If Male Superheroes Were Drawn Like Female Superheroes

Metafilter has a great round-up of depictions of male comic characters depicted the same way female characters typically are (See here if you don’t understand why all those beefy Hulk-like characters aren’t equivalent to the way women are portrayed in comics, though yes I do think there are pop cultural portrayals of men that are also problematic).

For example, this one by kevinbolk:

… which is a parody of this Avengers poster.

There’s also a gallery at Gammasquad, which features gems such as these:

I’ll add to this list these images from a great Comics Bulletin article:

Green Lantern objectified

Also, this was a real New X-Men cover:

I wonder what the mainstream fan reaction was. Anyway, it seems to be a real outlier.

So why does this matter? Marvel and DC are free to publish whatever trash they see fit, and the fans are free to buy it. And if males are having their perceptions of women warped, actual pornography is probably much more damaging. And for females, there are far more damaging portrayals of women in mass advertising campaigns, where women actually see them. Can’t avoid seeing them, actually. And really, not that many women will ever see most many of these comic book images.

I guess that’s what bothers me – seeing the comics industry slit its own throat. Here’s a great comic from Shortpacked about why the Starfire reboot was stupid from a business perspective. That Comics Bulletin piece breaks it down as well.

But would comics with less absurd women actually sell? Well, first of all even as a male comics reader you could be put off by this stuff, even if you’re not in the least bit gender progressive. As someone pointed out in the Metafilter comments, stuff like the Starfire comics would be downright embarrassing to be seen reading in public in a way that something like a Sandman comic wouldn’t. You could be the most sexist, body-negative mofo on the planet and still not want to buy this stuff.

Also, let’s take a look at some (relative) recent comics history. Look at these covers from Harbinger from the early 90s (actually that last one is the cover to a more recently published collected edition, I think):

Harbinger, now nearly forgotten, was one of the hottest titles of the early 90s. Yes, there’s a scantily clad woman there, but there’s also a bigger girl – something that wasn’t often seen then or now (though the fact that her name was Zepplin ["blimp," get it?] doesn’t really help matters). The Valiant Comics line had a meteoric rise, with both commercial and critical success. Those books sold well in a climate where comics it competed with stuff like this:

I don’t know the history of Valiant’s demise, but it was after it was sold to the video game company Acclaim. Even before the sale, the company was starting to “Image-ize” its comics with titles like Bloodshot and Ninjak. But those old Valiant books, from before the acquisition and before the Image-ization, had a huge following and proved that there was a market comics featuring something other than the cartoonishly distorted anatomies of the Image founders.

I suppose, given the recent shabby treatment towards creators on Marvel’s part and the history of abuses by DC, I should be happy to see those companies self-destruct. It’s probably just nostalgia keeping me from wanting to see these corporations get eaten in the market. On the other hand, the comic industry in general hinges in a lot of ways on those two big companies and I don’t think it would necessarily be a good thing for smaller publishers to see Marvel and DC implode any further.

See also:

Escher Girls: Redrawing Embarrassing Comic Book Women

Leah Moore on Women in Comics

4 Comments

  1. Complaining that superhero comics are full of crass stereotypes is like complaining that water is wet. It’s an infantile, debilitating genre at heart, which is probably why it is seems more popular in our time than ever before.

  2. @Ah Pook: on behalf of Grant Morrison and the Legion Of Warren Ellis: Piss off. Just cause American Idol is a vacuous succubi of the television medium doesn’t mean we should throw out tv shows as being lesser, infantile forms. If by “at heart” you mean large demographics are dedicated to the shittier pop stuff…well tv,movies,music, literature, all fall under that designation.

    Spread the goods, not the snob

  3. I for one eagerly await the impending demise of DC and Marvel. The incumbents in our cultural industries are suffocating us and doing real harm to our ability to engage with meaningful, or even well-crafted, stories. The sooner the whole edifice of big media crashes down, the better.

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