She Can Fly: Girls Don’t Read Comics

For years, comic companies sought the much fought over demographic of white men, 18-35. That was the ideal and the goal, and companies stated many times how that was the only readership they were really interested in. People assumed men were always the ones reading comics.

Historically, though, comicbooks started out as reprints of newspaper funnies, specifically sold to young children, both female and male. When original content for comics was first created, which mainly consisted of humor, pulp stories, and Young Romance-style vignettes, children and female readers became the majority consumers.

It wasn’t until World War II that men became the iconic consumers of comics, as comics (many of which were now in the superhero genre) were easy to ship to the boys abroad and provided entertainment in a dark time. Even then, the women who remained and worked in the states, continued to read, and contribute to, comics. When soldiers returned from World War II, the comic book industry shifted tone to match the jaded men and women who were, respectively, dealing with serious conditions like PTSD and losing their employment due to men returning from the battlefield.

The tonal shift, when comics came to focus less on heroes and humor and more on war, horror, crime, and violence, is often associated with the inception of Fredric Wertham’s infamous Seduction of the Innocent book, and subsequent Senate investigation. Wertham’s presentation to the Senate, which resulted in the Comics Code Authority, however, featured both young men and women as primary subjects of his research, and even asserted that comicbook content had encouraged a 13-year-old girl to steal and that Wonder Woman was giving little girls the “wrong ideas” about a woman’s place in society.

Comics were never intended for an all-male, or all-adult, audience. The concept is an erroneous one, but one that has been perpetuated by almost every comic company.

However, in the past year, there has been a dramatic shift. While female characters are still not a majority in superhero comics, there has been a noticeable increase in female-led titles, and female characters being presented in a positive (or at least in a way that is not incongruent with male characters) manner.

If anything, titles like Ms. Marvel, Spider-Gwen, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Gotham Academy, and the recent tone change for Batgirl emphasize the fact that comics have seen a visible audience shift to young women, and that companies are finally acknowledging this visible, and very verbal audience. These are characters in high school and college who are not sexualized in the classic, superhero comicbook style.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl’s Erika Henderson and Batgirl’s Babs Tarr started out as “tumblr famous” artists, and their styles are referential to classic shoujo manga (an art style that aims specifically at appealing towards women), with an emphasis on modern clothing and realistic body types.

Just three years ago, it seemed like no company was interested in selling books for women, now major titles like Uncanny X-Men are using artists, like Kris Anka, who are known for drawing women with different body types and pleasingly unbroken backs.

While DC still seems to struggle—look at the current creative team on Wonder Woman. Although the writer, Meredith Finch, is a woman, the book’s dialogue is mired in internalized misogyny, and an iconically “strong” and lawful good female character, Donna Troy, has been turned into a murder machine by evil feminist Amazons—titles like Harley Quinn, and the upcoming Starfire and Black Canary series seem to speak towards a strong and varied female audience.

While Marvel tends to be the darling of the internet-based audience, their missteps with characters—like Silk, who has magical pheromones that work only with Peter Parker, or the Marvel and Disney decision to delay the Black Panther and Captain Marvel films in favor of another Spider-man movie—are acknowledge very openly by their audience online.

Market research, conducted via Facebook last year, showed that the comic-reading audience was almost 50% female, and that women were the majority readers on female-led titles (shocking that women like to read about female characters). But, moreover, it’s the fact that the Big Two are actually marketing comics pointedly towards girls and women. Women have been reading comicbooks since their inception, but now they are finally being treated like a significant demographic.

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She Can Fly: Be Forceful

The View seems to be Marvel’s new platform for announcements regarding female driven titles. As much as it is bizarre, it’s also kind of an awesome tactic.

The View’s primary audience is women 30 and over. The fact that Marvel utilizes the women of the View–currently Whoopi Goldberg, Nicole Wallace, Rosie Perez, and Rosie O’Donnell–on ABC, a network owned by their parent company, to make big comic announcements implies that Marvel is acknowledging not only the fact that they have a female audience, but also that they have a female audience with a variety of ages.

The View promised to make a “forceful” announcement on Friday, February 6. Promoted throughout the week prior, this statement caused many fans interpreted to be a tie in with Marvel’s newly published Star Wars titles. The announcement, however, got bumped from the show due to timing.

Still, that Friday Marvel announced the that a new book would be released as part of the universe-spanning Secret Wars event. And that book is…

A-Force.

