I don’t think DC would lose anything by making Catwoman and Starfire more complex and less Maxim.
There’s still a long way to go for fans of nonsexist comics, but there’s a lot of really interesting stuff out there. I am deeply indebted to the amazing staff at House of Secrets in Burbank for helping me figure out what the hell I was doing when I started this article.
When I told Paul, the owner, what I was working on, he immediately had suggestions. And then on the day when a ton of new high-demand issues had just come out, he let me monopolize one of his staff members for close to 45 minutes while she gave me a whirlwind education on women in comics. (Thanks, Amy!)
Amy brought up the interesting point that any given comic will have a writer, an artist, and then usually another artist doing the cover. Sometimes you have to suffer through creepy sexist art to enjoy a good story (or vice versa) – and sometimes a standard boobalicious cover can turn potential female readers off a book that has great content inside. Amy picked up the new issue of the superhero series I followed way back when and explained her frustration with the artist. “You used to be able to tell the female characters apart,” she said. “He used to really try to make art. Now he just traces porn bodies.”
As any woman knows, whether it’s songs or comics or movies, sometimes sexism is something you put up with.
But there are refuges.
In addition to DC’s women Bat and Wonder, Amy mentioned that Spiderwoman has been doing some interesting things over at Marvel Comics. Marvel is also re-releasing former titles from a publishing house called Crossgen, including Mystic, a little more magic than superhero, but with an interesting story and two distinct, real-looking heroines, and the Victorian-era mystery comic Ruse, which is what I will be diving into three seconds after I turn in this article.
Amy also recommended indie publishing houses as being less, you know, fusty about women and what they assume readers of either gender might want. Dark Horse has Buffy and Angel & Faith, and Image has The Intrepids, a bracingly weird series about a team that specializes in fighting mad scientists. Amy also recommended Vertigo titles in general for good characters and storylines a little off the beaten path.
I went in to research a story on sexist comics – and Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws are still depressingly lunkheaded, no question – but I left genuinely optimistic about the way comic book culture is going. As Amy led me from rack to rack, showing me the books she was particularly annoyed by or really excited about, she explained that there has never been a better time for girls and women to get into comics. On the Internet, you can be genderless, if you choose, so it’s that much easier to jump into the discussion.
Yes, there is a lot of disturbing piece-of-meat sexism out there, especially in hero comics (check out Women in Refrigerators if you’d like a literal list), but I think the passionate female comic fans I met during my foray can turn it around. The backlash over the sexist New 52 titles is a good thing. It will make cardboard sex objects tougher to get away with the next time. If you’re a female comics fan, keep insisting on good. Stay strong and stay vocal.
And if you’re Wonder Woman, please stay awesome. I’ll see you next issue.