Other than Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, it's been about two decades since I've read comic books on a regular basis. Hence, I have given no thought regarding the much-publicized DC Relaunch.
And yet, I feel that Tim Callahan wrote an interesting article titled "The DC Relaunch Week Three: The Sexuality of Superheroes" for Tor.com. Here's an extract:
This week, DC launched twelve new series, and I’m practically at a loss for words. Not because this week, overall, was considerably better or worse than the previous two weeks, but because the comics this week show a troubling schizophrenia on the part of the DC editorial team. This is the week that saw Wonder Woman #1 and Catwoman #1 debut. New series featuring the two most prominent DC female characters. One of them is magnificent, the other is abominable.
The reason this week is so difficult to write about isn’t because Wonder Woman is such a good first issue (though it is). It’s because Catwoman is so bad and the way it’s bad is so frustratingly illustrative of one of the major problems of the direct market comic book industry that the conversation will inevitably veer off into the direction of sexual politics and objectification and sexism and pandering. And while that conversation is necessary, and I’ll get to it soon enough, it pushes aside most other DC comics of the week, and makes them seem insignificant by comparison because they don’t play a part in the dialogue about sexuality in mainstream comics. Or, maybe even worse, it forces that lens onto the rest of the comics, even if they are mostly innocently going about their business of alien exoskeleton technology or lamentations about the good old days at the circus.
Yet, I can’t help but read it as a commentary on the implicit sexuality of the character dating back to the Marv Wolfman/George Perez days. In those comics from 25+ years ago, Starfire was a flying, glowing Barbarella with a naïve demeanor. There was no doubt that she was presented, within the story and to the reader, as a sex object, even if it was done in a more innocent manner than we see here. It’s difficult to raise objections to the characterization of Starfire when this is just an exaggerated, more explicit version of who she was before. It’s an interpretation that identifies the elephant in the room and labels it “elephant, in room, pay attention, it’s sexy and dumb.”
It still makes for a sleazy, insipid comic though.
Not as sleazy or insipid as Catwoman #1, a comic which I quite erroneously predicted would be “clean family fun” when I previewed the series this summer based on initial speculation and Judd Winick’s own statements. The cover certainly hints at what’s inside — that’s no metaphorical image on that issue #1 cover, just a skanky-looking Catwoman dripping jewels on her breasts. Keep this in mind: I’ve read plenty of Judd Winick comics, and I have mostly disliked them all, but this first issue might be the most off-putting thing he’s ever written. Like Red Hood, it takes the implicit and makes it explicit, but such a move does not make for a comic that you’d actually want to read.
So what exactly is my problem with this comic that begins with a four page sequence depicting Catwoman running from bad guys while trying to get dressed and ends with her undressing Batman with the internal monologue stating, “…it doesn’t take long…and most of the costumes stay on”? Is it that the comic dares to show the sexuality behind the superhero façade? Or the comic panders to the direct market audience so overtly — an audience that has sustained the careers of Billy Tucci and Jim Balent and countless others of the sort? Or that it’s just a poorly executed comic?
Can I choose all three? Is that allowed?
Because, yes, it does show the sexuality behind the superhero façade, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. The Catwoman character is predicated on the sexual tension between her and Batman, and while it may be daring to completely invalidate that by actually consummating their relationship in the opening issue, it also turns the character into nothing but a fetishized object. She is not even a character in this first issue, just an embodiment of sexuality and violence.
The funny thing about this is that there were similar discussions on this very topic back in the early 90s when I was buying all those Image titles. It's nice to see how things have evolved over the years. . .
For better or worse, sex continues to sell. And there's not much we can do about it. . .
I mean, it's been over three decades and it appears that Vampirella is still going strong. And I daresay it has nothing to do with fascinating storylines. . .