Douchebag Decree: DC Comics

This week's Douchebag Decree goes to DC Comics.

DC, you know I love your characters. I'm willing to put up with a lot in exchange for stories about the Batfamily and Wonder Woman. But you're getting beyond the realm of acceptability. In case you haven't been keeping track of the stupid things DC has done recently—there's a whole blog for that!—here's a rundown. 

Incident #1: Last month at Fan Expo in Toronto, DC finally acknowledged their female readers. However, it was only to tout a new romance series, Superman/Wonder Woman. As The Mary Sue reported, illustrator Tony Daniel had this to say:

It's funny, because in Chicago I was talking to Bobbie Chase and Bob Harras about making a book, I wasn't referring to creating this book, but I mentioned maybe, can we create a book that targets a little bit more of the female readership that's been growing. And maybe a book that has a little bit of romance in it, a little big of sex appeal, you know, something that would, for lack of a better example, that hits on the Twilight audience. You know, millions of people went to see those in the theaters because it has those kind of, you know, subject matter.

Now, there's nothing wrong with a romance title, and I'm sure plenty of women will indeed be interested in it. What this feels like, though, is straight-up pandering to the audience that they have been ignoring and dismissing until the Twilight cash cow has proven that women will spend lots of money on media they like. Not to mention, of course, that the female readership is not monolithic; female readers are not solely interested in romance—especially Twlight's specific brand of romance. During the Q&A portion, a panel attendee named Liz asked:

Liz: When you were talking about Superman/Wonder Woman, what caught my ear was, you're making it romance and romantic to catch the women. My question is, that's not all you're doing, right? [Laughter and applause from the audience]

Daniel: Are you asking if you'll see like, Superman butt shots? I'll be sure to keep it even.

The rest of the exchange was equally as dismissive to Liz's concerns that the creators had equated a female readership with the love of well-defined butts and romance. After a history of ignoring female readers, DC has now single-handedly decided what those same female readers want, without bothering to consult or listen to them—even when a female reader is directly asking the questions.

Harley Quinn, Batman villainess, wearing her trademark harlequin outfit.

Incident #2: This past week, DC encouraged artists to "break in" to the industry by drawing Harley Quinn, a character who is "no stranger to a little breaking and entering." But instead of continuing their pun, the contest requires artists to draw Harley attempting to kill herself in four different panels, in turn trying to get herself struck by lightning, eaten by an alligator, eaten by a whale, and the worst one, electrocuted while naked in the bath. Their guidelines required a drawing of:

"Harley sitting naked in a bathtub with toasters, blow dryers, blenders, appliances all dangling above the bathtub and she has a cord that will release them all. We are watching the moment before the inevitable death. Her expression is one of 'oh well, guess that's it for me' and she has resigned herself to the moment that is going to happen."

By the way, this week is Suicide Prevention Week. While the argument could be made that this contest is in-keeping with Harley Quinn's character, it ran with no further context other than the panel descriptions. Since the contest also functions as a job application for an industry that it notoriously hard to break into, DC is essentially forcing prospective artists to draw an erotized suicide to get their big break.

Contest collaborator Jimmy Palmotti has since taken the blame for the subsequent media blow-up, saying that the page was supposed to be fourth-wall-breaking dream sequence in the style of Mad Magazine or Looney Tunes. DC co-publisher Jim Lee has also mansplained that comics are a sequential art form (yes, go on…) and that you can't make a judgment about a book based on a few panels. Great, except when all you're given is a few panels in which a female character is overtly sexualized in conjunction with suicide. Whatever the original intention to make it a "fun and silly book," the contest choice was at best ill-conceived and badly timed, and at worst indicative of the kind of consideration DC accords its female characters and readers.

Incident #3: The biggest douchebaggery by DC in the past month involves Batwoman's love life. Part of the Batwoman creative team quit the title last week after being told that Batwoman (Kate Kane) will not be allowed to marry her fiancée, Maggie Sawyer. Batwoman kisses her fiancee, Maggie SawyerThe folks who quit have already been replaced.

But lest DC be accused of homophobia, DC co-publisher Dan DiDio explained the decision: superheroes just can't be happy.

They put on a cape and cowl for a reason, he explained. They're committed to defending others -- at the sacrifice of all their own personal instincts. That's something we reinforce. If you look at every one of the characters in the Batman family, their personal lives kind of suck…

Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon, and Kathy Kane -- it's wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it's also just as important that they put it aside as they know what they are accomplishing as the hero takes precedence over everything else. That is our mandate, that is our edict, that is our stand with our characters.

On the surface, this statement seems to make sense: superheroes have to sacrifice their own happiness to protect others. Except that DC appears to be fine with superheroes dating (otherwise, why is the Superman/Wonder Woman title going forward?) and getting engaged (since they didn't stop Kate and Maggie before now). So why is marriage the big stopping point? And why this marriage? As Rob Bricken says on io9, Animal Man and The Phantom Stranger have been married, so what's stopping Batwoman from having a failed marriage like her superhero brethren? While it may not be coming from a place of pure homophobia, this decision is inconsistent and lost not only readers, but a great creative team.

