to reclaim their femininity, and Wonder Woman played along. She received a makeover, which gave her a softer look; her costume became more girlish and her face more glamorous (Madrid 189). And this was only the beginning for Wonder Woman. Throughout her life, the Amazonian princess has “started her life over” nine times according to Madrid (183), and her makeovers are always indicative of her eternal battle to remain physically perfect. Most important of all is the changes that occur through the years in regard to the body of Wonder Woman. As the “ideal objectified body” has changed in the eyes of society, so has the body of Wonder Woman (Robinson 62). She has become taller, thinner, and bustier over her lifetime, reflecting the changing societal ideals. Her costume has also become more revealing. As women in society began to be led up to higher and higher standards of beauty and perfection, so was the bar raised for Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman had fallen victim to what Mulvey calls fetishistic scopophilia, which “builds up the physical beauty of the object, transforming it into something satisfying” in order to cope with what she refers to as the discomfort which men feel as a result of their objectification of the “castrated female” (65). Wonder Woman is still living in a patriarchal society and therefore she is still a representative of the castrated other. Because of this, she must suffer the fate of all the other females that lay within the male gaze.  She is the most iconic and enduring female comic hero in existence, yet the most memorable thing about is her gold-plated, eagle-adorned halter top.

By the time the 90s hit, and Supermodel culture hit America, superheroines had their work cut out for them, in terms of maintaining their status as the ideal form. As a result, their bodies began to be drawn in highly sexualized and extremely unrealistic ways. Plastic surgery chic began to be worn by more and more of the comic heroines (Madrid 279). And yes, Wonder Woman succumbed to the pressure. Her 90s costumes remodel contained the latest trend in underwear couture, the thong. As Madrid points out, there were an overwhelming amount of titles featuring women during this time, but the cost was great; “they were so highly sexualized that it seemed to cancel out any of their power” (283). Despite living through war and women’s liberation, Wonder Woman’s cup size and her thonged costume now generate more attention than her weapons or powers combined. It is no small wonder that this reflection of femininity, in a society built on the patriarchal norm of visual objectification, when represented in a visual medium that seeks to reflect the patriarchal culture that inspired its art form, would lead to the evanescence of true feminine power in favor of the fun house mirror distortions of the female body.

What is surprising though is that avowed feminists are able to rationalize this hyper-eroticized depiction of the female form in the context of the comic book genre. Yet that is exactly what they do. When Gail Simone took over the job as Wonder Woman scribe, she claimed that “the revolution [was] happening” (Anders 73). The revolution, as Simone sees it, involves bringing more women into the comic industry. Yet this self-proclaimed feminist, who got her start in the comic book, industry by garnering attention through her blog “Women in Refrigerators,” which questioned the violent treatment of women in comics(Yarbroff), continued to expand on the patriarchal paradigm of objectification. “Part of her appeal is that she makes your eyes pop out of your head,” Simone stated in an interview conducted right before she was set to start her work on Wonder Woman (Yarbroff). Simone was the first female writer allowed to grace the pages of the princess’ comic, and she had no discernible interest in challenging her character’s status as object. How can Simone still claim to have the credibility to empower their female readers to become more than other when she herself is perpetuating the system which places them in the position of other? What kind of revolution is this? A woman can only wonder.

