Sexy Sexism in Comics; Also, Sex. Part One!

I love comic books. And I love women.  In fact, I’d say that they are my two favorite things to look at and spend money on.

Just kidding. Who buys comics anymore AMIRITE?!!

There’s been a lot of rumbling lately about the problem of sexism in comics.  I’ll be the first to admit it’s an issue, but it’s kind of unfair to single-out comics when it comes to sexism. (refer to Dolce and Gabbana ad, above)

“But Ryan”, you may say, “Just look at the way women are drawn! And what about the fact that women are always given the defensive powers, rather than offensive?  Also its sort of hard to to believe you after you referred to women as “things” in the first line?”  And to you I would say:  THAT WAS A TEST.  You passed. Now claim your prize by reading on, as we look at  what’s wrong, what’s right, and what we (read: everyone but me. I’M writing a BLOG) can do about it.  Buckle up, true believer-ettes, it’s gonna be a sexy, bumpy, sex-bumpy ride.

Today’s installment: COMICS ARE SEXIST

Now, a lot of people question my worth as a judge when it comes to comics, citing the fact that my favorite character is the Banshee, a character clearly created to highlight how clown-like Roy Thomas thought Irish people were.

Wolverine! Faith 'n Begorrah! Ye've sliced up all me potatoes! Ach!

Seriously, Banshee in the 60’s and 70’s was so offensive to micks The Irish, he may as well have been a black, ex-pimp hero from Harlem with street smarts and a nickname like “Snap”. OH WAIT MARVEL DID THAT TOO

Jeez Cyke. Maybe that X stands for Xenophobic?

But we’re not here to discuss racism, fear of unknown peoples, or the fact that i just neglected an opportunity to place a picture of multi-cultural hero in favor of a racist Cyclops. No, we’re here for da ladies.  Or, as unrepentant racist/sexist Green Lantern would say, the “Fair Sex”.

Ok, I'm sorry. The bedroom, too.

So here’s the thing; it’s easy to look at golden and silver age comics and find them to be littered with sexism, racism, cheese, and nazis; because that’s just the way things were. You’ve seen “Mad Men”.  It doesn’t excuse it, but it sort of explains it, so for the purposes of this blog I’m gonna only focus on modern comics.  But just to get it outta my system (cause MAN old comics were rough):

I actually don't know what the hell comic this is. That's saying something.

To be fair, Robin always bitched about this, too.

DC seems to be the most egregious offender, but Marvel’s no slouch:

"Wives should be Kissed, and not heard. That's strike one."

Insanity of the Gold-Silver ages aside, comics, a lot of the time, do a remarkable job of being intelligent explorations of the human condition.  As a kid, I was clearly drawn to the flashy colors and the fantastical powers (my friends and I used to play X-Men at recess. It was always a fight over who got to be Iceman or Wolvie.  Guess who I always picked). [Editor’s Note: Dazzler?]

*sigh* ...they had to kill him off to make him badass...

Come on! Sonic Screams are awesome!

But as I grew up I stuck around for different reasons. I had a fascination with freedom workers like Martin Luther King Jr. and Ghandi, and when i started realizing the parallels in X-Men to the struggles of minorities and, really anyone who’s been picked on, i started loving it more and more. (Adam Kornya wrote a great article about this on here a while back)  I always thought it was really cool that X-Men had such a diverse and well-balanced cast, with everyone at about the same power level and as an equal asset to the team. Now that I’ve said that, I was not entirely correct. Let’s take a look at what comics today get wrong.

I should mention that I am more of a Marvel guy than DC, so forgive me if I leave someone out on the other side.

The Bad:

Shitty Powers:

Asian girl--shoots fireworks. Shoots. Fireworks.

