My very first introduction to comics was a Spider-Man comic, way back in the 80s. I have no idea which issue it was; I just remember the opening page. Spider-Man knocks on Dr. Strange’s door and Elvira opens it, in all her gothic glory. By the way, did I mention I was 10 at the time? My first introduction to comics was the full-body depiction of Elvira.
Don’t stress—I’m not about to jump into an “Oh! Comics are bad for females!” post. That’s been done. Things are changing, and I’m happy to be part of that change. We still have stupid ideals and expectations of the female body (like Spider-Woman, or Iron-Heart), but we are achieving far more balance than my early days.
The star of the revolution would have to be Nightwing, AKA Dick Grayson. Or more specifically, Dick Grayson’s butt.
Hey, this is a topical discussion. It was a primary subject at our recent comic book club meet—attended by special guest Nicola Scott (Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey, Secret Six, Black Magick). Initially, we were there to talk about Wonder Woman Year One #10. Which of course led to us discussing Scott’s divine artwork. Which inevitably led to us discussing Steve Trevor and his medic skills. And naturally, that brought us around to the iconic imagery of Dick Grayson in Secret Six, oh-so-long ago.
“I make all men look pretty, and the ones meant to look pretty, I make them look really pretty.” – direct quote from the awesome artist herself, Nicola Scott.
To be fair, Scott shares the blame with Gail Simone. It started with Catman. Simone described him to Scott as real sexy. Scott’s response: Yeah, his blonde and pretty. Not my type, but I’ll go with it. And thus, Thomas Blake was born in all his sexy glory.
The response to Catman was overwhelming. Suddenly, DC realised they had more to offer than just Starfire, Power Girl’s power window, and all the hot sisters of comics. They could diversify their characters. Or maybe they realised Simone and Scott were an awesome power-couple of creators, and just started throwing money at them. I don’t know which.
What I do know is that Nightwing was not a solo effort, nor was he a “bolt out of the blue”. It had been building for a while, just like the feminist revolution was building again. Indeed, Tom King, part of the creative team that rebooted Dick Grayson in the Grayson series, agreed that Dick is the ‘”sexiest man in comics.”
There were plenty of opportunities leading up to it, but no-one really grabbed those opportunities like they wanted to grab… well, yeah.
In 2008/2009, there was an expansion of the topic “feminism” to include a diverse group of women with a diverse set of identities. Think of it as a second sexual revolution: as readers, we embraced the understanding that sexuality is not going to be removed from comics. Rather than fight the battle, some took a different approach. Make the system work for our interests too.
Scott and Simone started something that would last forever. In some small social circles, I heard complaints about Nightwing’s butt, however never did one of those complainants suggest toning down both Nightwing AND any female characters put in similar situations. And let’s face it – it is never going to happen. There are too many fanboys/fangirls who buy the comics for the pictures. Not all of us, but enough.
The truth of the matter is the creators of the comics can use this to fit the changing social environment. For example, Scott is currently working on Wonder Woman: Year One, with other artists under the direction of writer Greg Rucka. This has given a brilliant opportunity for the Rucka/Scott team to spin the trope of ‘Damsel in Distress’, and provide Trevor in a comparative light. It’s a very blunt gender-flip on the typical love-interest for super-heroes. And it is BRILLIANT.
Once again, Scott says it best: “I’m taking his shirt off. Every time.”
In Wonder Woman: Year One #10, Trevor tears his shirt off to use as a bandage. It is totally legit, as seen in numerous nurse scenes for decades. Scenes like this show the conversation around feminism and geek culture is changing. For too long, many have felt the need to hide their sexuality to gain any respect for the depiction of the female body in comic books. No more! We can still demand respect, through balance and embracing our sexuality. And through this honesty to ourselves, we can foster healthy conversations regarding sexuality with our kids. Through COMICS. Who would have thought?
If I ever find that Spider-Man comic, I will show it to my kids. Sure, Elvira doesn’t depict the average female body, but her body was drawn to match the character development and history. And I will share Wonder Woman: Year One #10, and explain why Trevor is shirtless. And I will share any Nightwing Rebirth with them, and explain the costume design. And I’ll probably have to have the Starfire chat with them fairly soon too.
But the good part of this: I will have the chat. And it will be balanced.
Just like Grayson’s butt.