However, can writers like Simone, perpetuators rather than creators of the problem, be blamed?  Or, are they only guilty of giving the comic book audience exactly what they want? Simone stated of her newest endeavor, Birds of Prey, that girls love these comics for the same reasons as their male counterparts do, they are investing in the fantasy (Anders 72). This is a dangerous excuse however, when one thinks about the ramifications. Most know of the dangers of having young girls admire the photo-shopped perfection they see in fashion magazines, but isn’t it worse to have them idolizing the super-heroine form, a form in which perfection is only limited by the confines of the human imagination? The overdone, exaggerated female form of the comic super-heroine is ultimately unattainable. But, what makes it damaging is the ways in which this form claims to be a medium of empowerment. Feminist writer Simone claims that she is helping girls to “imagine rescuing themselves instead of waiting for a white knight to show up” (Anders 73), but because the form does not meet the content the message seems to be buried in an avalanche of exposed flesh and skin tight costuming. Yes, these female characters have proven themselves, over the years, to be just as strong as their male superhero counterparts. But why do they continue to be a physical spectacle? Why must they do their work in spiked heels and costumes that a real flesh and bone woman could not even walk across a room in? If this is what society wants, as the comic writers and artist claim, what does this say about the society the comics are reflective of ? Until the scopophilic fetishism of society is confronted, visual mediums, such as comics, will continue to cater to it. This fetish is what places women in “exhibitionist roles” which require them to submit to an act of spectacle, “coded for strong visual and erotic impact,” triggering, as Mulvey claims, connotations of “looked-at-ness” (62-63). Through this practice, the woman as other becomes an object on display, an object that can never escape her role as other because this very position, as object for the viewing pleasure of the male, defines her existence. Every action she engages in is secondary to this. This can be seen in panel after panel of comic book action which shows the female heroines splayed and displayed, the physical assets being primary, their ability to fight being secondary. But, how is this any different from a society in which women are now allowed to enter the workplace and do their jobs along side men, but in the objectified female costume of awkward pencil skirts and stiletto pumps? Comics might be distorting the image society reflects in them, but the original image can still be seen beneath the layers of masks and mayhem.

Wonder Woman and her successors who bravely march alongside her into the male gaze of objectification are, in fact, reflective of the views of the society which bares them. The comic book genre is highly responsive to the society from which it springs, and as a result, more often than not, the genre maintains the status quo. In the beginning, Marston attempted to aid what he believed was a flawed society through the creation of Wonder Woman. He hoped she would be an influence and an agent of change, but he did so without challenging the objectification paradigm. Wonder Woman became the model upon which other female superheroes would be built. But, because of a refusal to shift the gaze, and without the continuation of Marston’s well intentioned society-changing agency, these heroines were all doomed to the diminished role of object, long before they even began reflecting the society they sought to empower. Comic books are agents of change only if those that read them find inspiration and move to action. What values is a society really perpetuating when the thrust of a narrative can only be tolerated if it is packaged in a hyper-eroticized female form? How does this challenge the role of other, or encourage male interaction with women to be based on more than physicality? What is the real takeaway for young girls?  Ours is a society built upon a fixation with visual aesthetics that is created and reflected by the visual aesthetic of one of its most innovative art-forms. The heroes are not going to jump from the pages to save us, they are only a mirror through which we should see the change that we wish to be. Still, perhaps the comic world could best elicit change by inspiring society, rather than simply distorting its reflection.

Works Cited and Consulted

Anders, Charlie. “Supergirls Gone Wild.” Mother Jones 32.4 (2007): 71-73. Academic Search Elite. Web. 21 Nov. 2010.

DiPaolo, Marc Edward.  “Wonder Woman as World War II Veteran, Camp Feminist Icon, and

Male Sex Fantasy”.  pp. 151-73. Wandtke, Terrence R. (ed., introd., and afterword) The Amazing Transforming Superhero! Essays on the Revision of Characters in Comic Books, Film and Television. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007. x, 244 pp. Web.

Madrid, Mike. The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines. Ashland, Or.: Exterminating Angel, 2009. Print.

Marston, William Moulton, and H. G. Peter. The Wonder Woman Chronicles. New York, NY: DC Comics, 2010. Print.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP,1999: 833-44. Web.

O’Reilly, Julie D. “The Wonder Woman Precedent: Female (Super)Heroism on Trial.” The Journal of American Culture 28.3 (2005): 273-83. Print.

Robinson, Lillian S. Wonder Women: Feminisms and Superheroes. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.

