Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Monday, February 19, 2007

What Worth An Effort?

There's this perpetual idea that I've been coming across ever since Ragnell and I began compiling for WFA that I have to admit tends to irk me a little.

This idea, paraphrase, ends up as: "Well, why bother with superhero comics? You can get much better portrayals from manga or indy comics. Superhero comics aren't worth the effort."

This idea, usually from otherwise intelligent posters, just really tends to make me twitch.

First of all, "better portrayals" really depends on what you're reading. I've been a manga fan for more than ten years and I have to say that personally, my experiences have been varied. I've read quite a few excellent portrayals of female characters, true. But I've also read quite a lot of stories that made superhero comics look like bastions of sanity and feminine asylum. Manga is so varied that it's really hard to pigeonhole it as really better or worse than any other style. .

In the case of superhero comics, no one really denies that sexism still exists, but I tend to prefer the manner in which it's expressed in superhero comics than the manner I tend to see it expressed in manga. It's just a personal taste matter, really.

I've never read much indy comics, but I'd imagine it's very much like manga, in which it really depends on what series you're reading. But there's nothing that makes either series innately more "woman friendly" than superhero comics.

(There are admittedly more female creators in the manga industry, but the thing about institutionalized sexism is that it can be practiced by men AND women. And anyone just needs to look at a certain subset of the romance novel genre to see that female writers can be as sexist as men can. I definitely want to see more female creators, don't get me wrong, but their presence doesn't necessarily make an industry less sexist.)

I suppose it just irritates me because I love superhero comics and I get annoyed when people attack them. It's one thing to say "superhero comics have a lot of problems" or even "I don't like superhero comics", but somehow it's different when I read "superhero comics aren't worth the effort."

I like superhero comics. I like spandex. I like powers. I like nazis riding on dinosaurs, alien invasions, body snatching, and stupid plot twists. I like insane premises like guys with the head of a flaming skull on a motorcycle. I like the overwhelming sense of history and continuity that comes from characters/properties that have been around in one form or another since the sixties or the thirties.

I like the character interaction and I like the story structure. And I like having the feeling that even by the time I'm dead, the properties will probably still be around in some form or another.

I love Barbara Gordon, Lois Lane, Power Girl, Lady Blackhawk, Dinah Lance, Storm, Ms. Marvel, and many many other strong female characters that really make reading superhero comics a joy.

There are a lot of improvements I'd like to see. A LOT. And I don't deny it. But I definitely think it's worth the effort. There's so much awesome about superhero comics that I'd hate to see up and abandoned.

Besides, when it comes to racism, sexism, homophobia, religious/cultural intolerance and misrepresentation, and other such injustices, there is nothing that isn't "worth the effort". Nothing.

23 Comments:

  • At February 19, 2007 11:50 AM, Anonymous Loren said…

    Besides, when it comes to racism, sexism, homophobia, religious/cultural intolerance and misrepresentation, and other such injustices, there is nothing that isn't "worth the effort". Nothing.

    Here, here! I get a lot of comments like that, too. You know, I'm getting to open myself up to indies, and I'm finding a lot of great stuff, but, part of the goals of my blog is to promote change. How can I promote change if I'm only concentrating on things that only do things really well. Truth be told, superhero comics are always going to be the most popular types of comics.

    I feel, when people ask me to abandon superhero comics, it's like they're telling me to accept defeat and I'll never do that.

     
  • At February 19, 2007 12:07 PM, Blogger Derek B. Haas said…

    Truth be told, superhero comics are always going to be the most popular types of comics.

    Er, uh, actually, manga are far and away the most popular right now. I couldn't even tell you what genre(s) of manga has(have) the most market share these days, but I assure you that manga are light years more popular than superheroes right now.

     
  • At February 19, 2007 12:22 PM, Blogger iamza said…

    If one is willing to put the time in to read and care about superhero comics, then I think it's definitely worth the effort to try to make them as good as they possibly can be.

    I read superhero comics because I like superheroes. A woman-friendly independent comic that is not about superheroes does not give me the same thrill as reading about the spandex set.

    Liking superheroes and superhero comics does not mean one has to turn a blind eye to the flaws to continue reading, or change one's reading habits. Being critical of some aspects about superhero comics does not mean that one is a spoilsport, or a bad reader, or not the target audience.

