This week’s Douchebag Decree goes to DC Comics.
DC, you know I love your characters. I’m willing to put up with a lot in exchange for stories about the Batfamily and Wonder Woman. But you’re getting beyond the realm of acceptability. In case you haven’t been keeping track of the stupid things DC has done recently—there’s a whole blog for that!—here’s a rundown.
Incident #1: Last month at Fan Expo in Toronto, DC finally acknowledged their female readers. However, it was only to tout a new romance series, Superman/Wonder Woman. As The Mary Sue reported, illustrator Tony Daniel had this to say:
It’s funny, because in Chicago I was talking to Bobbie Chase and Bob Harras about making a book, I wasn’t referring to creating this book, but I mentioned maybe, can we create a book that targets a little bit more of the female readership that’s been growing. And maybe a book that has a little bit of romance in it, a little big of sex appeal, you know, something that would, for lack of a better example, that hits on the Twilight audience. You know, millions of people went to see those in the theaters because it has those kind of, you know, subject matter.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with a romance title, and I’m sure plenty of women will indeed be interested in it. What this feels like, though, is straight-up pandering to the audience that they have been ignoring and dismissing until the Twilight cash cow has proven that women will spend lots of money on media they like. Not to mention, of course, that the female readership is not monolithic; female readers are not solely interested in romance—especially Twlight’s specific brand of romance. During the Q&A portion, a panel attendee named Liz asked:
Liz: When you were talking about Superman/Wonder Woman, what caught my ear was, you’re making it romance and romantic to catch the women. My question is, that’s not all you’re doing, right? [Laughter and applause from the audience]
Daniel: Are you asking if you’ll see like, Superman butt shots? I’ll be sure to keep it even.
The rest of the exchange was equally as dismissive to Liz’s concerns that the creators had equated a female readership with the love of well-defined butts and romance. After a history of ignoring female readers, DC has now single-handedly decided what those same female readers want, without bothering to consult or listen to them—even when a female reader is directly asking the questions.
Incident #2: This past week, DC encouraged artists to “break in” to the industry by drawing Harley Quinn, a character who is “no stranger to a little breaking and entering.” But instead of continuing their pun, the contest requires artists to draw Harley attempting to kill herself in four different panels, in turn trying to get herself struck by lightning, eaten by an alligator, eaten by a whale, and the worst one, electrocuted while naked in the bath. Their guidelines required a drawing of:
“Harley sitting naked in a bathtub with toasters, blow dryers, blenders, appliances all dangling above the bathtub and she has a cord that will release them all. We are watching the moment before the inevitable death. Her expression is one of ‘oh well, guess that’s it for me’ and she has resigned herself to the moment that is going to happen.”
By the way, this week is Suicide Prevention Week. While the argument could be made that this contest is in-keeping with Harley Quinn’s character, it ran with no further context other than the panel descriptions. Since the contest also functions as a job application for an industry that it notoriously hard to break into, DC is essentially forcing prospective artists to draw an erotized suicide to get their big break.
Contest collaborator Jimmy Palmotti has since taken the blame for the subsequent media blow-up, saying that the page was supposed to be fourth-wall-breaking dream sequence in the style of Mad Magazine or Looney Tunes. DC co-publisher Jim Lee has also mansplained that comics are a sequential art form (yes, go on…) and that you can’t make a judgment about a book based on a few panels. Great, except when all you’re given is a few panels in which a female character is overtly sexualized in conjunction with suicide. Whatever the original intention to make it a “fun and silly book,” the contest choice was at best ill-conceived and badly timed, and at worst indicative of the kind of consideration DC accords its female characters and readers.
Incident #3: The biggest douchebaggery by DC in the past month involves Batwoman’s love life. Part of the Batwoman creative team quit the title last week after being told that Batwoman (Kate Kane) will not be allowed to marry her fiancée, Maggie Sawyer. The folks who quit have already been replaced.
But lest DC be accused of homophobia, DC co-publisher Dan DiDio explained the decision: superheroes just can’t be happy.
They put on a cape and cowl for a reason, he explained. They’re committed to defending others – at the sacrifice of all their own personal instincts. That’s something we reinforce. If you look at every one of the characters in the Batman family, their personal lives kind of suck…
Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon, and Kathy Kane – it’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s also just as important that they put it aside as they know what they are accomplishing as the hero takes precedence over everything else. That is our mandate, that is our edict, that is our stand with our characters.
On the surface, this statement seems to make sense: superheroes have to sacrifice their own happiness to protect others. Except that DC appears to be fine with superheroes dating (otherwise, why is the Superman/Wonder Woman title going forward?) and getting engaged (since they didn’t stop Kate and Maggie before now). So why is marriage the big stopping point? And why this marriage? As Rob Bricken says on io9, Animal Man and The Phantom Stranger have been married, so what’s stopping Batwoman from having a failed marriage like her superhero brethren? While it may not be coming from a place of pure homophobia, this decision is inconsistent and lost not only readers, but a great creative team.
Plus, Batwoman is one of the very few LGBT superheroes, and certainly the most high-profile. If she wasn’t going to be allowed to get married, the editorial team should have stepped in before she got engaged. As Susana Polo aptly states on The Mary Sue, a ban on happy relationships just doesn’t mean the same for straight characters as it does for queer ones. Queer characters have a long, sordid history of never getting to be happy in their relationships, even if one of them doesn’t end up dead. In real life, queer people are discriminated against and, for the most part, can’t get married. LGBT teens need a superhero that shows them that life doesn’t always have to be gloom and doom. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the direction that DC is headed.
Particularly in the wake of their recent hiring of noted homophobe Orson Scott Card to write Superman, this decision shows that the higher-ups at DC either don’t understand the ramifications of their actions, or just don’t care. Either way, DC has made some serious missteps, and stubbornly oblivious douchebaggery is still douchebaggery.
Photo credits: Batman Wiki and ComicBookMovie.com, respectively.
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