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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).

Friday, September 28, 2012

Comics artists, can you please not do this? (Diminishing female characters.)

Rogue and the Scarlet Witch are great comics characters. Their presence in the forthcoming Avengers/X-Men combination book, Uncanny Avengers, is one reason why I'd at least be inclined to check it out.

They are also very powerful characters, and their superpowers are supposedly backed up with high-level athletic training and elite coaching in hand-to-hand combat. In-universe, they are kickass women with high profiles and important connections.

Both of them also have rather dark backgrounds - although they are written as heroes, both started out as villains, and in many ways they can be dangerous to be around.

So why not depict them as athletes and warriors? Why give them these horribly thin, frail-looking bodies ... but with enormous, out-of-proportion, prominently displayed breasts?

I do realise that Thor's waist is also out of proportion, and there's a sort of Mannerist vibe about it all. But what's the first thing you see here? Anna Marie's hanging breasts, as she bends in an awkward position? Wanda's rather startling cleavage?

By all means, artists, give the female heroes and villains sexy, skintight costumes that display their muscles (just like the men here, such as Wolverine crouching in the foreground). I have nothing against any of that. My objections are not based on prudishness or a rejection of the concept of "built" or idealised bodies. But why hold out bodies like this as a female ideal? Have you seen what female athletes actually look like? Even if you claim that the whole image is stylised, this sort of thing is too common, and it seems to be getting worse.

Over the years, Marvel has, to its credit, created many amazing female characters, even if it struggles to give any of them truly iconic status. Rogue and the Scarlet Witch are among them, and both have rich, complex back stories. They are valuable properties with much ongoing potential. I'm sure that many male readers would happily read good stories about them both, without any soft-porn vibe. Just give us those stories ... and let the artwork represent the characters as scarily powerful. That's the way, if you want to make them cool.


Anonymous said...

You know what's sad? For comic book heroines, those boobs are actually on the small side.

So many of these artists get their ideas about what women should look like from porn stars. So we end up with a simulacrum: a caricature based on a caricature with no actual humanity within.

Also sad to see the prevalence of the idea that anyone who objects to the routine dehumanization of women in our culture is some kind of prude. The word "prude" is used to shame anyone who objects to rape culture.

Russell Blackford said...

Well, there are plenty of occasions when the word "prude" is appropriate. We need that word because some people really are prudish. But this is not one of those of occasions and it's worth pointing out why.

ColinGavaghan said...

During the Olympics, there was a bit of discussion in the media as to whether extremely athletic women made for better role-models for girls (and, in a different way, for boys) than the super-thin/buxom types who usually populate the glossies. Some people argued that, insofar as olympian bodies were just as unattainable for the majority, they are just as unhealthy as role-models. Others countered that, while not many girls will end up looking like Jessica Ennis or Victoria Pendleton (the debate was in the UK media), aspiring to that sort of physique will at least incline them to engage in genuinely healthy activities, as opposed to starving themselves and hankering for breast enlargements.

And that's healthy not just in the sense of maintaining a decent diet and exercise regime - though that would be good for them, no doubt. But healthy in the sense of depicting ideal women as strong and fast and capable, rather than frail and weak and dependant on men.

I'm not going to argue that comic superheroes should have to look like regular members of the public, or reflect average body shapes. But as Russell says, there's no way someone with the degree of athletic conditioning these characters are supposed to have had would be so devoid of muscle tone.

So why depict them as if they are? Is the target audience assumed to be quite so terrified of any hint of female strength?

ColinGavaghan said...

I'm not suggesting the women should be built like Thor, but even just a bit of muscle tone would be better.

Russell Blackford said...

Where is that from, Colin? Not a bad image.

ColinGavaghan said...


Well worth checking out Millar's run on it - though the stuff after that was poor.

John Pieret said...

Are there any demographics on who the average purchasers of Marvel comics are? Anyone want to bet that the largest segment is pubescent males?

The joys of free enterprise!

ColinGavaghan said...

