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Tag Archives: DC Comics

Perhaps Inevitably, some Fanboys still don’t get it.

Apparently there was some brouhaha in the DC panels at SDCC. Said brouhaha apparently involved questions about why there were so few female creators, and female characters, being featured in DC’s big September relaunch (as well as in general). Though I’ve not heard said comments for myself, apparently the questions were not answered terribly well during the panels, and DC was prompted to make a statement.

Most of the opinions of DC’s response have ranged from cautiously optimistic (with some not-so-cautiously optimistic) to guarded pessimism that this is just a PR stunt, or that the books will simply be short lived. I’m generally inclined to side with the more pessimistic side of things; I don’t generally trust press releases, particularly not when they come about as the result of foot in mouth disease. Most of these comments, while I don’t always agree with them, have still fallen within the bounds of being reasonable. Some of them, however, have fallen squarely into the realm of bullshit.

I’m sure people are about to accuse me of having an agenda. So let’s set the record straight; while I’ve read more than my share of feminist writing, I am not a feminist. I’m a humanist and a philosopher, which means that I am not something that many of you fanboys are once again proving yourselves to be; narrow-minded asshats. My only agenda, fanboys, is not being like you.

Let’s kick off by demolishing claims that a good writer is a good writer regardless of gender or any other factor, shall we? I can write female characters. For that matter, I can write female characters well. I can do this because as a human being I both have the capacity for empathy and the ability to gain knowledge. I can observe what women are like. I can read things, both fiction and non-fiction, that has been written by women. I can talk to women and ask them about their experiences. With my capacity for empathy I can then, to a degree, create a female character that is not simply a flat representation, and might well be able to speak to women about the experience of being a woman.

However, I lack, and will always lack, understanding of what it means to be a woman. I’ve talked about this twice before, though it was in relationship to characters; however, it remains just as true when talking about actual people. For all my knowledge, and all my empathy, there is a limit to my ability to understand what it means to be a woman, because I am not a woman. I have not lived the experience of being a woman, just as I have not lived the experience of being black, or being gay. As such, a woman, or a black man, or a gay man, brings to the process of writing an understanding which I do not have, and this understanding, forged solely through their lived experience of being in the world, will inform and shape the stories and characters that they write in a way that is different from the way in which being a white, heterosexual male, raised in a lower-income family, and who came to formal education late in life will inform and shape the stories that I write.

No amount of talent, skill, genius, or any other name you care to give it will ever overcome this fact. Gail Simone, for example, will always have something that Gaiman (or Moore, Ennis, Morrison, Ellis etc.) do not have. This remains true even if I performed a female gender role, as I would still lack the phenomenological understanding of what it is to be pregnant (though it is certainly true that the experiences which informed my work would be different in other ways; however, that moves us into the larger role of gender roles and gender as performance as contrasted against biological sex [which many argue itself isn’t a simple binary system, and is itself constructed]).

This is true whether it’s male characters being written, female characters being written, or what genre said characters are appearing in. The inclusion of diverse voices means that you’re going to see different ways of handling themes, and different themes that are being spoken about (and spoken to). This is one of the reasons Moore’s early work was so fucking ground breaking; he brought a mind, and a voice, that looked at and spoke about things in a way that (for mainstream comics) was new. Not every writer, regardless of gender, skin color of creed is going to be the next Alan Moore. Yet the only thing that stifling diversity accomplishes is to stifle the ability of comics to change, grow, and improve.

We are both trapped and liberated by the experience of being human. This is something we need to understand and embrace.

So how about the claim that there just aren’t that many good female creators in comics? Feministing was kind enough to provide a short list. That’s 19 entries, and it still leaves off a lot of names; which makes the defense that the other three female creators that DC asked turned them down rather weak, since there were plenty of others they could have made an offer to. Not to mention that both Marvel and DC have made a habit of poaching writers from other sources in recent years. True, it gave us the excrement that was Whedon’s run on X-Men, but there are no talented writers working in Hollywood or writing novels that they could have asked? What about any of the female manga-ka whose works are already rather popular with readers; might one of their number have been interested in being asked? (The answer to that last question is that I have no idea, particularly since manga-ka are often ridiculously overworked. The point still stands that there are plenty of talented women who could bring their A game to comics.) There’s no need to “quota” hire in women who can’t do the job, as there are any number of women are perfectly capable of doing said jobs (and I imagine the same holds true of other under-represented creators).

