What’s So Wrong With Women in Comics?

Women of DC by Adam Hughes

There’s been a lot of focus this week on the role women play in comics. It’s nothing new to see an ill-proportioned babe in an awkward pose gracing the pages of my favorite superhero books. Maybe it’s something I’ve just grown used to, or maybe I’m a traitor to my kind, but it’s not often that a character is so poorly written and objectified I feel the need to write about it. And I did. Then a day later I wondered why so much attention is being put on the negative. All the blogs, reviews and rants I’ve read only point out what’s wrong; I haven’t really seen anyone talking about what’s right with women in comics today.

And there is a lot of right going on.

It’s easy to say ladies like Wonder Woman and Supergirl provide pivotal role models for women in comics. Personally I think they are pigeonholed and oftentimes one-dimensional. It’s rare I see them written in a way that explores both their femininity and their strength.

Take a look at Marvel’s Psylocke. She’s part of the X-Force team, a deadly brigade of mutants who do the dirty work the rest of the good guys won’t touch. It’s a dark series. Psylocke, in her traditional one-piece bodysuit, is an extremely sexy character. She’s also fierce, doesn’t take crap from her teammates, and has one of the most heartwarming and wrenching relationship stories in comics today.

This series is dark, and it does deal with a lot of things that may make some readers uncomfortable. It’s also had some of the sexiest cover art I have ever seen, and the way Rick Remender writes his women in Uncanny X-Force is something people should take note of.

Matt Fraction also does as great a job of writing women as he does writing, well… anybody else. Take a look at anytime he has written about Sif in a Thor comic. Ed Brubaker took on the Catwoman relaunch in 2002 and did right by Selina Kyle after Frank Miller rewrote her origins as a prostitute. If you want to see some unmistakeably astonishing art, take a gander at the work by Adam Hughes, Mike Choi, and Jerome Opena.

Women don’t need to be written as caricatures of their species. I don’t want to read about a female superhero losing her powers during her monthly cycle, or on every other page see some girl pining over the hottest man in tights. Conversely, you don’t have a big breasted woman in a tiny bikini to get male and female readers blood boiling. What they did with Starfire and Catwoman was fan service. But again, it’s nothing new in comics. Have you ever looked at anything Michael Turner did for Top Cow? I still say it’s some of the best art you will ever see in comics.

The key is getting a someone who knows how to write a well-rounded character. And an artist who knows what anatomy is.

On the whole, I will say Marvel handles their ladies a lot better than DC. I could pick out one woman from every Marvel title I am reading and explain what is right about her. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for DC. Almost every woman I’ve read about in the New 52 has some issue that deals with her being female: Animal Man’s wife nagging all the time, Godiva refusing to fight stone monsters because it’s too tough, and of course the naked twit that Starfire has become who can’t even remember all the men she’s slept with. All of this is just poor writing, not just the sexual objectification of women.

There are a lot of women in our comics who are amazing, strong, fun and represent the best (and worst) of my kind. We should celebrate them, and the people who write and draw them.


16 Responses to What’s So Wrong With Women in Comics?

  1. Comics are as much art as they are story. The way people are drawn in comics is just as much a reflection of our times as is the stories that are written about them. If people can’t see that, then they need to open their eyes to our society.

  2. All I know is in any comics they portray women as sex symbols….while the men as the dominant individuals.
    How about less skimpy less sexified and air headed…and more uh I don't know, on equal terms?

    • This is my problem with comic girls too. It's not that women can't be sexy or beautiful, they can. It's that too often women are drawn sexy all the time. They're drawn like "Hey, no one will be interested in these chicks if they don't look sexy!" Because, ya know, that's all girls are good for, being a sex object. :(

      Anyway, there's lots of comic girls I like. My favs are Wonder Woman, Batgirl (Barbara), and She-Hulk. :)

    • It's part of advertising, since teenage boys (and geeky adults) are the target consumer. This site reflects a similar trend with women in costume.