Now, when I say shitty powers, I’m not talking, like, just a tail, or math skills, or the ability to grow your teeth really fast or anything, I’m referring to defensive powers.  How many people, when asked what kind of super power they would want, say “OOH! OOH!  Force Fields!”?  seriously, none. Yeah, we want a force field, but only in addition to our kick-ass laser blasts, or super strength, or wooly mammoth tusks or something.  It’s true that oftentimes, when assembling a super-hero team, it seems like women get the short end of the stick.  The boys get to go around hitting stuff while the girls protect civilians and act as, essentially the medics/cannon fodder/reasons for the good guys to hulk-out-and-rally and save the day. You got Scarlet Witch, hangin’ in the back affectin’ stuff while Cap and Thor beat ‘em up. Jean Grey/Emma Frost/Oracle/Raven/Sage tryin’ to get into their minds while everybody else does the fun stuff. Or Kitty phases ‘em away.

Searching for this, I typed in "super-heroine saves day" Google asked "did you mean super-HERO saves day?", assumed I did, and corrected.


Don’t say Invisible Woman to me. We’ll get to her next time.

At any rate, I personally think this is the weakest of the arguments, which is why I put it first. For every Rescue, there’s a Wonder Woman; For every Tommy, there’s a Ms. Marvel; for every Kitty Pryde there’s a…well, Kitty’s actually pretty badass. read her when Whedon wrote her in Astonishing X-Men, or the Claremont mini from forever ago.  Also, the number of male heroes with shitty powers just flat dwarfs it. check out Eye-Scream

Yeah. He happened. A writer wrote that.  Still, there are times where it seems like even the girls who have offensive abilities are relegated, by the writers, into the search-and-rescue mode, and they very rarely get the glory. which brings us to…

The Stories:

Marvel Comics made a big deal out of making Jean Grey the single most powerful entity in their universe. A Woman, gosh-golly!  When the Phoenix force “chose” her, she became so powerful it was less than a thought for her to save the universe. Just unstoppable. So, what do they do? MAKE HER GO CRAZY. The Power is too much, she gets PMS and a Red Costume, Eats a galaxy, tries to destroy Earth and kills herself. JUST LIKE A WOMAN, AMIRITE?!

If her hair were darker, that is SHOCKINGLY reminiscent of my ex-girlfriend.

This keeps happening.  Writers keep giving women lots of power, having it make them go crazy, and killing them.  Phoenix, Scarlet Witch, Amethyst, Betty Banner, Raven all got powerful, went psycho then died/went MIA. I think the reasoning is pretty clear.

Comics are, traditionally, for the…nerdier persuasion.  I am a proud nerd, I mean that as no insult….only that, especially ten to twenty years back, before they were “cool” due to movies and whatnot, people who would spend their lives aspiring to write comics were, pretty clearly, not quite Fonzerellis.  If you spent your entire life getting spurned, teased, taunted, or just done wrong by girls, it just MIGHT linger in your brain for a bit.  And just maybe, if you were given the reigns to a story about a super-powered woman who could boss everyone around, you might see it as an avenue for revenge.  I think this is the same reason women are generally written poorly; you write what you know. All I’m sayin’ is this guy might not have the insight into how a girl may react when she has laser fists and is getting mugged:

scream for help, then faint, right?

Clearly I’m generalizing, and that’s not always the case; sometimes they jus’ downright fucked up. Case in point: Brad Meltzer, writer of DC Comic’s Identity Crisis, decided to really go for the gusto, and give Elongated Man (a relatively cheery, lame hero) and his wife Sue a gritty story, and the best way to do that is clearly to go and add a BRUTAL ANAL RAPE, and then kill her.  Clap. Clap. Clap.

Damn. It. Not posting the other scene, google if you're so incline

WHY IN THE FUCK would you think that is a good idea? Is that good storytelling to you? I’m not one for censoring comics, or honestly censorship in general, and if rape is gonna serve the story than by all means, rape away (God I hope no one ever takes that quote out of context), but this is just sensationalism. This is trying to pull in readers by being dark and edgy, and that’s bullshit. DC seems to love this shit, too. Alan Moore portrayed Mr. Hyde (in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which, despite this comment, I really loved) as an evil yet ultimately lovable scamp who enjoys raping things, in the end raping the backstabbing Invisible Man TO DEATH.  I just…Sometimes I just  don’t know.

