Roundtable: DC Comics & Superheroines

The big news in mainstream comics this fall has been the dramatic reboot of the DC Comics universe. With an aggressive marketing push behind it and the stated purpose of the reboot partially being recruiting new readers, anticpation was high.  DC Comics co-publishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee elaborated on the reasoning behind the reboot.  Comics fans speculated on just what all these new number one issues would bring: revamped characters, rejiggered costumes, and hopefully engaging new spins on beloved characters.

Before any of the number one issues hit the comics stores in September, however, there was already controversy. Fans of Barbara Gordon, who had been Oracle for over twenty years, were concerned over the discarding of one point of diversity in the DC universe.  Hellblazer fans wondered just how John Constantine was going to be integrated into the mainstream DC universe as part of Justice League Dark. (Seriously, Justice League Dark? That’s the best they could come up with?)  And just what is UP with Harley Quinn’s new look?

Then the comics started to hit the stands.  As is often the case, some were great, some were duds.  Then two new takes of fan favorite superheroines arrived, in the form of the title character in Catwoman #1 and Starfire in Red Hood and the Outlaws #1, and the @#*$% really hit the fan. Fans noted this was not a stand-alone problem (see Amanda Waller’s “sexy” reboot) and the larger issues of DC’s representation of women, female heroes, and their perceived attitude toward female fans were raised.

DC responded in a few of ways including a tweet about ratings and a reader survey.  Skeptical fans considered these reactions as PR ploys that hardly represent attention given to fans concerns.  Well-reviewed titles that represented the best points of DC’s superheroine stories, like Wonder Woman #1, were unfortunately overshadowed by the furor.

In today’s roundtable, we here at NFNT are taking a look at the controversy.  We take a look at what this storytelling, design, and attitude means to us as selectors and buyers for our libraries and where we’ll place them on our shelves.

Robin: Do you feel the accusations of imbalance and inherent sexism in DC’s published titles are justified?  How does that affect what you would purchase for your library collections, if at all?

Andrew: Imbalance? Yes, by any measure. There are more male characters, more male creators, more male fans, more male everything. That imbalance in and of itself can be taken as inherent sexism, but that’s just the start of it. Those female characters we have are more likely to be hyper-sexualized, flatly written, and murdered and stuffed into refrigerators. Through all the discussion of this I’ve heard very few people arguing that the books in question aren’t sexist. The defense I’ve heard most often is that DC’s aiming these books at young men so sexism is irrelevant.

I feel compelled to make a couple points in DC’s defense, though. First, as Robin said in the intro, they put out a few books with really great female characters. Second, no part of me thinks the sexism is intentional. It’s stupid and offensive and wrong, but I don’t think anyone there has some weird agenda to degrade women. And, finally, it’s not just DC doing these things, they’re just who we’re looking at right now. Next month we can yell at Marvel or Top Cow or everyone posting skeezy fan art on the Internet.

Will this affect what I buy for my library’s collection? No, not directly. I buy lots of books that I find offensive or just don’t care for because I pick materials based on whether or not our patrons want to read them. At no point do I say “this is too sexist for the library.”

Sheli: How can you start a relaunch with the promise of a broad appeal to audiences and then forget to hire and write about women? Sure, in 52 titles there’s a smattering of women, and some of them are well written, but most of them are in teams, or are girlfriends or wives. I have to say that Wonder Woman was great and Supergirl’s plight was touching. Then again, when your good titles can be immediately cancelled out with your titles that star hookers and nymphomaniacs, you’ve lost the advantage of saying you’re appealing to women.

As my best plug for DC writing women is a bathing suit clad, well-endowed, Amazon that’s naked in most of her scenes, you may be picking up on the idea that DC is still writing with a different audience in mind. Like Andrew, I don’t think there’s a decree in DC offices that pushes writers to write woman ignorantly. Whether or not it’s intentional, it is definitely a problem that comics has. Instead of defending DC by pointing out that they’re not the only offenders, I’d prefer we just expect more of all comics publishers.