Yabroff, Jennie. “Holy Hot Flash, Batman!” Newsweek. 14 Jan. 2008. Web. 29 Nov. 2010. Web.

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The Story of Dark Aretemis

Dark Artemis wasn’t always a stripper protecting super hero. She started out as a normal little girl named Annabelle. Her mother was of the single variety, and when she went out at night to earn the money necessary to put food on the table she never told Annabelle where she was going. She reminded her to make sure both deadbolts clicked and then she was gone. But Anabelle knew that her mother didn’t have it easy. Sometimes she came home with bruises. Sometimes there was blood.

When Annabelle was 13 years old her mother didn’t come home at all. No police came. No one came at all. There was never a body, just a void where her mom had been. But Annabelle knew her mother wouldn’t have left her. By now Annabelle was aware of just what her mother (had) went through in order to feed her, cloth her and house her. She knew that sometimes bad things happened to women who had to earn their wage like that. She knew someone had hurt her mother beyond the point of survival this last time.

And so Annabelle did what Annabelle had to do. She continued to go to school, so that no one would report anything to the authorities, but she also began to work, anywhere and everywhere she could. Sleep wasn’t so important; she couldn’t really do it anymore anyway. When she was old enough she got a job cocktail waitressing at the strip club her mother had worked at, getting close to those who had been there when her mother had been there. She came to them under the guise of her new identity, Eris Knight. She decided to dedicate her entire life to solving her the disappearance and probable murder of her mother.

Having no special powers to speak of, Annabelle began training athletically as soon as her mother was gone. She started for her own protection, but soon it became a way of life. Her work at the club, in the meantime, led her down darker and darker paths. She soon began to realize that there was an entire subculture of women that no one cared about. Women who were used up and thrown away, women that no one would miss if one day they stopped coming to work. People like her mother.

And so she became Dark Artemis. She vowed to help these women, so that none of them would suffer the fate of her mother. She continued to live as Eris, gradually moving up the ranks to “adult entertainer.” She made friends with strippers, bouncers, prostitutes. She continued her training, learning every kind of hand to hand combat she could. She didn’t believe that she needed any weapon beyond the power of her own physical form, which she treated as a machine in need of constant maintenance.

And she continues on, helping these women and children who have no one else to turn to. And she keeps hoping, that one day her night life will lead her down the right darkened alleyway, and the mystery of her mother will be solved, revenge, at last, will be hers.

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My Girl(s) of the Night: Dark Artemis and Her Secret Identity, Eris Knights

Though I still have to write out her storyline and figure out powers and things of that nature, I was too excited about the visuals of my character(s) not to share.

First off, here is Dark Artemis:

Named after a Greek goddess who was the protector of young women, Dark Artemis roams the darkened streets in the wee morning hours, helping those normally ignored, forgotten or disregarded…the late night single mother waitresses, strippers, escorts and even prostitutes, those desperate and despised sisters of the night.

Because she protects this segment of the population, her secret identity is one that places her in the center of this dark and desolate world she serves. She hides under the cover of Eris Knights:

Named after the goddess of strife and of discord, Artemis hides her true identity under the guise of a stripper by the name of Eris Knights. From this position she can keep an eye on the young women whom she had devoted her life to protecting, and she can also infiltrate the very industries which perpetuate the suffering and pain of the girls, in an effort to elicit change from the inside out.

And before you ask, yes, I was absolutely inspired by The Dark Knight. I would say that is my absolute heaviest influence. But I didn’t notice what I was doing with the name until it was already done. I’m leaving it, it’s fitting. An homage to Frank Miller, my favorite writer of the semester.

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The Perils of Being a Princess: A Review of What They Did to Princess Paragon

For my response to “The Four Challenges,” I decided to examine What They Did to Princess Paragon, a novel written in 1994 by former comic writer and Comics Journal contributor, now novelist, Robert Rodi. From the description on the back cover I was able to surmise that it is a satirical jab at the many aspects of the comic book subculture, from the writers to the fans to the content of the comics themselves. It is clear that the very customs of the comic world are going to be shamed in the name of change, but how, and to what purpose?