John, I know a former writer for Marvel who is, in large part, a former writer precisely because his stories did not play well with their 'core demographic', i.e. pubescent boys who did not especially want their brains challenged over-much by their comics. Or at least, who were assumed not to want that.

IMO, there's nothing remotely wrong with comics or any other media being targeted at that market; pubescent boys may (with hindsight) be a bit sticky and revolting, but they are no less deserving of the market meeting their entertainment needs than middle-aged academics like Russell and me.

Neither, I think, is there a problem with the market recognising and responding to the fact that teenage boys are likely to be rather preoccupied with sex. (Teenage girls too, of course, though our culture pushes them in different directions; q.v. the Twilight phenomenon.)

What I don't understand is why Marvel seems to assume that:

1. only horny teenage boys buy comics; and

2. only surreally out-of-proportion females will appeal to that market. If memory serves, images of women and girls within normal human body parameters (even if not exactly average body types) were perfectly adequate for those purposes. Is it maybe assumed that pimply teenagers will be frightened off by women with bigger triceps than them? If so, when did this start to be an assumption??

Skepcheck said...

Both male and female superheroes are depicted as equally exaggerated versions of the male and female forms respectively. Even Wolverine, one of the smaller male characters on that cover, has proportions unattainable by a real human- dismissing this as sort of Mannerist while focussing on the female depictions is simply cherry-picking. There are plenty of depictions of muscular females in comic books, but why focus on the females? Depictions of out of proportion male characters on comic book covers is far more common that female characters. Maybe this is a problem?
The reason males and females are depicted in this fashion is because secondary sexual characteristics of both are exaggerated for effect. These are comic books after all. Does your problem with all of this lie in what goes through the head of the type of person who you imagine reads these comic books and when they read them, or is it that the female bodies don't look appropriate for the kind of activities they undertake? This criticism would be equally true for the male bodies depicted- try running for any distance when you are the size of Thor for instance and see how far you get. Having said all this these depictions are *fantasy*. Superimposing real-life over any of this is frankly vaguely absurd.

Jon Jermey said...

The people at Marvel have been writing and selling comics for many decades now, so presumably they know their demographic. If you're going to write about people with physically impossible powers then I don't see why you shouldn't give them physically impossible bodies as well. If you want pictures of realistic women then you can read a photonovel:


Russell Blackford said...

Yes of course they are idealised figures - we all get that. The point is that very often the female figures are "idealised" in a way that makes them look downright weakly. But these are supposed to be athletes and warriors - and women who are generally dangerous to be around.

Yes, we've discussed male bodies on this blog in the past. There's an argument (which we've kicked around) that it would be better to display the heroes with bodies more like those of, say, boxers, rather than with these sorts of bodies. That would be more realistic.

But speaking of running, have a look at the body of a top short-distance sprinter next time one rips his shirt off: guys like Usain Bolt are, in fact, pretty heavily muscled.

In any event, no one is asking for a high degree of verisimilitude. The question is slightly more subtle. It is about the bodies that are used to represent super athletes/warriors of both sexes.

I'm not into women being represented (in any sense) as weak, unless it suits the narrative and the particular woman in a story actually is physically frail for narrative reasons. If the narrative describes a woman who is supposed to be physically strong, athletic, and tough in a fight, then why not show her visually in a way that represents this? Why depict her as looking anorexic, but with out-of-proportion breasts displayed in ways that don't merely lack verisimilitude but appear downright contrived?

One place to look in the first instance would be at the bodies of some supremely athletic women - try Victoria Azarenka, or even someone like Florence Griffith-Joyner at her (possibly drug-aided, though this was never proved) peak.

Or look at Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

These bodies are phenomenal, but whatever else you say about them they don't lack sexual appeal. Nothing in the post or the reasoning behind it is anti-sex. Most importantly they look strong and capable. They represent to the viewer what these women are supposedly capable of.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Skepcheck: "The reason males and females are depicted in this fashion is because secondary sexual characteristics of both are exaggerated for effect."

