A woman explains why modern superhero comics don't find much of a female audience
In a previous column, “But He’s Black!“, I covered some well-known comic creators who seemed to think women didn’t like superhero comics.Even Millar's Kick-Ass was one loathsome little tale, and moviegoers who figure out what the source material used for the adaptation is like could feel embarrassed, with good reason. She had the following rebuttal to Millar's poor statement to the New Republic 2 years ago as well:
Marketing fail is part of the reason women aren’t reading more superhero comics, as the largely male creators seem to have a very odd idea of what their geek female readers want. Another part is that violence against women is being used for entertainment value.
Rape should never be just an everyday plot device, though given the past actions of DC comics and the statements of Kick-Ass creator Mark Millar, that should be okay.
Let’s take this one by one:As a fate worse than death, yes I suppose it could be, and there was once a Mr. Miracle tale where this was done. But I guess for many male writers, it's something they don't have the guts to explore, unless the rapist is female, like in Starman?
1. Rape is just like any other violent, horrible thing.
Well, no. It’s not. For one, one-third of your potential female audience might have personally experienced it. I doubt 30 percent of the current male reading audience has personally experienced some of the over-the-top violence in Millar’s stories, especially decapitation.
Rape is all too real for many women. There’s a reason we’re taught to walk in pairs at night. The reason we’re careful on first dates. Louis CK summaries the problem nicely in one of his comedy routines. Violence against women is the reason Gail Simone had to be a real-life hero this week.
I’m fairly sure most men don’t incorporate the concern that a first date could end in decapitation or being beat down when making dinner plans.
2. It’s not the worst thing that can happen to your hero.
It seems to be conventional wisdom among male comic writers that the worst thing that can happen to a hero is that his girlfriend is raped. Identity Crisis was of this mindset when it put a rape at the core of the entire DC superhero universe. Wait, no, it put the male reaction to a rape at the core of the DC superhero universe. (Which is just wrong on so many levels. More of this below.) Hence the “women in refrigerators” trope, an expression based on Green Lantern #54 in which the hero finds his girlfriend dead in the refrigerator and the story is all about him. Marvel has had its share of “women in refrigerators” incidents as well, starting with Carol Danvers giving birth to her rapist’s child back in the day.
Newsflash: The worst thing that can happen is for the hero to be raped.
The writer also says:
Now imagine your favorite superhero universe is basically based on a male rape and the reactions to it by the women in the story. The guy is just a prop. Well, he’s dead too. (I’m speaking of DC’s Identity Crisis, and, yes, I think Joss Whedon should not have written the introduction to the collected edition.) And then you hear these women writing the comics screamed with glee when the pages where Superman is raped came into the office. “The rape pages are in!” (Such was the report of a former DC editor about Sue Dibny’s rape.)Thank goodness somebody else took Whedon to task for paying lip service to the rancid miniseries, which contradicted his supposed support for the ladies. It just demonstrated how poor his grip on a solid path really is.
Then you might come close to seeing it from the female perspective of reading mainstream comics.
It's worth noting that a lot of sensible women do not like - and are not comfortable - watching rape scenes on TV and films, and neither for that matter are men with common sense. That's why a lot of stories involving rape on TV and some movies in past decades usually kept it very indirect, because nobody truly wants to see that, and there's more than enough audience who can figure out just what happened anyway. And depicting sexual assault from a 1st-person perspective as Identity Crisis did only makes it worse.
The entire DC comic universe was based for several years on this rape and the fall-out events. Not on the fallout of Sue dealing with what happened to her and taking some agency. No, the fallout because the men were all upset and fought about how to handle it.Also worth noting is that nearly all the staff/contributors who worked on Identity Crisis were men. How can a book involving a serious issue work properly when there's no women's input, let alone input from victims of sexual assault themselves? That's precisely what so many of the apologists refused to consider.
And this is why superhero comics aren't finding much female audience today, if at all. The editors and publishers shouldn't delude themselves.