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Monday, April 17, 2006

So What Do I Mean By That?

In my last post, I use frequently use a phrase to describe Nightwing. This phrase is "fangirl-bait." I think maybe I should elaborate on what I mean precisely by this term. I should warn you though, that I am very tired and thus...this is quite incoherent compared to my usual posts. (And given the general lack of coherence i my usual posts, this is indeed a dire warning. :-))

I think it's safe to say that men still compose the majority of the audience of superhero comics. However, there are quite a few women, as is obvious if you have eyes, that are also interested in the genre.

Of course, not all women look for and like the same things in comics. That'd be ridiculous, just like men, we all have different tastes. However, there are some undeniable trends that the market can't help but intentionally or unintentionally cash in on.

"Fangirl-bait" is what I use to describe the characters that I think are specifically designed to appeal to a certain idea about what women like to see in male characters. They are for us what characters like Starfire are for a lot of straight male fans. Not all "fangirl-bait" characters are directed toward female fans in the same way, but there is an obvious, I think, bias. Largely I think they tend to be successful, though when it goes overboard (like Dick Grayson becoming a model) even the target audience starts to get particularly bemused.

The most common type of "fangirl-bait" character in DC comics I think is the "cute vulnerable one". This character is usually found in a group of like characters. The Gotham clan, the Green Lanterns, the Flashes... This character tends to be among the youngest of the group. They are smaller, cuter, and usually more emotionally vulnerable. Often times they are the usual victim/target when something goes wrong, so that the normally stoic, more traditionally masculine hero can angst.

Dick Grayson is pretty much the living embodiment of this type of fangirl-bait. Pretty, angsty, smaller than Batman, emotionally vulnerable, open and friendly. Tim Drake is also fangirl-bait, really, though less so. His personality doesn't lend itself as well to fangirl-bait status, but that is countered by his physical stature. In major crossover arcs, like when the Clench hit Gotham, you know misfortune is going to strike *one* of them.

Kyle Rayner would be the "fangirl-bait" of the Green Lanterns, as the young, sweet one. Though the victim status is more evenly distributed among the Lanterns. Alan's victimhood is centered around ways to take him out of the battle. Like a gaping wound of green flame, or being imprisoned by the Ultra-humanite in a giant tank. Hal gets the mind-control and random head wounds. Guy gets the absolutely devastating injuries, like brain damage, years long comas, eyes and vital organs getting ripped out, quality versus quantity sort of injuries. John gets the soul crushing "I blew up a planet", "I killed my little sister" sort of emotional blows. And Kyle gets...pretty much everything else. Kyle has the advantage of being the prettiest and the most emotionally approachable. While he manages to mask pain and suffering from other characters, he doesn't as much from the audience, which tends to appeal to maternal natures. He's also delightfully vain and metrosexual. Girls like the metrosexuals.

Under certain circumstances, both Wally and Bart would be fangirl-bait. Bart is more overtly so being cute and funny and hyperactive. He's the male of Young Justice and Teen Titans that is the most physically expressive and least caught up in a pseudo masculine image. Wally tends to be the fangirl-bait more often in his JLA stories, (As well as the cartoon), where his temperament and relative youth make him the most likely to suffer prettily (after Kyle).

Another type of fangirl-bait is more often seen in manga, the over-feminized uke-boy. (uke is a word denoting the "bottom" in a homosexual relationship in manga, which more often than not is associated with very particular physical and mental/emotional characteristics.) He looks very much like a girl and tends to act like the most irritating stereotypes of manga girl characters. He is over-emotional and cries at the drop of a hat. And spends most of his time thinking wistfully about more overtly masculine characters, coming just shy of doodling their names amidst hearts, on a notebook cover. Or crying. There is lots of very pretty crying. These are many theories as to why these characters appeal to many women, many of which can be found in essays about yaoi manga if you are interested.

A third type is the dashing suave charming rogue guy. Which pretty much can be seen *anywhere*, from movies to comics to romance novels. He's impossibly handsome, often speaks with an accent, and is often a lady's man.

The ultimate example of this sort of "fangirl-bait" character is Gambit of the X-Men I think. Not only is he handsome, witty, with a tragic past and exotic accent, he's a lady's man involved in a tragically unfulfilling relationship with a woman who can't touch anyone.

Arsenal/Roy Harper is another one that loosely fits this idea. Though, as an ex-sidekick, he also has some residual elements of being the cute vulnerable one (though most of those have transferred to Connor).

Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with being "fangirl-bait" (or more properly, being a character directed and marketed toward female fans) It's great having a variety of characters, and I definitely like a lot of the characters mentioned here. Some of them are even among my favorites. Others I don't care for, but they certainly make things interesting. And most of these characters *are* very much loved by female fans and thus are successful at what they are intended to do.

Anyway that's what I mean when I say "fangirl-bait"


  • At April 17, 2006 1:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I was you notice any other characters that seem somehow "targeted",aimed at a specific kind of reader?