Plus, Batwoman is one of the very few LGBT superheroes, and certainly the most high-profile. If she wasn't going to be allowed to get married, the editorial team should have stepped in before she got engaged. As Susana Polo aptly states on The Mary Sue, a ban on happy relationships just doesn't mean the same for straight characters as it does for queer ones. Queer characters have a long, sordid history of never getting to be happy in their relationships, even if one of them doesn't end up dead. In real life, queer people are discriminated against and, for the most part, can't get married. LGBT teens need a superhero that shows them that life doesn't always have to be gloom and doom. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be the direction that DC is headed.

Particularly in the wake of their recent hiring of noted homophobe Orson Scott Card to write Superman, this decision shows that the higher-ups at DC either don't understand the ramifications of their actions, or just don't care. Either way, DC has made some serious missteps, and stubbornly oblivious douchebaggery is still douchebaggery.

Photo credits: Batman Wiki and ComicBookMovie.com, respectively.

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Comments

10 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Well at the end of the day,

Well at the end of the day, they're missing out on 50% of the market so it's their loss! I've always like Marvel better anyway, Storm, Rogue, Jean Grey...yup ^-^

Don't forget...

...Captain Marvel!

Phantom Stranger wasn't married

He replaced the real husband so he wouldn't kill his wife and kids. In the end they all died. So how well would the fandom take it, if DC killed Maggie down the road. It would all come back to the company being homophobic?

Perhaps. However your

Perhaps. However your argument is faulty because it is impossible to predict the future actions/audience reactions of a storyline that has been dropped. You attempt to negate the present reaction associated with dissolving the same-sex story line by claiming that ANYTHING done to advance the story that harms LGBTQ characters will provoke the same reaction...you assume that people who care about LGBT causes cannot discern an organic, creative graphic novel plot line from one that encourages static gay characters simply because the characters are gay. If there is discrimination, why it must only be in my own pretty little head. We are all just imagining it! Thank God!

Women in Refrigerators

Agreed! It's a major straw man to assume that GLBTQ readers will "not be able to handle" Maggie's death down the line, organic or not. The other thing that pops into my head is Sarkeesian's commentary on the Women in Refrigerators trope. It's pretty sad sign for the writers at DC that they must have Batwoman be single/engaged to be the dark, tortured hero that fans have come to enjoy and love AND that the only other option is Maggie must die so that Batwoman is further sent down the path of dark and brooding. Despite the precedent set by Hollywood, marriage doesn't have to equal 'the end' and it sounds like the original writers had a solid plan in place for the marriage story arc.

Comic response

It's depressing that the folks at DC are encouraging the "girlfriend in a refrigerator" syndrome. There was a really cool response from comic artist Lea Hernandez on her tumbler: http://divalea.tumblr.com/post/60642380580/naked-ladies-named-harley-als....

When did Batwomen become LGBT?

I'm not the best at keeping track of the various Bats in the Bat family. I knew a Bat Women existed- there was a cartoon movie about her- but that's it. I heard some years ago from an angry fan that the Bat Girl's story writing had gone down hill because she could now talk and was suddenly gay. I thought this was the same bat girl but it sounds like it's not.

I am asking when Bat Women became LGBT because last night I was talking to a friend who knows stuff about obscure super heroes and other bits that I tend to miss about this. Her memory of Bat Women is that of a love interest for Bat man and to her, Bat women being gay rang her bull shit for ratings bell. I do agree that having a character who has been more or less written as hetro being 'turned' gay is wrong for the same reason as writing a gay character or person straight: You don't "turn" gay and you sure as hell don't "turn" straight. BUT, again I do not know Bat women's history. For all I know she started off with men and then progressed to women (that is plausible, and people do that in real life). I am curious now.

Our conversation ended agreeing that if DC had done better at quoting their cannon, along with the superhero's can't be happy that their argument against the marriage would have had better ground. Cannon is- or should be- everything in comics but I don't think it means anything when they are after a cheap thrill and rating (see the bullshit they are doing to Harley Quinn who actually could be a gay character is she isn't already).

In the end, it does not matter if she was gay for pay or not because it sounds like the LGBT world has accepted her as a gay character and it really has nothing to do with her being denied the right to marry. I am simply curious because I missed this development. I think DC's reasons for not letting the marriage happen are bull shit either way.

BatWOMAN

Batwoman is a specific character who is extremely popular both in spite of and because since they started on the New 52 series (and she got her own series) she has been a lesbian. They sort of retconned her character, yes, but since this series she has always been a lesbian, and it's a little weird that your friend who knows "obscure" references didn't know about this wildly popular character and storyline...

Uhm... Batwoman as Batman's

Uhm... Batwoman as Batman's love interest hasn't been true since the *1960s*. She was also pretty much removed completely from comics sometime in the 1960s. She was reintroduced (as a *different* person, with a different name, remember COIE) sometime around 2005, and has been a lesbian since the beginning.

In other words, your friend doesn't really seem to know much about DC superheroes, at least not past the mid 1960s... The original Batwoman was like the original Batgirl (no, not Barbara Gordon), just created to be Batman and Robin's girlfriends, respectively. But mayhaps your friend wants to stick with canon for Batgirl too, and bring back Bette Kane as Batgirl? :) Curse that Barbara Gordon, she aint canon!

Yay for being in full-on comic book geek mode.

Also, that Batgirl and

Also, that Batgirl and Batwoman were introduced, because people kept reading Batman and Robin as a romantic relationship, so DC decided to make them some women, or whatever. They were so flat and wildly unpopular that it was almost immediately declared an Alternate Universe and discontinued.