Thursday, October 20, 2011

Love and Rockets: New Stories, Vol. 1, 50/100

Be prepared for some venting, ranting and/or raving, and tons of geekdom.

In my review of Sloth I mentioned I wasn't familiar with the comic series Love and Rockets by the Hernandez brothers. I happened to see this first volume for New Stories at the local comic shop and grabbed it. The cover alone (once again) would've been enough for me to buy it.

Just like in Sloth, something felt "off" about the entire volume. Even starting at a point in the series where I was missing some back story, it was still pretty easy to pick up on what was going on. But all the dialogue felt like it was translated from another language, badly, even though it was written originally in English. Almost every written word just felt unnatural and odd.

However I couldn't make myself hate it. The artwork is wonderful, the characters fascinating, and the stories are definitely never boring. The backbone story in this volume follows a group of female super heroes known as the Ti-Girls, who are....I don't know, trying to stop an enemy from destroying earth after she loses her tiny bean-sized baby in space, or something. Like I said, it's odd.

But here is what makes the Ti-Girls unique:

A middle-aged Spanish speaking maid turned super hero? That makes me very happy.

I'm sure this grouping looks odd. Like something from Kick-Ass or Mystery Men -- super heroes that break the Superman/Wonder Woman mold. But it's more than just breaking outside a race or age barrier. Let's get gender specific (yes, let's).

Unless you've been living under a rock (or you're just not a complete dork like I am), you've probably heard about the controversy over the representation of female characters in DC's "new 52" series, which is a complete reboot of their line of super hero comics. The representation of women in comics is not a new controversy, but this recent release has really brought the issue into the spotlight.

The two characters readers had the biggest problem with was the new Catwoman and Starfire. And just to give you an idea of what we're dealing with here:

And no, this didn't come from DeviantArt (where any person, animal, and inanimate object probably has fetishized fanart dedicated to it). That's in a real live comic book.

Catwoman's portrayal is (arguably) milder in comparison, and honestly, she's CATWOMAN. As in CAT. She's allowed to be sexy and have awkward clothed sex with Batman if she wants. I shall allow it.

But this has been a long-time problem in comics. Women characters, even as the good guys, are represented as Playboy Bunnies. Eye candy with no personality. Or if they DO have personality, it's gotta be a sessy one. If she has goals or motives, chances are she's a villain. It goes beyond anatomy into their actions and attitude. Cookie cutter women different in hairstyles and costumes only.

If you want to see a list of grievances (and possible solutions), read this lovely set of interviews with comic creators at ComicsAlliance. Everyone has a different opinion on the problem, but at least they all agree that there IS a problem. Also, check out this great article by FilmCritHulk on the unfortunate sexism in the new Arkham City game -- the problems in comics and videogames tend to overlap.

So I agree with the cause. I'm all for transforming the way women are represented in comics. At the same time, even in the most well-intentioned arguments I see an unfortunate double standard.

Super heroes aren't a 20th century phenomenon. They've been around since the creation of stories. The gods/goddesses of Greek/Roman/Norse mythology, the Titans, Achilles, Perseus, Hercules, Beowulf, Paul Bunyan...we've been obsessed with super people for a long time. These heroes were also incredibly idealized. And not as much in their personalities or morals as they were physically idealized. Think of the ancient Olympic games. Think of Sparta. The perfect athletic body was revered; almost worshiped.

And in 2011 we still worship in the cult of the "perfect body" (or whatever a particular society as a collective deems to be ideal). It only follows that our super heroes continue the trend of being oiled-up body builders. I don't personally agree with it, but there it is all the same. Comic book super heroes are the new gods. And in some cases ARE gods (THOR!).

So why is it different when it comes to female super heroes? Yes, they have impossible chest sizes, perfect faces, and wear outfits that could easily be mistaken for underwear. But so does Superman. (how is his chest possible? HOW?)

"But the representation of male super heroes isn't sexualized like it is for women."