      I don't disagree with the sentiment at all, but equal terms doesn't sell comic books or get web traffic.
      Which is unfortunate, but there you have it. :)

  3. Starfire isn't some airheaded bimbo twit who can't remember who she slept with, the character has amnesia and doesn't remember her friends or being a Titan. As for her sexuality: She's always been sexually assertive. Her people are emotionally uninhibited and wear very little clothing because they aren't shy and because it helps them absorb more solar radiation, which fuels their powers of flight and energy projection. The readers throwing tantrums about all this are people who simply do not understand the history of the character, people who cynically assume the worst and then manufacture controversies to serve their larger political agenda.

  4. I don't understand the Godiva comment. On the same page that she is berated by Batman for not pulling her weight she clearly has three of those rock monsters tangled up in her hair. That's her power. That's what she does. My issue with the characterization is how she is clearly written as a tramp by the way she talks to Booster. Much like Catwoman and Starfire the underlining character trait revolved around her actions as a sexual being not as a brave or strong woman.

  5. I like your article but you seem to be quite naive i think it would have brrn better if you compared the women with the men. People seem to have this idea that doing A with men is ok but do A with women and whoa look out you cant do that to her because shes a woman. The vast majority speaks of equality but what their really basing their opinions on are the biased concepts of society that have been drilled into us sense we were children. Most may not even realize they are doing it.

  6. (seems this site is rejecting long posts, so 3 part-er)(part 1)

    Well, women nag, & they have a libido, & often a hormonal roller coaster that affects some more than others. Why is that a problem being present in comics?

    A "hero" female, is, technically, outside of her natural role to begin with, so why should it be pushed beyond the realm of reasonaly disblief? Natural roles are real, no matter what the liberal movement wants to brainwash people with. That is NOT a negative thing in any way, shape, or form. There is nothing wrong with someone stepping outside of their natural roles either, life doesn't always allow for the biological mold to be followed. Nariko is a brilliant example of a strong warrior woman that retains her femininity. Her ass-kicking nature is the bulk of what makes her hot – as that same nature also means she's got to be skinny, which is a detractant. …but I digress. (Heavenly Sword on PS3 btw)

  7. (part 2)

    As for this so-called "objectification" this is more of the same N.O.W. bollocks that leads to all the kvetching over their action/roles referenced in the article. The simple fact that people so love to ignore is that BOTH genders are displayed in an objectified manner. It IS written for young males, & the young male fantasy ideals of each gender are presented. This is NOT as societally based as one might want to believe. It's innate, & biological. The idea that men who are effective as heros, are large, mighty, & over-developed. This is a form that often can't be obtained even with steroids. & it's shown off either through skin tight outfits, or left exposed outright. This is, in fact, NO different to how the women are portrayed – with bodies that are nigh impossible to achieve, accentuating all that defines (or emphasises) the female form.

  8. (part 3) (looks like a 4-part, length is less than I thought)

    The aspect that is driven by social ideals is the level of skin exposure & style of dress. How people flip the feck out if a guy is naked or shows too much skin, but for a woman it's ok. It should be ok for both. Women should be able to embrace eye c&y just as much as men, & both genders should chill the feck out about naked male skin, it's not going to cause cancer of the eye, which you would beleive it might based on how people react to it.

  9. (part 4) Getting back to natural roles, fighting: the tendency to be aggressive, competitive, & be 'warriors' is a male thing. It's irrevocably tied to testosterone. This can be amp'd or dulled by society, but it remains either way. Being a victorious warrior is tied to might, & that means large, well defined muscles (also, not coincidentally, tied to testosterone). Now add in the social stigma of bare male skin. If you treated women in this way, you end up with quite manly women who are more male than they are female. Nobody wants that. Which is why this complaining over their portrayal in the comics is so stupid.

  10. (5 [and fin]…. this limit is ludicrous)

    Since they are taking on the male roles of aggressive nature, toughness, power/strength, & fighting, & they need a certain level of male mentality to be successfull (& keep at it); to retain their femininity, they need to accentuate & flaunt, their curves & dress like women, amp'ing that to compensate for the amp'd male traits. So yeah, they're going to be a little sexy, even "slutty" (as if THAT's a bad thing, damn puritans) – they are supposed to! (they have to!) In short – get over it. Get over the portrayal of women, & while we're at it, get over male nudity too.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.