As you may have noticed if you read GeekMom regularly, I’m a passionate reader of superhero comics and have been since I can remember.
But, being a woman (d’uh), it’s impossible to miss the issues with the portrayal of female characters over the years.
Nowhere was outrage more consolidated than in a site called Women in Refrigerators. WiR tried to detail the various deaths, depowerments and violence against women in superhero comics and how different it was from the violence and death directed at the men.
It wasn’t ever meant to be a comprehensive list of bad things done to women in comics. Instead, it was created to start a discussion, point to happenings and say “so, why do you all think this happened?”
Now, Women Write About Comics has asked comic bloggers this week to write on a single topic: Women in Refrigerators, Thirteen Years Later. They already have a number of links of with sometimes divergent points of view on the topic.
I have somewhat of a unique perspective on WiR in that I’m a co-moderator for Gail Simone, one of the founders of WiR, both on her current forums on Jinxworld and her previous forums at ComicBookResources.com. Simone is under contract for DC and has written Birds of Prey, Secret Six, Welcome to Tranquility, Wonder Woman, Superman, and several other titles. That’s somewhat of a big flashing light that things have changed since the site went up.
But they haven’t changed completely.
When people came to the forums to yell at Gail Simone for being an uppity feminist or claim that she hated men or that the whole site was idiotic, I had to deal with them. Over and over, Simone merely directed people to the site, claiming that those who were yelling about WiR probably hadn’t read it fully. If we could really move past WiR, those people would never show up.
So, I think before I can talk about WiR now, we need to go back to the site: Women in Refrigerators. The most interesting part isn’t the list or the fact that women were badly served by many superhero storylines.
Most of us here know that already.
It’s the page of respondents, a list of comic creators commenting on the issue. And, wow, do many of the male creators unload on their colleagues. Read Mark Waid’s response in particular. A sentence:
“Most males are fans of or in comics because they’re social misanthropes who can’t get laid or can’t keep girlfriends and they’re pissed about it on some level. There’s the famous–and true–anecdote of the Hellcat story that consists mostly of her being beaten to a pulp by a man, a story that BY THE *WILDEST* COINCIDENCE was written by a man in the middle of harsh divorce proceedings.”
This is Mark Waid, who wrote Kingdom Come.
So, things were bad. Have they changed?
Yes and No. To illustrate my point, I give you the comics history of one Stephanie Brown: Spoiler, Robin, dead, Batgirl, limbo.
Stephanie Brown first appeared as the daughter of the supervillain Cluemaster who wanted to stop her father’s crimes. She “spoiled” them, hence “The Spoiler.” She was one of those characters who quickly took on a life of her own.
The highlights of her existence:
Major supporting character in the Robin series written by Chuck Dixon starring the Tim Drake Robin.
Became Robin after Bruce Wayne fired Tim because editorial said he should.
Fired from being Robin for “incompetence” by the same Bruce Wayne after a very short time.
Decided to prove to Batman she was competent, ended up starting an editorial-mandated “gang-war” by stealing something from Bruce’s files. (Editorial also mandated, apparently, that Bruce not have any security passcodes on said files.)
Horrifically beaten and bloodied and eventually dead from injuries inflicted by the villain Black Mask. Keep in mind, this was an underage teenage girl who then appeared on a comics cover sprawled and helpless with blood all over. To add injury to insult, DC then came out with a figurine of Black Mask complete with the tools he’d used to torture and kill her. Classy.
Reader outrage led to the founding of Girl-Wonder.org.
Steph’s creator, Chuck Dixon, came back to Robin for a short time and brought Stephanie back to life. Cool.
Stephanie’s time as Batgirl ended in midstream as DC rebooted titles last September. Stephanie was replaced by a now-younger version of Barbara Gordon, no longer the information specialist Oracle.
Stephanie is now in limbo. In some interviews, she’s supposed to still be around but she’s yet to appear in the rebooted universe.
So, what to make of all this?
To me, the bottom line is that the problem lies behind the scenes.
DC right now has two female creators on their new rebooted titles, Simone and Ann Nocenti, who’s taking over Green Arrow. Without a strong creator who sells a lot of books to stand up for a character, like Geoff Johns did with his Green Lantern characters or Grant Morrison did with Batman or even Scott Snyder with Batman, female characters are going to get overlooked–let’s not even get started on the other missing Batgirl, Cassandra Cain– in favor of other pet characters who happen to be male because, well, 98 percent of the creators and the vast majority of editorial are male. (One bright exception to this is Batwoman, who is backed by the amazing talented artist and writer, J.H. Williams.)
So while the characters in the comics might be treated better right now than thirteen years ago, the real change, the one needed behind the scenes, is sorely lacking. Things will never truly change until that does.