Monday, 9 September 2013

DC stands for Dubious Choices, Amirite?

Hello fellow Geeky Femmes, it's Ari! It's been a while since I wrote anything here, but I've been saving up all my wrath for writing and working on something really needed to be reported on. Sure, over the last month we've had some pretty bad stuff from creator of Kickass, Mark Millar's egotistcal and self-entitled mouth, but it hasn't enraged the comics community as much as what DC have spent this last week doing. 

While I don’t typically read many DC titles (and so my judgement may be either biased or missing in vital information, two things I’ll admit) what’s gone down this week has still majorly pissed me off. DC have truly been rocking the boat with a variety of questionable decisions, all of which have coalesced into one group of seriously annoyed fans. Earlier this week, J. H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman announce that they were leaving hit title Batwoman due to ‘editorial interferences’ from the higher ups, the most shocking of which stated that Williams and Blackman could not show the marriage between Kate Kane and fiancĂ© Maggie Sawyer. Effective as of #25, the duo will no longer be on the title, much to many fan’s dismay. (Read more over on CBR, including Williams and Blackman’s statement. iO9 also had an interesting take on the news, and features a factual report) Secondly, DC have then gone on to announce a fun new art contest for talented readers and fans, with the prize to have artwork included in Harley Quinn #0, written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti. Sounds all fun and games, right? Not quite. The contest requires prospective artists to illustrate four specific panels, as written by Conner and Palmiotti, with no knowledge as to the rest of the content, but the content is rather… Questionable. It follows Harley’s various suicide attempts, and climaxes with Harley, naked in a bathtub about to drop a variety of electrical appliances into the tub. Leaves rather a sour taste in your mouth, doesn’t it? 

A match made in heaven...
Art from DeviantArt.
While the actions mentioned within the panels may be more representative of Harley Quinn’s more frenetic characteristics (since the contest has gone live, Jimmy Palmiotti has stepped in to give more context to the panels- see here for more details) it has still sat wrong with a lot of fans, myself included. While some internet speculators have suggested the possibility that DC may be attempting to make Harley into their very own Merc With A Mouth, it’s still an odd direction to take Harley’s character. Many sites on the net have practically bent over backwards offering their views on the subject (Tumblr and Twitter being such places, much to no-one's surprise) and many news sites have jumped over each other to completely vilify DC, or in some rarer cases, defend them. All things considered, DC are being portrayed as the villains they have dedicated this month to. 

First of all, we’ll discuss the news on Batwoman, and what this could mean for DC.  While it certainly isn’t the latest DC cock-up, I feel it’s definitely up there as one of the more significant ones. As mentioned, artist and writer J. H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman have both walked off Batwoman, citing ‘editorial interference’ often at the last minute, forcing the duo to drastically alter scripts and art. While this level of editorial interference is nothing new with DC, it’s what’s being interfered with which is raising tempers.

As a brief bit of backstory for those of you unfamiliar with Kate Kane/Batwoman, here’s a cram
Cover to Batwoman #17,
art by J. H. Williams III.
session. Batwoman is one of DC’s few female superheroes leading a solo title, but in a move unseen from either of the Big Two, she is also a lesbian, and her positive portrayal within the series has garnered the creative team/s (including Greg Rucka and J. H. Williams III’s storyline Elegy, which takes place shortly before the New 52 not-a-reboot-reboot offers a well written and insightful look into Kate as a character) a series of awards from LGBT+ group GLAAD for positive representations of LGBT+ characters and portrayals in comics. Recently in the comics, Kate Kane proposed on-panel to her long-suffering girlfriend Maggie Sawyer, in what was hailed as an exciting new turn in comics and equal LGBT+ representations. 

Before I continue, it’s extremely important to clarify that at no point have DC said that they are against gay marriage, or are anti-LGBT+. This is not a thing that they have explicitly said, nor is it an attitude they’ve taken. Furthermore, from these actions you can’t necessarily prove that DC are anti-LGBT+, in this case, they’re just being dickheads to a good character. They (Dan Didio) has simply stated that DC are anti-marriage… 'Cuz y'know, God forbid a superhero be married and have a loving relationship. 

However, DC have gone on the record as saying that they don’t want to show the marriage between Kate and Maggie, if it happens at all, horrifying people everywhere. This goes in flagrant opposition to Marvel’s X-Men 2012 summer event, wherein Alpha Flight superhero Northstar (alias: Jean-Paul Beaubier) married his partner Kyle Jinadu in Astonishing X-Men #51, which had many fans celebrating the pairing, event and progressiveness that Marvel seemed to be showing. However, some have criticised the event as Marvel treating it as a ‘novelty’, due to the limited references to it. While it is mostly unfair to compare the two companies, it’s certainly not unfair to compare the two companies’ stances on marriage and gay marriage. 

Surprise! It's weakly written character motivation.
We can now go onto look more into DC’s position on marriage and relationships, and what this means to readers. It’s no big secret that very few folk in the DC universe seem to be able to keep and maintain a healthy relationship without incurring murder or worse. Just look at the latest issue of Batgirl, wherein her boyfriend gets shot. Heck, the trope ‘girlfriend-in-a-refrigerator’ as a ‘motivation’ for male characters came from DC, where Green Lantern Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend was murdered by supervillain Major Force and left to rot in the refrigerator. Charming.  However, in a curious turn from that also embodies a false sense of we-know-lady-comic-readers-yo, DC announced a comic based entirely around the romantic relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman (‘cuz all lady comic readers are super-interested in romance. By geez, I know it’s all I want from my comics, as it might just melt my cold, cold heart) and how they work as a couple and as crime-fighters. To many female comic readers, this series came off as more as an insult to many fans. That said, I’m not holding out much hope for it, but we’ll have to wait for its release before we judge… At least before we judge too harshly, anyway. Returning the topic of marriage and relationships, it’s safe for us to establish the DC has a horrible tendency to mistreat romantic partners and spouses as a poor excuse for character motivation.

