The Cliffs of Insanity: I Want the Whole Cake

Cliffs of Insanity GeekMom
Marvel Promotional Image
© Marvel Comics

“I don’t want crumbs anymore. I want the whole cake and I want the icing too.” —Billie Jean King.

Marvel made national news last week with announcements on The Colbert Report and The View about new diversity in their lineup, including Sam Wilson taking over the Captain America identity and a as-yet unidentified woman becoming Thor.

All good. I could wish that a great character like Sam Wilson would support a title as The Falcon rather than have to adopt another identity but the direct comic market is crowded and his adventures will sell better if he’s dressed in the red, white, and blue. Plus, there’s some nice symbolism in an African-American Captain America, though Sam isn’t the first.

As for the new Thor, she’ll get a chance to headline a title for six months to a year and hopefully, there will be enough interest in her as a character so that when the hammer eventually passes back to its original owner, she’ll stick around.

But I’m not satisfied or particularly thrilled, given how these changes won’t last and there’s no guarantee that Sam or the new Thor will end up as lasting characters. See: Thunderstrike.

I’m even less thrilled by looking at the image above, which is pretty much all of mainstream superhero comics diversity problems in a nutshell. It’s supposed to get readers excited about a revamped Avengers line-up.

Good: I count four women to seven men. Not a 50/50 ratio but it’s decent. Also good: the new Captain American and Deathlok, plus some an interesting mix of characters.

Bad: The art. The dudes need to work on their hip thrusts because their ability to showcase that booty is way behind the women’s ability to let us know that, hey, they have HIPS & BUTTS. Also, the two women at the forefront are the only ones showing skin in this photo as well. Shy about the bionic arm, Bucky? I know legions of people on Tumblr who would be happy to see you fight enemies shirtless. Also, the female Thor’s head seems smaller than her breasts. That’s an unfortunate side effect of possessing Mjolnir.

Even worse: See the redhead on the top left side? That’s Medusa, one of the Inhumans. One of her major abilities is that she has super-powered hair she can use as tentacles. Therefore, the little decoration over her glittery hoo ha (AKA vaginal area) raises my eyebrows instantly. Just what are you trying to imply about that area, which is also prone to hair, Marvel?

And Medusa isn’t the only one currently with a costume that, ah, accentuates that region. When the New 52 began two years ago at DC, Supergirl’s costume sported an attention-drawing shield over her vaginal area. Given that the character is underage, it’s an unfortunate showcase, to say the least.

So I have to ask: What the heck is with the attention to the glittery hoo ha, artists?

Cover copyright DC Comics

The men don’t get equal treatment. In fact, Superman’s outside underwear was eliminated in the New 52 because, I guess, no one like drawing attention to his Johnson or something. What’s the matter Clark? Feeling a little insecure about the Kryptonian package?

Jokes aside, an image widely circulated by Marvel to draw attention to stories that they obviously want to appeal to female readers is full of incredibly mixed messages.

Look, we have women! But, hey guys, they’re still hot and half-naked sometimes. All good, right?

To bring us back to Billie Jean, I feel like Marvel and DC are constantly handing out crumbs.

I want it all.

I want a Wonder Woman movie.

I want a Black Widow movie. It’s just sad that Scarlett Johansson has superpowers in a new movies and she’s not Widow.

I want female costumes designed to make heroines look as powerful as the heroes and I want female poses that match that power, not that say “Hey, fanboy, come up and see me sometime.”

I want more female heroes who can be young and cute, like the new direction for DC’s Batgirl, but also older and experienced and who want to be married, like Batwoman. (And yet, can’t be married because of editorial edict.)

I want comics that are full of women of all shapes, sizes, and ages, not just as the lead characters.

I want women in comics in nearly the same percentage as men, instead of being relegated to the usual pop culture ratios represented these figures: only 11% of family films, 19% of children’s shows, and 22% of prime-time programs feature girls and women in roughly half of all speaking parts. (Cite: Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.)

You want to appeal to female audiences, Marvel and DC?

How about writing fascinating female characters doing interesting things while not dressed or posed with a big sign that says “have sex with me.” I know you can do it. I currently see Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel and Batwoman and I still have my Chuck Dixon and Gail Simone runs of Birds of Prey.

I look at my classic Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and John Byrne and I see characters that I love having awesome stories written about them. I see women who are friends with each other. This is the comic that kick-started Marvel’s resurgence in the 1980s. I bet the men won’t run away screaming if you take some lessons from it and apply it to today’s comics.

I’m not satisfied with crumbs anymore.

I want the whole cake and I want the icing too.

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11 thoughts on “The Cliffs of Insanity: I Want the Whole Cake

  1. I don’t disagree with any of this. Let me just say that as a guy, and the dad of a tween boy and girl, none of these guys has a realistic body image, either. And Iron Man’s pecs are bigger than his head.

  2. “But their poses are not an invitation to sex. Their poses are designed to show them being powerful, not sexually available.”

    IMHO, I suggest you’re being selective. Both Cap Sam and Iron Man have accessories highlighting their virility. Iron Man’s codpiece is thrusting out towards Thor. Cap Sam has what appears to be an arrow pointing towards his groin. And then, you have both Winter Soldier and Deathlock competing over who has the more powerful “gun.” At least 4 machismo male images to the 4 female ones.

    And I’m not attempting to say that gender parity negates hypersexualization. I am suggesting that some of those masculine figures ARE sexualized.

      1. Yes, I’m familiar with the Hawkeye Initiative. And agree it is successful satire that points out the absurdly sexualized contortions not uncommon in the comic market. I agree that some artists do portray female characters in such a way that over-emphasizes their bodies. And I agree with you that those illustrations are over-bearing monolithic. At least, I believe that is one of your points. But, I suppose I’m realizing now this is my real point, let’s not ignore the hyper-sexualization of men too. The guns, the ammo, the muscles, the burning masculine hormones, the groins emphasized. What is that image saying about men?

        1. The image is not over-sexualized to appeal to women. The men are drawn to appeal to a male power fantasy. What would women draw? I might suggest the reams of Loki fan art and point to Tom H. and RDJ’s popularity.

          1. “The image is not over-sexualized to appeal to women. The men are drawn to appeal to a male power fantasy. What would women draw? I might suggest the reams of Loki fan art and point to Tom H. and RDJ’s popularity.”

            That is a good point. You should consider writing a column about that idea.

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