    And, yes, I have often found attitudes expressed in manga that are as, if not more, disturbing than those prevalent in superhero comics.

    Which is all a long-winded way of saying, I agree with you!

     
  • At February 19, 2007 12:26 PM, Anonymous Loren said…

    Er, uh, actually, manga are far and away the most popular right now.

    Sorry, when I wrote that, I meant American comics.

     
  • At February 19, 2007 12:34 PM, Blogger SallyP said…

    Very well put, as usual, Kalinara. I love superhero comics, and always have. I don't read manga, because I don't understand it, but my daughter does like it.

    Of course things could be better. That is why we keep politely pointing out that all the rape is really unnessesary and getting a bit on the gratuitous side lately.

    However in some respects, superhero comics have come a very long way. Just go back and read some Silver Age Marvels, and the way that Stan Lee and Roy Thomas wrote their women. Granted, the sixties were a while ago, but it still makes me try and tear out my hair in a combination of rage and hysterical laughter.

     
  • At February 19, 2007 12:52 PM, Blogger Toriach said…

    An excellent post. I'm glad that you reference your earlier post as I feel that they go hand in hand. What I think may shock some of the knee jerk attack feminists is that there are male superhero comic book fans who pretty much want exactly what you outline in your letter. Oddly sometimes the best examples don't come in the comics themselves. Coming to mind at the moment is the episode of Justice League Unlimited where Huntress rescues The Question after he's been tortured for days. The Question has proven himself as a tough, self reliant hero. The Huntress has shown that she looks out for herself first. But they have formed a bond and when the time comes she risks her life to rescue him, showing both her tender side to him and the bottom of her boot to the ones holding him captive. And at no time is there any bs macho posturing from him. Then to really add to the beauty of the episode, a scene later Superman picks up an unconscious Captain Atom and carries him away and back to the watchtower med center. The caring and tenderness in the man of steels voice and bearing is clear. This has nothing to do with sex, or even gender. It's about people caring for other people.

    To be honest while I know there are a lot of well done ones out there, I personally have no interest in "indy" which really is used as a code word for "reality" comics. First of all they are usually about the writer/artists screwed up life. Well unless they are really clever writers why do I want to read about that when I have my own screwed up life to live. Also to be honest often times they are small minded and mean spirited. Again I get enough of that in real life. As for Manga, sometimes I feel like it prides itself on being as incomprehensible as possible.

    Then you have superhero comics. In which one can so often see echoes of the epic stories and myths that have gone before. The good ones talk about big ideas, from what is the right use of power, to how do you balance a public life and private one. Are there bad ones out there? Hell yes. I'm sure we can all create a laundry list, *cough* stuporgirl *cough* But at the end of the day to act as if the superhero genre "doesn't matter", is as small minded and foolish as saying that our dreams, hopes and aspirations don't matter.

    Peace
    And
    Long
    Life

    Toriach
    (Where's the love? It's at Geek Love

     
  • At February 19, 2007 1:18 PM, Blogger Andrew said…

    This idea, paraphrase, ends up as: "Well, why bother with superhero comics? You can get much better portrayals from manga or indy comics. Superhero comics aren't worth the effort."

    As someone who both likes comics and often makes this statement, let me offer a single example as to why I say it.

    For me, it really does come down to "better portrayal" of a character type. It's not always better portrayal of a female character, a lot of times it's the better portrayal of an engineer or such, I tend to harp on Oracle a bit because she's a programmer in a wheelchair (two traits I identify with) and she's a smart, female character (my genius fetish at work).

    When I get fed up with DC having Oracle blow up her computers, forgetting to back up her data, snapping at Cassandra (because Oracle didn't outfit Cass with equipment that's standard for Black Canary), or because the latest Government mofo is looking for her, I'm quite apt to say things like, "Forget comics. It's not worth it. If I want a technologically competent heroine who actually uses her tech, I'll go fawn of Major Motoko." I say that because, while being a tech n00b might be in-character for Barbara Gordon, it's not in-character for someone who's The Oracle. You're welcome to argue they're the same, but it comes down to how I view "mythical hackers" and how everyone else does, and in recent years anime has come much closer to the mark than comics.