Except that's not quite true. Superheroic men tend to be drawn with exaggerated musculature, which gives the appearance of power and strength, even if such a physique wouldn't work so well in practice. Sexiness is a by-product or an afterthought; you don't tend to see men drawn such that their butts or crotches are the focus of a picture. Here's a example of what comics might look like if men were posed as women are: http://counterpunch.girl-wonder.org/totallyappropriatecovers.html

Skepcheck said...

JJ: I just think you just need to check what "secondary sexual characteristics" means. Exaggerated musculature, particularly of the upper body *is* exaggeration of male secondary sexual characteristics. Giving examples of what comics *might* look like if they were different is hardly an argument for anything is it? Since the secondary sexual characteristics of males and females are different they are clearly not going to be portrayed in the same way.

Russell: Are you honestly telling me that you think the depiction of Thor (for instance) is in any way comparable to a real-life Usain Bolt? Seriously? When you actually look at them side by side it's an utterly absurd comparison. Bolt looks like an incredible wimp. Try it. It's like comparing a random female athlete to the comic book depictions of female characters and pointing out that they both have breasts and buttocks. There is no comparison here.

What is more there *are* plenty of examples of strong, capable and well-muscled females in comic books. I think you are cherry picking here. Let's not lose sight of the fact that many of these comic book characters are not supposed to derive their powers from purely natural means. Comic books (on the whole) are not representations of reality, neither should they have to be.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Skepcheck: "JJ: I just think you just need to check what 'secondary sexual characteristics' means."

I know what it means literally, namely any traits that distinguish between sexes and aren't part of the reproductive systems themselves. I suppose I could have phrased myself better and said that you were being misleading instead of saying that you were "not quite true." By emphasizing that it is secondary sexual characteristics that are being exaggerated, you seemed to suggest that the portrayals of both men and women in comics are designed to highlight their sex appeal. This, though, is very much not true.

Skepcheck: "Giving examples of what comics *might* look like if they were different is hardly an argument for anything is it?"

Again, you are being misleading. The hypothetical comic book covers are the sort of things that would exist if your apparent thesis -- that the portrayals of both men and women in comics are designed to highlight their sex appeal -- were true. If you want something less hypothetical, I can point you to scans from the "Wizard How To Draw" series: http://ratcreature.livejournal.com/175099.html?format=light#cutid1

Note that there is advice specifically on how to draw women sexily, which isn't apparently present for the men. Note too how in the pages about drawing superheroic women, esp. Chapter 3, part 19, the women are shown in poses with the hip cocked sideways in a sexy pose, while the men are generally drawn to look imposing.

skepcheck said...

JJ: I object to what I wrote being called misleading. What I wrote stands on its own merits.

"This, though, is very much not true" I don't see any evidence for this claim. In fact what you say supports my claim: Men drawn to look imposing would be drawing attention to what what many would be consider an attractive male trait. You seem to be suggesting that for a man to be drawn sexy they would have to be drawn in the same pose as a woman drawn to look sexy e.g. hip cocked sideways in a sexy pose. This is utter nonsense and the exact same mistake made by the website you linked to previously. All of this is beside the point of the original objection that the female forms shown in the example in the picture at the top of this page do no accurately reflect the supposed abilities of the characters. I would argue that this is not only true for the females depictions, but also for the male depictions. I would also argue that it really does not matter. This type of comic book is not supposed to reflect reality; quite the opposite in fact.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Skepcheck: "You seem to be suggesting that for a man to be drawn sexy they would have to be drawn in the same pose as a woman drawn to look sexy"

Take another look at those mock comic book covers to which I linked. When I say that the "men were posed as women" often are in comic book covers, I obviously don't mean that they are "drawn in the same pose as a woman drawn to look sexy," because they aren't. Even the one where Superman has his hip slightly cocked is posed in such a way that wouldn't be out of place on a Chippendales dancer, rather than the cocked hip of the women in the scans of the "Wizard How To Draw" pages. Rather, the men in those covers are depicted in a sexualized way that goes beyond simply having them look muscular. That's how they are posed similar to the way women are posed.