Terrible title aside–it sounds like a mash up of Avengers and X-Force, which, based on Uncanny Avengers alone, just sounds like a terrible idea (didn’t that team already exist, and wasn’t it called Thunderbolts Vol. 2?)–the team, and the creative team behind them, sounds promising. A-Force is actually an all-female Avengers team, written by G. Willow Wilson, who made Ms. Marvel one of the most reprinted titles of 2014, and
Marguerite Bennett, who is currently co-writing the Angela solo, with art by Jorge Molina.

A-Force will be the major Avengers title of Secret Wars, and presents a part of Battle World, Arcadia, as a feminist paradise where superheroines must join together to battle a rising threat (so, think Paradise Island pre-Azzerello). The book promises to introduce a new character, Singularity–who’s power is something about a pocket universe caused by all the other universes collapsing on each other (so…hammer space?)–in addition to fan favorites like She-Hulk, Dazzler, Nico Minoru of the Runaways, and Medusa.

The cover itself boasts a record number of female characters, but has a some characters who seem to be pointedly absent (Kitty Pryde, Ms. Marvel, and Sue Storm, to name a few). Based on Wilson’s comments on the title, the story will focus on the five above mentioned characters, but will likely feature a who’s who of heroines throughout it’s pages, and hopefully lots of nods to Marvel continuity (which may be perishing after Secret Wars, based on DC’s post-Convergence plans).

The title is exciting, and hopefully this creative team will emphasize female partnership and friendship, as opposed to all the in-fighting and cattiness that was featured in Marvel’s last female-led team, the Fearless Defenders.

What is truly a shame is the fact that the book isn’t named after Marvel’s first all-female team name, the Lady Liberators…but I’ll take what I can get!

She Can Fly: Don’t Be a Baby

(A/N: This post was originally written in December 2014, after the release of Angela: Asgard’s Assassin)

Marvel and DC have both upped their game in terms of female-led titles, with each company having at least a half dozen currently ongoing titles (excluding titles that were upcoming, canceled, or have had focus moved to male characters a la Worlds’ Finest). DC’s got Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Batwoman, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and Supergirl; while Marvel’s got Elektra, Angela: Asgard’s Assassin, X-Men, Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Black Widow, Storm, and the soon ending She-Hulk (which will essentially be replaced by the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl).

But there’s also this subtle trend in superheroine comics that started with the New 52, and continued to be propagated by Marvel NOW! (or All New Marvel NOW!, etc.):

The plots of many of these female-led titles revolve around babies.

It’s not like in the Fantastic Four, Animal Man, or the Heroic Age New Avengers, where Sue Storm, Ellen Baker, and Jessica Jones are mothers of (sometimes) newborns. Instead, it’s characters who have no ability or interest in bearing children who end up protecting and often fostering very young, sometimes newborn, babies.

The trend started in Wonder Woman, as she protected pregnant (and occasionally incapable) Zola, and eventually her newborn son, Zeke. The all-female team book X-Men kicked off issue #1 with a story about how vampire Jubilee essentially steals a baby from a foreign country and decides to make him her surrogate son, who she then names Shogo. Now, in the first issue Angela: Asgard’s Assassin, Angela steals the newborn heir of Asgard (but a female baby, as is revealed in the second issue).

That means, as of December, 1/6 of DC’s female led titles, and ¼ of Marvel’s, focus on some implied intrinsic link between female characters and babies. The only male-led title that features a non-parental character caring for a baby that comes to mind is mid-90s to early 00s Cable, when he strapped Hope, along with some big guns, to his chest and traveled through time.

So why do comic companies feel the need to link superheroic women to newborns? With two new titles, it felt like a coincidence, but with the addition of a third, it feels more like a bizarre conspiracy. Do companies think that babies make unapproachable (Wonder Woman), inhuman (Jubilee), or violent (Angela) female characters more relate-able?

Moreover, what about the fact that all the babies, up until Angela, were male? Are male babies meant to represent a viewpoint for male readers: a character who appears easier to relate to than the supremely powerful women who lead the titles? And, ultimately, does this negate the power of the female characters?

Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #1 was about as good a first issue as one could imagine for a character ported to the Marvel Universe from the 90s-than-thou Spawn series, but the insistence on linking female characters to babies (specifically babies that are not their own) is baffling. While Angela carrying a baby around may not last more than a few issues within the series, the fact that it happened within the first issue feels like there is a significant message implied.

She Can Fly: The NEW New 52?

It looks like the crackpot theories of AoG editor-in-chief Mike and columnist Barak are right on the money, and DC’s New 52 is indeed coming to an end…sorta.

Starting in June, DC Comics will be getting rid of the New 52 branding and essentially axing continuity. Trumpeted by the company as a “bold new direction for the DC Universe,” DC promises to introduce new titles (set to make up about 50% of their line) that will be “inclusive,” “contemporary,” “modern,” and “accessible.”

