I’ve been reading articles about this upcoming Spider Woman variant by Milo Manara, and have been debating whether to write about it or not. Frankly I know that if certain people read this I’ll get raked over the coals but the level of selective moral outrage on this one has really exceeded even my tolerance. Let me first say, I don’t have a problem with feminists, though I hate the word. The current trend of -ist/-ism tags that are being used to dehumanize one’s opposition in an argument have become tedious. We don’t really have better words, and when they are needed they should be used, but sadly they get used so much that when they should be, they lack the same meaning anymore. I am 100% on board that women need the same opportunities as men, the rich diversity of our culture should be represented in our entertainment media, and violence against women is completely inexcusable. What I do have a problem with are extreme feminists. Like every subculture, there is always a fringe, and in this case it’s a fringe that has some pretty hefty blinders on, either by choice, or simply because they don’t care to see anything else. The trouble is that the fringe has a fairly loud voice, and a slew of followers that are more than willing to accept whatever it is they read without doing their own thinking or research.
We have The Vox, and many many other outlets that have a problem with this cover. They’re out there, just Google them. For me, the biggest issue with the cover? Her head…is her neck broken?! When I first saw this, I didn’t see her backside, which seems to be the focus of everyone else. Her face is at such a weird angle that’s the only part that catches my eye. Anyway, onto the purpose of this piece.
The overarching theme of these articles is that Marvel doesn’t draw men this way, and that her outfit is too clingy to be spandex. Spandex doesn’t work like that…it’s also a hot material that holds sweat and is completely impractical for crime fighting. I’d think, in a world where radioactive spiders create super heroes, they would find a better material than spandex to use, so I’m thinking that argument goes right out the window. This isn’t spandex. So anyway…men in comics aren’t drawn this way right? Right?! Wrong, because they are, especially Spider Woman’s male counterpart Spider-Man. See, The Vox even tried (AND FAILED) to do a side-by-side comparison, using a much older issue of Spidey to show, hey, look, they don’t treat male characters the same. Except, if you choose a more modern incarnation, you will find that they do. The only difference here is that Spider-man, at least, doesn’t seem to have broken his neck to pose for the camera, but his buttocks are just as much on display, and his suit is just as form-fitting, oh I don’t know, as if it is painted on.
That’s the second idiocy of the debate. Suits so tight they appear painted on. Well yah, that’s how it’s been done for a long time, for both male and female characters. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the most evenly balanced trends in comics. Our heroes and villains either appear to be wearing bodysuits which cling to every muscle and curve, or they don’t. For every Cyclops in his one piece nut hugger, you have Storm in her body clinging flight suit. As a matter of fact, if you go by the popular argument that there are more male characters in comic books (which may or may not be true I haven’t counted) then there really should be considered two body-painted Wolverines for every Sue Storm.
So what have these articles really succeeded in doing? Other than misinforming a large population of comic fans (and worse yet non-comic fans)? Well for one they’ve made it very hard to find the actual cover image. That’s right folks, the infamous ‘ass cover’ isn’t even the primary cover of Spider Woman #1! But it is in so many articles decrying it that finding the image to the left isn’t all that easy. See, the Manara cover is a variant! That means, for the non-comic fan, that you are unlikely to see it on any news stand. Your impressionable daughter isn’t going to be browsing the magazine rack at B&N and stumble on the ‘offending’ cover by mistake. But, if she were to take an interest in Spider Woman, and Google her, thanks to all of the outraged writers out there, she’d almost invariably see the image above and think that is the cover of the first issue. It’s a cover that a collector will most likely have to order, will be printed in a limited run, and most likely never be seen outside of the internet and comic book conventions. So congratulations to everyone who is upset about the cover above. You’ve succeeded in diluted the actual cover to the left to such an extent that people who would have never seen the ‘eroticized’ Spider Woman now can’t get away from it.
So what else is being ignored that makes this outrage selective? Mind you, I don’t think most of this is intentional. I don’t really believe that there’s an orchestrated campaign against men in comics for the majority of people that write these articles. I think it’s mostly ignorant blindness, or laziness. There’s a lot of oversensitivity out there that finds fault with nearly everything, without looking at the entire issue. I read a lot of X-Titles, and they feature a lot of female covers, even a team that is all female. For every cover like the one above there are dozens like this one. See, no butts sticking out, womanly parts are womanly and proportionate, and not prominently featured on in any way. This is standard fare for this title, which has been a female only team for awhile now. Marvel releases dozens of these types of covers a month, and then they release one provocative variant and suddenly the pitchforks and torches come out!?
