Wednesday, September 28, 2011

DC's New 52…

For years upon years, I was an avid comic book consumer. I enjoyed… no loved my weekly trips to the comic book shop. In fact, it was a big part of my life from the time I turned 16, until two years after I got married.

What stopped my continual purchasing of comics was finances. When the Beautiful Wife and I first married, we weren't exactly well off. I worked at Walmart and was a full-time student, she had just graduated college. We managed, but it was one of those 'just barely' type of things (and to this day I still balk at the thought of eating Hamburger Helper).

Anyways, it was during this time of my life when I made the conscious decision to not purchase comics any longer. I mean, I was buying roughly 12 comics a month—which was dinner out with my wife (i.e. a night off from the Hamburger Helper!).

Over the years since, I have purchased various graphic novels and mangas, but it was not the nigh-religious weekly trip to the comic book store from that previous time. And of course, I've managed to buy nearly every comic-based movie out there. I still thought of myself as a COMIC BOOK FAN despite the lack of discretionary funds with which to purchase comic books.

And then news about DC's New 52 event started coming across. It was an interesting thought—a reboot of the entire universe. 52 titles, all starting over at issue #1, with absolutely zero continuity coming along for the ride.

"This would be a good time to get back into comics," I thought.

The best version of Starfire to date...And probably much to my Beloved's dismay, I also thought "This would be a good time to get the eldest boy really interested in monthly serials, in comic form." 

After all, the elder son grew up with the Teen Titans cartoon. He knew these DC characters even better than their Marvel counterparts. And better, I had enjoyed the DCU as it existed on TV (more than I ever had as a comic book buyer back in my hey-day).

Of course, as is so often the case in the high-pressure world of adulthood, the New 52 event started, roughly at the same time that it seems like two dozen projects jumped into high gear at work. That's not to say that I didn't have time to keep up with the news and reviews about it, I just lacked the time to bring my plans to fruition (the first step of which would be to actually find the closest comic book shop where I now live).

Regardless, the first week or two of the comics coming out, all seemed right, and I had actually thought about approaching my Beloved Wife with my newest thoughts on the best way to corrupt… err convert… uh… expand my child's cultural horizons.

Really?  This is all we have?But then two books were released which made me stop, and really start thinking "Hey, do I want to do this?" Those were the recent things concerning Starfire and Catwoman.

It was at this point, that I stopped, looked at the media blitz surrounding these issues, and realized something. I realized something so unnervingly shocking to the geek that dwells in my soul, that it was days before I was able to actually articulate it to myself.

I realized that I did not want my child reading these comics. 

It's unerringly that simple.  I did not want my child reading these comics, and with the way he reads, I know that all I would have to do is to effectively introduce him to comics, and his journey to comic book fan would be complete. Worse, this was enough to make me not want to get my son started in comics at all—because even if he starts with Archie or the new Darkwing Duck series, he'll sooner or later end up with DC and Marvel titles. It's an effect of aging in the comic scene.

The reasons for this are convoluted and complicated, but it boils down to is thus: I want my son to treat the fairer sex with respect.

That's how I was raised, and how I treat my wife.  I hold the door for her. I open her car door for her. Etc., etc. All those little gestures which growing up in the eighties tried their damnedest to stamp out of me (I still remember the time I got fussed at by a lady for holding the door for her). And the thing is that a lot of that I don't stop at just doing such for my Beloved Wife.  I'll hold doors for any female (and the elderly, and any guy with his hands full, and it's actually a somewhat convoluted scheme of when to hold doors, and when to pass off, but I'm digressing). The concept here is to protect, respect and honor women, while not dominating or repressing. It's a tight-walk, especially during courting rituals, but one whose entire basis is built on the concept of courtesy.

But, that somewhat antiquated concept of the Southern Gentleman is what I strive for. Additionally, it's the concept of honor and respect with which I wish to instill into my sons. 

Unfortunately, that's not what Catwoman #1 and Starfire in Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 appear there to teach my son. The lesson that is to be found there, is that women are good merely for how they can please the males of the species. They are eye-candy in the truest sense of the word, as their characters are worn, in the same way their clothes are (i.e. nearly non-existent)—worse, they're characters without any flavor.  Empty meta-physical calories if you will.

These characters aren't there to be super heroes.  They're there to impart sex appeal to a books, whose primary demographic is still heterosexual males aged 12-18; and it's a sex appeal which is not designed to work with the story. It stands apart from the story in how they act.

Or in the words of the 7 year old daughter of fantasy writer Michelle Lee:

Well, she’s not fighting anyone. And not talking to anyone really. She’s just almost naked and posing.
These comics are nothing but blatant, unnecessary fan-service—of the worst kind possible. As I said earlier, it's eye-candy. And in reality there's nothing wrong with a little eye-candy. Like real candy, it's fine occasionally, and in small doses. But just like real candy, in massive amounts, it's horrible.
Fan service and eye-candy can be done right.  In fact, Warren Ellis' Empowered is entirely about this, and it's plots and characterizations are built around the concepts—and takes a very meta-textual stance in how super-hero comics overall treat female characters.  But that's not what's happening with DC's New 52.

Manga does this. Sailor Moon, Open Sesame, and even Bitter Virgin all have fan-service to some degree, but they also feature strong female characters. Probably more importantly, the fan service is typically a part of.. not the plot per se, but aimed at any protagonist or male supporting character, or an aspect of their setting (people wear bikini's at the beach/pool, etc). But that's not what's happening with DC's New 52.

screen-shot-2011-09-22-at-12.28.52-pmNo, as evidenced by the picture to the left there where Starfire is in a very unnatural… and uncomfortable position,  what these characters are doing is not done in service of good characterizations (or even bad characterizations) or the plot. As Laura Hudson points out over at Comics Alliance, it's not even done for the 'benefit' of the male characters on the screen.

It's done solely as eye-candy for the reader.

And too much eye candy makes the reader mentally lazy. It stops being about the story and the character, and becomes more about what's the next pose that the artist can put a character in. And these poses don't even have to be anatomically possible—so long as the character's "assets" are shown to good use.

And that mental concept leaks. It's a very short step from reading comics solely to see the next pose, to thinking that that's what girls are there for. 

And that's a step I refuse to let my kids take. So, as a father, I cannot put them into the position where such a step is all but inevitable.

We're not talking about pornographic comics and manga here. Yes, those exist, and let's face it, if you know you're buying any book or periodical because of the T&A or the graphic depiction of sexualized content, that's one's right as an adult.  But, I'm talking about mainstream comics and manga here. They should be about the characters and the story--not just vehicles for sexual content.

What this boils down to is that I'm not going to be buying into DC's New 52.  Additionally, I'll not be bringing my sons into it either (though we'll continue watching Young Justice on TV).  DC comics lost me as a consumer, and the potential revenue which both my children and I represent—worse, they lost me when I was almost eager to become one.

And that makes me kind of sad, as I have fond memories of reading comics as a youngster. A type of memory, which I'd like my kids to have.

*To anyone who noticed the edit, that was just me being way too tired when I finished my first draft last night.  I had left placeholders in the manga bit, intending on going back and touching up on that, and hit publish rather than save.

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