Tag Archives: DC

What’s Wrong with Women in Comics?

So DC Comics are mired in controversy once again. This time they’ve posted an open call for new artists and given them a page to illustrate. Harmless enough, except that they’re asking their prospective artists to draw Harley Quinn, female villain, naked and about to commit suicide.

You can imagine how the Internet reacted to that one.

Me, I’m entirely unsurprised. This is the comics company that recently hired Orson Scott Card, a writer so homophobic he’s touted revolution as the answer to legalised gay marriage. This is the comics company that banned creators from ever showing Batwoman’s gay marriage on panel. Hell, this is the comics company that gave rise to the Women In Refrigerators trope.

Comics have a bad reputation when it comes to women and it’s not hard to see why. Walk into any comics store and you won’t see many superheroines with their own series. And what superheroines you will see won’t be dressed for a warm day. (But check out Michael Lee Lunsford’s superheroine costume redesigns; you’ll realise how daft the “real” costumes look after seeing his take on them!)

A lot of people will argue that this is all fine. That superheroes wear daft costumes too. That heroes of both genders are idealised to the extreme. That it’s just comic books. And hey, Harley Quinn is insane. She probably would get naked and try to kill herself.

This latter argument holds weight with me. Harley is one patient short of an asylum. Getting into the tub and dropping a hair dryer into it doesn’t strike me as too out of character for her.

But this panel can’t exist in a vacuum. While men can be anything but women must be sexy, while men get costumes that cover their what-nots but women go chilly, and while men aren’t being put into refrigerators naked into tubs with hair dryers, DC can’t be so unaware as to think that this image is okay.

I’ve been reading comics for years and there’s always been talk of comics as an art form, of trying to get the mainstream to take comics seriously. Some people say comics have finally made it because of the success of films like The Dark Knight and Avengers.

I say that film studios have figured out that superheroes make for good action movies. In the meantime, the mainstream can call comics juvenile and backwards as long as DC refuse to treat anyone other than straight, white men with the respect they deserve.

What do you think? Are women still getting the short end of the stick? Or am I making a whole lot of noise over nothing? Let me know in the comments.

(Don’t forget I’ve written a superhero short story of my own. The Homeless Hero is out now!)

Your Guide to Gay Superheroes

Last week I wrote about the controversy surrounding DC hiring anti-gay activist Orson Scott Card. And it seemed no sooner did I put down the metaphorical pen than I heard the news that Batwoman had proposed to her girlfriend. (Damage control on DC’s part? Or am I being cynical?) So this week I decided to put together a little guide to the major gay superheroes in comics.

Northstar marries his partner Kyle.Northstar

Northstar has to come first in the list. He was arguably the first major gay superhero, coming out back in 1992. Even if he wasn’t the first gay superhero, though, he’s certainly the first superhero to get married! So he definitely gets top billing.

That said, though, you’ve probably never heard of him. That’s because Marvel couldn’t (wouldn’t) out a major character in 1992. So they chose a member of Canadian mutant super team Alpha Flight.

Apollo/Superman and Midnighter/BatmanApollo and Midnighter

Apollo and the Midnighter come from the Wildstorm Comics stable of characters and came out quite quickly. They had a commitment ceremony long before Northstar started shopping for rings and they’ve adopted a daughter (and she’s the spirit of the 21st century, so make of that what you will). Wildstorm is now owned by DC but started life as a separate company and Apollo and the Midnighter are unabashed Superman and Batman analogues.

Which makes sense. There’s always been a chemistry between Supes and Bats, right?

Ultimate ColossusUltimate Colossus

I took a little dig at Northstar for being a minor league hero, but Colossus is definitely a bigger ticket. He’s one of the X-men and even made it into the X-men movies. Okay, yes, he’s straight in mainstream continuity. But back in the 90s Marvel launched their Ultimate line, comics using the same characters but updating and reinventing them for new readers. And in this universe, Colossus is gay. In fact he dated Ultimate Northstar.

Green Lantern Alan Scott was retconned to be gay in the New 52.Green Lantern

DC wiped out years of continuity in 2011 and completely rebooted every one of its titles as part of their “New 52” initiative. As part of this reboot, DC announced that they would out one of its classic characters. Batman was immediately everyone’s favourite candidate (perhaps due to the enduring influence of Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent). But DC opted for Green Lantern. But not Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern you might recognise from the movie. They picked Alan Scott, the Green Lantern from alternative and second string universe Earth Two.

I won’t lie, I was a little disappointed. Alan Scott wasn’t the quite the big ticket name DC had led us to expect.

Batwoman

Batwoman has been around for almost sixty years but came to the fore during DC’s 52 event when Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman disappeared for a year. Although Batwoman is a bit of a Batman clone (she’s a millionaire and suffered some childhood trauma of her own) she’s quite beloved and big enough to have her own comic. And she just proposed to her girlfriend in a frankly stunning panel of comic art.

Batwoman proposes to her partner Maggie.

Now tell me: are there enough gay superheroes in comics? Or are there some characters you think still need to step out of the closet?

Cover to The Homeless Hero by James T KellyUpdate: I’ve written a superhero story of my own! Pinnacle is the only superhero in the world and is determined to look after all of us. But he can’t look after himself. Does being a hero mean self-sacrifice or can a balance be found?

Check out The Homeless Hero now!

Should Orson Scott Card Write Superman?

DC have recently announced that their latest Superman title, Adventures of Superman, will be written by Orson Scott Card. Card is perhaps best known for his Ender’s Game series and for his two volume run on Ultimate Iron Man. He is also vocally homophobic. Cue the Internet outrage.

At the time of writing over 11,000 people have signed a petition to have DC give the boot to Card. Some comic stores are even boycotting Card’s Superman comic. I don’t dispute that Card’s views are anything from misguided to disgusting. But can we not separate the creator from his content?

Ender’s Game is a great book. So are the sequels (although they can get a little preachy) and I recommend them to every SF reader. They are clearly written by a talented writer. I own the book and I enjoy the book but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything Card believes in.

Similarly, can’t DC pay for Card’s work without condoning his views? The argument behind the petitions and boycotts is that DC shouldn’t be associating itself with hateful people. But if I can buy Ender’s Game without condoning homophobia, can’t DC buy Card’s comic work without being associated with his views?

On the flip side, of course, DC wouldn’t hire an outspoken racist. And, putting aside how women are often drawn in comics, they probably wouldn’t hire an outspoken sexist either. Although Frank Miller’s work might make you think twice about that one. But given that they wouldn’t permit racists and sexists on their staff, why will they permit homophobes? And should they?

Freedom of speech means you get to say the most appalling things and not be punished for it. So it doesn’t make sense to not hire someone for having views other than your own. I believe the problem comes when those views make it into the work. To bring up Frank Miller again, his work is filled with misogyny and that should have been unacceptable to DC. Will Card fill his Superman comic with his anti-gay bias? It’s unlikely. But if he did, that would be the time for DC to drop him like a hot rock. Not before.

Despite having written that last paragraph, I still feel uneasy about DC’s decision. I can’t quite put my finger on why. But I think, logically, that’s the right answer: separate the content from the creator and enjoy it until their objectionable views taint it.

I’m just not sure if I feel that’s the right answer. Which might be why so many people are upset about this.

Update: This story just won’t go away. All the controversy around Card has led the artist he was due to work with, Chris Sprouse, to quit. But is Sprouse standing up for what he believes in or is he letting the issues get in the art?