A problem with your "It's just exaggerated sexual characteristics" is that it ignores the posing, costuming, framing, etc. Why have the hips cocked at all? Why have a pose that shows off the rear and the rack at once? Why have the women tend to show off more skin than the men? Why have them in high heels?

Some of these issues are present even in the cover that our blog host has shown. Look at how the men are posed. One of them is already firing away. Wolverine and Captain America are crouched and ready to spring into action. Thor is showing off not only his muscles, but his hammer, which is shooting lightning. The guys are obviously either opening a can of whoop-ass or about to. As for the women? The Scarlet Witch isn't too bad, but not as imposing as the men. Her facial expression looks more like she's examining her nails, not like she's in the thick of a fight. She'd probably look more dramatic if her hips were cocked the other way and her left arm was pointing straight out and aligned with her shoulders, as if she were bracing herself against the "recoil" of whatever energy she's projecting. The way Rogue is bent over is a bit odd and not all that imposing. To be fair, it's not a blatantly sexy pose; mostly, it looks like she's peering out into the distance. Judging from how her spine bends, it also looks like she may have absorbed Plastic Man's superpowers. It's not the worst cover, but the women do get short shrift here.

Russell Blackford said...

Skepcheck, once again we're not talking here about literal versimilitude, about the details of what sorts of bodies really would be most effective in a fight. We're talking about how characters who are supposed to be heroic super athletes and warriors should be drawn if you want to represent their power to the viewer.

My comment about Usain Bolt was almost a parenthetical one. I'm not claiming that anyone uses Bolt's body as a reference for male superhero bodies. I merely reminded us in passing that the fastest men in the world over short distances are, in fact, heavily muscled. Up to a point, being heavily muscled is not a drawback for speed in the real world. Of course long-distance runners tend to be built rather differently.

I actually do think, quite separately from this post, that the use of bodybuilders' bodies to represent power often goes too far and can appear slightly ridiculous. But at least those bodies do convey a sense of great power, at least up to the point where many people would see them primarily as grotesque.

But that's not the important point. The point throughout is that in many (by no means all) images in superhero comics the women are not drawn as appearing superheroic, in the sense of looking powerful and physically capable. Beside their male peers, they look fragile and frivolous.

This diminishes great characters like Rogue and the Scarlet Witch, and it tends to diminish the pop culture representation of women as capable and kickass.

Maybe it's not the biggest gender-relations issue in the world, but then again it's one that could be ameliorated very easily.

And if, as I do, you love some of these characters, why the hell not complain?

ColinGavaghan said...


‘Comic books (on the whole) are not representations of reality, neither should they have to be.’

I don't think anyone is arguing that they have to be. It's just interesting which traits artists like these choose to exaggerate: apparent strength in the men, apparent frailty in the women. I have no problem with the men being more muscular than the women – that would be mad – nor with exaggerating physical attributes beyond reality. This is comix, these are gods and mutants and enhanced beings of various sorts.
But what would be wrong with taking the healthiest, fittest, fastest physical specimens of humanity, and starting from there? It’s not like top class sport isn’t replete with athletes who are also conventionally gorgeous, after all. So why start with grafting glamour model breasts onto fashion model physiques?

Anonymous said...

You know, I think the reason more women don't read comics has a lot to do with the way women are depicted in them. I'm a woman and don't pick up things if the art looks like this. I just hate it. Honestly, the only reason I got into X-Men was because they had so many strong, powerful female characters that were in no way tied to men. It wasn't "Batgirl" or "Spiderwoman." It was just Rogue or Storm. They stood out on their own as characters, and that's why I liked them.

But I hate the way artists depict women's bodies--super skinny with big boobs. I don't mind that MU women are a bit curvier than most women, but I think the bodies should look healthy. Which means more muscle.

I also hate that they can never get female body weights right when they list them. You know, they'll have a cover page like [URL="http://images1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20120710183914/marveldatabase/images/6/6d/Ultimate_Comics_X-Men_Vol_1_17_Textless.jpg"]this[/URL], and the female characters are always underweight. Always. How hard is it to use a BMI calculator? If I was 5'5 and weighed 100 lbs... that's at least 10 lbs underweight.