“Is the world ready for its first lesbian superhero?” the back covers asks, and it is through this question that the novel’s satirical intent can begin to be ascertained, for with that one question a plethora of ideological structures and beliefs are put to the test. In the case of What They Did to Princess Paragon, the pointed social criticism of satire is aimed at comic fans and creators alike, and I believe that Rodi uses satire to demonstrate some of the more absurd aspects of the comic culture, as well as reveal many of the long-held stereotypical beliefs placed upon the individuals within the culture as hollow and steeped in prejudice. By presenting these stereotypes and clichés in an overdone manner, Rodi sheds light on the need for change within some of the foundational beliefs of the comic book world.

How does Rodi achieve this without sounding didactic? The first thing that is important to remember is what sarcasm is and how it works. In a classic Horatian satire, certain damaging behaviors, abuses, etcetera are held up to scrutiny and mocked with in order to humiliate those targeted enough to elicit change. Satire is more often than not humorous, but the true purpose is constructive criticism, using wit as a weapon. So to understand what is it that Rodi is interested in changing, one must pinpoint what he is specifically attacking.

By presenting a third person limited point of view which jumps from seeing the thoughts and actions of comic creator to the comic fan with every other chapter, Rodi gives both viewpoints equal footing. There are many times in the novel where the same scenario is described from the two different vantage points, which helps to reveal the fallacy of both characters’ notions of their world rather than favoring one over the other. Both characters are presented, through their own chapters as well as each others, in unflattering light. Rodi blows up their faults and idiosyncrasies to epic proportions in order to prove a point. This isn’t about how Rodi views these segments of the population; it is about how they view themselves and each other.

The book appears to be making fun of individuals involved in comics at first glance, especially rabid comic fans and egomaniacal comic writers, but what it is actually doing is making fun of those who put faith in the stereotypes themselves. And it doesn’t stop with the stereotypes of fanboy and cartoonist. This book also pokes fun at common stereotypes of feminists, lesbians, gay men, homophobics, overprotective mothers…Robert Rodi pulls no punches as he reveals the dirty little secret which we all have in common; we all try to categorize each other and end up caught up in stereotypical beliefs.

The novel, at its core, takes as its subject every fan’s belief that editors and writers are deviant, money grubbing character-killers and magnifies it by ten, and on the flip side it takes the obsessive fanboy in the basement stereotype that all editors loathe and fear and magnifies that stereotype as well. Then not only does Rodi put them head to head, but he does so in such a way that all who bare witness are forced to see the ridiculousness of both sets of beliefs. As a result the perspective of both creator and fan are called into question.

In the end, after kidnapping plots, and destroyed manuscripts, and several episodes of violence and sabotage, both comic geek and comic creator grow hearts and open minds, and everyone appears to be on the verge of getting their own version of happily ever after. That part, I admit was disappointing. Not because I scorn happiness, but because Rodi seemed to believe he had to tie his narrative in a neat little bow at the end, whether what he was ending with was feasible or not. This felt very Hollywood to me. Was Rodi aiming for a movie deal?

This brings me to my final point. What They Did to Princess Paragon would translate to movie easily, but could never exist in graphic novel form. It actually left me wondering how well satire in general would or could translate to the graphic form. Much of the bite in this novel comes from Rodi’s detailed verbal assassinations of certain things, and then there is the general humor which also helps the story to remain entertaining for the broader, not so comically informed, audience. In order for many of these jokes to be presented in a traditional comic form, the panels would have to be overtaken by dialogue and thought bubbles, expository boxes and the like. Princess Paragon would easily be translated to the screen though, in fact I am surprised it hasn’t been. I suppose it is due to the fact that Paragon herself plays such a minor role in the book, and there really is no sex appeal in ANY of the other characters of the novel. No sexy, no movie? Perhaps.