But the New 52 isn’t going away. The more successful titles of the reboot (primarily Batman and Superman-related titles) will continue to be published. At the moment, it seems like they will continue their numbering as well, as opposed to restarting with number #1’s.

In DC’s press release, diversity was the key buzzword. Of the new titles revealed thus far, three of them are female led, one of them stars a queer character, and at least one is led by a character of color.

Black Canary spins out of the recently reimagined Batgirl series, written by co-writer of Batgirl and Gotham Academy Brendon Fletcher. Starfire and the Harley Quinn/Power Girl miniseries (maybe DC could call it Starr and Diamond?) will both be written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, who will also continue to write the bestselling Harley Quinn solo series.

There are some black horses in this wave of new comics as well, with titles like Bizarro, Bat-Mite, and Prez (I will be shocked if the latter makes it past 3 issues before a cancellation announcement). These titles have a focus on humor that, up until now, DC seemed to be trying to avoid.

DC, of course, will also continue the grim-and-gritty that they are best known for with a rebooted John Constantine title, Constantine: the Hallblazer, co-written by Ming Doyle (a comic that is likely an attempt, along with Dark Universe and potentially Mystic U—which I imagine is trying to buy into Gotham Academy’s small success—to replace the newly canned Justice League Dark).

Batman and Robin is also being revamped into two new titles: Robin: Son of Batman and an apparently Batman, Inc.-inspired series called We Are Robin (the cover of which appears to feature a number of potential characters of color).

While both Justice League and Justice League United are continuing, a third Justice-title is being launched as Justice League of America, which is purportedly almost wholly divorced from any continuity at all.

Many comics are getting slight title changes and new #1’s: Earth 2 restarts (with what is hopefully a nod to the Justice Society) as Earth 2: Society. Batman Beyond apparently gets away from its former digital first format. Red Hood and the Outlaws becomes a Red Hood/Arsenal team up (with Starfire getting her very own title!). Finally, Justice League 3000 becomes…Justice League 3001.

In addition to new titles, many of the remaining titles will be getting new creative teams.

DC’s numbers are improving in terms of female creators. This re-reboot features over 10 female creators, far better numbers than the initial 2011 New 52 reboot, which only featured one female creator at its inception.

DC says they aim to appeal to the “next generation of fans” and will “tell stories that better reflect the society around us.” In a way, this is a significant step for DC, a publisher which has had a fairly recent history of telling female fans that if they want to see more female writers, they need to “do it themselves.” The mere fact that DC is acknowledging women and people of color as prominent comic book fans feels like significant recognition (even if Didio seemed to imply in an interview with Newsarama that non-white, non-male fans are a new aspect to the comic world and represent a recently “changing readership”).

The new titles aim to “reinvent” the characters and place them in more contemporary settings. Of the move to do away with continuity, Dan Didio said “In this new era of storytelling, story will trump continuity as we continue to empower creators to tell the best stories in the industry.”

So, instead of the New 52, it looks like it will be the Old New 25 and the New New 24.

 

DC’s 25 Continuing Titles are:
Action Comics by Greg Pak/Aaron Kuder
Aquaman by Cullen Bunn/Trevor McCarthy
Batgirl by Cameron Stewart/Brenden Fletcher/Babs Tarr
Batman by Scott Snyder/Greg Capllo
Detective Comics by Brian Buccelato/Francis Manapul
Batman/Superman by Greg Pak/Ardian Syaf
Catwoman by Genevieve Valentine/David Messina
Deathstroke by Tony Daniel/Tony Daniel
Flash by Rob Venditti/Van Jensen/Brett Booth
Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan/Brenden Fletcher/Karl Kerschl
Gotham By Midnight by Ray Fawkes/Juan Ferreyra
Grayson by Tim King/Tim Seeley/Mikel Janin
Green Arrow by Ben Percy/Richard Zircher
Green Lantern by Robert Venditti/Billy Tan
Harley Quinn by Amanda Conner/Jimmy Palmiotti/Chad Hardin
Justice League by Geoff Johns/Jason Fabok
Justice League United, writer TBD/Travel Foreman & Paul Pelletier.
Lobo by Cullen Bunn/Cliff Richards
Secret Six by Gail Simone/Dale Eaglesham
Sinestro by Cullen Bunn/Brad Walker
New Suicide Squad by Sean Ryan/Carlos D’Anda
Superman by Gene Luen Yang/John Romita Jr.
Superman/Wonder Woman by Peter Tomasi/Doug Mahnke
Teen Titans by Will Pfeifer/Kenneth Rocafort
Wonder Woman by Meredith Finch/David Finch

