So as everyone at this point knows, DC has served up two of their "NEW 52" titles, Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws, with a big heaping side of controversy. Depictions of both Catwoman herself and the alien ex- slave Starfire (formerly of the Teen Titans) have been met with a big, fat, resounding "whawhaWHA?!" all across the internets. While in some cases I agree with certain points, my first, and biggest, reaction is:
Come on, guys... grow up.
And no, I'm not really talking to Judd Winnick (Catwoman) or Scott Lobdell (Red Hood), I'm talking to fanboy (and girl)-ism in general, and the thousands upon thousands who rely on tv and pop culture to define their dreamy, romanticized notions of love and sex.
I dunno if you guys realize this, but the weekly "will they or won't they" of Lana Lang and Clark Kent isn't really how most relationships in the real world play out. Or - god help me for even bringing this up - the hyperromantic, saccharine-sweet stylings of Edward and Bella (you know you've watched them too). Things don't work like this, not in my experience. And the older I get, the more I come to realize that art in general really tries its hardest to warp our collective sense of love and emotion (and, by extension, our own sense of self-importance). For the most part, when someone writes a story about a relationship, or sings a song about a relationship, they not only write their own idealized version of what they relationship is (or isn't), they write it from their highest emotional peak, making things seem incredibly immediate or important. Songs and tv shows and movies about love and relationships (and sex) rarely ever deal with the normal, daily, mundane aspects, instead choosing to focus on the highest, most emotional times.... and here we sit, soaking it up like emotionally-dry and brittle sponges. We get it into our heads that this is how relationships SHOULD be... the mystique, the excitement, the constant adrenaline rush...
... and, let's face it, the innocence. I think that on some level each and every one of us misses that feeling of youthful purity we used to have when it comes to relationships, and we spend a lot of time trying to recapture that in couple's therapy. But why? Why not let people - and relationships - mature a little?
And therein lies the point of that little tangent I just dragged you down. It seems to me that every time I comic tries to do something "mature" people freak out and complain (until that "maturity" becomes the norm, in which case people start to expect it and criticize others for NOT having that, but that's a different rant). Now, I'm not saying that everything DC has done has been "mature" by any means.... I'll get to the Starfire issue in a minute. For the moment, I wanna talk about Catwoman.
So, in this new, rebooted DC universe, Batman and Catwoman are doing their little dirty dance across the rooftops of Gotham every once in a while, and every once in a while they fall on top of each other naked. Oops. How dare they?! It's not as if they are two consenting adults with a mutual attraction or anything. They're comic book characters! And comic characters just don't DO that!
But ya know what, I don't even think that's the issue here. I think the problem people are having with it is - like I mentioned above - the lack of "innocence." The whole "will they or won't they" flirtation aspect of their relationship is gone because, well, they "did" and we got to see it. Full-on. In color. Personally speaking, after decades of watching primetime television, I'm kind of sick to freaking death of "will they or won't they." After countless episodes of shows like Smallville, Bones, Castle (yeah, I saw an episode... don't act like you didn't), and many, many shows that I can't even think of at the moment, I'm starting to crave some real, mature relationship drama. I'm tired of wondering if they're "going to"... I wanna see what happens after they actually DO. Maybe I'm just getting old, but that's what's interesting to me now.
All of this plays back into the larger issue of erasing years of continuity and essentially de-evolving established character relationships which, again, is a different issue. That's something I'm really annoyed with, to be honest, but in this case it's nice to see that we aren't simply going right back to the way things were when I was 10. Bats and Cats have a more mature relationship which, while it negates some of the youthful innocence and fun of their old interaction, also opens the door to some newer territory that hasn't really been explored yet. So, in that respect, I applaud both DC and Winnick for their bold choice in that regard.
Just please, please, Judd... don't drop the ball now that you've carried it down the field a bit.
Now, did Catwoman #1 really need to be so gratuitous? Eh, maybe not. But it depends how you look at it. This is a comic where the main plot point/reveal is a down and dirty, fetishistic sex scene between two costumed "super"-people. So, assuming we don't have a problem with that in and of itself (and after my awesome, eye-opening explanation you don't have a problem with it anymore either, right??), do you really want a scene like that to sneak up on you at the end of the book and assault your face like that? No, probably not. Especially if you were considering reading said comic book to your kid. So instead, Winnick does us a favor by parading Selena around in her underwear on the VERY FIRST PAGE. This isn't just gratuitous T&A, folks.... this is Judd's way of warning us about what's to come. This is his way of saying "parents, take your kids out of the room because they're gonna be nasty superhero boot-knockin' later on." And for that, I kind of thank him.
As for the Starfire issue, well.... I'm really not sure there's any "good" defense for that one. Another reviewer made an interesting point, though: that maybe, just MAYBE, by making Starfire an amnesiac sex toy Lobdell is actually thumbing his nose at male fandom in general... his way of saying "you didn't want her when she was a strong, supportive woman, so here ya go, here's your inflatable alien warrior sex doll, ya buncha horny jackasses." I kinda like that explanation. Also, I'd like to point out that neither Jason, nor Roy, makes any effort to resist Kori or take the high road. Both of them seem to take her up on her offer without so much as a peep of protest, or even a weak "hey Kori, you're my friend, this isn't right, you're re-enacting your past as a slave through your friends and maybe this isn't healthy for you, so I'm gonna have to say no to the whole sex-thing." No, Roy doesn't really say that at all. So it begs the question.... who is that scene in question REALLY making a statement about? I mean, really, wasn't anyone else even SLIGHTLY disturbed by how quickly Roy took her up on the offer? I'd like to think that if my hot alien friend wanted to have meaningless sex with me as a way of acting out a behavior that was forced onto her as an intergalactic slave, I might say "um, no, look, I care about you and I want you to be healthy in the head, so instead of sex let's go see that therapist over there."
Yeah... I'd like to think that.
On the other hand, maybe we're all intellectualizing this a bit too much. Maybe Lobdell just thought he could sell more books by tossing in some hot inter-species sex. I prefer to think that he's really taking the high road and trying drive home a real message. Or maybe I'm just justifying my own inner fanboy. I'll let you be the judge.
So, do I think that turning Kori into the group slut is a good idea? No, not really. Do I think there could be a reason behind it besides just fanboy fantasy fulfillment? I think there could, and a genuinely hope there is. I will say this though.... Lobdell already has a sizable hole to dig himself out of with that one.
But come on, if we're gonna talk about comic book character sexual objectification, can we talk about the MEN for a minute?? (you know you want to)
Comic-book wise, I "came of age" in the 90s, and all of us who lived through that know exactly what that means. When I was younger I even wanted to be a comic artist. Like most of us I didn't get very far with that particular dream... but I produced a few pieces here and there that I'm kinda proud of. That being said, looking back I've noticed that every male figure I've drawn over the course of my life has essentially been a shirtless mass of muscle with a line across each bicep to give the vague impression of a shirt sleeve. It's kinda disturbing when I look back on it, and I place the blame squarely on Rob Liefeld. I mean, seriously... for as accomplished as my art actually got, I never really learned to draw cloth of any kind because apparently superheroes airbrush on their shirts before they leave the house, even in their civilian identities.
The point I'm trying very hard to make is that, yeah, DCs moves can definitely be construed as objectifying to women, and possibly even sexist, if you wanna look at it that way... but for every woman objectified in comic books over the past few decades for their sexual potential I can show you 5 men objectified for the wish-fulfilment they represent.
Who DOESN'T wanna date a hot warrior woman, and be able to spray-paint his shirt on? OR dress up in a cape and do it on a rooftop with a former prostitute?? Come on, it's the American Dream, baby.