If Marvel wants more female readers, they need to stop doing this. It doesn't make any business sense. You can still have sexy female characters without making it offensive towards anyone that's not a prepubescent boy.

Anonymous said...

Skepcheck: "Even Wolverine, one of the smaller male characters on that cover, has proportions unattainable by a real human"

.... really? I saw several guys that looked like that at the gym the other day. And I have plenty of guy friends like that. They don't take steroids. They just work out a lot cause they like to eat. LOL

I think that's a pretty attainable body shape. Sure, it's idealized, but it's something you could go to the gym and work on if you were so inclined. Female characters, not so much. You'd have to get breast and/or butt implants to looks like that. Plus, you probably wouldn't work out at all.

Skepcheck said...

Anonymous: Look at a photo of the most bulked out body-builder you can find and compare the proportions to these characters. Yes, really, the proportions in these comic-book pictures of both male and female characters are genuinely unobtainable. If you want to prove me wrong find me someone with that much muscle mass with who also has the same shoulder to waist ratio as your average comic book superhero.

Russell "But that's not the important point. The point throughout is that in many (by no means all) images in superhero comics the women are not drawn as appearing superheroic, in the sense of looking powerful and physically capable. Beside their male peers, they look fragile and frivolous." As a counterexample to this I give you Charles Xavier- though even he is sometimes drawn as both muscle-bound and wheelchair bound- what exactly to make of this in light of the present discussion I am not certain.
I will also make the point again that the abilities of these heroes is generally not naturally derived. Sometimes the physical appearance of these super-women belie their true abilities and this is used as a plot device (see BTVS for instance).

I would also take issue with anyone describing an exaggerated feminine form as depicted in comic books as fragile. Of all the adjectives that sping to mind when I look at those characters fragile is not one of them. Lithe is probably closer to the mark. Incidentally I'm not denying that these characters are not drawn to look sexy, but honestly if you see that as a problem worth discussing you can have that discussion with somebody else.

Russell Blackford said...

Skepcheck, it's true that the two characters we're talking about have base-level superpowers that do not include superhuman strength. Rogue has her dangerous touch, with which she can render people unconscious or comatose, or steal their memories or their powers. The Scarlet Witch's vaguely defined powers involve magic, probability manipulation, and reality alteration.

But both are canonically highly-trained hand-to-hand fighters and athletes. And those are not merely "lithe" bodies. Someone with anything like those proportions would be very fragile indeed. The nearest you would get would be someone who is anorexic while having breast implants.

There's also, parenthetically, the point that male characters who are very powerful energy manipulators are often made to look physically imposing to give an impression of their power levels.

But that's not such an important point when we know that Anna Marie and Wanda Maximoff could canonically kick any of our butts in a physical fight without even using their powers as Rogue and the Scarlet Witch.

Of course, we can go back and forward forever about how things look to us. Past a certain point, people just will decode images differently, based on experiences, etc. So maybe we can't sustain this much longer without agreeing to disagree. But I'm really scratching my head at the idea that those bodies in any way represent what the characters concerned are supposed to be like in-universe. That particularly applies to Rogue, who is a very physical, hands-on character who likes to punch things, but both are supposed to be strong and tough in physical combat.

Macro Man Jr. said...

I want to make three points. If more questions come up, I'll give more details to back my points.

1) I think people here are ignoring one very simple fact: Sex sells. At the end of the day, a publisher is not going to risk the money they can make appealing to a predominant market built using time-tested marketability of sex appeal by trying to please those put off by it. They're not your mom or your moral compass--they're a business, built on appeal. Many of the same women complaining don't like to admit it, but they're often consumers of sex appeal as well.

2) I should note that there are a number of women reading comics, and there always have been, but realistically, I think when people state this fact, they're purposely not identifying what KIND of comics. Since the comics in question here are particularly superhero genre of comics, the stating of such "demographics" of female readers should reflect the female readers of THIS GENRE, not of just "comic books" which is too general.