Isn't it? Just because comics and their TV spin offs starring male supers are marketed mainly towards boys doesn't mean it's not sexualized. They market an idealized sexual identity. "If you want to date Lois Lane, be this."

After all, I've read several outcries against shows like Sailor Moon (a spin off from the wildly popular manga series), claiming indecent sexuality in its all-female cast, despite it being marketed entirely to girls.

So let me get this straight.

This is ok for boys 9-12.

But this is not ok for girls 9-12.
"If you want to date Tuxedo Mask, be this."

And here's what I'm getting at here. There's this horrible, repressing notion floating around out there that the mere existence of a female body is automatically sexual. It doesn't even have to be Pamela Anderson shaped. If it's just there, being female, it's automatically sexual. (quick! cover it in a burka!)

Well I have news for the entire human race. If you have a body, congratulations: you are sexual.

Sorry, that's just how it works. So let's stop pretending only half the human population is about sex, and the other half is only about technology and Dr. Pepper 10.

I want comics where even the super heroes are believable. Realistic characters with flaws doing unrealistic things. Let's bring variety to the genre by creating heroes we can identify with, instead of idolize.

But as long as we still have Adonis super dudes, with muscles in places muscles shouldn't exist, and chins that could cut through adamantium, please don't throw such a shit fit over super ladies having super boobs.

DO get angry when they have no personality. When they make stupid poses or say stupid things. When the only aspect of their identity is sex, sex, and more sex (although it certainly works for James Bond).

Let's use this controversy to create something entirely new. Instead of relaunching the same characters (now with even more muscles/boobs/chin dimples!), come up with something unique. Original. I want to see an entire comic series starring a middle aged Spanish-speaking maid fighting crime. Make it happen.

Check out Kate Beaton's "Strong Female Characters" comic here.


  1. I've been meaning to say something about this for... days and days and days.

    Really, I just agree with you, and I think I only have more questions. Such as, "When did women become 'inherently' sexual?" Or perhaps it should be approached from this angle: When did men lose their 'inherent' sexuality?

    I recall being a young pervert and staying up late to watch relatively naughty things on television and seeing some movie whose name I don't remember. It was about a nude beach -- specifically some female character going to the nude beach, based on my loose and vague memories of the idea of the idea.

    This movie was made either in the late 1950s or the early 1960s, which made me look at the nudity in a different way. The women were indeed naked. The men, however, were wearing shorts...

    I feel like there's a dissertation in here somewhere. Hmhmhm!

  2. A dissertation could certainly be written on it. I'm sure someone out there already has. And that's a good question (re: when did sexuality become predominantly attached to one gender).

    I've been imagining possible counter arguments to my post, and I feel like one of them (if someone were to write one) would be "but women are inherently sexual due to NATURE." Or "women's bodies are designed primarily for sex (too look appealing, etc)." (Although, in "good ol' NATURE", it's consistently the male of the species whose physical design is made to attract females: peacocks, cardinals, turkeys, bullfrogs, any species with horns/antlers, etc.) So that would make the start point the beginning of humanity.

    But I disagree. If the female body was 'designed' a certain way to only be sexually appealing, then I don't see how homosexuality could exist. And really, homosexuality is the best argument I have against the idea that only women are sexual. It shows that human sexuality is a weird combination of personal preference, societal pressures and ideals, and possibly a small dash of natural selection.

    Seems like this discussion came up on Godfart at some point, and I posted a picture of N'Sync, trying to argue why natural selection wasn't in play anymore. How 2005!

    It seems like whatever gender gets "sexualized" in media is determined by what is marketable, and what audience it's intended for. Sometimes it's sexually idealized women (Catwoman), and sometimes it's men (that werewolf that can't keep his shirt on. what's his face.)

    Then there's something nice like Harry Potter that completely side-steps all the sexual politics and everyone can enjoy. Yay!

    And oh, I remember being a young pervert as well, secretly watching naughty things on cinemax. The difference being that I was curious about a certain part of the male anatomy. Alas, even in the mid-90s they kept their shorts on (metaphorically, at least).