    And, yes, there are probably worse portrayals in anime, but when it comes to hackers in the DCU, Oracle it sadly the defining archetype. So, digging to find a better character isn't worth the effort simply because it's a fool's quest: there is no reward for the hunt.

    It's not worth the effort looking for a funny, quirky inventor in comics because they've killed Ted Kord, turned Tony Stark into a despot, and as much as I've tried to like Mr. Terrific, he's never put up and he's never shut up. However, the only effort required for finding quirky inventors elsewhere is popping in my Stargate: Atlantis DVD's.

     
  • At February 19, 2007 4:33 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    loren: It's very frustrating to get that reaction, definitely.

    Besides, superhero comics are fun!

    derek: :-)

    iamza: Gosh, there are some really disturbing manga trends aren't there? I'm not saying there aren't good stuff too, but I always have a slightly WTF reaction when people say manga are automatically better than superhero comics.

    sally: Heh, that's pretty true. God, I remember ranting about Young All-Stars, and that was the eighties even...

    toriach: :-) JLU never did too much for me, I admit, but I definitely remember liking that episode.

    andrew: I can understand the frustration of wanting a technologically capable hero/heroine, but I really fail to see what that has to do with ultimately abandoning superhero comics for manga/indies in terms of feminist content.

    I think we've all got areas of our lives that we wish were portrayed better. But to be honest, realistic technologic mentality is not at the top of my list. YMMV of course.

     
  • At February 19, 2007 5:14 PM, Blogger Andrew said…

    ...in terms of feminist content

    I'm not sure I can speak in terms of "feminist" content, but I can speak in terms of "handicap content" and "IT content." Maybe feminists abandon comics for indies/manga for different reasons that the disabled or gadget-freaks; the point I was trying to make was this: from my point of view, based on my own pet causes, "give up on comics" is often the result of looking very hard to find an ideal, realizing that it's not there, and deciding that trying to instill that ideal in the medium isn't worth the effort because they are just superhero comics.

    But to be honest, realistic technologic mentality is not at the top of my list.

    Then I'm confused. I always thought if you had a character like Oracle who talked and acted like someone who worked with computers, someone who really knew her stuff, then the feminist message would be getting out. "Hey, see this lady here? Anything Batman can hack, so can she!" You'd have woman who was as intelligent and heroic as any guy; that's at least one reason why I'm always looking for a competent Oracle, so say, "See that hacker in the wheelchair, she's as good as they come!" Is my thinking incorrect here?

     
  • At February 19, 2007 5:21 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    You're not incorrect here. But I find that aside from the occasional snafu in the writing, Oracle DOES tend to come across that way. She's a very vital character in the DCU with a lot of connections and influence. She's undeniably brilliant and incredibly formidable. Even if the writing regarding the technology is occasionally problematic.

     
  • At February 19, 2007 5:47 PM, Blogger Shelly said…

    I read what I like and I read superhero comics. It's what I grew up on and I have a lot of years and emotion invested in some of those characters as well as the genre. And while I love how art's changed over the years, Manga art leaves me cold. I read for the art as well as the stories, because if all that mattered was the words, I'd stick to just regular books.

    Sure, superhero comics can stand improvement. So can lots of things. Like movies and tv. But there are gems in all genres, things we enjoy that might not be gems, and stuff that's just plain fun. I find that in superhero comics as much as any other format.

    And it is worth the effort to read and "lobby" for improvement because if folks are reading and enjoying, then it matters.

     
  • At February 19, 2007 5:48 PM, Blogger Fortress Keeper said…

    I'm starting to venture into the world of manga, and have followed indie comics since the '80s when I bought the first issue of Love & Rockets.

    That said, super-heroes will always be my first love. I love the epic scale of their lives, the sheer ridiculousness of the evil schemes and the notion that true heroism can triumph.

    Which is probably why I always get a bit disheartened by the dismemberment, rape and moral relativism I see in modern titles.

    Seems to go against the very notion of super-heroes to me.

     
  • At February 19, 2007 8:08 PM, Blogger Julio said…

    I think what manga have that superhero comics will never have is enough diversity.

    Superhero comics are more and more a niche market and while manga may be also a niche market in the different countries that publish translations of it, they aren't on Japan.