When it comes to ordering comics, the sexism in these books won’t stop me from buying them. In a popular lending library a book really just needs to be popular to be considered. Hopefully, the titles that garnered attention for their shock value, or inconsiderate writing, have had their time in the sun, and six months from now I can just add the stronger titles to come out from the DC New 52.

Robin: While I agree that there’s no cabal of folks at DC Comics (or at any of the other mainstream publishers) plotting to objectify and insult women, I do wonder how many times fans (both men and women) have to complain about this before there’s any constructive response.  That’s where the true problem is for me — the dismissal of the complaint that I see in the tweeted response and, well, in how they’ve been reacting for years now.

I can see the argument that Wonder Woman is a counter example — indeed it is — as, to me, is Batgirl.  The problem for me arises in the long-standing pattern.  I’ve met and talked to a number of guys in the industry, and while there is definitely no malice towards women, there is a general lack of awareness that there is a problem to be addressed.  Even if they hear there’s a problem, they don’t get one, what we really mean when we discuss the problems of objectification, and two, what they should do about it.  If I illustrate the complaint by comparing Catwoman’s sexy displays to, say, seeing Batman running around fighting crime in nothing but a banana hammock, there’s a general of reaction of, “Aaaah! I don’t want to see THAT!”  My reply can only be, “Well yes.  Thank you for making my point.”

Sadie: Well, on the one hand, I have to admit I do kind of enjoy the ridiculous. Pages of a headless woman who doesn’t turn out to be a corpse? Bruce Willis style dialogue and a lady whipping around pollution-ridden seawater (seriously people, don’t swim in the ocean, it just isn’t all that healthy)? That’s funny, right? Oh, and insulting. In the case of Catwoman, I definitely think they knew what they were doing and flat didn’t care.

I’m also getting a bit annoyed with the argument that we should all just be quiet about Catwoman and raise some kind of parade for Wonder Woman. Not saying that anyone here is really saying that but I have heard it around the internet. I haven’t read Wonder Woman, sounds like a great comic, and it’s actually getting a lot of print. But here’s the thing – I don’t care about Wonder Woman. I like the Bat, especially Bat villianesses. Wonder Woman and Catwoman are not interchangeable. If Batman suddenly ran around in a banana hammock and men lost their minds (not that they necessarily would) there wouldn’t be entire blog posts saying ‘oh shut up, at least Green Lantern is being written well. Go play with him.’ But that’s sort of the catch-22 of talking about these issues, you kind of have to treat all characters as representatives of a “cause” until the day when writing good female characters just becomes writing good characters.

As for collecting, of course, I wouldn’t let personal opinion or tastes dictate my purchases. We don’t buy floppies, for lots of reasons, but we will probably try to get at least the best reviewed trades of the 52..

Matt Morrison: Do I think there’s imbalance in The New 52?  Yes.  Do I believe the complaints are justified?  To a point.

The problem lies not in the companies or the revamp but in the writers.  Judd Winick has been taken to task for sexist writing before, particularly his handling of Black Canary in Green Arrow/Black Canary.  It took a while for his sexism to be noticed or extensively commented upon by the comics community as he spent most of the last decade writing Batman stories without any female characters at all.  And Scott Lobdell fled Twitter in a huff, just before the first issue of Red Hood And The Outlaws hit the street, after an argument with another writer revealed that most of his fan base disagreed with his… shall we say quaint views on women and wasn’t shy in telling him off.

Were these books terrible?  Yes, but for reasons far and beyond the sexism, though that was a part of why they were terrible.  The new Catwoman book portrayed Selina Kyle as too short-sighted to save any of her ill-gotten gains (being desperate for work and a place to stay after her apartment was destroyed) and too unprofessional to maintain her disguise once she had a new undercover gig.  That is as great a crime against the character as overly-sexualized artwork.  Catwoman should be smart.  Catwoman should be controlled.  Catwoman should as much a professional criminal as Batman is a professional crimefighter.  And in all the discussion about Starfire’s new personality, I saw precious few complaints about how awful the revamp of Roy Harper was… but I digress.