Typically, in a more non-superhero graphic novel story, you DON'T want a bunch of over-proportioned men and women running around in tights--you typically want the characters to looks as everyday and relatable as possible.

When it comes to the superhero genre, you're already dealing with a farfetched fantasy concept, so NATURALLY the predominate portion of its readers--young males--want it highly-stylized and catered to their fantasies. I personally see nothing wrong with catering to this. To me, it's no different than when women's novels feature Fabio-esque men on the covers or George Clooney in their TV dramas. It's MEANT to be an escape from reality.

3) The reason why most women don't read comics has very little to do with how women are portrayed in comics. It has more to do with women's general differing tastes.

Most women I know tend to prefer reading novels over reading comics. But even among the comics that women generally read, with many of them, they tend to be non-superhero comics, not your classic "comic book" such as Superman and Spiderman, but more along the lines of Vertigo graphic novels and manga aimed at women.

Again, not all, but most female readers who read something that falls under the category of "comic books" (which is a broad term) tend to read what looks much like the novels popular with them. There tends to be a higher emphasis on a love story, sometimes as stories that focus on day-to-day life from a female perspective, but all the more, a farther step away from superheroes. Again, this is talking about those "many female comic readers" that bookstores and proponents outspoken about sexualized superheroines will claim are reading comics.

Go to ANY bookstore in the nation, and you'll see a wall of such comics, often times conveniently placed next to the Twilight/Shades of Grey novels or whatever popular women's novel series aimed at young women are today. You'll undoubtedly see a young woman sitting in one of the chairs, curled up reading the likes of Blankets, rather than The New 52.

Now, let me just be emphatically clear. I am not putting down these female reader of this sort, nor am I saying that some of you folks don't have a good point about women being portrayed as sexualized fantasies in superhero comics. By all means, I enjoy some non-superhero comics myself and I don't necessarily need exaggerations to enjoy a comic. I can enjoy an intelligent and provoking story without the bonus eye-candy. I'm just addressing the logic expressed here--many people on this issue are confusing several different issues as one issue.

Macro Man Jr. said...

Conclusion to my post above...

Just from my years of personal observation in stores, talking with my female friends, and viewing reviews of various comics on various fan sites, the largest female readership among "comics" collectively tend to be towards other areas in comics NOT particularly geared towards superheroes. So why complain about changing common characteristics of a genre that largely wasn't built to cater to women to begin with? That's kinda like walking into a football stadium and demanding that they change the way the game's played because it's too rough.

If you really just want a moderately-proportioned superheroine, why not just NOT rely on major companies like DC and Marvel and invent your own moderately-proportioned superheroines, indie-style? You clearly have writers and artists among you with this point-of-view of desiring to see comics done your way, so why not just do that?

Independent art has a lot more power these days. People are supporting indie art more than ever, and thanks to the growing popularity of crowd-sourcing in recent years (thanks to the likes of Kickstarter), major publishers aren't even necessary anymore to get your products out there.

Otherwise, you're just reminding me of one of those people complaining about the Girl Scouts not allowing a doll-playing boy in their club, seemingly just for a political correctness' sake. Just saying.

ColinGavaghan said...

Macro Man Jr

I'm not sure Russell's point - or JJ Ramsey's, or mine - was that there's a problem with displaying female characters as sexually appealing. Nor with portraying them as unrealistically proportioned. The problem, as we see it, is with conflating sexual attractiveness with stick-thin fragility.

Unless you're going to argue that athletic women like Maria Sharapova aren't 'feminine' or sexually attractive to young men, there's no obvious reason why female characters in superhero comics can't be both conventionally sexy and athletic, or even heroic looking.

Now obviously, Marvel aren't doing this for any reason other than anticipated sales, so they must think the super-super-thin will appeal to a particular audience. But who? And why do they think this? And ... are they right?

stuart peace said...

Yes it is very frustrating the way that women are depicted, and they definitely get it worse than men do.

However the posters who have hijacked this thread with the argument of 'men have it bad too' are correct.

