She Can Fly: Is DC You for You?

DC You. Love it or hate it, it’s DC’s next move in a hit or miss scheme that both of the big two have been following (Marvel Now, All-New Marvel Now, All-New All-Different Marvel Now).

Part of DC You has been a continued, and strengthened, effort in advertising that started with the New 52 and has ranged from merchandising and advertising deals with Target to TV spots and full-page magazine ads. While Marvel has stuck to an overall limited advertising scheme, only really advertising their comics subtly through their parent company Disney, and its ABC subsidiaries, and instead really relying on the sales from their major money-earner: the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

With the official June release of DC You, DC Comics also released a new ad, primarily marketed through Youtube, trumpeting the virtues of the newest DC Universe:

When I first saw the Youtube cut of this ad, something about it rubbed me the wrong way.

Wonder Woman: “the God of War never looked this fierce.”

Harley Quinn is “cheery,” “deranged,” and her gang of women are all “insane!” (Those darn crazy women.)

Starfire is merely a list of physical descriptions for the “alien Princess,” while Prez has nothing more to offer up than “hashtag this,” which some might interpret as the trivialization of a young woman’s use of social media. Honestly, it seems like Batgirl and Black Canary are the only female characters who aren’t addressed by their gender or appearance in the ad.

References to 2008’s Project Runway winner aside, the ad, as a whole, seems to fall short in trumpeting its female-led books; this is unfortunate, considering DC has maintained a fairly large roster of female-led titles since the New 52 inception. The titles haven’t all been good, but almost any female-led title could be considered positive progress.

Furthermore, if the best DC’s advertising team can offer about Starfire is hot body, green fire, and Key West, Florida, it seems like their missing some buzzwords that are big in describing female leads in pop culture today (think Mad Max: Fury Road or Pitch Perfect).

The ad pretty clearly relies on some outdated concepts of how to “sell” female characters. It’s a positive thing that the female-led titles DC is advertising don’t all fall into one category–DC is offering up female-starring comedy, drama, and action titles–but the way the female characters are being sold seems to be markedly different from the presentation of the male characters.

I’m glad to see that female characters other than Wonder Woman are being more prominently focused in this bout of advertisement, but it’s always a little disheartening when the tactics used to sell their stories are focused more on their looks or their inherent “female-ness” than their character.

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She Can Fly: Eat Nuts, Kick Butts

Or why Unbeatable Squirrel Girl fails as a Squirrel Girl comic, but succeeds as a superhero comic.

Squirrel Girl was a deeply underrated, fascinating character. I use the past tense because Squirrel Girl can no longer really be considered “underrated.” Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, now on its sixth issue, has sold incredibly well. So well that the first and second issues have both simultaneously just released an unusual third reprint, with the third and fourth issues now on their second reprints. But this Squirrel Girl…is she really Squirrel Girl?

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl has so many nods to canon and continuity, from Squirrel Girl’s origin as a 13 year old who wanted to be Iron Man’s sidekick to her history of unusual and off-panel defeats of some of Marvel’s greatest villains, yet it blindly ignores previously important facets of Squirrel Girl’s character throughout the ages: Squirrel Girl was part of the Great Lakes Avengers, Squirrel Girl was the nanny for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, Squirrel Girl was already attending college in the Bendis penned New Avengers series (in which she also had had an unspecified relationship with Wolverine). Ultimately, the pieces of canon that writer Ryan North (and, to a lesser extent, artist Erica Henderson, who has included subtle nods to canon, such as a poster of Doreen’s longtime crush, Speedball) chooses to ignore are the items that made her fully fleshed as a character. Yes, Squirrel Girl still retains her unusual power and unexpected victories, but many of the traits that made her more defined as a fictional “person” have been blatantly ignored.

However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing; Henderson and North are reforming Doreen Green, and creating a new Squirrel Girl. Even visually, very little of the original Doreen Green is retained in the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series (she has more pronounced buck teeth, is no longer a brunette, and no longer has her inexplicable mime-inspired eye makeup), but the same could be said for the Squirrel Girl that Slott used in Great Lakes Avengers  in comparison to her original incarnation (her eye makeup changed, she lost the big buck teeth, she become older and more conventionally attractive).

Even the tone of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a derivation of more “traditional” Squirrel Girl comics. North focuses on comedy, and surrounds Doreen Green with equally wacky characters (Bass Lass, Koi Boi, Chipmunk Hunk). Normally, this would be a disservice to the character: Squirrel Girl, in a way, is a lot like Deadpool. When she is surrounded by typically serious teammates or a seriously toned title, she becomes a unique focal point that brings levity and breaks up the monotony of an otherwise dark series (think Cable and Deadpool). But, if she is surrounded by similarly goofy archetypes, then the uniqueness and “specialness” of her can easily be lost; the thing that separates her from other characters, and allows her to offer a different perspective on the tone of the series, no longer exists.