DC’s 24 New Titles are:

Robin, Son of Batman by writer/artist Pat Gleason
Black Canary by writer Brenden Fletcher and artist Annie Wu
Martian Manhunter by writer Rob Williams and artists Ben Oliver and Paulo Siqueira
Earth 2: Society by writer Daniel H. Wilson and artist Jorge Jimenez
Midnighter by writer Steve Orlando and artist ACO
Bat-Mite (6-issue limited series) by writer Dan Jurgens and artist Corin Howell
Batman Beyond by writer Dan Jurgens and artist Bernard Chang
Cyborg by writer David L. Walker and artists Ivan Reis and Joe Prado
Dark Universe by writer James Tynion IV and artist Ming Doyle
Doomed by writer Scott Lobdell and artist Javier Fernandez
Harley Quinn/Power Girl by writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, with artist Stephane Roux (four issue mini-series)
Red Hood/Arsenal by writer Scott Lobdell and artist Denis Medri
Starfire by writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, with artist Emanuela Lupacchino
We Are Robin by writer Lee Bermejo and artists Rob Haynes and Khary Randolph
Justice League of America by writer/artist Brian Hitch
Bizzaro by writer Heath Corson and artist Gustavo Duarte (six issue mini-series)
Prez by writer Mark Russell and artist Ben Caldwell (six issue mini-series)
Omega Men by writer Tom King and artist Barnaby Bagenda
Mystic U (tentative title) by writer Alisa Kwitney and artist Mauricet
Section Eight by writer Garth Ennis and artist John McCrea (mini-series)
Dr. Fate by writer Paul Levitz and artist Sonny Liew
Green Lantern: Lost Army by Cullen Bunn, art by Jesus Saiz and Javi Pina.
Justice League 3001 by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Howard Porter
Constantine: The Hellblazer by Ming Doyle and Riley Rossmo

Black Vortex: Interview With Sam Humphries

The Black Vortex starts today!

bv01Yes, Marvel Comics’ next big crossover for the X-Men and the Guardians of the Galaxy beings today with the Black Vortex Alpha issue. In celebration of the release, which I’ve been hyped for (and promoting) since NYCC, I had a chance to sit down with Legendary Star-Lord writer and “show runner” of the event, Sam Humphries, as he was finishing up writing the Omega issues, and chat about the crossover, what the Black Vortex is, and if everyone’s new favorite couple (or at least my favorite)– Kitty Pryde and Peter Quill–will survive the experience!

Acts of Geek: You and Brian Michael Bendis are the primary writers behind the crossover, but you’ve been dubbed the “show runner” of the event. What does that entail?

Sam Humphries: It entails watching helplessly as your email inbox is slowly massacred by a ruthless gang of very talented, very well-meaning co-conspirators.

In a sense, I am Spider-Man, watching over the sprawling city that is the Black Vortex. We’re talking thirteen issues of comics and around 30 characters. In the hands of dozens of creators and editors, an event like this can quickly become a disaster. Unless you are prepared — and we are VERY prepared.

It was my job to do a lot of that preparation before a single script page was written. I came up with the initial idea, and pitched it at a couple Marvel Editorial Retreats. I developed the overall outline for the overall story. I wrote a lengthy “Black Vortex Bible” to make sure everyone is armed with the information and background they need. But invariably there are questions, new ideas, and sticky wickets along the way. You gotta be ready to speak to all that in multiple email chains at once. If you make a change in chapter 3, how is that gonna affect chapter 10? Lots of stuff like that.

Fortunately, I am blessed with some stellar co-authors in Brian Michael Bendis, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Gerry Duggan, and John Layman. They fix whatever I screw up, and take the things I didn’t screw up and make them better. Plus our editorial staff Mike Marts, Katie Kubert, and Xander Jarowey…it’s a talented team, I’m lucky to have their support.

AoG: I believe this is your first time heading a big event. How is writing issues for this different from writing a stand alone title?

SH: When you write a stand-alone title, you can change whatever you want on the fly and you won’t get angry texts about it from your co-conspirators.

AoG: The relationship between Kitty Pryde and Peter Quill has been a major focus of Star-Lord, and Peter “popped the question” to Kitty, asking her to live in space with him. Will their relationship be a focal point of the event?

bv02SH: Yes, absolutely. That has been a major thread of THE LEGENDARY STAR-LORD, and the two of them form the nexus between the Guardians and the X-Men. And the Black Vortex is gonna put all our characters through some heavy soul-searching — Kitty and Peter’s relationship is gonna go through the grinder in this one. #StarKatNation fans are gonna be on the edge of their seats.