My point is that these comics were bad for being sexist but they were just bad comics, period.  I think the community has taken notice and that the market will reflect that most of the people reading comics don’t think this is acceptable.

Sheli: Bad comics happen all the time, but that’s not the point. Hawk and Dove and Superman weren’t very good comics, but they also didn’t feature naked women bouncing around for the readers enjoyment. There is a marked difference between lack of talent in writing and blatant ignorance. I’ll take a character misstep before I’ll read comics that talk down to anyone, every day of the week.

Andrew: I agree that the writers, Winick or Loebell, originally scripted the sexist works in question and may deserve the lion’s share of blame, but that doesn’t excuse the artists, editors, and other folks at DC who thought the books were ok to publish.

That brings be back around to something I wrote above: my wife rightly pointed out that I’d set up a strawman with the idea of some editor at DC who was actively working to demean women. Maybe no one went into work thinking “How can I be sexist today?,” but they did completely fail to respond to repeated criticism over the years, which isn’t much different.

Robin: Yep. Andrew, that’s my complaint right there.  How many times does this issue have to be brought up (and it has been, numerous times) to make an impact?  That’s why I get tired.  And that’s why I have to be really courted to believe I should pick up another superhero book.  Last week I did buy Wonder Woman (and Animal Man and Stormwatch) because I’d heard good things about all three.  Good reviews WILL get my attention.  But that doesn’t mean I let the negative slide.

Traci:  I guess my big complaint is that DC was openly (supposedly) courting a bigger and broader audience – they actively said they wanted to bring in lapsed readers or readers who hadn’t picked up comics before.  It goes back to what Sheli said about if you want broader appeal, you need to admit that maybe to bring in new readers, you’ll need to tweak things just a bit – bring in more women writers, artists, show women as they really are.  I’m really annoyed that Catwoman, who to me, is really strong, powerful, smart, is reduced to her body – that’s what we see first, her body parts.  I was disappointed when I heard that Judd Winick was going to be doing Catwoman, but I thought I’d give it a chance.  I’m not sure if I feel so angry as I do disappointed.  I want to be represented in the comics I read.

Matt: The biggest tragedy in all the ranting about Catwoman and Starfire is the number of posts I saw on various blogs from people – men and women – who decided to completely write off The New 52 and DC Comics solely on those books, ignoring all of the good books that came out that same week.  Sadly, I believe there were more people shouting about the evils of Catwoman and Red Hood than there were people speaking out about all the books that came out that same week – Wonder Woman, Supergirl and Birds of Prey – that did present strong, intelligent, capable heroines.

Having read all of the New 52 titles myself, this controversy isn’t likely to influence what I do or do not add to our collection at all.  I already make it a point to try and pick up graphic novels with strong female characters as I am trying to prove to the many teenage girls at my library who will only read manga that there are SOME American comics that aren’t “stupid”.  It’s going to be a long battle but maybe in 10 years they and Gail Simone can take over the industry.  We can hope, right?

Traci: Here’s a topic that came up when I brought this up at my local comic book shop the other day.  The two men working there commented on all the controversy surrounding the Catwoman book.  When I said that I’d like to see women characters without bodies that resemble Barbie, they said – “What about Batman?  He’s super pumped up and muscled, we don’t look like that.  Maybe that makes us feel bad about ourselves.”  Hmm.  What do others think about that statement?  They caught me off guard.  Can certain male readers feel that they don’t live up to the standard held by certain male superhero characters?  I felt that it was different because they’re not using Batman as eye candy.  I guess if they showed him in skimpy underwear the first few pages of the book or it was mainly women reading the comics, it might be a similar argument.  Winick is showing Catwoman as a sex object; Batman exercises a lot because he doesn’t use guns.  That said, I’m not writing off DC – I want to believe they want me as a reader; I love me some Batgirl and Wonder Woman; I couldn’t ever give them up.

Lest we forget, sometimes Robin aka Dick Grayson is just as much of a pinup (at least in terms of the angle and those pixie pants.) From Birds of Prey, art by Ed Benes.

