Saturday, July 04, 2009

Women in Comics: Marvel Divas Pt 1

As you can tell from the title, this is not my usual shtick. I have been thinking a lot about how women are represented in comics, how they are marketed, why they are not flagship/focal characters.
Now, i will be upfront. I am not in the comic industry. I work in games, I haven't written anything groundbreaking, i have not really gotten to handle any female characters (except Jill Valentine in the mobile version of Resident Evil, and there, i was only adapting the GameCube version of the script).
But i am a fan. I have been a fan since i was very small. i watched the 70s Spider-Woman, in the 80s when i was little. I also watched She-Ra, He-Man, GI Joe, Transformers, 90s X-Men, X-Men: Evolution all that good stuff. And Voltron. I loved Voltron.
I have been reading comics for the past 3-4 years, mainly focusing on New/Mighty Avengers, Ms Marvel, Thunderbolts, the Inhumans, whatever, you can read it on my sidebar.
My degree is in Communication and Psychology, anyway, that is me.

So here we go.
Women in Comics: Marvel Divas. Have I bitten off more than i can chew? Maybe.

I get what Marvel is trying to do with Marvel Divas. I read it, it was alright. It wasn't as bad as i thought it was going to be. I think there are better ways to handle the "problem of the female audience", however. First, i am going to look at the cover and title.

The Title. Looking specifically at the title of the book, the title does not express what the book IS.
"Diva" is not a complementary term. When one thinks of a diva, they think of the Mariah Carey and Beyonces of the world, who have lavish demands, an entourage of people telling them how great they are, who have the potential to make oodles of money just on their appearance. If someone were to call me a "diva" i would be upset.
The term isn't even accurate for the book itself. The women freely admit that they are not A-List heroes. They are not of the caliber of Sue Storm, for example. Hell, Angelica Jones' publicist had to essentially hire A-Listers for her book release party.
Were i looking at just the title of this book, combined with the first issue's cover:

I would think this book was about a bunch of bitchy, whiny, trolling-for-sex c-list superheroes. And that is not what the book is about - let's be clear.
As i mentioned before, i watched a lot of 80s cartoons, and OF COURSE i watched Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. And OF COURSE i LOVED Firestar. All that "let's throw a female character in to this story"-stuff totally worked on me. I loved She-Ra, i loved Arcee, i bought in to it all. Not that Firestar was tacked on, but she hadn't existed in the comics, and was there to pull in female viewers, and let's face it, it worked. Taking that in to account, I would not want to read a book in which my beloved Firestar is a DIVA.
I am not sure what the target audience is for this book. If the point was to draw in new, female readers, the title and the cover have missed the boat.
If the point was to get males who thought that the cover was "hot" to buy the book, they may be disappointed with the interior NOT being all pillow fights and sleepovers. This ends up being confusing.
If the point was to sell to current-comic-reading women, then again, the combo of the title, plus cover is a miss. Although, let's be honest, as female comic readers, we put up with a lot, a LOT of crap. I mean, Joe Q even told us not to read this book if we thought that Marvel was in any way sexist. Did i mention we put up with a lot of crap?
So after the kerfluffle with the first cover, the second cover was released:

Basically, this looks like someone saying "the J. Scott Campbell version of the first cover was not the way to go. Let's do it again, and un-J.Scott-ify it". Note: And get a woman to do it. The cover artist is Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic, perhaps someone was listening to the criticism, "make them look tough, make them look serious, make them look like they can kick-ass" -- all those things are a check with this cover... but it would have been alright for a first issue, to show who was in the book (and that they are awesome).
But for a second cover... it is kind of... boring? Isnt it? Why are the women looking at me? If this was a reveal, i would get why they are in their costumes - in case you werent positive who they were. But... we KNOW who they are from the first issue... and in the first issue they spend what... a page in their costumes? Confusing. I would have hoped for something more dynamic, something to show more what the book is about, because the previews sure dont help:

For 1: “…have some sudsy fun and lift the curtain a bit and take a peep at some of our most fabulous super heroines…The pitch started as “Sex and the City” in the Marvel Universe, and there’s definitely that “naughty” element to it, but I also think the series is doing to a deeper place, asking question about what it means…truly means…to be a woman in an industry dominated by testosterone and guns. (And I mean both the super hero industry and the comic book industry.) But mostly it’s just a lot of hot fun.”

Again... who is this book for??

For 2: After last issue's shocking revelation, Angelica "Firestar" Jones seeks out medical advice...from none other than Dr. Stephen Strange. (Paving the way for yet another diva to enter the fray: The nocturnal Night Nurse!) Meanwhile, Monica "Photon" Rambeau and Patsy "Hellcat" Walker are drawn back into the lives of their ex-boyfriends of the damned: Brother Voodoo and Daimon Hellstrom, respectively. And Felicia "Black Cat" Hardy contemplates a return to her life of crime...the claws are out as this mini-series continues!

ANOTHER DIVA?? Again, failure with the term, Marvel. I actually have been really interested in knowing more about the Night Nurse. I would love to read about her. Again with the calling her a diva? I DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT DIVAS. Please, please. let's stop using this term.