AoG: One of the things about Legendary Star-Lord that I love is Peter’s propensity to get kidnapped, tied up naked, and needing to be rescued by Kitty, or other ladies in his life. It feels reminiscent of Eisner’s The Spirit. Was that intentional? Where did the inspiration for this come from for you?

SH: Ha! I never thought of that. Love Eisner’s later work but never got into the Spirit very much. Peter is not rich, or a super-genius, or the best he is at what he does. Being extremely competent is not part of who he is as a character — he’s a scoundrel with a heart of gold.

But one of his strengths is his relationships — with his mom, with the Guardians, and now with Kitty. So when he does screw up, he has backup. He has community. People he can trust. People who will go to the mat for him. It takes a village to raise a scoundrel.

And if he happens to get shirtless along the way, well…that’s just how things go in space!

AoG: What’s the thing you are looking most forward to about the Black Vortex?

SH: The artwork. Ed McGuinness, Kris Anka, Valerio Schiti, Paco Medina, Andrea Sorrentino, Mike Mayhew…plus more we haven’t announced yet. This event is gonna be so beautiful…one of the best-looking crossovers in recent memory.

Even better, I don’t have to look forward to it, I get to see it NOW! And it is truly awesome. So maybe I am most looking forward to everyone else getting to see it.

AoG: What character has been the easiest for you to write? What character has been the most difficult?

bv03SH: Peter and Kitty have been the easiest. I’ve written them the most, and in some ways, the Black Vortex is like a diamond that has formed around their relationship. The hardest has probably been the modern Doctor Hank McCoy. It’s easy to write a genius, but to write a genius with heartbreak…saying anything more would involve spoilers.

AoG: What’s the best thing about being able to crossover the Guardians of the Galaxy and the X-Men?

SH: Taking characters who haven’t had a lot of time together and shoving them into unpredictable situations. Magik and Gamora. Beast and Rocket. A lot of times I discovered the characters with the most in common had the most potential for conflict…go figure…

AoG: The Black Vortex seems to be able to cosmically empower characters; can you give a little teaser for some of the cosmic powers that might be revealed in the crossover?

bv04SH: No spoilers. But I like to use these examples —

Joe Quesada loves to play guitar. If he submitted to the Black Vortex, he wouldn’t just be a great guitar player, he’d be able to torch an axe like Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and George Harrison together — on their best days.

Axel Alonso is a long-time basketball player. If he submitted to the Black Vortex, he wouldn’t just be able to do a slam dunk or two, he’d be able to face off against the Dream Team a hundred games in a row and win every one — singlehandedly.

So apply that same logic to some of our heroes…

AoG: How would you sum up the Black Vortex in a sentence to someone who’s thinking about picking it up?

SH: It’s like every ice cream flavor you ever loved mixed with your favorite childhood memories topped with the tears of every hater who crossed your path. Hey, might as well swing for the fences…

So, well I dream about what I might become were I to submit to the Black Vortex (maybe the world’s greatest comic book writer? Or just an even bigger comic book nerd?), I hope you’ll join me in picking up The Black Vortex Alpha #1 (and the rest of the Black Vortex crossover), out now!

Ms. Marvel: San Francisco’s newest heroine!

In the final weeks of January, Muni buses in San Francisco began to feature ads on the sides, purchased by blogger Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative, that equate Islam with Nazism. This apparently isn’t the first time these ads have been placed by the anti-Islamic organization (which has been labeled a hate group by the United Kingdom government), but it is the first time something has been done about them.

msmarv04 msmarv01

In the tradition of Banksy, a group took something ugly and made it beautiful. The Facebook page Street Cred – Advertising for the People posted pictures of the Islamophobic ads after they had been “defaced” by local activists and citizens: “the ads now feature Kamala Khan, Marvel’s Comics first Muslim character to headline her own comic book with messages against islamophobia, racism and hate speech and a group of protestors calling for more love. Enjoy.”

msmarv03 msmarv02

In an amazing turnabout, the ads now promote love and support to Islamic countries, as opposed to hatred and racism. The beautiful graffiti not only supports equality and the stopping of hate speech, but also promotes a female-led comic that stars a woman of color. Marvel is getting some wonderful advertisement for a series that is all about how racism and bigotry effect American teens.

Even in a stereotypically liberal city, it’s wonderful to see movement against hate-ads like those by the FDI. It’s even better to see that comic book characters continue to tap into the ethos of the times, offering up a representation for everyone who has dealt with hatred and racism. And that it’s a female character being used is even better.

G. Willow Wilson, writer of the Ms. Marvel series, tweeted her support for the graffiti when pictures were initially posted last weekend:

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This is why representation matters.