Archives for posts with tag: Wonder Girl

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2014 was an interesting year for comic book covers. Some Vertigo titles experimented with putting the first panels of the story on the cover. Independent publishers like Image Comics, Top Shelf, and Oni Press drew inspiration from wells outside of traditional comics to unleash some phenomenal design and the Big Two continued to offer loads of variants while still ruining covers by filling them with ads for movies and TV shows. Convention floors, the blogosphere, and comic book shops had readers and creators discussing the merits of covers while speculators looked for hidden Easter Eggs and social activists looked for opportunities to progress a higher discourse. Two covers in particular stirred more conversation in 2014 than all others. The re-reboot of Teen Titans and a reboot of Spider-Woman faced resistance specifically from critics for whom the representation of women is elemental to their comics critique. Here I will discuss both those covers and the cover of the second volume of the Justice Society of America omnibus. Before I begin, let me just admit that my white male privilege allows me to write this article without fear of rape or death threats. It’s disgusting that we live on an internet where a noticeable portion of its populace respond to ideas they find threatening with threats of physical violence. The fact that such behavior finds a home in discussions about comic books is especially sad- what would Superman say if he saw you writing rape threats to a stranger because of her opinion on a comic book cover?

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For the first issue of their latest Spider-Woman reboot, Marvel recruited the talents of Milo Manara, an Italian comics creator known for his hyper-sexual style. Full disclosure: I’m not a Marvel reader and don’t have any emotional ties to Spider-Woman as a character. I am however a fan of erotic art and have an appreciation for low brow art. I also appreciate the long standing tradition of sequential art itself as a marginalized art form. When I heard an esteemed erotic artist would provide art for a mainstream variant comic book company, I thought it sounded like a cool idea. I love diversity among artists and believe comics generally benefit from outside influence. For example, I think the Scribbenauts variants and most of the Robot Chicken variants that DC’s been using look pretty dumb, but I appreciate that such distinct styles are been experimented with and I like to see a wild mix on the comic book shelves. Still, much of the controversy had little to do with those few defenses I just offered, but rather focused on the use of such an artist to promote a book that had been admittedly targeted towards women and on book about a character that many female readers had identified as an example of progressive representation. A lot of male readers and the creators responsible for creating it took the criticism very personally.

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Some readers found humor in the controversy.

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Some readers got scientific.

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News operations outside of the world of comics like TIME magazine even picked up the story, reporting on the cover controversy and supplying Marvel with a bit of free publicity.

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The other cover that drew a great deal attention is the first issue of the re-rebooted Teen Titans. Unlike Spider-Woman, the Teen Titans are characters that I do follow and for whom I have developed some sentimental attachment. The controversy over this cover began when former Bat-title editor Janelle Asselin wrote an article about its cover where she described it as “not just a terrible comics cover, it’s a prime example of how even the most corporate comic book companies can make basic mistakes regarding the potential audience for a book.” I have a little trouble with her describing it as a “prime example” as it seems as if she picked it arbitrarily. Her critique of the cover is largely valid; I just think it can be applied to scores of other covers that supply greater evidence to support her criticism. You can read her original article and you won’t find anything too confrontational. You might feel a little bad for Kenneth Rocafort being singled out for a trend and tradition in comics that is much larger than his own contribution to the medium, but Asselin articulates pretty clearly in her article that her intention is not to attack the artist.

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Asselin’s complaints are in some ways more justified than those made against Spider-Woman and in some ways less. For example, Spider-Woman is a variant cover and this Teen Titans cover is the official cover. On the other hand, the Spider-Woman cover is explicitly sexual while the Teen Titans cover more subtly directs attention towards Wonder Girl’s breasts. Both Asselin’s critique of this cover and the general complaints about the Spider-Woman cover made specific points about how the two books are targeted somewhat to female readers. In that instance, the real criticism is “hey comic book companies, you’re marketing your books poorly!” not “hey comic companies, you’re perpetuating a hate crime!” Disgustingly some of the public responded the criticisms as if they had been the latter “hate crime” accusation by responding themselves with very hateful speech and even threats of physical violence. Coupled with the species-wide embarrassment that was Gamergate, geek males looked really bad in 2014. Not simply because they acted like monsters towards others, but they demonstrated such resistance to advancing the mediums they purport to love. Of course, this demented vocal element of the comics reading community represents only a small portion of that community. Neither the critique against Spider-Woman nor the one against Teen Titans were revolutionary nor were they particularly sophisticated, but they absolutely belong in our discussion of comics which makes the toxic reactions so absurd. I find Asselin’s critique to be somewhat arbitrary and forced. I find the controversy over Manara’s Spider-Woman a little dumb because 1) it’s a variant cover, not the official cover 2) it’s painted by an erotic artist with the intention of being hyper-sexual, so being upset with it parallels hating ice cream sandwiches for being delicious. Still, both critiques have value. Now I would like to present a critique of the cover used for the second volume of the JSA omnibus that requires less nuance to explain.

