Female Characters in the DC New 52

by: Guest

This is a post by guest contributor D.J. Sylvis [@deejsylvis] let us know what you think in the comments!

I’ve just finished working my way through most of the DC New 52 releases – how many people collected them all? And while there are all sorts of ways to analyze what they’ve done with the reboot, both good and bad, one particular aspect has been hitting the geek news a lot lately: how DC is treating their female characters. With a new beginning in place, are the editors and creators involved making the art form a friendlier place, or reinforcing the same tired stereotypes?

There’s been a lot of talk about a couple of titles in particular, but I wanted to give my own brief take on the range of books that involve a major female character, hitting both the positive and negative points. Here’s a sentence or two (and the appropriate links to other reviews I mention) on most of them:

***

Batgirl – We were all worried about Babs losing the chair, and cheered by the inclusion of Gail Simone – but how does it really work? It’s a jarring switch from her being a major player behind the scenes to just another action hero, but there’s some promise here. They haven’t erased the past completely.  I’m trying to stay hopeful.

Birds of Prey- I wish I had more to say about this title; it’s been a favourite of mine in the past couple of years. But there’s no way to tell from this issue which direction they’re gonna take with the reboot. Keep an eye on it.

CatwomanEvery worrisome thing you’ve heard is true. Cats spends at least half the book in various states of undress, with panels framed to display one body part or another. The writing isn’t so bad (and hooray for paying off on years of subtext), but the art is strictly meat market.

Hawk & Dove – Hard to tell yet how Dove’s gonna fare in this one. The first issue is mostly focused on Hank and his issues; while Dawn has a few pages of her own, she’s far from passing the Bechdel test – they’re all with Deadman, and the topic of conversation is always a man. That, and the line, “Hank can never know about me and Don,” really makes me wonder where they’re heading.

Justice League – We don’t even see Wonder Woman in issue one – to be fair, we don’t see The Flash or Aquaman either. But I always thought WW was one of the ‘Big Three’ in the League – doesn’t that mean she deserves a page or two before we introduce Cyborg?

Justice League Dark – Here we see a bit of Wonder Woman in the JL before we’re introduced to our supernatural heroes, which is comforting. And there’s some great Zatanna stuff; she’s bound to be a cornerstone of this group, they’ve toned down the cheesecake a little bit, and it makes up a little to me for the cancellation of her solo book.

Justice League International – I’m hopeful for this one, though mostly I’m hopeful that they get around to using the potential they’ve got. Fire and Ice were always favourites of mine back in the day, and Vixen is a great character wherever I see her. Godiva, not so much (and she’s a bit boy-crazy here), but keep watching.

Legion of Super Heroes – Nothing to complain about here; nothing to particularly make me want to come back, either. But I’ve got to be honest – I’ve fallen asleep halfway through almost every Legion comic I’ve ever opened.

Red Hood and the Outlaws – Other writers have provided commentary both in text, and in webcomic form far more worthy than anything I’m going to be able to pull together. But even without having made Starfire (so awesome previously,  particularly in the Teen Titans cartoon!) into a brain-dead sex puppet (which is odious), it’s the worst-written book of any in the reboot – don’t even give this one a look.

Suicide SquadAmanda Waller fail. Harley Quinn fail. Seriously, how can you not understand the core of awesomeness in these characters? Waller is The Wall – as physically imposing as she is politically potent (Angela Bassett be damned). This is a woman who pushes Superman around, and she was at her best when she looked it. As for Harley, she’s taken way over the line into sexpot territory, and it’s not just the new duds, it’s in the dialogue. Add in the fact that we’ve again got multiple panels focused on body parts (somebody has an ass fetish, that’s all I know), and it equals major disappointment.

Supergirl – I don’t like the high-cut panties look of her new costume, but the book has some promise. She’s kicking ass all over the place here. I’ll buy again.

Voodoo – Of all the characters to make a point of bringing into the main DC universe, this is the character they choose – a shapeshifting alien-turned-exotic-dancer/spy? From the very first page, it’s pretty obvious what shapes they’re most interested in, and things go downhill from there.

Wonder Woman – There’s a bit of gratuitous undressed-ness, but overall it’s a book worthy of an Amazon. I’m glad to see they’re at least doing right by this one (even if her sidekick du jour spends the entire book missing her pants). I hope for great things to come.

***

So there we are – the lows, unfortunately, are very low. Headdesk-repeatedly low. But there are some bright spots as well, and I think if we encourage those with our comic-buying dollar and banish the others to some store’s future 50-cent bin, hopefully DC will get the message. That’s how you vote when it comes to pop culture – so spend wisely and encourage your friends to do the same. It always makes a difference.

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  • Anonymous

    I have stronger feelings on this matter.  What DC is doing to their female characters is flat out wrong. Comics have been in decline for decades but female readership has been on the rise. They should be targeting these comics more towards women, showcasing female heroines with strength, intellect, and compassion. Even most men can appreciate a strong female character – remember Zena or Buffy?!

    I understand that DC is trying to emulate what makes films and television successful, but wouldn’t it be more benifitical to jump ahead of the game? Cut the sexed up cash grab and give us strong female characters we can aspire to me more like, in story lines we can relate to.

    Am I saying our super women can’t be sexy – No they are sexy without trying to be. Their characters at the core are so much more then that! Taking characters that diversify comics: Amanda Waller, Oracle, Starfire and reducing them to merely the same bubbly hour-glass figure is a crime!

    -Alice Quinn

  • Anonymous

    I have stronger feelings on this matter.  What DC is doing to their female characters is flat out wrong. Comics have been in decline for decades but female readership has been on the rise. They should be targeting these comics more towards women, showcasing female heroines with strength, intellect, and compassion. Even most men can appreciate a strong female character – remember Zena or Buffy?!