The story's good, but it needs more rape!

Another, lighter example of writers being sexist bastards can be found in origin stories; Wolverine is a psychotic, animalistic, trained killer from Canada; Superman is an alien messiah, sent to save and deliver us all; The Dazzler is a washed up disco singer who loves roller-blading and turns music into light sparkles with her hands.

It's getting harder to find arguments for the other side....

The Costumes:

There ya go, DC kids

Possibly the worst offense. Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against reading a book about giant dudes hurting bad guys with unrealistically hot women hanging around in underpants, BUT I can certainly see the harm that drawings like this cause.  Comics, my dear, beloved comics, were originally targeted at children.  Nowadays, they are certainly written (and drawn) with adult readers in mind; the readers who grew up with them. Both of the big companies now regularly publish “all ages” books for the kids, where all the sexy-ness and violence is considerably toned down. However, most retailers have those comics on the same racks as the others. Maybe the more adult comics will be placed higher up, but there’s usually no age limit set on who can buy what. Here we encounter the exact same problem that exists in every other form of media: unrealistic ideals.

Power Girl: I'm pretty sure her only power is an unbreakable spine

When kids read these comics, they idolize the characters. I just talked about how desperately i dreamed of being able to scream walls down, fly, and be Irish; when a girl reads this, it’s the exact same thing as playing with an old school Barbie, or watching Miss America Pageants, it creates an unrealistic image of what she thinks a successful, attractive woman should look like.  She could spend her whole life working towards that, and never feel good enough because it’s impossible to look like that. It’s a drawing. It’s not fair for us to set up these concepts and physical features that are impossible to attain to an impressionable youth. Now, when boys read it, it creates boners.  Or, more specifically, an unrealistic image of what the women they desire should look like/be like/dress like, and that creates the same kind of unhappiness, when that something you grew up knowing you’d attain, is an impossibility; it shouldn’t have even been something you honestly looked for! (seriously though, if you wanna dress like Power Girl for me, please send email to ryanadamwellsmusic@gmail.com).

But I’m no filthy hippie; I don’t think any of this is reason to eliminate or even overhaul the way comics are produced. The real task here falls to the parents.  I’m an adult. The damage is done. If I wanna look at large breasted women who could literally tear me in two wearing thongs and punching bad dudes, I’m gonna do it.  In all seriousness, my parents did a great job of showing me that fiction is fiction, and I’ve always been easily able to separate it from reality.  We shouldn’t need to ban video games and comic books, redesign Barbie Dolls, or spend tax dollars on lengthy trials determining what is appropriate to sell as art/entertainment; we should just take a fucking stake in our children’s lives, be PARENTS to them instead of friends, or more often, casual acquaintences.   If you don’t want your kids reading these comics, DON’T LET THEM. And please, PLEASE tell them why you’re not letting them. Explain to them what is offensive about it.  Don’t treat your kids like idiots, they will always know 10x what you think they know, respect them with the truth and they will respect you. And if you find comics sexist, DON’T READ ‘EM. Or go pick up Strangers in Paradise. Ya sissy.  If everyone spent a lot more time just ignoring what they don’t like and focusing on what they do, instead of trying to destroy everything they think is “Wrong”, the world would be a much happier place.  Plus ain’t no one ruining cosplay for me.

Black Cat is also acceptable, ladies

Come back in a Day or two for Part 2: Comics are So Totally NOT Sexist!

About ryanadamwells

Ryan Adam Wells is a goofy, world traveling Vaudeville Comedian by day; tall, striking, Alt-Country Singer-Songwriter by night; and Comic Book reader, Southern Baker, improper punctuation user, the rest of the time.

Posted on August 30, 2011, in Comics, Ryan Adam Wells and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. What about Green Lantern Kyle Rayner’s refrigerator corpse fiancee? That was surely a great leap forward for depictions of women. And that was like late 90’s Bronze moving into Modern Age era.

  2. Whoa! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a completely different subject but it has pretty much the same layout and design.

    Wonderful choice of colors!

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