Robin: I always explain the difference in terms of the art — Batman is unrealistic, sure, but he’s unrealistic in a way that emphasizes his physical strength: rippling muscles, towering stature, solid presence.  Superheroines, on the other hand, are exaggerated in their sexual characteristics — their breasts and their behinds on display for all to see.

All you have to do is turn to manga to see equal opportunity objectification — but the big difference with manga, at least, is that they have such a diversity of titles aimed a wide range of audiences that every range is represented.  In the US mainstream industry, the folks being catered to as an audience are straight teen to adult men.  As Andrew Wheeler said it best in the Bleeding Cool article:

“The problem DC has right now is that too many of their creators decided that their book was going to be the one targeted to that all-important horny adolescent boys niche, and someone else could deal with stuff like ‘women’. Somehow the reboot seems to have set DC back about twenty years. A diverse landscape is a key part of DC’s strategy to find new readers. If they can build that landscape I hope there will still be a place in it for silly teen-friendly sexploitation comics like Catwoman. It just won’t stand out so much next to 26 books about strong, independent crime-fighting women with pants on.”

Matt: Which just goes back to what I said about how the real crime in the Catwoman book was how the writing made her look incompetent and how the artwork just aggravated that point – i.e. that she looks pretty but can’t plan her way out of a wet paper bag.

Andrew: In some ways I’m frustrated that so much of the discussion about these comics has ended up being about sex and sexiness, as it’s a bit of a red herring. I’m not adverse to Catwoman being sexy, I’m adverse to that being her only defining characteristic. I’m not adverse to Starfire having sex (even weird unhealthy sex) if it’s presented as an integral part of a strong story.

Robin: Matt, I do understand how upsetting it is to see folks dismiss the entire new catalog of titles just because of a couple of missteps. For me, however, it hasn’t been a couple of missteps.  I gave up on reading Birds of Prey, when it was being written well by Gail Simone, because I got so very tired of staring at the cheesecake art.

Example: To recap: Breasts, bottom, bottom, breasts, faces, crotch + breasts, breasts, bottom, bottom, faces, faces, bottom. That's what's in all of those panels, folks. Imagine if this were a Batman comic and that's what you saw on every panel: bottom, package, bottom, bottom, package..face! Also from Birds of Prey, with Ed Benes art.

This has been building for years, and has been a problem for me for years, not just with the new 52.  This has been a catalyst to bring up a lot of pent up feelings, I think, and I don’t think bringing up the criticism is denying the strength of other titles in the mix.  It IS pointing out something that feels endemic to mainstream comics culture, and something that is at best overlooked and at worst violently ridiculed as a valid concern by creators, editors, and readers.

For comparison, this is how the same artist, Ed Benes, draws Batman (from Batman: Long Shadows.)

To that end, I don’t mind that the discussion is taking place.  I think it’s high time.  Laura Husdon’s Comics Alliance piece perfectly encapsulated why I had given up on many superheroine comics a while ago, although hope springs eternal that somehow, someday, the culture will shift away from these problems.

Matt: I understand those feelings, Robin.  I personally can deal with bad artwork for the sake of a good story but I know a lot of comic fans can’t just as some can ignore a dull story if the artwork is great.  And while I roll my eyes at every single Ed Benes booty shot in the first two collections, it doesn’t negate my enjoyment of the larger story of Birds of Prey.

Robin: To me, at least, it’s not bad artwork.  It’s artwork that denies me or anyone like me as an audience for these titles.  It’s the only kind of artwork I see, and I’m expected to read it and not object.  It’s such a lost opportunity. On NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, Glen Weldon (I think correctly) pointed out that the purpose for DC’s reboot is not so much to get brand new readers but to lure back the lapsed DC readers.  I am a lapsed DC reader.  And…they just failed in winning me back.

Matt: And that’s a judgement call that each librarian has to make on their own, regardless of the reviews.  I personally love Garth Ennis but because I work in a very conservative community full of people who only read Christian fiction and scour the shelves looking for anything that might fit their bill, there is no way in Heaven or Hell I am ever buying Preacher for our collection.

