The big superhero publishers have a predictable, one-dimensional way of portraying women. But the genre has several diverse alternatives that are worth reading.
More than a decade ago, critic (and now comics writer) Gail Simone created Women in Refrigerators, a website devoted to exposing the unhealthy predictability with which women in superhero comics get gruesomely offed.
Since then, precisely nothing has changed. The big two superhero publishers, DC Comics (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern) and Marvel (Spider-Man, Iron-Man, Captain America, Fantastic Four) continue to treat women as disposable pieces of meat.
If you doubt it, you only have to look to Red Hood and the Outlaws, one of the 52 new series to be released by DC this month in a massive reboot of their entire comics line. In Red Hood, the female superhero Starfire, well known from the children's cartoon Teen Titans, has been given severe amnesia. Thus robbed of her memory and personality, she cheerfully sleeps with one of the books' male heroes, then with the other, all the while claiming that her brain-damage-fueled promiscuity is a sign of liberation. In short, as blogger Kickpuncher put it, DC transformed one of their more recognizable women characters into a "vagina-shaped goldfish."
In response to Red Hood and the similarly problematic Catwoman (co-starring Catwoman's ass), there was a slew of scathing cricticism. All of which (and more! more! more!) will lead precisely where Gail Simone's blog led lo those many years ago: that is, nowhere.
That's because comics are a niche market. Marvel and DC are medium-sized fish in a puddle. Successful DVDs, for example, typically sell more than six times as much in a month as a successful comic. Though DC and Marvel own hugely popular characters, most people would rather watch those characters on movies or cartoons than read about them in comics. Thus DC and Marvel are aimed mostly at a small audience of aging fanboys. And what those fanboys want to read is corporate fan fiction about ritually rutting with the trademarked icons of their youth.
Surveying this unedifying spectacle, Think Progress's Alyssa Rosenberg asks, "Should feminists give up on comics?" The answer depends on what you mean by comics. Though Rosenberg would disagree, I think that, yes, feminists should give up on DC and Marvel, as should all other sentient entities. But just because the big two cast such a large, stupid shadow, that doesn't mean they're all there is. In short, instead of giving up on comics, I suggest instead reading different comics. Such as the following:
The list could go on indefinitely—Korean author Marley's unfinished, grief-drenched fairy tale Dokebi Bride, or Lilli Carré's goth/art parable The Lagoon, or even Prison Pit, Johnny Ryan's utterly filthy, testosterone-drenched wallow in über-violence. I'm sure other folks have other favorites, but the point is that comics' worth, for feminists or women or anybody else, does not depend on what the latest-executive-with-a-copyright decides to do to Catwoman. The best way to send a message to those executives is not to beg them to please, please, please sir try treating women as if they might possibly be human beings. The best way to send them a message is to go buy something that doesn't suck.