Comic Books Are Not Porn

I started this post as a reactionary rant against sexism like this (this post has since been taken down and lost by Google Cache, so you can find exactly what I am referring to here, with the first post without sexist/homophobic/misogynistic commenting here) and this, but I feel that I have nothing to really add to the arguments that haven’t already been made here and here. Instead I decided to focus on my own feelings about comic books and how the industry tends to act towards women.

In the interest of providing documented proof on the practice of maiming and punishing women in comic books, as well as the the push back against such practices, I present to you Women in Refrigerators

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(Some of these links may not be work safe)

DC Comics seems kind of confused about how they want to portray women in the New 52. Sometimes they’re respectful and other times they’re not so much. I tried to put together a pattern, but I don’t think one actually exists.

At first it seemed like they were turning over a new leaf; DC deemed fishnets to be illegal and both Black Canary and Zatanna were given new costumes. Wonder Woman has been desexualized in the pages of her own book in order to actually focus on the story. Mera is an equal in the pages of Aquaman and is a total badass.

Then Voodoo #1 took place inside of a stripclub and everyone was naked. Catwoman had her boobs out for no good reason, culminating in a bizarre Batman-Catwoman sex scene on a roof, in their costumes. Supergirl went from a modest teenager in a tasteful skirt to a much more alien warrior-like woman in a bathing suit bottom that conveniently accentuates her crotch. Red Hood and the Outlaws reintroduced Starfire as a hyper-sexualized alien who could not really tell the diference between men or even really remember who she slept with in the first place.

Scott Lobdell preached patience and finally Starfire’s sexual amnesia was brushed aside. Her bikini (originally depicted as see through) and overly exposing costume were replaced by a full-body flight suit. Instead of a brain dead alien she was established to be the captain of a space cruiser and its crew. Worlds’ Finest was brought in and starred the much younger and de-sexualized team of Huntress and Power Girl. Before the New 52, both characters were grown women with overly sexual costumes, to the point that they disregarded practicality. Huntress, a crime fighter much like Batman, had a bulletproof costume, but for some reason decided to expose her stomach for no other reason than to show off her six pack. If I was a criminal I’d shoot her right in the stomach. It’s so convenient! Thankfully, that was corrected. Power Girl is a different story. Her costume, popularly known for its ‘boob window‘ served no purpose whatsoever, except for showing off her well endowed chest. Her body has since been covered up.

I would argue that, as an invulnerable alien, her outfit didn’t need to be practical. What drew me to Power Girl was how comfortable she was being herself. She is a strong willed, bombastic character who is not above seeing herself as she is and being ok showing it off. Not in a sexual way, but in an ‘I’m comfortable with my own body’ way. I understand that not everyone can see it this way, and it’s perfectly reasonable to see it as derogatory. However, Power Girl’s depiction has varied vastly depending on who it was that was drawing her. Someone like Ed Benes, who frequently contorts anatomy in order to pander to the man-babies that buy comic books, will turn Power Girl into exactly what she is blamed for being: a sexualized fantasy of a man’s perfect woman. Someone like Amanda Conner has the power to change all that. Her Power Girl, and all her women, are as beautiful as they are wholesome. Proof that women don’t have to look like prostitutes to be sexy.

But this brings up the question of why sex is even needed in comics. Obviously sex sells, but how much sex is really needed in order to sell a comic book? It baffles me when people buy into something in order to experience some kind of sexual fantasy in public. Why would someone pay $15 to go see Twilight just for the men running around with their shirts off? Why go see Transformers just to see Megan Fox or Rosie Huntington Whiteley look out of breath? Just use the internet and save the money. Why buy a comic book that has a woman in a bikini? Just look it up online. It’s the same thing.
There’s a difference between high concept art and simply pornography. Nudity is not porn. It can be natural and beautiful and accurate. When sex is used as a selling point is when it becomes garish. Eugène Delacroix didn’t use nudity to sell Liberty Leading the People, he used nudity to portray the idea of liberty and France as a beautiful thing. It wasn’t eroticism, it was romanticism. Paul Pope, possibly my favorite artist at the moment, has plenty of erotic art, but there is a heavy artistic hand involved in the images. It’s not about the sex, it’s about the art and the brush strokes. It is sexy without the sex. Because it wasn’t created to arouse it was created to awe.

Ed Benes and Paul Pope are not doing the same things, which is why I can never support the things that Benes does. There’s one clear intention: rope men in with fantasies of power and opportunity.  Powerful men and women are free from normal social constraints. The men do whatever they want and the women do whatever the men want from them, because they’re cool with whatever.

The comic book world is a world of fantasies come true. The weak gain immense power, the forgettable are noticed, and the invisible are once again relevant. With all that will come the fantasy of sexual release. It’s inescapable. A man who can suddenly do anything will eventually think he can do anyone. It’s just how people think. That doesn’t mean he has to get everything he ever wanted just because he said so. Women shouldn’t be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, they shouldn’t be expected to be the bait to reel people in. The idea of superheroes was originally conceived as a personification of ideals. Some of them were wrong, some of them were right. The Women in Refrigerators website, hits the nail on the head when discussing the comic book industry’s inability to take action.

The response that superhero comics are aimed at a particular audience is also lame, especially when it’s long been public knowledge that the industry is suffering. Any successful form of mass entertainment learns to adapt to popular taste to reach wider audiences. When people lost interest in Westerns, Hollywood stopped making westerns. When people lost interest in serial fiction, the Saturday Evening Post stopped publishing. Comics, for some reason, thinks it’s a world apart. So the train keeps hurtling towards the cliff edge, and everyone suffers. - Joan Hilty, Editor, DC Comics

In 2012 we should be closer to weeding out what is and isn’t appropriate to exist in mainstream media. Sometimes we get there, but then someone pulls us back down. In the immortal words of Jor-El, we “only lack the light to show the way.”

6 thoughts on “Comic Books Are Not Porn

  1. anonymous

    thanks for this – well written and addresses the unfair portrayal of women that seems to be everywhere these days, including seemingly benign comic books!

    Reply
  2. Evan

    Really well written article, though the broken images distract a little bit. Love the fact that you pointed out Starfire’s transition, which I wasn’t fully aware of. I’m certainly more of a Marvel buff, and would’ve loved to see how you think the Big Two compare with one another in depicting women.

    Reply
  3. Keith

    Sure, PowerGirls boob window was removed, but now in every single issue she’s naked or left is just scraps of clothing after every fight. It’s even so noticeable that they make reference to it IN the comics. It is like they removed the boob hole just so they should then have her later in the book 90% naked.

    Reply
    1. Jason Cohen Post author

      Seriously? Wow. I didn’t realize they’d be using that approach. It was funny and cute when Amanda Conner had her running around naked, but I highly doubt it’s the same thing here.

      Reply
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