That’s not really the issue though is it? To hear it told by our friends at the other sites, it’s the over-sexualization of women in a male-dominated industry. All in all, that statement is technically true but it’s not very honest. The comic industry is still male-dominated. That’s changing, slowly, but it’s changing. Are women done in an overly sexual manner in art for comics? A lot of times, yes. But, so are men. I don’t really need to go much further than the two examples above (but I will). If you are offended by the image of Spider Woman above, for whatever reason, then you should also be offended by the image of Spider-man. Here’s his body, all painted up and showing every contour of the human form for the viewer, with no sense of decency for his backside. Where’s the hit piece on Marvel about that cover? Hmm? Anyone? But even that is a little weak isn’t it.
I touched on this awhile back in this post about the Avenger’s movie poster. The idea that only women are sexualized in comics assumes two faslehoods to be true. One, that only straight males read comics, and two, that men and women find the same imagery attractive in the opposite gender (or the same gender if you happen to be attracted to the same gender). The first blatantly ignores another rallying cry for the people that are offended by the above image of Spider Woman. “Women read comics too, this does not help women or help get women into liking comics…” Ok, so what about gay or bi women? I’m sure not all of them (just like not all men) want to see scantily clad women on the cover of comics, but some do, right? By assuming that the above, admittedly racy cover, only appeals to the straight male demographic you are completely ignoring the obvious. Well a couple anyway. As a straight male, I don’t find it attractive, her face angle is still haunting me, but you are ignoring all the women who might actually like that. That’s the easy one to explain.
The harder to get people to understand is, men and women do not find the same things attractive. Sure, the Hawkeye initiative is a perfect example of this ignorance. It’s so irritating I’m not even going to link it. Basically they take poses of female characters in comics and then draw male characters in the same pose. This goes right back to point one. This argument assumes that men and women find the same thing attractive. It all goes back to our primitive, and instinctual animal nature. Straight men are more likely, to a varying degree, to be initially attracted to images of women who look like they can have many children and nurture them, while straight women are more likely to be drawn to men that look like they can protect them and their children and provide for them. After that initial brain reaction there are of course loads of other factors, but when we are dealing with an image that doesn’t talk to you and you can’t get to know better, initial reactions are important. For people attracted to the same gender there are all variety of things that initially spark attraction but in the end, if you find the above image of Spider Woman over-sexualized then you should be offended by this image of Wolverine. There he is, torn shirt, bulging muscles, and his buttocks prominently displayed in jeans that would never fit like that, but did anyone throw a fit? If this had been Hugh Jackman on a promotional poster for the movie, you bet women, and I’m sure some gay men, would be all over it, and would men be writing articles about how offensive it is? Nope!
So, if you want to make an issue about sexuality in comics, for both male and female characters, go for it. I still won’t agree but at least you won’t be hypocritical. And for the love of Pete, do your homework. I’m getting tired of seeing non-comic fans, mainstream media, and especially comic fans say things like “They never draw men that way” when the artists actually do, in fact, draw men that way. If you want to promote women in comics, do it, for Gods’ sake do it! Nothing could be better for the comic book industry than more diversity, but making these selective arguments to get outraged about it isn’t helping, and could be hurting that effort. Start accepting that you can’t have one book, one image, or one story that will cater to everyone. What we need is a lot of books, a lot of imagery, and a lot of stories that each cater to some people, so that everyone can find what they want, what interests them, and what inspires them. You will never be able to walk into a comic shop and want to read every single title, they just won’t all appeal to you, and they shouldn’t. The mere act of injecting diversity into comics means that this will always be true, and the more diverse we get as creators, writers, artists, and readers will make it more true. The beauty of this is, if you don’t like a particular comic, and in this case a VARIANT cover, you don’t have to buy it. Go buy Amazing Spider-man, where every few issues he’s prominently displaying his male bits, in his red and blue body paint, and stop trying to pawn your selective moral outrage on everyone else.
*Update* Link to related article and blog site removed, will not send traffic there.