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Wednesday, August 11, 2010 

The fighting femmes

Collectors Weekly has an interview with historian Mike Madrid, who wrote The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy and the history of the Comic Book Heroines. Among the things told about here, there's the costume change for Wonder Woman:
It was a big deal in the news, especially the tension around how they had changed her costume and put her in pants. What I noticed more than the pants was that they changed her story as well, including her origin. It remains to be seen what that’s going to be like, but they’ve started her back at the beginning so that everything you knew about her is no longer the case.
Not exactly. They do acknowledge that history was changed (yet with Cassie Sandsmark and Donna Troy, everything remains the same, just to show how laughable their idea of continuity is) and WW needs to change it back. But does that make J. Michael Straczynski's story any good? I don't think so, and it's no substitute for real character drama.

And while it may have been a big deal in the news, that's as far as it gets, since that, in and of itself, does not a story make.

They even mention JMS' grave mistake capping his run on Spider-Man:
Collectors Weekly: With Spider-Man, though, they erased his marriage?

Madrid: Yes, that’s true. In “One More Day,” Spider-Man and his wife made a deal with the devil. They could save his aunt, but the price would be wiping out their relationship. So they accepted it and it was as if everything was back to the ’80s, before they got married, as if it had never happened. He’s still single and they’re not together. A lot of people were really mad about that.
You better believe we are, and the sales plunge is proof of that.
Of course, they also “killed” Superman in the ’90s. That was kind of the beginning of the big ’90s collecting bubble because people who didn’t collect comics heard that there was going to be this super valuable “Death of Superman” comic that going to come out. Everyone bought it up. Then the people who run comics companies said, “Well, if we keep creating these big, hyped-up events, people will buy up more of our comics.” And people were buying, supposedly because they thought it was going to be an investment, but it turned out to be somewhat of a bust.

So yes, they killed off Superman. He was gone for maybe about a year, and then he came back with a mullet. They were trying to make him more edgy, so he had this really bad hairdo, almost like Richard Marx.

In the ’90s they did a lot of that, trying to make these characters more edgy. They changed Wonder Woman’s costume. She had something of a bondage costume with these biker shorts, and she looked tougher. They orchestrated a lot of hyped-up events that were designed to drive the collectors’ market. Ultimately, these gambits just wound up producing a lot of really bad comics.
I'm glad to see they bring that case up, because it still holds true today, and has since ruined a lot of good comics and their casts.

The most interesting part here, related to the main subject though, are the situations some females ended up in during the 1990s:
This was the era of when sexualized violence went mainstream. In a lot of the imagery of these heroines, they almost look like they were being humiliated. Some of the images had a voyeuristic quality about them, like a cover with just some heroine’s face with someone’s hands around her throat, or just a heroine’s face being held under the water, depicting her being drowned.

Even though bondage images were common in the ’40s, in the ’90s there was a different edge to it. In comics, especially on covers, there’s almost always going to be an image of the hero or heroine in a dangerous situation because it drives sales. But there’s not often a cover image of Superman looking kind of sexy but beaten up and bloody at the same time. There is something obviously disturbing about images of women, even of comic-book characters, looking kind of sexy but battered at the same time.
Correct, and I think even today, if you know where to look, you'll find this is still going on. Sexiness and violence do not mix in the manner conjured up during the 90s.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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