Squirrel Girl started, not as a joke, but as a desire for writer Will Murray to bring the levity of the Silver Age back into dramatic early 90’s comics; Don Slott expanded on that concept and made her into a substantial character that had comedic aspects, but also criticized the grim-dark atmosphere of the modern comic industry (and doing so by breaking the fourth wall); Brian Michael Bendis retained her optimism and enthusiasm, but highlighted her a young woman figuring out who she is and what she wants to be. Treating Squirrel Girl as a “joke” character negates the entire point of her character and creation. North and Henderson aren’t actually making Squirrel Girl a joke, they are simply embracing the idea of humor and joy in comics and presenting something disparate from modern “adult” comics fare.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is an incredible all-ages superhero comic, something that Marvel, up until recently, has kind of lacked in their main line. Ultimately, the title is not about the Squirrel Girl I discovered and love; it’s about making an odd character accessible to the massed. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a comic for anyone. You don’t have to know continuity, but the nods to the Marvel Universe make it fun. You don’t have to know Squirrel Girl as a character, but the creative team pays homage to her history, while inventing a new interpretation of her. Titles like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Groot are tapping into a demographic Marvel had primarily ignored, and is offering a jumping in point to kids and adult alike who are more interested in quippy Whedon-style content akin to the MCU, than the dark realism that has been so pervasive in the comics industry since the 90’s.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl ultimately isn’t a comic about Squirrel Girl; it’s a comic about being a young woman navigating life. It’s full of friendships, humor, and unbelievable heroics. While it may not feature the version of my favorite furry-tailed heroine that I love the most, it features a character who is relate-able and accessible to everyone. When comics are accessible, that’s something worth celebrating about; and anyway, you can’t beat Squirrel Girl!

 

She Can Fly: Best Foot Forward

It’s no secret that superhero products are marketed towards women. From “Training to be Batman’s Wife” shirts to the lack of Black Widow action figures in the wave of Age of Ultron merchandise, it often feels like comic companies are specifically marketing against women.

But they aren’t. Or, at least, some of them aren’t.

I ended up buying socks recently at Macy’s. There were two packs of women’s socks being offered; one from Marvel and one from DC. The Marvel pack had socks for Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Captain America. The socks from DC only had logos from the Trinity–Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman–but each sock offered a particular feminizing element: hearts, statements like “Girls Rule” and “Fearless,” and other things that indicated the socks featured the logos not of the male heroes, but their female counterparts (Batgirl and Supergirl).

The same day, I also stopped in at the local Target. I began to notice a pattern: every superhero item Target had for men (shirts, underwear, pajamas) featured only male characters. Everything that Target had from DC Comics for women featured Supergirl, Batgirl, and Wonder Woman or their logos; meanwhile, every item of Marvel merchandise for women featured Cap, Thor, Iron Man, or Spider-Man. No Black Widow. No Scarlet Witch. Not even female counterparts to male heroes. No female characters at all.

And this really bothered me.

Marvel’s roster of female characters feature some of my favorite fictional ladies of all time, and yet they are nowhere to be found on any shirts or socks or underwear. Not even the women who have been on Marvel Cinematic television or movies. Yet, while my favorite DC heroines would be hard to market on clothing, socks, or undergarments (although a Misfit t-shirt would be awesome!–and yet still totally irrelevant what with the new, new DC), DC is still offering female characters on female-geared merchandise. And the female trinity still has yet to be featured in a modern tv show or movie beyond, tenuously, Smallville.

Aside from online specialty shops like Mighty Fine and Her Universe, Marvel merchandise seems to be sending the message “women can’t be heroes, they can just get saved.” Conversely, DC doesn’t offer up much beyond Supergirl, Batgirl, Wonder Woman, picture091 (2)and the occasional Catwoman or Harley Quinn, and much of what is available and marketed for women falls into the same dull, sexist “I only date superheroes” diatribe, but at least they are offering up anything at all.

Being able to access the plethora of heroine and villainess merch online and at cons is great, but not everyone can do that. Stores like Target, Macy’s, and Hot Topic are all over the States, easily accessible, and offer up apparel that the masses know about, can access, and can afford.

The best I can say of DC is, “at least their trying.” But that’s the truth, and it really seems like Marvel isn’t.