Robin: What about DC’s reaction to the ratings issue?  I, for one, shelve Wonder Woman in my Teen Room and have shelved Catwoman in my adult section due to reader interest.  What do you think of DCs ratings for these titles and their attitude about who their main audience is or could be?

We’ve all said that we’ll likely collect whatever trades our patrons request.  I, for one, have let issues like fanservice decide whether I purchase a title.  Most of the time, it comes up with manga titles, and I aim to be even-handed. If a series has great reviews and also has lots of fan service, I’ll buy it.  If it has mediocre reviews and lots of fan service, I may not buy it.  I do let this kind of consideration decide where I place a title in my collection.  If I feel the fanservice is too much for our teen collection (as I’d say Catwoman likely is, once we get the whole series collected), I’d place that in adult rather than teen despite it’s official Teen Plus rating from DC.

Andrew: This gets back to what I was saying about sexual content looming too large in some people’s understanding of this controversy. I don’t think there was a “ratings issue” in that no one was saying “These books contain material inappropriate for their rating.” People were saying “These books contain offensively sexist material.” For DC to respond “These books aren’t for kids” totally misses the point and implies that they think sexism is fine as long as it’s aimed at adults. Michelle Lee didn’t complain that she’d shown Red Hood to her daughter and her daughter was scarred. She complained that she’d shown the book to her daughter and even her daughter could tell Starfire was just a piece of meat.

As for reader interest, sure, these books are aimed at young men and some young men will buy a cheesecake book no matter how bad or sexist it is. But why pander to that? Why not put in the extra effort to make the book actually good and not sexist? Surely that would enlarge the market. I don’t think those young men are going to lose interest in the book because some character development gets mixed in with the leather bodysuits.

Sheli: If DC is trying to corner a niche market…that they already had…they’re doing a good job. When DC (or anyone) hides behind the, “This book wasn’t written for you”, it feels completely unwelcoming and a little irresponsible. Everyone is someone’s favorite character. So to just ignore that and plow ahead with a Starfire book meant for “mature males”, they’re just asking to annoy previous fans and attract few new ones.

No one (well, I’m not) is saying that Catwoman shouldn’t have sex. Same with any adult woman. You just make sure those stories have a mature rating. Ratings and sex is not the crux of the problem. It’s that these woman are placed in comics just to have sex- that’s the problem.

What does it say about what comics thinks of its readers when they release books like Catwoman, and then defend them?

Matt: In fairness, the infamous “This book wasn’t written for you” line was spoken by Marvel Comics EIC Joe Quesada in response to a female reader’s complaint about sexism.  It had nothing to do with DC Comics, who are the focus of this discussion. DC Comics EIC Dan Didio has said plenty of boneheaded things but to the best of my knowledge he’s never outright told anyone to stop reading their comics.

Traci:  I like the idea of a mature line, too.  Like in movies where you see the ambiguous “Adult Situations”, I know there are situations that kids or teens just aren’t interested in, and it doesn’t have to do with sex, necessarily.  But, when all that makes a book “risque”, “edgy” or “mature” is sex, you’re doing a disservice to the millions of comic readers that would like character development.

Robin: Just to chime in — Vertigo was DC’s mature line, officially.  Such a line did exist.  They’ve just never comfortably (in my mind) figured out how to distinguish what Vertigo does from what they also include in their superheroe titles.  They keep chasing the myth of titles that appeal to as broad an age range as possible without acknowledging too well what different age ranges actually read or can handle.

Matt: I agree with what Andrew said above about how there is no ratings issue.  Apart from a few Silver Age purists, I haven’t seen anyone decry the idea of Catwoman or Starfire having sex.  The issue is how the sex was presented.  Before the revamp, it was established that Bruce and Selina had a sexual relationship based on their long attraction to one another and the mutual respect that had developed between them.   Here they are total strangers, who have never seen each other without masks, having hot, steamy (and presumably unprotected) sex.

