Friday, November 30, 2007

Mary Marvel: Rode hard and put away wet

If anyone told me that DC couldn't manage to squeeze in an unconscious teen-age girl, an upskirt and a porn-face in just one page of a comic book I would have laughed and told them they underestimate the creative teams of today's funny books.

A few things to remember is that most of today's artists and fans are children of the Bad 90s and they expect a risque type of imagery. The other is that companies are so desperate to make a sale, any sale, that inappropriate sexual imagery is almost always added to any scene in a comic book (and movie, novel, advertisement, etc.) because it just may motivate that tiny percentage of the population to hand over some cash that otherwise they would not. It may be that teasing a small portion of consumers by using saucy poses is worth it to the bottom line because most of the stable audience of die-hard fans will ignore it in favor of reading and collecting a book in spite of the continuing negative portrayal of the sexes. Think of it like chocolate sprinkles on a ice cream sundae. To many people it doesn't hurt and may be seen as a value-added commodity.

As example, Mary Marvel in the recent issue of Countdown #22 (November 2007). After a battle, Mary is rendered unconscious or insensate and is drifting in space. For no reason at all the scene is sexily designed to show readers what is under her very short skirt. There were a lot of poses for Mary that the artists could have used but the "Am I a good girl, Daddy?" pose is the one they chose. Mary then begins to wake up. She is confused, disoriented and manages to shed a tear in the vacuum of space. Hey, it's comic book magic, don't sweat the how. Maybe she is mourning her lost innocence.
I don't know what artistic point the creators were going for by having a single tear run down the face of an unconscious teen-age girl wearing an adhesive mini-skirt and kinky-boots, but the scene is kind of familiar.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but Mary is another strong and capable female character with a rich history that is is knocked unconscious and portrayed as helpless, who then and wakes up disoriented with something wet spilling down her face. I think there are movies that start out like that. When will we see Batman in a similar panel layout and situation?


  1. I won't argue with your assertions, but just a couple of comments:
    Batman, and all the other crime-fighting dudes in 'tards have been showing their junk front and center for decades. Although in many cases, they don't seem to have any junk at all. Not sure which is the worse indignity.
    Also, these panels remind me of something that happened when I was a Marvel intern. We were working on, as I recall, a "Marvel Remix," based on the time when Gwen Stacey got tossed off the Brooklyn Bridge. When we got the artist's panels, he'd "shot" the scene from above, watching Gewn plummet to the river, with a nice big shot of her panties to boot. But, if I remember correctly, the editor either asked for it to be redone or had some "studio magic" done on the piece after it was scanned.

  2. all the other crime-fighting dudes in 'tards have been showing their junk front and center for decades.

    This arguement cannot stand on its own due to decades of societal ideas based around gender. Most people are going to view Mary Marvel's upskirt very differently than the same shot of Batman swinging through Gotham, persuing criminals.

    And that's one difference, in my opinion. Many male characters in the same position are in the middle of an acrobatic feat, not sprawled out helpless. I do not have examples to link to, however if memory serves me correctly the number of times a male character is drawn at the same angle, with the same facial expression, is likely far, far less than a female one.

    To be fair, I can think of a cover featuring a male character that's questionable at best: go look up the recent Spectre mini for Crispus Allen looking for all the world tentacle-molested. I'm amazed there wasn't a bigger reaction to it, it's uncomfortable at best and unfair to the character, in my opinion.

    I do wonder why so many artists shy away from portraying male anatomy correctly, however. Then again, recall the ridiculous reaction some had to the Alex Ross Citizen Steel cover.

  3. Anon: I find it unfortunate that so many of the poses females are in are submissive. I keep hoping we've outgrown it but it keeps returning and i think, diminishes comics as an art form or at the least, changes it into something it shouldn't be.

    Lis: The reaction to the Steel cover of JSA was I think, appropriate given the subject matter. If a woman's genetalia was so defined and engorged it would have sparked the same reaction (and did with the pantie-less "7 Year Itch" Cyclone preview art).

  4. Dude please tell me you not reading countdown!

  5. "Batman, and all the other crime-fighting dudes in 'tards have been showing their junk front and center for decades. Although in many cases, they don't seem to have any junk at all."

    Then they're not actually showing their junk, are they?

    On a message board recently talking about Wizard's "identify the chick's butt" puzzle, a woman snarkily asked for an "identify the guy's basket" version, and I set out to do one for her. I had to hunt for examples. Half an hour and I'd only found a few.

    I finally ended up thinking "which pencillers are gay?" and pulling out some of their work. (There aren't a lot, but I know of a handful of openly gay superhero artists.) I figured that they at least wouldn't suffer from the crippling phallophobia that leads most het male artists to draw the crotches of superheroes to resemble the crotches of superheroines.

  6. I saw this page and thought WTF! This is a mainstream comic.

    Comics are getting worse.

  7. dude, DC has no idea what they're trying to do anymore. i feel like all the shitty things they're doing are desperate attempts at getting someone, ANYONE to buy their comics. i think they forgot the equation

    good writing x good art / making the deadline = comics sold.

  8. dude, (everyone seems to be starting like that), i am with swinebread: you're still reading countdown?

    also, jason: all the good basket shots are in nightwing.

  9. I had the same WTF reaction to this page. That it's basically topping off an already absurd and unbelievable character arc makes it even worse.

    And the miniskirt thing is particularly goofy in any case. It's a miniskirt covering what most female superheroines wear openly: skintight underoos. An upskirt shot basically shows nothing more than you see Black Canary running around in any given Thursday. So it's really just the idea of an upskirt shot being titillating that's being played up here, and the fact that they used this pose to go there makes it oh so much more ridiculous.

  10. Hello, Sleestak! May I just say that I love your blog?

    Now, let me say that yes, I agree with the pervyness of Mary Marvel's treatment...

    But honestly, SLAVE BOY JIMMY OLSEN had a spank-me pose, liquid dripping suggestively down his face, a questionable expression when hit with a power whip... And that was in the same issue!

    I think we have an artist with many, many issues here. I really don't want to give credence to the "IT HAPPENS TO THE MENNN TOO" idiocy - IN SO FAR AS THAT IS USED AS A SHUT-UP WIMMEN BINGO-ARGUMENT. But... Uh, I'm just as disturbed by what happened to poor Jimmy in Countdown 22 as I am with poor Mary.

  11. Given the absurd number of bizarre transmogrifications Olsen has experienced over the years, the aforementioned treatment seems not all that terrible.

    For the worth of it, I would like Mary regardless of her choice of couture.

  12. Well, it's been two years since this was posted, and if it was remotely possible for Mary Marvel to be treated worse, she was. She became Darkseid's b!tch in Countdown and both she and her twin brother, Billy Batson, have both been depowered and cast aside in favor of Judd Winick's man crush, Freddie Freeman (which isn't Freddy Freeman, just a pale imitation of him) and Geoff Johns boyfriend, Black Adam.

    Nice way to say "Happy 70th Anniversary, Captain Marvel", DC.


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