    Sure, Naruto and Fruits Basket maybe the emblematic best-sellers but they have a market that permits that almost any idea see expresion, and if you besides buying the licensed content on your country (mine is Brazil, where about 20 titles of manga are published right now) you read scanlations on the web you can have find almost anything (like, I don't know, a really funny story about a bad-humored burnt bread).

    So yeah they may even have worst portrayals of any pet peevee you have. But because of their sheer numbers, you will find more portrayals of you favorite characterizations too.

    Others advantages of manga (and no, I'm a superhero comics fan too) are price, the fact that stories have a ending (what prevents lots of needless reinventions... even the most longest running mangas don't have more than ten years. The fact the stories end also "real change" in opposition of "illusion of change" possible).

    So, while I don't think american comics are a dying artform, I do think they will have, like always did, a very limited evolution and the market will grow even more "nichey" and smaller in the coming years.

     
  • At February 19, 2007 8:49 PM, Blogger Sinspired said…

    Derek - Why are we arguing something as topical without siting numbers? I mean, I know that the Japanese market is wide open to Manga, but it's a fraction of the size of the US market... Are you talking about the US market solely?

    I agree that manga is very popular, but if you go by the bookshelves of our local national booksellers, the superhero graphic novel section is larger than the manga section (both have been steadily expanding). As national retailers are not prone to giving over space to lesser selling and therefore less profitable merchandise, I'd be very surprised if the numbers backed up your claim.

    Should you produce some that do, I'm waiting.

     
  • At February 19, 2007 9:11 PM, Blogger Julio said…

    About the numbers:
    http://www.newsarama.com/Tilting2_0/Tilting37.html

    11 of the Top 12 are Naruto volumes. I don't know about the market overall but this is quite impressive.

    Another thing that is interesting is the fact that while tons of manga not released on the market is translated by fans this rarely happens to american comics (but I must say that comic scans are quite easily to find on bittorrent, dc++ or emule, so maybe this coupled with the fact that most people understand english as opposed to understanding japanese is what doesn't motivate people to translate to their native languages).

    The funny thing is that here on Brazil we have even poorer numbers from Marvel and DC sales, even thought we are almost as big as the USA, and the comics are still returnable and sold on the newsstands and we almost don't have a trades market.

     
  • At February 19, 2007 9:16 PM, Blogger Julio said…

    Also, while 100,000 issues of Naruto may not look like much when compared to 300,000 issues of, I don't know, Civil War, Naruto is essentially a trade (only cheaper) and Civil War is a floppy. Also the old stuff keeps selling for much more time than the superhero stuff (here in Brazil is like this, I believe Hibbs say the same thing on his article).

     
  • At February 19, 2007 9:44 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Honestly, and I'm speaking for me only here. I don't care whether manga or superhero comics are more popular.

    I also don't really care about the variety of manga. I've, as I said, read it for more than a decade. I've found a lot that I like, a lot that I hate.

    The point is, I love superhero comics and I hate the argument that I should abandon them because some other form is debatably "better"

     
  • At February 19, 2007 10:01 PM, Anonymous Lyle said…

    As someone who has given up on superheroes, I have to say "You go!" I don't see enough reward anymore in buying the next Young Heroes in Love or Manhunter and saying "It was good while it lasted." but I still fully support those who want to help things move forward with superhero books.

    Others advantages of manga (and no, I'm a superhero comics fan too) are price, the fact that stories have a ending (what prevents lots of needless reinventions... even the most longest running mangas don't have more than ten years. The fact the stories end also "real change" in opposition of "illusion of change" possible).

    For me one of the biggest problems I have with superhero comics is the reinventions because sooner or later (usually sooner) a good concept gets ruined by a writer who with a bad track record with female or racial minority characters. (Best case study, Amethyst who started as the original Magical Girl only to have Keith Giffen -- who can only write women as bitchy, icy, wimpering or vampy -- as the only writer interested in the character.

    Manga's an option with less frustration partially because they're not everlasting franchises. I know something like Nana isn't going to be handed over to a writer who can't handle complicated female characters.

    Too often with superheroes I end up feeling the way I do when I check out a soap opera that had Jill Farren Phelps in charge of it at some point.