    I understand that DC is trying to emulate what makes films and television successful, but wouldn’t it be more benifitical to jump ahead of the game? Cut the sexed up cash grab and give us strong female characters we can aspire to me more like, in story lines we can relate to.

    Am I saying our super women can’t be sexy – No they are sexy without trying to be. Their characters at the core are so much more then that! Taking characters that diversify comics: Amanda Waller, Oracle, Starfire and reducing them to merely the same bubbly hour-glass figure is a crime!

    -Alice Quinn

  • D.J. Sylvis

    It has also been brought to my attention that I missed commenting on Batwoman. I did read it, and it was in my original notes – not sure how it got lost before I submitted this article. It’s a great book, art and story both, and was definitely one of the high points for me in the new 52. 

  • D.J. Sylvis

    It has also been brought to my attention that I missed commenting on Batwoman. I did read it, and it was in my original notes – not sure how it got lost before I submitted this article. It’s a great book, art and story both, and was definitely one of the high points for me in the new 52. 

  • Pagreene

    I am not part of the demographic that DC cares about capturing. I’m just a long-time comics reader who feels put off by just about every aspect of this reboot (Seriously, who decided to put a C-list artist-writer in charge of an entire comics line?) But that’s just enough to make me want to never pick up another book. The emerging images of female characters is enough to make me want to make other people never pick up another book.

    • Anonymous

      It is annoying feeling betrayed – we are the people who have been buying comics for years and they reboot it half-assedly disregarding fans claiming it is targeted at a different demographic.

      RE Michael Ryan: I totally agree with you: It’s okay to be sexual. Personally it just feels like they are trying too hard – you don’t have to force sexy on a superhero, that comes through naturally.

  • Pagreene

    I am not part of the demographic that DC cares about capturing. I’m just a long-time comics reader who feels put off by just about every aspect of this reboot (Seriously, who decided to put a C-list artist-writer in charge of an entire comics line?) But that’s just enough to make me want to never pick up another book. The emerging images of female characters is enough to make me want to make other people never pick up another book.

    • Anonymous

      It is annoying feeling betrayed – we are the people who have been buying comics for years and they reboot it half-assedly disregarding fans claiming it is targeted at a different demographic.

      RE Michael Ryan: I totally agree with you: It’s okay to be sexual. Personally it just feels like they are trying too hard – you don’t have to force sexy on a superhero, that comes through naturally.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Zodberg Michael Ryan

    The ammount of titilation in voodoo surprised me until I checked who was writing in, then everything made sense. Ron Marz is just writing the same cheesecake he was, but now in the mainstream. I’m actually okay with this. Same with Catwoman. and Starfire was originally the T&A quotient for the Titans when she was created in the seventies and is now fused with her carefree and funloving Titans personality. It’s okay to be sexual.

    Catwoman was lame because she was nothing more than sexual though. I’m glad the series sold out because I hope to see how this title will develop, if the oversexuality is the starting point for transformative storytelling (awesome!) or if each issue Catwoman whill strip and hump her way across Gotham until across Gotham.
    the biggest falling of the new DC Universe is actually in Amanda Waller, who was one of the most fun characters of the older universe (and it’s animated derivative) and now she’s suddenly thin for no reason I can imagine. It’s simply a loss  of something visually distinctive to have another babe in a book where anybody who needs a hottie should be happy Harley is on the team.Batwoman was totally cash.

    • D.J. Sylvis

      Michael – I agree with you that there’s nothing wrong with being sexual, but with Starfire that’s really all she seems to be – and I’m really a bit squicked out by the fact that they’ve sort of done this ‘mind-wipe’ thing where she has no connection at all to her past life and teammates.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Zodberg Michael Ryan

    The ammount of titilation in voodoo surprised me until I checked who was writing in, then everything made sense. Ron Marz is just writing the same cheesecake he was, but now in the mainstream. I’m actually okay with this. Same with Catwoman. and Starfire was originally the T&A quotient for the Titans when she was created in the seventies and is now fused with her carefree and funloving Titans personality. It’s okay to be sexual.

    Catwoman was lame because she was nothing more than sexual though. I’m glad the series sold out because I hope to see how this title will develop, if the oversexuality is the starting point for transformative storytelling (awesome!) or if each issue Catwoman whill strip and hump her way across Gotham until across Gotham.
    the biggest falling of the new DC Universe is actually in Amanda Waller, who was one of the most fun characters of the older universe (and it’s animated derivative) and now she’s suddenly thin for no reason I can imagine. It’s simply a loss  of something visually distinctive to have another babe in a book where anybody who needs a hottie should be happy Harley is on the team.Batwoman was totally cash.

    • D.J. Sylvis

      Michael – I agree with you that there’s nothing wrong with being sexual, but with Starfire that’s really all she seems to be – and I’m really a bit squicked out by the fact that they’ve sort of done this ‘mind-wipe’ thing where she has no connection at all to her past life and teammates.

  • http://twitter.com/HeyRed Manda J

    You want a female character I’d be proud to say I read?

    Tank Girl.

    Anybody remember the last time we saw someone like that? ‘Cause I don’t.
    And that’s all I got to say about it.

    HeyRed

    • D.J. Sylvis

      I’m with you there! Good thing they still put out Tank Girl comics every so often. 

  • http://twitter.com/HeyRed Manda J

    You want a female character I’d be proud to say I read?

    Tank Girl.

    Anybody remember the last time we saw someone like that? ‘Cause I don’t.
    And that’s all I got to say about it.

    HeyRed

    • D.J. Sylvis

      I’m with you there! Good thing they still put out Tank Girl comics every so often.