Monday, 21 January 2013

Women in Comics (1)

Over the past few years, Marvel Comics have tried to make Ms Marvel into a major player. Unlike DC, who have Wonder Woman, Marvel, despite a varied range of heroes, never had a major female protagonist.

Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines kicks off with a quick summary of the career of Wonder Woman, the DC property, but does little to examine the broader history of women in comics. The strange story of Valkyrie, the 1970s attempt by Marvel to introduce a feminist heroine, is sadly untold, and the battles of Ms Marvel to become a major player in The Avengers is missed. The film works as an excellent primer for a certain set of representations in American media, and has an interview with Gail Simone, the cool comic writer who noted the phenomena of women ending up inside fridges to provide male protagonists with a drama. But it isn't a history of comic book superheroines.

When Alan Moore - who is pretty much God as far as comic books go - rewrote Supreme as a comment on the Superman type hero, he included some sly suggestions that comic books could be a propaganda tool for preferred emotional behaviour. Ignoring the hero's natural inclination to deal with complex moral issues by giving someone a good slap, Moore included codes of conduct in his Supreme that could usefully be applied in real world scenarios.

Sadly, the moral worth of Moore's comic, and the worth of most comics published in the last twenty years, is compromised by the absurd anatomy of the female characters. There are rumours that a certain comic book artist traces his women from pornography. Like they point out in Wonder Women!, the women in comics are eye candy. My recent attempt to build a collection of comics for my nine year old nephew from my collection was hampered by the apparent inability of artists, since 1993, to draw a woman without the most common power.

Every so often, the comic book industry and fandom ponders how they can get girls reading comics. Sometimes they come up with a more romantic plot - like the series featuring Mary Jane out of Spider-man. It never occurs to them that a good step might be to stop drawing women who have the sort of breasts that made Benny Hill get all steam coming out of his collar.

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