Perhaps I’ve overlooked the fact that, “chicks don’t like superheroes.” My Twitter feed suggests otherwise. I follow any number of women who read superhero comics. For that matter I suspect they talk about them more than I do. Erika Peterman and Vanessa Gabriel of Girls Gone Geek are just two examples, and I damn well know my Twitter feed doesn’t cover even a fraction of the women who are interested in superheroes or other elements of geek culture. If it weren’t for the fact that superhero comics are often given the gendered identity of being for boys, I suspect that are even more little girls who would enjoy superheroes, and would then grow up to be women who dig superheroes. Yet despite what strides toward equality have been made, it’s still traditional to teach the girls that they should want to be princesses etc. while being a superhero or soldier is for boys. It’s a bullshit practice, particularly when for all the fanboyish whining there is no meaningful difference between an action figure and a Barbie doll, while there is a very meaningful similarity between the two; the fact that the majority of them are designed to play into and reinforce (frequently unhealthy) stereotypical depictions of masculine and feminine and what it means to be a man or woman.

This is the third time that Professor Bastard has had to take you to school over pretty much the same theme, fanboys, and I’m getting well fucking sick of it. You’re not right, and to say that your arguments are still made of the weakest of bullshit is an understatement of epic proportions.

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Truth, Justice, and the Anarcholiberalcommucapitalatheofascist Way

Life has been rather crazy around here the last several weeks, hence the lack of posts. I hadn’t been planning to post today, but something interesting popped up in my Twitter feed this morning. It seems that Superman has, at least for the moment, decided to renounce his United States citizenship. This has apparently come about because the Big Blue Boyscout showed up in the Middle East to support protesters in Tehran, and the Iranian government decides that the presence of Supes, being the running dog of America that he is, decides that this is an act of war. The US government gets grumpy with Supes as a result, and he tells them to fuck right off. Okay, he doesn’t tell them to fuck right off, he’s not Batman after all. But he does announce his intention to publicly renounce his American citizenship because “‘Truth, Justice, and the American Way’ — it’s not enough anymore.”

My first question is why he didn’t do this when his archenemy was elected president? I mean if there’s a time for you to divorce yourself from being seen as an instrument of US policy, Supes, it’s when Lex Luthor is the guy running the country.

I should also admit that other than that first question my initial response was to shrug and say, “meh.” I’ve never been big on Supes. He’s a difficult character to write for, and even otherwise good writers often have a difficult time pulling it off on a consistent basis, and that’s even before factoring in the editorial oversight and demands that go hand-in-hand with working on one of DC’s primary breadwinners. So there was no kneejerk fanboy reaction on my part… and there probably wouldn’t have been this post at all if it wasn’t for the kneejerk reaction of various fanboys.

While they were by no means the majority of the comments I read, there were the expected comments about this being a “plot” by America-hating liberals etc. Also the usual comments about how comics shouldn’t be political, and why isn’t Superman punching bank robbers in the head, bitch, whine, cry.

Given that one of the tasks of this blog is to articulate comicbooks as loci for philosophic engagement (that’s the fancy philosopher way of saying “you can learn philosophy from comicbooks even if you’ve never read a philosophy text in your life”), I’ve pretty much no sympathy for those individuals who want comicbooks to be nothing more than mindless entertainment. Actually, I generally have no sympathy for people who want mindless entertainment in general. More to the point, these people have been wrong for a long time now… actually barring a brief period in the “Silver Age,” I’m not sure they were ever right. Comicbooks have long been a venue for political and social messages, some of them rather offensive (if you don’t believe me go and actually read some of the stuff from the early days of comics; not only was Batman a killy fucker, but racist stereotypes were abundant).

As for the people claiming that we are entering the age of  Anarcholiberalcommucapitalatheofascist Superman, I have the following to say: bwa ha ha ha! I mean really, folks, really? First, there’s not the slightest indication that Superman is going to behave at all differently, with the exception that he would no longer be operating under the stricture that he is a symbol of one particular nation and its policies. Second, even if he was criticizing America with this action when, exactly, did that become un-patriotic?

The United States has, quite frankly, been involved in some shitheel antics in the past (a history of racism and misogyny, being the only country to actually employ atomic weaponry, etc.).  As far as that goes it’s involved in some shitheel antics right now (nonsense about Planned Parenthood, continued engagement in immoral military actions, not instantly speaking out in support of people protesting for liberty, and any number of other offenses spring to mind).  Yet if we question this behavior we are accused of being un-American. Last time I checked, folks, stifling dissent, particularly when valid critiques are being made, is pretty much the opposite of what being a “free” society is supposed to be about. I, for one, would cheer if the reason Supes was giving up his citizenship was in public protest of the way America consistently violates the very ideals it claims to uphold. Of course as someone who has suckled at the teat of Nietzsche I’m a big believer that, “He serves the state best who opposes the state most,” and as always I’m not talking about nonsense like demanding to see an elected president’s birth certificate (and it doesn’t matter if I agree with his policies or not).