Sadie: So, how much cheesecake is ok? Some? None? Like Robin mentioned, she was enjoying Birds of Prey but it just became too much. Character development can’t be a mask. To clarify, for me, cheesecake is as Robin said, exaggerated sexual characteristics and I would also add the camera gaze into it. Like, overly large breasts and a panel devoted to looking down the shirt. It’s a fine line but I don’t wrap sexual expression or sexuality into cheesecake but it crosses the line when the character is being sexually expressive for the sake of the reader – fanservice.

Andrew: I’d argue that cheesecake is ok when it’s actually tied to the story and overall themes in some way (which it was absolutely not in Birds of Prey). Adam Warren’s Empowered comes to mind. It’s full of cheesecake and sex but does several things right with it, not least of which is that the cheesecake is both male and female. Moreover, it’s thematically tied in to the rest of the comic, which is a parody of hyper-sexual superheroes.

Matt: To give another recent example of a book where the fan service actually did aid the plot, Power Girl by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner.  Conner’s art is full of fan service but since the book was written in the style of a screwball comedy and the main character is always shown to be in a position of strength, it works.  Well, it worked for me, anyway…

Sheli: While I agree with Andrew, in that the narrative should call for it, I can’t imagine many scenes that would go, “We must hurry! The universe is in danger! Look, down her shirt!”

Andrew: Exactly! That’s the sort of situation where fanservice distracts and alienate readers and hurts the narrative, even if it does play well to the teenage boys.

Matt: And here’s a question I haven’t seen anybody ask – how bad does this make Batman look that he’s apparently willing to drop his war on crime and ignore the oath he took on his parents’ graves to bring all criminals to justice for a few hours of mindless pleasure?

Robin: Matt, I agree that it devalues the male characters as much as it does the female ones.  Batman doesn’t come off as particularly admirable in that whole sequence — just a guy being led around totally by his hormones.  Which is a valid choice for a character, sure, but it lacks what I love to see between Batman and Catwoman: banter, respect, and sexual tension (emphasis on the tension.)  It’s just…lazy storytelling.

Here’s another question for the group — fanservice is something I’ve grown used to much more in manga (in stories aimed at both genders, with fanservice appealing to both genders depending on the title).  So, is there a particular tension between fanservice tied to superheroes?  Is it the contradiction of “Yes, I’m a superhero!” plus “Yes, I’m a sex bomb!” that makes it problematic when it’s presented without a sense of humor (as I agree Empowered and Power Girl do)?

Sadie: Sorry, I sort of hijacked the word fanservice to mean having a sexual encounter that’s clearly just for the readers, like in Catwoman, which read like some bizarre shipper’s paranoid dream. Fanservice in manga can get annoying to me but most, not all, but most of the time the reader is in on the joke or the male protagonist is made fun of a bit after the service. Panel upskirt, next panel boy looking stupid, glaze eyed and getting a bloody nose. There’s sort of a wink/wink there, an acknowledgment that yes this is happening and yes you do look kind of silly drooling over it. I think the tension that comes from superheroes, at least for me, is that there’s no acknowledgement that what’s happening is exploitation. It’s almost like there’s almost a culture of pretending that it isn’t.

Matt: There certainly are a number of publishers and editors who are in serious denial over this point but I think, slowly but surely, progress is being made.  In the last five years, I’ve seen the number of blogs and websites written by and/or devoted to female comic readers in specific and “geek girls” in general grow much larger.  And those geek girls and like-minded geek guys?  They’re becoming much more vocal about how they like superheroes but they don’t like being condescended to.  The likes of Joe Quesada may plug their ears but they can’t hold out forever.  The market won’t let them.

Ironically, I think the increasing number of books centered on superheroines with quality writing have made the fan service artwork dominating the genre more obvious.  It’s far easier for us to dismiss something like Jim Balent’s Tarot: Witch Of The Black Rose than the Justice League of America books written by Dwayne McDuffie with art by Ed Benes.  Personally, my method for dealing with this is to just get the stories I like, regardless of the artwork, and be sure to discuss these issues with my graphic-novel reading teens when I’m talking about new titles.