  • At April 17, 2006 1:45 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Honestly I think all the characters are targeted toward specific kinds of readers. Many are targeted toward more than one type of reader as well.

    Like Kyle Rayner and Jaime Reyes target the Peter Parker/Spiderman fans in some sense. They're young, relatively normal guys with self-deprecating senses of humor.

    You have the more machismo laden characters like Wolverine and Sabertooth, and Wildcat to a lesser extent to appeal to a certain type of younger fanboy. (Not saying all fans of these characters are younger fanboys or anything, but I think you get my drift).

    The entire Batclan is designed to court a particular type of fan, in and of themselves. Then there are the "traditional inspirational hero" characters...

    Basically it's all a question of marketing. When you make a character, you have to be reasonably certain that there is something about said character that can attract readers. When you target a particular type of reader you've got a better shot at it. And if you're good enough to make fully developed three-dimensional characters, you'll gradually attract readers outside of your target zone too.

    I'm most sensitive though to the "fangirl-bait" characters because I *am* a fangirl in a lot of ways. I used to be heavily into Japanese manga which tends to have much more direct targetting toward women. Ironically, I find superhero comics more satisfying in a weird way, but I'm something of a fluke, in that sense. But between the manga, religious watching of soap operas as a pre-teen, borrowing Mom's romance novels and chick start to pick up a lot of trends. In a lot of characters, I think the targetting toward women is unintentional (I don't actually think Kyle Rayner, for example, is written with attracting female readers in mind, but the Peter Parker-ish vulnerability and youth and relative inexperience tends to create a very appealing personality anyway). Others, like Dick Grayson or Gambit, seem very very obviously and intentionally designed to target women. And largely seem successful at it.

    But not having any *actual* insight into the industry, I might just be reading way too far into it. :-)

  • At April 17, 2006 2:33 PM, Blogger Anthony Palmer said…

    I've noticed that I'm drawn to what may be the opposite of the "fangirl-bait," character: Physically strong women who are often aggressive and independent. Examples: She-Hulk, Power Girl, Big Barda, etc. Though often this character type gets dilluted with attempts at cheesecake-pandering. Power Girl, for example: She's tough! She's just like one of th' guys! She has a hole in her costume that exposes her gigantic chest - Whu??

    I wonder what the psychology is, there.

    "Fanboy-bait," wouldn't apply, I don't think, because that makes me think of characters like Red Sonja who are more obviously sexualized to appeal to your typical 14 year old boy.

  • At April 17, 2006 5:42 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Not sure. :-) Fanguy-bait?

    It's funny though that "fangirl" can apply to even adult women but "fanboy" is a fourteen year old boy. :-)

    The strong woman character is definitely an attraction though. And the cheesecake pandering isn't bad in her case (It's better than a mask! What guy looks at her face? :-P)

    There is definitely some fantasy element there, but that doesn't make it a bad thing. Interesting though.

  • At April 17, 2006 6:44 PM, Blogger Anthony Palmer said…


    I like!

    "Fanboy," carries with it some bad juju. It implies a stunted level of emotional maturity, whereas "Fangirl," doesn't - "Girl," being associated with youth which is desired in our culture. Other people have better examined such double standards (Yourself, probably!) so I won't try my hand at it.

    As for Power Girl, part of the reason I like her is how comfortable with her appearance she is - She seems entirely capable of being both an ass-whipper and a feminine beauty, concurrently. More thoughts that others have better articulated, I imagine!

  • At April 18, 2006 5:22 PM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    The only problem with fangirl-bait IMHO is when they become the token fangirl-bait: i.e., they exist solely for their purported appeal to fangirls. Similiar to our conversations about token female or ethnic characters: they're defined by a specific characteristic, not their personalities.

    In that sense, I think that's the root cause of your dissatisfaction with Nightwing these days: he's been pigeonholed as the mopey fangirl-bait, without a lot of attention being paid to developing his personality. If this was just a stage he was going through as he matured, that'd be one thing; but you make it sound like the boy's basically been wallowing for years now.

  • At April 18, 2006 5:26 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Anthony: Aww, you could write an essay too. Male perspectives on sexism and double standards are rare...I think a lot of guys are afraid of saying the wrong thing.

    And that's why I like PG too.

    Ferrous: Pretty much. The fangirl-bait traits are just a handful of qualities that are designed to appeal to a particular audience but they should never be the be-all and end-all of the character.

    I think the folks working on Nightwing have forgotten that the fangirl-bait traits are just a tiny part, and useless without the whole.

    If it's just a's one long damn stage, that's all I know.

  • At April 19, 2006 4:38 AM, Blogger JP said…

    Yes, but where does Harvey Bullock fit into this scheme of things?

  • At April 19, 2006 4:40 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    He defies category. He's just that damn cool. :-)

  • At April 19, 2006 5:03 AM, Blogger JP said…

    You have impeccable taste.


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