First, let’s look at the cover:

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For the cover of the omnibus, DC Comics decided to use the wrap around cover from JSA #50, an iconic cover featuring most of the primary players in the series. In terms of aesthetics, I think DC could have used better images for both volumes, but this isn’t a discussion of aesthetics. As you can see, the characters that appear on the front cover are Green Lantern, Dr. Fate, Wildcat, Captain Marvel, the Flash, Dr. Mid-Nite, Sands, and Hawkman. These are all important characters though some are more prominent than others. Two things that the characters all have in common are their race and gender.

Second, let’s look at the full image from JSA #50‘s wrap around cover to see what other members of the Justice Society appear on the back:

all those heroes with so few pockets

Here we see the rest of the team: Atom Smasher (white male), Power Girl (white female), Hawkgirl (white female), Black Adam (middle eastern male), Mr. Terrific (black male), Jakeem Thunder (black male), Hour Man (white male), and Stargirl (white female). As you can see, all of the women and minorities have been placed on the back cover. Because this image is originally from the fiftieth issue, what we are seeing here is DC Comics deciding to make the same offense twice. None of these offenses- Manara’s Spider-Butt, Rocafort’s Wonder-Boobs, or the JSA’s occasional instance of segregation- are end-of-the-world problems, but they ought be discussed while creators and readers alike consider the vulnerability of the medium and the value of constructive criticism in order to produce higher quality art and tell more compelling stories. While conventional wisdom tells us not to a judge a book by its cover, we should recognize the role the cover plays in determining the reception, reputation, and overall destiny of the book.

Eat your weiner

One of the most efficient devices employed to distinguish a character from the setting in which that character has been placed is to have that character encounter something commonplace in the setting, but alien to that character. Examples of this abound, particularly in television and film- two mediums that lend themselves too easily to intellectual laziness. When exploring the idea of time travel, this trope is particularly over-used- think Encino Man, Dark Shadows, Captain America, etc. Seeing someone from the past or future encounter the present fills the contemporary audience with some flimsy pride- “I’m so much informed about physics than Captain America because I know who Stephen Hawking is!” when a much better assessment might be who understands the work of Einstein or Feynman better. I suppose we should forgive our story-tellers for relying too frequently on this crutch as it continues to serve effectively in creating an atmosphere and pleasing the herd. In cases of time-travel, the joke is overused, but not particularly offensive. Its humor somewhat simple and too familiar, but capable of accomplishing its objective because of that simplicity and familiarity.

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In addition to time travel, this device is often used to show how alien aliens are, how robotic robots are, how foreign foreigners are- to identify the outsider. In these cases, the joke can feel a bit more like bullying and certainly more ethnocentric. The relationship between comic books and cliché is important- it gives pop art its substance. In both plot and art, the comic book works from the necessity to establish identifiable types and, like other mediums of artistic expression, the comic book works best when it uses those types against themselves. Recently in the New 52, DC Comics employed this trick- not once, not twice, but thrice! (possibly more, I don’t read every DC title)

1. In Justice League International, the British hero Godiva introduces her Chinese teammate August General in Irons to the exotic food that every 20th Century American child aspired to be: hot dogs. Following the tradition of this trope, August General  in Iron is baffled by the strange item and Godiva feels like an ambassador of holy truth. This one’s pretty dumb because Chinese people love themselves some sausage. Sausage has been a part of the Chinese diet for a long time and while hot dogs were introduced more recently, they’ve been in China for more than a century and have infiltrated Chinese daily life (usually eaten on stakes rather than in buns) to such an extent that surely August General in Iron had many opportunities to eat a hot dog before joining the JLI. (pictured at top of article)

2. In Superboy, Cassie and Kon-El find themselves on a mysterious island shaped like a question mark. Like any teenager would in this situation, Cassie makes her first priority skinny-dipping and her second finding food. Superboy understands neither bathing nor eating because he’s an alien clone only months out of his test tube. Like Godiva, Wonder Girl becomes a somewhat sexualized ambassador of truth- tada! Boobs and bananas! (pictured in the middle of the article)

3. The first time in the New 52 that DC Comics employs this trick is in its flagship title Justice League, a title which must be mandatory reading for all the creators working in the DC universe as its effects are felt by the most titles. Because of both the book’s central role and its popularity, we can assume that the creative teams behind Justice League International and Superboy witnessed the most eloquent of this cliché’s employmeny in the new 52 when a young girl introduces Wonder Woman to ice cream. (pictured below)

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I don’t think this joke is too offensive and I certainly don’t think it’s very creative, but employed with certain consideration, the joke can be very offensive and perhaps even creative. When the joke is posited between classes and especially classes weighted by race or caste, this cheap amusement can be especially damaging- “Look at the peasant who can’t figure out which fork to use!” or more bitingly “Look at the peasant who can’t read, can’t operate a computer, can’t afford the same level of health care or education, etc.”

One variation on this theme is the immigrant humbled by the awesomeness of the United States. One example of this in the New 52 can be found in Teen Titans when the hyper-gay hyper-immigrant hyper-Latin-American hero-type Bunker first encounters Red Robin in the land of the free and home of the brave.

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When the Other is amazed, the Hegemon is what?

No matter, the cat likes to eat both the country mouse and the city mouse.

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I’m posting a crossword puzzle that I made based on characters from DC Comics. Hopefully it proves to be a fun and challenging distraction for some of you. Click here or at the crossword link on the top of the page to have a try. Following the link will allow you to see the clues.

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