There’s a recent trend in superhero costumes for female characters and not everyone is a fan. Over the weekend, two high-profile comic book creators took to the internet to voice their personal dissatisfaction with redesigns for characters such as Batgirl, Spider-Woman, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, and even the design of new characters like the current Ms. Marvel.
I’m personally a big fan of the looks for the majority of those characters, with the exception of Wonder Woman. This is because the new costume is objectively horrible. It feels like a mid-’90s rip-off character from a second tier publisher.
But for the others, I’m a fan. Ms. Marvel’s costume makes sense in-story, Spider-Woman’s and Batgirl’s costumes feel like a better fit for the recent portrayal of the characters, and all respect to Dave Cockrum, but Captain Marvel was long in need of an update.
But that’s my personal taste, of course. And who cares about my personal taste? One of the people involved in this discussion, noted creator Erik Larsen, specifically decries changes made “due to a few voices online.” Over and over, male creators (such as the aforementioned Larsen and J. Scott Campbell) and fans have been decrying these changes. Except two of the architects of those changes have come to clear the record.
First, Stephen Wacker, editor of Captain Marvel, popped up and pointed out that, no, both he and writer Kelly Sue DeConnick wanted the change. One of his reasons?
The cover he’s talking about, btw, is this one. Shudder. And even then the alleged “vocal minority” was not the main instigator. The creative team had raised an issue before this ever hit Twitter. Then, when people defending the cover started making threats, DC decided to pull it.
Which gets back to my issue here. I don’t want to dogpile on Larsen or Campbell – plenty of others have. But what keeps bugging me is the idea that there is a subset of bloggers/tweeters/tumblers who don’t buy the comics but are making complaints and that is what is driving those changes.
One of the great things about the internet is that the sales numbers are out there. February’s list of the top 300 comics show Captain Marvel at #112, Ms. Marvel as #69 & 75 (there were two issues) and Batgirl at #39. Let’s compare that to old runs.
The last Gail Simone Batgirl issue was #34, and that was at #60 (although technically a Future’s End special was the last bit published by her, and that went to #26, likely due to the crossover). The first new look issue? #19. Not a bad jump.
There’s nothing to compare the current Ms. Marvel to, as it features a new character, but Captain Marvel was previously featured in a title of the same name. A title with art by cheesecake artist Greg Horn. I have to go back to 2007 for an example, but issue #19 was a respectable #70 on the list (and Savage Dragon was #199, if I’m being fair). This one was indeed higher – almost eight years ago. It was also an issue featuring an actual catfight on the cover too.
Spider-Woman #4, the last issue with her old costume, was #49 in February. It was also part of a mega crossover though. It will be interesting to see the numbers for #5, the first new costume issue.
Looking at these, the sales numbers seem to indicate that if there is a vocal minority, they’re being vocal with their wallets, and it’s enough to boost sales. And that alleged minority is a slim one. The assumption that women don’t buy comics is an ancient one, and one the sales numbers just don’t back up. Market research from last year indicates a strong 46.67% of readers are women. That Marvel and DC might want to make a few books that appeal to almost half their readership is hardly shocking.
Note: I know not all women like the same things. There is no female hive mind just as there is no male hive mind. But, yes, these are efforts by creators and publishers to reach out to their actual readership.
My fellow GeekParent Corrina has a theory on who the real vocal minority is.
“There is a vocal minority that’s messing up comics: It’s the straight white men drawing a line that comics should be all about them all the time.”
She has a point. There are how many super hero comic books out there with ladies in more traditional revealing and/or tight costumes? This trend in the other direction has impacted maybe a half dozen characters. You can’t let a half dozen super heroines be for someone else? Someone who is putting the money down just like you?
Chill the hell out.