    I agree that manga is very popular, but if you go by the bookshelves of our local national booksellers, the superhero graphic novel section is larger than the manga section (both have been steadily expanding). As national retailers are not prone to giving over space to lesser selling and therefore less profitable merchandise, I'd be very surprised if the numbers backed up your claim

    I have to admit I'm very curious about where you shop since none of the bookstores I visit in the Bay Area are that way -- even at the more "with it" Borders (the ones that realize that fans of Nana could be sold on Oni's Hopeless Savages) that carry a wide range of Western comics the manga shelves far outnumber the capes. It's interesting to learn that there are parts of the US where that's not the case.

     
  • At February 19, 2007 10:31 PM, Anonymous david brothers said…

    I've always found the "Manga is better!" arguments baffling. It's no different than the "Rap is crap!" arguments from middle school, and just as immature.

    Manga (defined here as "comics from Japan"), like any other medium, has its ups and downs. For every Monster (pound for pound the best manga out right now) there is an Overfiend, for every Akira (pound for pound the best manga before Monster :) ) there is a Witchblade the Manga.

    Honestly, Witchblade the Manga/Anime pretty much proves that US comics and Japanese comics aren't so different. Both have the potential to be pretty much thoroughly awful, which means that neither is inherently better than the other.

    People are a little too fond of creating these binary arguments with comics and manga, as if they were two wholly different things, instead of first cousins.

     
  • At February 20, 2007 1:26 AM, Blogger Denyer said…

    "superhero comics aren't worth the effort."

    Funnily enough, I tend to find conversations about cape books more interesting than the comics -- that and reading through profiles of X-Men characters every few years to see what's been happening.

    Helps for purposes of finding the bit of stuff that I find interesting.

    And Wikipedia's been an education in itself. =)

     
  • At February 20, 2007 7:17 AM, Anonymous Eriata said…

    I am a manga fan.

    Having said that, I have a problem with the portrayal of characters (not just female) in manga, because so many of them are idealised stereotypes, not real people. I can usually classify a female manga character into about 10 types - after that, the believability of the character just like in superhero comics depends on the author. Too many of them never get past 'hyperactive, probably an over-eater/sleeper, generally nice but prone to violent fits, sudeenly becomes competent when faced with saving the world', which is just not a good stereotype.

    So I agree with you on the idea that it's possible to be a fan and still have problems with the fandom.

     
  • At February 21, 2007 12:41 AM, Anonymous Indicia said…

    Well... I *am* one of those irritating people who has said this to you. I whined elsewhere about having nothing intelligent to add to this discussion... hm. I think my particular point is not so much 'hay guys, don't bother with superhero comix when you have MANGA and all'. You've successfully educated me about Japan and sexism.

    My point is more 'why don't all us intelligent, talented, passionate female writers/artists make the kind of comics we want to see.' We have just as much ability as the fanboyz and their superhero sandbox. Lets make our own.

    Seems to me you could still write stories about nazis riding dinosaurs (and hell, I don't like superheros, but *I'd* read that, that sounds great).

    The wrinkle in this plan is your stated love of traditional superheros, the ones owned by the big two, *themselves*. So I guess it doesn't work for you.

    To me, since I have no great affection for these characters for their own sake, it's an easier issue. I don't see anything in them that you, personally, couldn't write better with your own creative abilities. But there ain't no cure for fanlove. And a lot of the comic fandom would be, like you, in fanlove with *these comics* and *these characters*, the ones who belong to the Big Two who can't be bothered with their female readership.

    I really don't know what can be done with that. I don't think Marvel and DC are worth it at all, but fanlove isn't reasonable.

     
  • At February 22, 2007 2:58 AM, Anonymous heckblazer said…

    The main thing I have against superheros is that they so dominate the American comics. Sort of how now it seems every drama is a Law&Order/CSI/NCIS detetctive show - could I get some other genres in here please?(and I'm a detetctive show fan!) Likewise, can we please gets things like Queen & Country, a greatr book focusing on the adventures of Tara Chase, a case officer hed of the elite Minders. It'd defeinitely woth picking up.



    As to Oracle being the uber-hacker she didn't used to be alone. There was a series in 1992 called the Hacker Files staring Jack Marshall, a hacker and ex-founder of Digitronix World Industries. Oracle appear in it, and IIR she and Batman ended up using Digitronix computers afterwards. Definitely worth picking up if you find it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hacker_Files

     

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