I Don’t Know What It Means To Grow Out Of Comics

Partial Objects has a post up that is a response to the Comics Alliance piece by Laura Hudson that calls out superhero comics for their rampant, shitty sexism.

I guess I should say something about the Laura Hudson post. I think it’s smart, and I think that she says some really apparent stuff for anyone who has ever had an education in feminism that takes them as far as “the personal is political.” I don’t think any of the criticism is particularly new, but I think she has really great things to say while continuing a line of criticism that, frankly, should always be continued. For example:

But the problem isn’t Star Sapphire. Or Catwoman. Or Starfire. Or Dr. Light raping Sue Dibny on the Justice League satellite or that stupid rape backstory Kevin Smith gave Black Cat or the time Green Lantern’s girlfriend got murdered and stuffed in a refrigerator. The problem is all of it together, and how it becomes so pervasive both narratively and visually that each of these things stops existing as an individual instance to be analyzed in a vacuum and becomes a pattern of behavior whose net effect is totally repellent to me. As an anomaly, maybe Starfire could be funny, the way the big-breasted, over-sexed Fritz (who even got her own porno comic, Birdland, which is pretty good if you’re into that) is often funny in Love and Rockets, mostly because the series is already packed full of incredibly diverse, fully-realized female characters. But as the 5,000th example of a superhero comic presenting female sexuality in tone-deaf ways, it’s just depressing.

Lots of great examples and language there. “Tone deaf” is especially important, being that I see the entirety of comic book culture as having that characteristic. Superhero comics as a whole, and especially DC Comics, have botched bringing in new readership so hard over the past ten years that it’s become a kind of statistical anomaly like a black hole appearing in a toilet tank. On the heels of The Dark Knight, one of the most popular movies of all-time, period, DC let Grant Morrison write one of the most complex, whacked-out series of stories with the Caped Crusader that have ever existed. That was a bad move.

Alongside the bad move, it was also indicative of the world that sueprhero comics exist in. Massive changes are always frowned upon. Continuity is preferred, and that’s sort of what made the DC New 52 series unique. It was trashing continuity for something new. Now, any reasonable person would have assumed that it meant there could be a blank slate for new kinds of writing, ideology, and worldcraft in the text. What would stop you from fixing all of the problems in the product line if you could do so? In any other business, there would have been massive overhauls to bring in new readers. Instead, we got what Hudson is talking about: a porn approach to mainstream comics, with Catwoman letting Batman penetrate her on-panel.

Can we stop pretending like superhero comics are geared towards kids now?

In any case, that’s where the Partial Objects post comes in. The PO post is essentially this: superhero comics are a ghetto, you can’t change it, so stop trying to change it. Instead, find a new genre, abandon comics, it’s a cesspool of fucked ideologies and you better get out while the getting is good.

I can’t accept that. The response to communities that create women’s bodies as objects is not to ignore those spaces. Honestly, it’s probably as easy to cordon off the board room, the golf course, the political rally. If we recognize an area where women are only imagined in a pornographic way, absent any agency of their own, then why would we abandon that place? Why wouldn’t we assimilate against those practices? To do that would be to say that we can cordon off anything we don’t like and, as long as they don’t bother us, we can safely ignore them while we’re off being “mature.” Hatred breeds when it’s ignored, and I would never be comfortable saying that we should create a community of belonging for, say, a hate speech group. Why would we create that kind of community for sexists?

Comics have a lot of problems, but ignoring those problems is not the way to solve them. They are systemic. They are ideological. They could be fixed in any number of ways, including actually listening to women, who are a much larger percentage of the comic buying base than Partial Objects would have you believe.

In any case, that’s what I have to say about comics today.


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