As someone who has spent a lot of time within Boxing and MMA I have never been comfortable with Russell's example of their physique. The fact is that boxer's fight in weight divisions which means the non-heavyweights trim bodyfat down for this purpose. X-men would not.

I would think that the best examples would be the heavyweights that do not need to cut weight.

The current MMA champion, Junior Dos Santos:

The number 2 in the world, Cain Velasquez:

The best heavyweight of all time, Fedor Emelianenko:

And when it comes to depicting extermely strong people they just look more like the ultra dehydrated body building rubbish. Photo of the one of the strongest person in the world Andy Bolton:

And a pic for a bit of a laugh:

Cephus said...

Back in the 80s and 90s, comic readership did largely consist of nerdy teenage boys who wanted to look at big breasts, but since then, the audience has largely grown up, it consists of mostly adults with good jobs, many of them married with families, who are looking for the nostalgia of their youth. Most of the comic readers don't care about freakishly massive breasts, but we have another side to the problem, when did most of the modern-day comic artists learn to draw? In the 80s and 90s, copying styles established in the comics!

It's no wonder, with the bad stories and the ridiculous art, that the comic market is in the toilet these days.

JC said...


There is a flaw in your logic when you describe these women as 'athletic' and therefore ask for their bodies to show as much:

Ignoring the fact that the mens bodies are over-idealised - Captain America and Wolverine are reliant on their bodies - SW and Rogue aren't. You're not only ignoring the men's over-idealised bodies but also ignoring the powers of each individual. Thor is a Nordic God (Nords often depicted as heavier and more muscle bound)and Wolverine and CA both have reasons for having far more muscled bodies. Are you expecting rogue's powers to be exemplified in her bodytype? Should she have wings, too?

So really - the only problem here is the cleavage - which is aimed at a certain demographic. In the 90's that demographic was 90%+ male http://comicsworthreading.com/2007/05/10/superhero-comic-reader-stats/ and whilst showing a bit of cleavage may offend some, calling for the end of it is a bit silly, and a bit prudish.

To exiled startdust:
Saying a word like 'rapeculture' doesn't actually mean anything unless you give examples: studies, peer reviewed research and something (anything) that links in with your point.
If the women look like porn stars then so do the men.
Is this front cover also contributing to the 'rape culture' of men?
Where are the studies that show a correlation between the depiction of a person on the front of a comic book cover and rape?

Russell Blackford said...

JC, I'm not overlooking the point that you make. I'm aware of it. However, you're missing my point (perhaps I haven't conveyed it adequately, but still).

Rogue and Wanda do not have superpowers based on physical strength and athleticism - that's true.

But (this is the point I'm trying to make) Rogue in particular - along with Wanda to a lesser extent - is highly trained in hand to hand combat. That comes with the territory if you work for the Avengers or the X-Men: it's canonical that you spend a lot of time in the gym and learning how to fight, etc., without powers. You train for all sorts of combat exigencies.

So, Rogue and the Scarlet Witch are formidable in a straightup physical fight even if they don't (or for some reason can't) use their powers. That's canonical.

So they should, logically, be portrayed as strong, athletic women.

The same applies to male characters who don't have superhuman strength but are portrayed as effective hand-to-hand fighters. But of course, that's never an issue. On the contrary, we often see powerful characters with no baseline superstrength, such as Magneto, portrayed as immensely muscular. Presumably this is intended as a visual way to represent their high power levels. (Again, don't get me wrong: it's canonical that Magneto is an exceptionally fit, strong man and a formidable hand-to-hand combatant, even if only as a crude slugger. He should, indeed, look strong and tough, without being absurdly over-muscled. But so should Rogue, who is very physical even without her powers.)

I'm not so interested in the issues about hypersexualization, though I do think that the hypersexualization of the female characters is something of an issue. I'm not the right person to be making a fuss about it, and I don't necessarily agree with every example that gets offered. But if it's even slightly
a problem, and if it could be toned down a bit and ameliorated very easily, I don't see why something shouldn't be done by editorial offices to tone things down. It's not something I want to campaign about or have a huge dispute about, but it's also not something where I see ground for a lot of resistance to a reasonable point.