Digesting the New 52: Objectification

4 11 2011

Catwoman #1

It goes without saying that the typical comic book reader is male, and whether or not most people realize it, the age of the average reader continues to climb. As of 1995, it was somewhere around age 25. Currently, it’s anywhere between 25 and 35, depending on what survey you choose to believe. DC Comics has supposedly seen this trend, and a huge part of the “New 52” relaunch is an attempt to embrace new readers. Younger readers are considered the future of the genre, and female readers make up a market that is almost complete untapped.

Now, if I were a publisher trying to increase sales, and I knew that I needed to skew younger in order to do that, I’d definitely be doing my best to appeal to a younger demographic. I’d be looking at things that younger readers enjoy, and I’d try to emulate that in my product. Likewise, I would do the same when it comes to female readers. I would look at what they like, and try to emulate it in order to appeal to them.

Red Hood #1

To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what DC is doing when it comes to expanding readership. When looking at the titles in the “New 52,” there are many that provide a good jumping-on point for new readers, but most seem more likely to appeal to current comics readers who are buying books from other publishers, but needed a good reason to spend more money on DC.

As for younger readers, the jury’s still out. Again, I think that the current crop of DC titles are appealing more to current comics buyers than anything else, and not much is being done to go younger. And as for gender appeal, well, if anything things have taken a step back.

Sure, there are titles like Batgirl and Wonder Woman. Both combine recognizable characters with solid writing and artwork, and have first issues that are good jumping-on points for new readers, regardless of age or gender. Then again, there are three titles in particular that seem to be directed at boys going through puberty, or men who are looking for escapism in more ways than just super heroics.

Catwoman and Batman make the magic happen.

Catwoman is one of DC’s more iconic characters. She’s been both an ally and adversary to Batman, and the flirtations and sexual tensions between her and the Dark Knight are well documented. Through the years, there has been plenty of suggestion and innuendo, and it’s pretty much been accepted that at some point Bruce Wayne and Selena Kyle “sealed the deal,” so to speak.

Well, in the first issue of Catwoman, all things are made clear. Batman and Catwoman do the nasty, in costume, and on panel. Now, I’m not a prude, and I can accept that not all comics are meant for readers under the age of 18, but at the same time I have a huge problem with iconic characters being used this way. I doubt that I can eloquently express why, but the Silk Spectre and Nite Owl doing the same thing in Watchmen doesn’t bother me. When it’s Batman and Catwoman, it does.

Starfire solicits meaningless sex from Arsenal. Yeah.

Red Hood & the Outlaws commits a similar offense. While the character of Starfire is far less iconic that Catwoman or Batman, she’s still a character who starred in Teen Titans, a successful animated series geared toward young viewers which ran for five seasons.

In Red Hood & the Outlaws, Starfire has allied herself with Roy Harper, formerly Speedy and now known as Arsenal, and Jason Todd, the former Robin who is now known as the Red Hood. In the first issue, it’s made pretty clear that Starfire and Jason have had a sexual relationship of some sort, and that she is a sort of amnesiac when it comes to human relationships. She doesn’t hold any attachment to her former Titans allies, or to Jason. Therefore, she can freely have sex with Roy without any feelings of attachment, commitment, or regret.

The animated version of Starfire from the 'Teen Titans' cartoon.

Meanwhile, the first issue of Voodoo shows the titular character working as a stripper. This isn’t especially shocking, as it’s something that’s been built into her background for years. It’s also something that could be interesting to explore from a story perspective, if the writer was serious about truly delving into the world of sex workers, how they got where they are, and so forth. Instead, this reads as another adolescent fantasy straight out of a B-movie on late night Cinemax. And that depresses me.

Voodoo #1

Catwoman, Starfire, and even Voodoo are three characters that deserve better. As do the potential readers that could easily be turned off by these titles. Sure, if the relaunch was purely supposed to bring in the horny teenage boy demographic, I’d say they may have hit the mark. But this is definitely a failed attempt when it comes to female readers, and a turn-off to readers like myself who don’t like to see female characters objectified and/or turned into wish-fulfillment for teenage boys.

The reflection in the glasses says it all.

– dEV

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