Andrew: I don’t feel like fanservice in manga is any more likely to avoid sexism than western cheesecake, nor is it any more interested in doing so. Some manga has strong female characters and whatever fanservice is included is equal opportunity or self-aware or otherwise inoffensive. Some manga is more on par with Red Hood. I do think some readers are less inclined to call foul on sexism in manga than in western comics, dismissing fanservice as a slightly embarrassing but generally harmless quirk of manga culture. Perhaps we give manga a pass because it comes from a foreign culture with different ideas about what is and isn’t appropriate.

Sheli: Manga escapes scot-free because they’re not American. Not to say that cheesecake is fine in manga, but that’s not a culture we answer for. But we do feel responsible for our caped heroes. Whether or not you pick up every issue, even a layman knows what a Superman is. They’re a fixture of American culture, and if we don’t seek equality in these books, that is what the next generation will end up reading. As comics readers, and librarians, I think this effects us keenly.

Robin: I don’t actually feel like manga gets away with it — at least, with my readers it doesn’t.  Too much fan service is just as likely to make my teen girls (and a good many of my teen guys) roll their eyes. However, I agree that in Japanese manga there’s an up front attitude about it that both the creators and the readers know precisely what they’re doing AND they publish a great many books that DON’T have fan service.  I still say that’s the biggest difference — they have those other titles.  We don’t.

Back to library ordering, do you order series as they’re collected without waiting for patron requests, in this kind of massive reboot?  How do you decide what you will get and what you won’t?

Andrew: I just don’t have the budget to commit to these series without either patron requests or really good reviews. As we get closer to publication of the trades I’ll try to see which series have maintained a positive buzz and work from there. Basically, it’s too early to tell.

Matt: Having read all the New 52 titles personally, I actually feel better equipped to make decisions about these books in trade paperback format than I do most of the other items I purchase based on reviews alone.  I know my regular graphic novel readers and what circulates in our collection very well and I’ve yet to receive any complaints about what I’ve selected

Sheli: It’s funny how this game works. I read the 52, and there’s quality stuff in there. But I know right now that there are two camps: the patrons who want the quality, lesser known titles, and the patrons that will check out based on name recognition alone. So personally, I may not want to put down money on the new Superman, or Tony Daniel’s Detective Comics (if the choice comes down to it, I’m taking Snyder) but what will circulate (AKA lead back to more ordering of comics) will be Superman, and Detective Comics.

I’m just going to do my best to budget in these next few months so I can order a good number of books for both camps.

Robin: What would you collect, either from DC comics or from other publishers, that return the balance to the collection?  Does getting, say, Wonder Woman and Animal Man balance out the fanservice aspects of also getting Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws?  Do you even think about balancing your collection in that way?

Andrew: You know, I hadn’t thought about that sort of balance in our graphic novel collection, though maybe I should. I certainly take a similar approach with, say, political books. Books like Buffy and Wonder Woman could help offset things like Catwoman. But owning one non-sexist book for every sexist book doesn’t really fix the problem, it just makes us feel a little better.

Matt: I fear that’s something of a tilted question.  Do we really need to balance it in the first place?  I can’t speak for the rest of you, but I haven’t been receiving any lot of demand from my patrons to pick up Catwoman or Red Hood and The Outlaws for our collection once they are available.  Why should we taint our shelves with this kind of book to begin with when there is nothing to redeem it?  If there was a good story underneath the cheesy artwork – as in, Dwayne McDuffie & Ed Benes’ Justice League – then I would get the book but endeavor to point out to my teen male charges that I disapprove of the artwork but think the story overshadows it.  As it is, I see no reason to purchase Judd Winick’s Catwoman or Red Hood and The Outlaws in the first place.

Andrew: I would put Catwoman or Red Hood on the shelf here if my patrons asked for it because it’s not my job to dictate taste or decide what is or isn’t good enough to go in the library. I wouldn’t be thrilled about spending my limited budget on books I don’t think are very good, but if there was clear demand for them I would feel compelled to do so.