PS - i forgot to add before, the solicit for #1 included "let your inner divas out, fellas".

I am going to let you connect the dots on that one, while looking at the cover art for #1 and asking yourself "who is this book REALLY for?"

I have decided to call this PART 1 - Title, and come back to the rest, to give my brain some time to digest, and continue later. My intent for this section was to look only at the cover / solicit / name. More in depth next time :)

Next up: Part 2 - Relationships: Srsly, women love them, apparently.


Brinstar said...

Your post makes a lot of sense.

Honestly, if the comics industry hadn't continued to disappoint me over, and over, and over again, I'd still be reading. I read comic books very avidly for about 7 or 8 years. I'd spend about $50 per month or more on my monthly comics subscriptions. The bullshit that Quesada and his ilk have been perpetuating for years has just pissed me off way too much, and there's very little that appeals to me. Moreover, the comic book industry has continued to show me with their stories, marketing, and insular subculture that they do not want my money. This is one woman that is not reading or buying mainstream superhero comics anymore, and I rarely even buy indie comics these days, either.

This Diva project would not draw a this jaded female comic book reader back into reading comic books.

Like you, I'm really confused as to who the target market is. If it's women who already read comic books, why are they being so insulting about the marketing? If they're trying to broaden the appeal to women that don't read comic books, again -- why are they being so insulting? Did they talk to any actual women comic book fans before they started this book? I'm not talking about fellow industry pros who are women. I'm talking about regular people. Because it seems like they did not. Marvel Divas is a complete mess.

1979 semi-finalist said...

Great post - and thanks for linking to my Quesada/Marvel Divas post.

This whole Marvel Divas thing has me up in arms - if you can't already tell by my blog - I think I've got 5 posts now on Marvel Divas including a review of issue #1 (which I did NOT buy).

Anyway, you are right on all points - who are they marketing to? What was the idea here? And why are we as women comics readers still so disrespected. For every step forward in comics it seems we take two back. I know we're the minority (by a long shot) but as far as I'm concerned we're still an untapped market, just ripe for the plucking, if someone can figure out how to do it right.

I look forward to reading your future Marvel Divas posts! :)

Twyst said...

thanks very much for commenting ladies! <3
1979 - your blogs are also right on the money. I feel like i am rehashing a lot of what other people have said, but it turns out i have a lot to say on this subject, i guess because i spend so much of my free time thinking about / reading comics and because the issues are so similar to what we (brinstar and i) encounter in the games industry.

It's funny, none of the "things to make it better" that i can think of are shocking in any way -- they are common sense, but then, it was common sense how to make transformers 2 good too, and that didnt happen.

@Brinstar - there is soooo much money to be had for comics. You're right, one fan, even getting one book a week, is about 20$/month... 240$ a year! and no one ever stops at just 1 book a week... there are always crossovers that draw you in. So confusing as to why you would limit your readership.

Robert Clark said...

As a man who is interested in the characters portrayed in this title, especially Firestar, I read the issue. It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought. I wasn't that excited by the title, but the cover by Campbell did draw me in, mostly because I've always liked the characters. I'm not sure who they are targeting the book towards, since I think most male readers won't pick it up and those that do may drop it after the first issue. I'm intrigued by Angelica's story enough to continue. The cancer storyline was hinted at way back in Avengers when she was a member.

As a woman, I might feel offended by the book since it seems to pander to the Sex and the City crowd. (I don't see why that show is so popular, by the way.)

Anyway, just a guy's two cents.

Twyst said...

Well the solicit said "let your inner diva out, fellas" so i guess that worked.
I think the cancer thing is weak. the writer has said that he read about how Angelica's suit protected her from infertility, and since she retired she wouldnt have had its protection. Which, as a woman, i find insulting that she would give no thought to her health, when she was aware there were dangers. She would be even MORE careful, IMO. It isnt like she is using her hands to microwave popcorn for the fun of it. Surely she would have discussed health concerns with her doctor.
And, Sex and the City did that already.

You're right tho, it wasnt as bad as i thought. I have a lot more to say on this one ;)

Robert Clark said...

I've never seen more than a couple episodes of Sex and the City, so I didn't realize that storyline was recycled in Divas. Yeah, I remembered the suit she had in Avengers and it's weird they wouldn't let her keep it. Pretty lame storytelling, in my opinion. Looking forward to future posts.

Twyst said...

Yeah, Samantha gets breast cancer in Sex and the City.

And she does keep the suit, the writer just assumed that she didnt wear it after she retired. Which is weak.

Robert Clark said...

Dang, that is weak writing. I hate when writers ignore that stuff. I've always liked Firestar. Watched her on Spidey cartoon and was glad to see her in New Warriors and Avengers. Sad to see a writer treating her like this. I hope it resolves in a good way.

Twyst said...

Yeah, i loved her too. And she is super cute in this series. It is only the first book, so there is still 75% to go. Hopefully it all goes well. That is why i was trying to use Divas as an example, but not the total focus of my writing here.