Still, What They Did to Princess Paragon is a highly entertaining look into a world that not many of privy to, the world of comic book creation and fandom. And if you peel back the layers of farce, parody and satire, there is actually quite a nice message that speaks out against stereotyping and prejudices hiding within its pages. It is a fast, read full of wit and insight, and I recommend it.

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Birds of Prey Volume 3: Shaking Some Tail Feathers

For this volume, I am going to focus on what was most intriguing to me: the artwork and the layout.

First of all, there is the cover itself.

When I was looking for the 3rd volume of Birds of Prey at Earth 2 Comics, I almost passed it by altogether in my search. This is because the artwork is vastly different than the two previous; the characters don’t even look like themselves. This cover was done by Cliff Chiang, a different artist than the two previous. It turns out he also penciled a variant cover for Volume 1, but I have not seen that, so his variation of the birds was very different than what I have grown accustomed to. To me the cover looked sloppy, I noticed a lot of blue ( thanks to Dwayne McDuffie I now know that indicates a slapdash inking job) and a complete lack of detail in the faces of the birds. So far, color me unimpressed.

And my confusion and dissapointment did not end with the cover. While I had grown accustomed to the physiques and the costumes within this comic, what I found on page 2 was too, too much. To speak plainly, what I found on the 2-3 page spread was rather disgusting. The birds were posing suggestively, exposing themselves even more than usual and throwing sexual innuendos in the direction of the Penguin of all people.

But what appears to be a complete exploitation of every member of the team turns out to be what I am interpreting to be a self-reflexive subverting of their own sexually suggestive nature. Thank you, Gail Simone. It turned out that Penguin, suffering from blood loss, had slipped into a fitful sleep and we as audience had been momentarily privy to the sex-fantasy dream he was having. Of course the comic book writers are perfectly aware of the reaction their female characters cause in the (ehm) minds of their beholders, but it was interesting to see such a magazine poke fun at these readers, through the already laughable character of Chester Cobblepot.

After the fun with Penguin, it wasn’t long before a battle with the police broke out. The team had taken refuge at Penguin’s club, but of course they weren’t safe for long. The team battled it out, which gave many ample opportunities to showcase the fighting prowess of the team and highlight the assets of the girls, especially Black Canary.

A couple of plot points are necessary here. There is definitely something going on with Penguin, and of course there is still that mysterious White Canary to deal with, but next up is the very interesting kidnapping of Oracle by the previously dead Savant and Creote. Ah, the plot thickens.

The rest of the volume consists of Hawk getting seriously injured by the White Canary, followed by Huntress telling Black Canary that she needs to go kill that bad bird by any means necessary (read: her sonic scream), and the beginnings of a battle between the two ladies.

Most of the imagery throughout is up to Birds of Prey standards, and the layouts on the pages are always varied, full of movement and vibrant. But it must be mentioned, two pencilers and two inkers divided up the work on the book, and the differences from artist to artist seem obvious. My theory is that the smaller panels went to someone who I will venture to say was lacking, if not in skill, than at least in time spent in the medium. The detail from large panel (such as the ones I have been highlighting through this blog)  to small panel was starkly different.

(Here’s one of the smaller panels blown up, for reference)

The last page, perhaps the most interesting of the volume, both layout and plot wise, has a split panel of the Black and White Canaries up top, overlapping on a full screen shot of the rest of the team fleeing with Penguin. As the exact moment Black Canary realizes that her team is being led into a trap, set by penguin, the reader sees the interior thoughts of Penguin below: “You lose, Ms. Lance. You lose.” It is a very interesting moment, one that strengthens the bond between reader and main character.

(I could only find this final image unlettered and un-inked, but you get the idea)

I am interested to see what happens next, of course, but what I would really like to see is some consistency with the artist. Or maybe this is normal par for the comic book course? Some of the art is gorgeous, even if risqué, but other panels seem flat and the movement seems awkward. I think this is due to differences in artistry, although I am not sure. Perhaps large panels are simply seem as more important and are therefore given more time and attention, I am not sure.