Of course DC is unlikely to do anything so interesting with the character. That would likely alienate the people doing all the whining, and might hurt their bottom line a little too much. Which is a shame, really, because doing something like having Superman actually start to stand for the values he claims he stands for, and in doing so challenge a status quo that frequently only pays lip service to those values, might actually be enough to get me to read Superman titles on a regular basis again.

 

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2011 in Activism, Comics, Philosophy, Pop Culture

 

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One Muslim Batman, One Lesbian Batwoman, and a Shot of Insomnia Driven Self-Reflection

R. K. Milholland, the man behind the webcomic Something*Positive, recently did a guest strip for the comic Shortpacked!. I can’t claim that I’m particularly familiar with the series in question, but Mr. Milholland’s strip deals with the recent brouhaha surrounding the fact that one of the members of Batman, Inc. is going to be a Muslim. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with this. Despite the fact that Muslim terrorists have become the flavor of the zeitgeist in that since the events of September 11th, 2001 they’ve become the pop culture go-to villains that everyone in the West can hate, I’m pretty sure Muslims are still people.  That means that just like everyone else they may fall broad, socially constructed and determined categories, but just because one Muslim, or a given group of Muslims does something doesn’t automatically mean that all Muslims hate the West, and think it is best brought down with high explosives. You’d think that would be self-apparent, eh?

As frustrating as the kind of bullshit that has cropped up around DC’s ann0uncement, that’s not what I’m here to talk about right now. This is my blog, so I’m going to talk about me, my reaction to Mr. Milholland’s comic, and a DC announcement from a few years ago. Back in the days of the dinosaurs I wrote for a now-defunct website called Comic Avalanche… all right, it was only a few years ago, but there have been several miles of bad road since then, so it feels like longer. Regardless, at the time DC was announcing the imminent arrival of their new “lipstick lesbian” Batwoman.

I admit that within the space of one of my columns I raised something of a fuss about this. My problem wasn’t that they were introducing a lesbian Batwoman, my problem was with DC’s use of the word “lipstick” in their promo announcements. Among the gay community the phrase lipstick lesbian seems like it generally has negative connotations, and outside of that community it seems to be used most frequently as a way to advertise female-on-female porn to an audience of straight men. So this struck me as less of a move toward diversity, and more as a marketing ploy to draw in the undersexed fanboys.

Since then I’ve had a chance to read some of the Batwoman stories. In particular I’ve read the “Elegy” arc by Greg Rucka and J. H. Williams III that ran in Detective Comics. I enjoyed reading it. While I won’t say it was the best comic I ever read, I had no particular objections to the way Kate Kane was portrayed. That said, I still like to think that I had a valid objection to the way in which DC was hyping the character’s introduction. After all, I didn’t have that kind of negative reaction upon hearing about Grant Morrison’s hermaphroditic Negative Man or Danny the Transvestite Street. I wasn’t particularly bothered by Northstar finally coming out of the closet. And yet…

… and ask why it is everytime a hero shows up who isn’t white, male, hetero, or possibly Christian, it’s a P.C. stunt?

On the other hand, when I read quotes like this (taken from the comic by Mr. Milholland that inspired this post), I have to wonder. Was my objection a valid one, or was I simply engaging in the kind of xenophobia and bigotry for which I condemn the people whining about a black actor in the upcoming Thor film, or the nonsense that has cropped up in relation to a Muslim Batman?

I would like to think that the answer is no. However, because I am a staunch believer that living philosophically means to engage in a constant critical and reflective engagement in the world, I can’t let it go at that. Is there a part of me that objected to the new Batwoman simply because the character is a lesbian? Did I really have a valid objection, even if that objection would have perhaps been better focused on DC’s marketing department rather than on editors and creators? Or maybe, just maybe, is there still some baggage I’m carrying around, some social conditioning that is implanted so deep that I’ve never even thought to question it?

I had many of the same questions when I was working through the challenges raised by George Yancy’s* Black Bodies, White Gazes. In both his own words, and the words of others, he articulates the idea of the race traitor as someone who doesn’t behave as a “good” white person “should.” I would like to think I am one of those people, and that it extends beyond race. I would like to think that I do not behave as a good hetero should, or as a good person of my economic class should. Yet at the end of the day, the only honest answer I can give to any of these questions, including the question raised by Mr. Milholland, is “I don’t think I’m that person, but I just don’t know.”

Yes, I would like to think I’m a better person than the unwashed hordes and whores who live uncaring, unreflective lives. I would like to be able to say “Yes, I live every moment of every day in philosophical engagement, and at no point is my thinking influenced by an unconsidered opinion.” I’d like to be able to settle for that, but sometimes saying “I don’t know,” isn’t a bad thing, just so long as we follow it up with, “but I’m not going to stop asking the question.”

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2010 in Comics, Philosophy

 

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