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Wednesday, August 15, 2007 

Much too late, much too easy, and much too watered down

Scripps-Howard News Service's Captain Comics has suddenly decided to address the issue of sexism in comics. But what he says is too little, too late, and predictably remains on a superficial level. So, here I boldly go into the Negative Zone to do a little tearing apart of yet another pretentious mainstream newspaper article. Let's see what we have here for starters:
Are comics sexist? A recent reprint has put that long-standing charge in the spotlight.

"Showcase Presents: Batgirl" (DC Comics, $16.99) is a B&W trade paperback reprinting in chronological order more than 500 pages of the titian-haired tigress's earliest solo adventures, from her debut in "Detective Comics" No. 359 (cover dated January 1967) through around 1975. The stories are a lot better than they have a right to be, but the cover image has some fans screaming "sexism!"
He's referring to an argument that probably first appeared on the internet (here's one related item from Peter Sanderson) that may have been minor, but there were a few who didn't like the cover. Trouble is, he's bringing the whole subject of sexism up more than a couple years too late at his end of the spectrum, and the subject focus here is just too easy. Where exactly was he when DC was coughing up Identity Crisis? Oh, that's right, he was too busy lovingly fawning over it in the following, most disgusting articles featured below, which make me doubt he really means anything he says in his latest balderdash. First, on June 15, 2004, he said:
...I recommended DC's "Identity Crisis," a seven-issue miniseries by best-selling novelist Brad Meltzer ("The Zero Game," "The Millionaires"). Meltzer has 6 million books in print, two movies in production and a WB pilot that just finished shooting _ and his "Identity Crisis" has already drawn glowing commentary from The New York Times, New York Post and Spin magazine.

For a change, the Captain agrees with all the hype. "Identity Crisis" No. 1 is now on the stands, and it actually brought tears to my eyes.

As advertised, the miniseries begins with the death of a Justice Leaguer and plays into a larger mystery involving some early recruits of the JLA _ but not big guns like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Instead, the story focuses on "B-list" players like The Atom, Green Arrow, Hawkman, Elongated Man, Black Canary and Zatanna. But before we get into that, we have to pay respects to the victim. I'm not easily moved by a comic book, but this death was poignant, chilling and touching.
Puh-leez. It was nothing of the sort, and was more insulting than touching. Actually, the death of an innocent is never touching, so that smells more than a bit of sensationalism. And it only got worse on October 3, 2004:
This seven-issue miniseries kicked off with the brutal murder of the wife of a Justice League member, a beloved character that’s been around for more than 40 years -- followed by a flashback revealing that she had once been raped by a supervillain. Add to that the revelation that some Justice Leaguers have used brainwashing in the past to alter the memories and personalities of certain villains. How can I possibly be enjoying this?

Well, possibly because it’s a riveting murder mystery by novelist Brad Meltzer, who’s also the creator of Jack & Bobby on The WB. And because it’s a challenging examination of the moral issues confronting those who fancy themselves heroes. And because it’s a crackling tale wherein the horrific events service the story, instead of being offered up as shock value.
Yep, that's the same man, the very same man, who's addressing sexism now, who wrote that smut three years ago too, as well as the following torpedo bomb on December 21, 2004:
The most controversial series of 2004 was "Identity Crisis," a seven-issue miniseries by mystery novelist Brad Meltzer and artist Rags Morales starring DC's Justice League of America. In the first issue, the pregnant wife of second-tier superhero was murdered in a brutal way. While the murder mystery (one that was truly a challenge) was the "A" plot, the investigation by the superheroes set off a domino effect, revealing that the victim had been raped by a supervillain years ago _ and in retaliation (and self-defense), a small cabal of Leaguers used their superpowers to, effectively, render the villain mentally incompetent. This also had negative repercussions, which were revealed slowly like the layers of an onion.

The whodunnit was wrapped up with "Identity Crisis" No. 7, but the many unresolved red herrings and the ramifications of the League's moral lapse are just beginning to be addressed, and will spread throughout all of DC's books in 2005. Love it or loathe it, "Identity Crisis" was truly an event, a slow-motion car wreck that generated more than 100 pages of comments on my message board alone.
Wow, how can he possibly argue that comics are sexist when he's been fawning over the very stuff he speaks about for goodness knows how long now? Worst of all, the way he talks about a story in which a pregnant woman was murdered and raped in flashback is sensationalistic, and that goes without saying. As far as I'm concerned, that smut he wrote is an offense to rape victims and battered women. And no matter what he's talking about now, there's every chance that he'll be right back to his old reporter tricks again tomorrow, either by a]fawning over the next abominable act of sexism in comics, or b]watering down a serious subject by c]choosing a most superficial item to comment on, or d]not discussing it at all. After all, most people of his standing are usually so biased in the publisher's favor that you can't expect them to write up an article that's got any really convincing impact.