Stay tuned for my final review, of #4…

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Tittilation and Assets: The True T and A of the Comic World

In a 2008 publisher’s survey found that 90 percent of comic book fans and readers were male. Though female readership may be growing, it is clearly growing slowly. Even clearer is the fact that the writers and illustrators of these comics are still catering to the much bigger segment of their reader base. Nowhere is this more evident than in the depiction of the female superhero. As the years have gone by, their lips, buttocks and breasts have gotten larger and shapelier, while their costumes have gotten tighter and more revealing.

Despite progress that has arguably been made since the iconic Wonder Woman made her debut in 1941, her female crime fighting successors remain sexualized, commodified and exploited. This brings me back to readership briefly; is the predominantly male audience to blame for this portrayal of the female superhero, or are female readers still scarce because they find little to identify with or latch onto within the genre? Why, for the most part, have female superheroes remained sexualized and secondary? It is my intent to explore this problem within the genre by examining both the comics currently being published both with female leads and female secondary characters, as well as some of the aspects of the subculture of the comic world itself. These female characters are meant to titillate and sell products, they are not meant to give female readers a character that they can identify with or look up to. I will argue that this problem still exists, and has grown exponentially, because above all else the comic world is a world of commodity proliferation, and, to be blunt, sex sells.

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X-Rated – the Sex(ist) Reveal of The Dark Phoenix Saga

The pages of X-Men: The Dark Phoenix saga are absolutely brimming with subtle and not-so-subtle sexual innuendo, and though I do not find that all that stunning or interesting in and of itself, I do find it interesting when paired with the fate of the title character, Jean Grey, aka Marvel Girl, aka Phoenix.

It begins on page 7, the very first page to present Jean Grey to the reader. The villain du jour, a man going by the name of Jason Wyngarde, speaks of taking control of Jean by “giving her a taste of some of her innermost forbidden needs and desires.”  While it is most assuredly true that the line does not have to be seen as sexual, the innuendo is, without a doubt, presented. And it continues to be hinted at, this need in Jean to explore thoughts which are dangerous, “vile” (26) and yet “alluring to her. What does it all mean?  Why is there so much hinting going on in regard to this character’s dark desires? There is no such reveal for any other character within the saga.

Now one might argue that it is because this is Jean’s story. This may be the case, but she is not the only character whose inner thoughts and worries the reader is privy to. She is however the only one painted in this light.

She is also the only one completely and utterly draped in sexual connotations.

Some examples from the text:

  • “She reaches for the sky-summoning the lightning-laughing as the awesome bolts caress her body like a lover.”
  • “Dark Phoenix thrills to the absolute power that is hers. She is in ecstasy.”
  • “She craves that ultimate sensation…”

This is a woman who is reveling in an all consuming, might we say orgasmic pleasure, and the pleasure is coming…from power. A woman who is all powerful, potent enough to throw her fellow X-Men around like toys and, say, consume stars and destroy solar systems?

Okay, she has definitely taken her power trip a bit too far.

But riddle me this, fellow comic scholars…Why is it that when a truly admirable, well rounded female super hero is finally created, one who is not overtly weak and submissive, she is soon revealed to be emotionally unstable and unfit for the power that is bestowed upon her? Why must she overdose on that power? Why is her self-sacrificing death the only solution?

I mean, really. Would Wolverine go out like that? I don’t think so.

It is my firm belief that Jean Grey is depicted as an overemotional, irrational female from the beginning. She is an easy victim for the Jason Wyngarde character precisely because she is a love hungry female. And her acquisition of and subsequent failure with power happens because let’s face it, she just wasn’t man enough for the task.

Tsk, tsk, Marvel. You gave me Susan Storm with a cooler costume and a bad case of PMS.

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