Traci:  Ditto what everyone else said – Winick is popular in my library, so I’ll buy Catwoman, but like Andrew said, I’ll be buying Batgirl and Wonder Woman, too, which I’ll actually love recommending to my patrons.  That’s what I love about being a librarian, I’ll put things in my collection which I absolutely loathe, but I’ll also be there when patrons ask my opinion about it or ask for recommendations – I get to tell them how I feel.  Explaining to a teen or the adult comics readers that use the teen section “Hey, you know, this title generated a lot of controversy…” will lead to great discussions and will let them hear a new perspective, if they already know what they think.

Sheli: I’m just hoping that Red Hood and Catwoman fall flat on their face so I don’t have to spend money on them. If they don’t, I’m on board with everyone else. The librarian shtick means we don’t get to censor, because censoring is the death knell of books.

I wouldn’t buy Wonder Woman or Batgirl to “balance” my collection, I’d buy them because I value them as good books. The choice comes down to what’s popular/what’s quality. In comics, I feel a lot of those times those descriptions align, so I haven’t made many “Catwoman decisions” in my collection.

Matt: Well, come to that if there was an overwhelming demand for Judd Winick’s Catwoman, I suppose I would give in…  after making sure that every other patron request was filled and that there wasn’t a way to ILL the title from elsewhere, of course.  Must be careful with my budget. ;)

Andrew: Let’s just hope the overwhelming demand never materializes. One of these days the comics community as a whole is might grow out of its tolerance for bad writing accompanied by cheesecake.

Robin: What, if anything, do you hope will be the outcome of this controversy?  Will DC notice?  Will fans notice?  What would you like to see DC, readers, and creators take away from this experience?

Matt:  I would like to see Judd Winick let go by DC Comics to languish in obscurity like everyone else who starred on The Real World but that may be wishful thinking.  I think DC has noticed the complaints, else they wouldn’t have put effort into defusing them.  I know the fans have noticed because they are the ones complaining.  I would like to see this lead to a true renaissance of the genre, where all people are respected equally and I will never, ever have to complain about an up-skirt shot of Supergirl ever again.  What can I say?  I’m a dreamer.  But I’m not the only one, as the song says.

Andrew: To link yet another thing from Comics Alliance, what I’d like DC and other companies to learn was expressed pretty well by a bunch of creators here. It can all be summed up roughly as “Take a second to think about what you’re writing and drawing and whether or not the women are interesting characters.” I think DC is coming to realize that this is an issue they’ll need to address, try as they might to ignore it or willfully misunderstand it. Once DC and others fully realize the fans’ desire for change I’m sure they’ll do what they can to make things just not-bad enough that fans aren’t quite driven to complain publicly.

Traci:  I guess I’d just like DC to care about this.  I know they’ve been responding, but I feel like its just been so defensive on their part, and then I get defensive because they’re getting defensive, and then it’s just a never ending defensive circle.  I think I’d also like to see Judd Winick get the boot, but all my wishing up to this point has come to nothing.  I also really liked reading the Comics Alliance roundtable that Andrew links to – just another example that creators get it…DC just needs to catch up!

2 comments for “Roundtable: DC Comics & Superheroines

    • Michael
      November 10, 2011 at 2:32 am

      I have to say that if some of what DC’s doing to women isn’t intentional on their part then they all need a seminar. And if it is intentional they need a different, much longer seminar. Some of it’s been going on for a while, like how much less interesting (in my opinion) Catwomen has become since Frank Miller’s “Batman: Year One”. But a lot of it is new. For example, Power Girl is gone. Her alter-ego still exists, but she has little character and is basically there to look nice in the “Mr. Terrific” book. Or Cheshire, who should be more recognizable than ever to newcomers as a smart, sexy, deadly assassin thanks to her role in the “Young Justice” TV show is just gone without a trace. They seem to be intentionally removing powerful women. Of those that remain they’re all of the same physical model, which is to say tall and big chested. I was sunned and not in a good way when they saw what they had turned Amanda Waller into at the end of Suicide Squad #1. She used to look like an actual person. She was tough and scary, but not really beautiful, looking like a real person. Now she’s young, tall and leggy. It’s getting to the point where I only really like three or four DC titles a month. The rest just feel….immature. Let’s hope they take note and shape up.

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