Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008


While collecting links for WFA, I found Johanna's recent Savage Critics post.

Johanna always gives interesting reviews but there was a bit in her She-Hulk review that made me boggle a bit:

I'm thrilled to see women with distinctive personalities lead a superhero comic, since it's rare we see more than one female talk to each other in the genre, let alone about meaningful issues, but it's just not clicking for me.

Emphasis is mine.

Honestly, while there are plenty of feminist complaints that can be found regarding superhero comics, I honestly think this one doesn't have a whole lot of basis.

Regardless of how one feels about T&A, consistent characterizations, damsel in distress syndrome, possible overuse of rape as a plot point, WiR or any of those other issues, it's fairly hard to argue that the majority of women in major/leading roles in superhero comics don't have distinctive personalities.

I mean, it's fairly hard for even a casual fan to mistake Wonder Woman for Power Girl, Lois Lane for Barbara Gordon, Storm for Jean Grey and so on. If anything, distinctive personality is the area that American Superhero comics handle better than anything else. There's a reason why so many of these characters have lasted the test of time. There's a reason why so many of us take it so seriously when their value appears reduced to their girly parts.

(I'm barely managing to avoid a complaint about the generic ditz shoujo manga heroine archetype that certain lazier mangaka seem all too ready to equip... :-))

As for interaction between female characters, that's pretty strange to argue these days. Pretty much every main or solo comic I can think of has at least some significant interactions between major female characters. And then there are franchises that like Birds of Prey or early Perez->Byrne era Wonder Woman where there are very few male characters at all. It's not like interaction between female characters is a new and alien concept to superhero comics.

Okay, admittedly, if you want to argue the Bechdel test, you probably have merit. Ever since Lois and Lana, there's been the tradition of female interaction/conversation revolving strictly around the male character. (Personally I've always thought Carol Ferris and Jillian Pearlman have more interesting things in common to discuss than just Hal), but that's not the criticism being made here.

I understand that the comment is intended to be a compliment, of sorts, to Mr. David, but it strikes me as strange in a She-Hulk review. Even assuming for a moment that particularly individual women are rare in superhero comics and that the interaction between them IS generally minimal, this IS She-Hulk we're talking about. For all my complaints about Slott's run, it's very hard to make the claim that She-Hulk rarely had interaction/conversation with other women.

I don't know, I have a lot of respect for Johanna, but I really don't understand where this particular criticism is coming from.


  • At January 01, 2008 1:44 AM, Blogger Ami Angelwings said…

    I agree :) Tho sometimes there's like... "generic teenage superhero" >_> But there are lots of female superheroes with all sorts of different personalities :)

  • At January 01, 2008 12:59 PM, Blogger Will Staples said…

    (I'm barely managing to avoid a complaint about the generic ditz shoujo manga heroine archetype that certain lazier mangaka seem all too ready to equip... :-))

    Guh, no kidding. I enjoy plenty of manga and anime, but it annoys me when fans say that it's so much better than American comics because of the characterization, because the medium relies so heavily on stock characters.

    Tho sometimes there's like... "generic teenage superhero" >_>

    Yeah, but even so, Supergirl =/= Shadowcat =/= Stargirl. (Though Wonder Girl has probably been all three of them over the last decade...)

  • At January 02, 2008 7:57 AM, Blogger Ami Angelwings said…

    Shadowcat and Stargirl aren't the "generic teenage superhero" trope that I was talking abotu tho :\

    I said sometimes they use it :( Which is the complain about Supergirl (and Wondergirl lately, tho both are now getting real personalities thankfully).

  • At January 02, 2008 10:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think wanting all comics to comply to the Bechdel test is a bit unfair. Movies have a lot more time to devote to smaller character-building conversations, while individual comics only have 22 pages.

    Most conversations in superhero comics are going to involve the hero, or be about the hero. Having Lois and Lana discuss the relative merits of Chinese and Italian opera might take up some much needed room in a story about Superman trying to stop a colony of planet eating space vultures.

    Of course, this doesn't apply to female led or team books.


  • At January 02, 2008 4:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You're right, yeah, but I think we do still have a problem- it's left over from the old days, when teams were made up of stock personality types and one of those stock personality types was The Girl. The Justice League had a bunch of different guys- the earnest one, the paranoid one, the geeky one, the one who yelled about fascism a lot, and then The Girl, whether she was Diana or Dinah. Same sort of thing with the X-Men (Scott's the leader, Bobby's the kid, Hank's the geek, Jean's... got ovaries), the Fantastic Four, the Justice Society- and the Avengers started off with just Wasp, right?- one girl, and she's there to be The Girl.

    Sure, even then the good writers were trying to give the women actual distinguishing characteristics, and we have it a *lot* better now, but I can kinda see where she's coming from.

  • At January 02, 2008 8:13 PM, Blogger Lisa said…

    I'm surprised to see JDC review superhero comics. I didn't think she read them anymore. Guess that's why she didn't realize that many do talk to each other or have distinct personalities. She might come around to the Superhero genre yet.


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