Can boobs and substance co-exist in comics?

I was actually a perfect target for DC’s new releases – I followed a couple of comics for a while in intermediate school, then faded on them. I’ve read and enjoyed some stuff since then, like Watchmen and Hellboy, but that was after they’d been put into collections. I couldn’t really call myself a comics fan, but as a huge, huge nerd, I was certainly open to trying them out.

I read both Catwoman and Red Hood for this article and I wasn’t even interested by them enough to be offended. It’s just the same old mindless T&A stuff you’ve seen everywhere else. The depiction of hot female bodies isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s the lazy storytelling and nonexistent personalities that really rankle. Catwoman – who should be a compelling-repelling, amazing, screwed-up, exciting, giant hot mess – is just a random collection of reactions threaded together by poor impulse control. She’s like that friend you hung out with for a while because she seemed to be madcap and fun, but then you let it go because she just turned out to be exhausting and she slept with one too many of your close friends and you realized that she was never, no matter what was going on in either of your lives, going to ask you how your day was.

Except not, because you can already think of some things about that friend that made her a unique human being and this version of Catwoman doesn’t have those. Unless you’re talking about her sexytime sartorial choices.

I wasn’t familiar with Starfire before I read Red Hood, and I can’t imagine that the acquaintance will continue. She’s a blow-up doll that can make it to the bedroom by herself. There are even a few scenes where she’s just posing in her bikini, and in case you miss what she’s there for, there’s a kid taking pictures of her and uploading them to the internet. Classy.

She is the shallowest of shallow fantasies – she has no-strings sex, physical with no emotions, she poses in beachwear, and she conveniently zaps some bad guys to help the men escape.

You half expect her to offer to get them beer and sandwiches.

Some longtime comic fans have been infuriated by it (Danielle Riendeau addressed why these books are so exasperating in yesterday’s Weekly Geek), whereas other women merely give the weary sigh that’s all garden-variety sexism can elicit on some days. And the frustration has been made all the more keen by the oddly tone-deaf reaction of DC Comics to the backlash. After io9 ran a fantastic piece on why a 7-year-old comics fan was disappointed in the new sexxxay Starfire, DC suggested that readers check the maturity ratings on the cover.

Which only misses the point entirely. Readers – and not just female readers – don’t object to the fact that the characters are attractive or have sex. They object to the fact that the characters are empty, the stories are dumb, and alleged action heroes keep standing around in impractical cheesecake poses.

My friend who works at a comic book store in Seattle summed it up pretty tidily:

I was actually pretty pissed off by the Catwoman comic. In a medium where every frame matters to tell the story, they devoted multiple pages to a sex scene. I have nothing against sex scenes, but there was no damn storytelling going on.

Among my regular customers, I’ve seen men going for the comics because they like the sex appeal, and women dropping the comics because they’re pissed that there’s no real character there — just blatant T & A.

I don’t think DC is going to see any problem in what they did. Any publicity is good publicity. And, boy, the boys like titties. The comics are selling out everywhere. It’s also not exactly a new phenomenon with them. They have done a poor job of providing comics for kids for years. They’ve only got three super hero monthlies that are geared for young readers and they let all of their kid-friendly digests go out of print.

They also have years of emphasizing boobies over character for the heroines. It can be done in a playful way that doesn’t demean women; and they have succeeded at that in the past. Power Girl had a lot of female readers and her body is way wicked top-heavy. I just feel that these recent comics emphasized sex over story and over character-development. You only have one chance to make a first impression, and these comics led with their tits.

Exactly. The characters can be sexy all they want. They just have to have minds and wills and interests and desires. They can’t be boring. And female comics characters demonstrably don’t have to be that way. Not all of DC’s new releases are misfires. I picked up Batwoman #1, and though I am astonished at how many different people are running around Gotham City dressed like bats, I really enjoyed it.

Batwoman, by the way, is a lesbian in the reboot. She’s stern and dark and noble and interesting. There’s also a lesbian police detective who’s smart and caring and looks like a lesbian you’ve probably hung out with, rather than like a lesbian in a straight porn movie. I don’t know if I’m in for the long haul, but the book drew me in enough that I’ll probably check out issue #2.