The fact that DC is so against romantic relationships and marriage is not just inherently sad, but
Kate proposing to Maggie,
art by J. H. Williams III.
it’s also incredibly damaging. While I as a person may not have a positive view towards marriage, I’m not going to insist that my media follows my worldviews. I think that marriage, for the right people and right reasons is a wonderful thing, bringing together two people who are very much in love. In the case of Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer, it would be an absolutely earth-shattering, jubilant thing. It would potentially change the shape of comics to come, and would prove a talking point for years. As I already mentioned, I’m not a fan of marriage, but I would read and celebrate the hell out of a Batwoman marriage comic! I think it would be a good thing for DC, and a great thing for Kate herself. However, If DC aren’t willing to portray positive relationships or marriages, then what does it mean for future characters? What does it mean for people read the comics? It is perpetuating that superheroes can’t have romantic interests. They can’t be happy in a relationship, which is an extremely negative message to send. To all those people who look up to superheroes (myself included) it’s saying to them, you’re either a superhero, or you can have a romantic interest, and to this, I say no. I refuse to accept this. You can be a superhero with a husband, or wife, or girlfriend or boyfriend (or a mix of all four!) if you want to be. Superheroics don’t end on the streets. You can have both. The fact that these relationships are being portrayed in such a negative way is hurtful to those who consume the media. 

Next up, we’ll discuss the art competition based around Harley Quinn. At it’s very, very base, it’s a fairly good idea. A contest to scout out new talent, (God knows DC are doing a damn good job scaring away their own talent!) using the premise of one of DC’s most popular characters outside of the Holy Trinity, of course, and launching a new title. On paper, it’s a great idea, gives a lot of  amazing unknowns the opportunity to share their work with a big company, something they wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. The contest is being judged by artist Jim Lee (Superman/Batman, Dark X-Men who also wrote a series of interesting tweets about the controversy, collected here) and DC head honcho Dan Didio, so artists really are getting their work looked over by professionals.

However, the thing that has sat wrong with just about everyone is what the script requests:  

4 panels
Harley is on top of a building, holding a large DETACHED cellphone tower in her hands as lightning is striking just about everywhere except her tower. She is looking at us like she cannot believe what she is doing. Beside herself. Not happy.
Harley is sitting in an alligator pond, on a little island with a suit of raw chicken on, rolling her eyes like once again, she cannot believe where she has found herself. We see the alligators ignoring her.
Harley is sitting in an open whale mouth, tickling the inside of the whale’s mouth with a feather. She is ecstatic and happy, like this is the most fun ever.
Harley sitting naked in a bathtub with toasters, blow dryers, blenders, appliances all dangling above the bathtub and she has a cord that will release them all. We are watching the moment before the inevitable death. Her expression is one of “oh well, guess that’s it for me” and she has resigned herself to the moment that is going to happen. 
Cover art for Harley Quinn #0.
Art by Amanda Conner.

While a lot of news sites have gone for the sensationalistic headline “DC COMICS ASK YOU TO DRAW A NAKED LADY COMITTING SUICIDE!!!!!” it boils down to much more than this. Palmiotti has gone on to explain what the context behind the script is (a mildly intelligent fourth-wall breaking commentary on the state of the strange imaginings from writers, as well as a strange commentary about nudity in comics? I’m not entirely sure on that part) but it still leaves many questions unanswered. Sure, Harley is the lovable, crazy rogue we’ve always known, but isn’t this a bit extreme? Sure, in context, it’s a commentary on crazy writers, but it’s still a strange concept. Draw a woman, naked in a bathtub about to commit suicide (for whatever reason)? Even WITH context it’s kinda weird. It perpetuates a rather lackadaisical attitude about suicide, and with the contest happening the weekend before National Suicide Prevention Week, it equates out to either a sick joke or incredible bad timing- take it as you will. 

In conclusion, DC Comics have done some shitty stuff this week. The Tumblr page Has DC Done Something Stupid Today? Has been buzzing constantly, and the counter has rarely raised above one. Everyone knew DC were capable of doing stupid stuff (and have been doing for years) but it seems that this past week they’ve been making bad choices in an abundance this week, pissing off people left, right and centre. DC’s anti-marriage/positive relationship has resulted in them looking like fools, and the fans and followers of Batwoman have almost launched a revolt against the company. As for the Harley Quinn palaver… Less said the better. I still hope to wake up one morning and find it was all a horrible dream. That said, there are still potential silver linings to be made from both situations. With the Batwoman-marriage issue DC might one day rescind and change their thoughts, we might be onto something- I’d rather see positive relationships in my comics than awful ones, and I’d especially like to see a good wedding- especially so if it’s Kate Kane’s. DC seem to be ‘learning’ through a trial by fire, as fans are more vocal than they ever have been when things have been done that hasn’t been to their satisfaction. Also, as J. H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman leave Batwoman, it’s been announced at Baltimore Comic Con by Dan Didio that Marc Andreyko would be taking over on writing, and has promised that he wants to live up to the legacy.  All in all, it’s safe to say that DC have really screwed us all over this past week, and seem to have lost a lot of fans.
 Follow me on Twitter for more comic ranting: @Ariellalphabet