Now, back to the current item:
As the initial story goes, librarian Barbara Gordon is inspired by Batman and her father, Commissioner Gordon, to try her hand at crime-fighting. And, by the mere act of pulling on leotards, this mousy redhead becomes the zaftig Batgirl, who is just as capable as Batman and Robin (who had trained all their lives) in the art of beating up heavily armed thugs. Sure, she had a "brown belt in karate," but that doesn't explain how she could take down gangs of men twice her size, or how she invents a motorcycle headlight that can track cars by their treads, or why Batman -- "the world's greatest detective" -- can't figure out who is behind the mask. Gee, Caped Crusader, do you really know so many twentysomething redheads that you can't guess? But he can't...
I thought Batman did figure it out eventually, but Babs convinced him not to oppose her being a crimefighter, and to take her under his wing alongside Robin as well? Or is Capt. Comics ambiguously referencing the TV show? I can't tell from this, but if in his view, Babs couldn't possibly take down a bunch of men twice her size, then surely Dick Grayson, a young teen at the time, couldn't handle them either? Talk about forgetting that this is comics! Not to mention surrealism.
So why the sexism charge? Well, originally the book was solicited with the 1967 cover to "The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl" on the front, a standard shot of Batgirl running toward the reader with the Dynamic Duo reacting in the background. But when the book arrived, another cover had been selected -- the first page of "Batgirl's Costumed Cut-Ups" ("Detective" No. 371, 1967), where Batgirl is depicted as being more concerned with her lipstick than fighting crime.

This image is somewhat misleading. Rather than revealing Batgirl as a vain girly-girl, "Cut-Ups" dealt with her concerns in that arena, and her successful efforts at triumphing over those doubts. The lipstick scene played against type for dramatic effect, whereas the story proved the reverse, reinforcing Batgirl's toughness and dismissing any lingering doubts about her ability.
I wish I could applaud him if he feels that any complaints about the trade's cover are an overreaction, but, if he's going to avoid the even more challenging questions of if gals in comics are being violently assaulted and demonized, then I cannot.
But the cover selection has resulted in a furious debate in fandom, breaking down largely by gender lines. Men generally react with "What's the problem?" -- whereas women generally say, "If you don't see the problem, that is the problem."
And unfortunately, Capt. Comics doesn't see the problem if he turns a blind eye to Identity Crisis and also the death of Spoiler in the Batman War Games crossover. To which we could add Donna Troy's going down with much of a fight in Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day, the death of Jade in the Rann/Thanagar War, Jean Loring's being turned into a new Eclipso in Day of Vengeance, Scarlet Witch and at least two other ladies being subjected to horrific discrimination in Avengers: Disassembled, Gwen Stacy being defamed and Mary Jane Parker made to look like a liar, Linda West's getting struck to the ground by Zoom and then shown going through it repeatedly in time-based flashbacks, and even the demonization of Wonder Woman's sisters in Amazons Attack. Oh yeah, where was he when all this was going on? I don't think there was any true mention or criticism of misogyny in his column there either.
And, to be honest, I am sympathetic to the latter [women's] position.
And from my end of the spectrum, I don't think so. Not if he can't take up the subject of any of those examples from at least three years ago, which came as pretty notoriously obvious ones.
Comics often are really sexist, as a glance at various heroines' assets can attest. While men's physiques are often just as exaggerated, there's little doubt that pandering to the adolescent male mind exists, metaphorically putting out a "girls not welcome" sign on many comics. This is a problem that needs to addressed, a debate that needs to be had.
Sorry, pal, but your example here is just too easy. What about victimization at the hands of VIOLENCE? What about depicting a woman as unable to defend herself, and going down without a fight? What about depicting them as vomiting for sickly sensationalism? What about depicting them as one-dimensionally evil criminals? Assets is what you consider sexist here? Puh-leez. That's just plain diddly compared to what I cited. And while there have been some debates, I highly doubt he'll ever contribute convincingly to any of them.
But in this case I'm going to give DC a pass. I don't know why this cover was selected, but it is historically accurate -- and its drama is derived precisely because Batgirl is acting out of character. As the 500-plus pages behind the cover attest.
And you'd give them a pass even if it were a more serious argument built around the kind of examples I cited too, charlatan. People of your standing have always taken the company's side, all the time. It's got nothing to do with whether the customer is right or not, it's because money trumps all, ditto public relations with the publishers, who probably wouldn't be as kind and cooperative if you literally rubbed them the wrong way. And if that's how it's going to be, then you shouldn't be discussing comics for the MSM.
Yes, sexism has always been rampant in comics. But I read "Showcase Presents: Batgirl" with a clear conscience, and I think you can, too.
Spoken by the same dimwit who apparently was able to read Identity Crisis and Avengers: Disassembled with clear apathy for any of the more challenging questions they bore within. And there's a wee bit of a problem with how he admits that sexism has always been rampant in comics: he doesn't give any examples from any specific books. A little more research and a bulleted list of bummer stories involving sexism would do quite nicely in a case like this. Instead, he wastes a whole column addressing surely the most superficial of all examples, the assets. Please, spare us the spluttering, journalist. You are not one who's qualified to discuss these issues.

The worst part here is that this J. Jonah Jameson wannabe is probably trying to use this in order to imply that the audience is wrong, even when they're right. Exactly why the mainstream press is simply not to be trusted, because really, they just don't have any respect for the audience.

Trackposted to: Outside the Beltway, Rosemary's Thoughts.

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"Captain Comics", sounds like a frontman for a heavy metal throwback band.

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