This is the cover of Justice League #1. If you are shocked and appalled by this, I should point out that this is what comic book covers have looked like for most of the last ninety billion years:
Then someone decided to point out how stupid Wonder woman looked by drawing all the male character in similar costumes and in exactly the same pose:
The point of this caricature was to show how mainstream comics continue to marginalize women by depicting female heroes as sex objects in poses that undermine their authority, credibility and the like.
The point of this post is to point out how pointless an undertaking that is.
Comic book fans really really want to believe that their favorite genre/medium is very inclusive, progressive and cutting edge. But the fact is that the genre itself–the superhero comic book–makes progressiveness impossible. The genre exists to portray men as hyper-masculinized, women as hyper-sexualized objects, evil as too smart and too corporate for the common good, and the real justice system as too corrupt and too weak to deal with these criminals, requiring ruthless extreme vigilantes who act swiftly, decisively, and uncompromisingly.
So who would readstories of an impotent society desparated for a faceless (and therefore dehumanized) avenger? People who are themselves frustrated, and and angry and who perceive their anger against their parents, school, job, Bill O’Reilly, Obama as righteous rage. The worldview presented in the stories is usually simple and uncomplicated, with the hero as simultaneously the stand-in and avenger of a wounded society that in some metaphorical way reflects the reader’s worldview. They’re hurt by or afraid of forces smarter and more powerful than them, so they want to lash out. Both the hero and the villain share this outlook, but from opposites sides of course. And it’s important to note that the reader sympathizes with both the villain and the hero. (The villain is the hero of his own story, after all.)
This kind of story is literally thousands of years old. Achilles, the strong invincible superhero of Greece, directed his rage just as much at the leader of the Greek forces, Agamemnon, as at the Trojans. And his rebelliousness is very much a part of the subtext of the story. In Achilles’s eyes, Agamemnon was too weak, too dissembling. Too quick to hedge his bets and to hold back. Achilles is the first superhero. DC and Marvel have slaughter forests and made fortunes from retelling his story over and over again.
Sing to me, O goddess, of the rage of Batman, Son of Gotham…
The problem that the superhero genre has is that it didn’t model itself after the rest of the Iliad. Achilles is an asshole. For all his talk and bravado, he didn’t win the Trojan War. What won the war was the Trojan Horse, a scheme concocted by a secondary character, the rather put-upon mortal named Odysseus. Where Achilles is an unrealistic character that reflects the unrealistic way in which youth views itself, Odysseus is a very realistic representation of a middle-aged man. He’s burdened by all the responsibilities he has left unattended back home. Odysseus, “the man of many twists and turns,” is like all reasonably mature middle-aged men, fed up with the all the high and mighty bullshit. He just wants to go home and play with his dog.
There is no DC or Marvel superhero franchise patterned off of Odysseus.
That a genre originally targeted at teenage boys would approach storytelling in this hyper-masculinized, hyper-sexualized way is not at all surprising. This is how many adolescents see the world. What is surprising is that the people who buy comics aren’t teenage boys anymore, they are men in their late twenties and thirties. For them, the comic book is an escape from that which frustrates them in the real world.
And what frustrates men in their 20′s and thirties? Their employers, and women. Mostly women. Women literally frustrate men. They frustrate men’s attempts to have sex with them. Feminism has left many of the now-grown men in Generation X utterly stranded in how they approach women. “Do they want James Bond? Or Anthony Michael Hall? Wait, they want Edward? From Twilight? Isn’t he gay?” So comic books become a testosterone-fueled escape from that. Adn in this escape, women are depicted how these readers want to see them, as sexualized and available.
Now before you bray, “But I like Batman and I don’t blah blah blah,” remember that I’m not talking about Christopher Nolan’s films, or the characters in general. I’m talking about the stories currently being told mostly with pictures in the little magazines that come out every month that apparently only a few hundred thousand or so people actually buy. Ask yourself this. When was the last time you actually book a Batman (or Superman, or Spiderman) comic book? If the answer is more than two months ago, then you don’t count. They aren’t for you.
If comic books started presenting realistic female characters with lifestyles and waistlines lines that mirrored those of contemporary society, they would not sell. So complain all you want about Wonder Woman’s impossibly arched back or ridiculously uncomfortable costume. She’s like that because the people who buy the books want her like that. It’s not an afterthought. It’s on purpose. So a better question to ask is “Who is buying this? Why do they want this?”