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Women in Comics: DC vs Marvel, The Bechdel Test

The lower percentage of women creators in superhero comics has been well documented, but what about the portrayal of women characters? Since Alison Bechdel created the Bechdel Test in her famous comic strip, Dykes To Watch Out For, which provided an easy way to determine gender bias in films, the test has also been used for other media, including comics. While the automatic assumption of many might be that superhero comics would fail this test miserably, my results may well surprise you. DC for example not only outscore Marvel, but perform better for women than they do for men.

The Bechdel Test is very simple. To pass, a title must have two women characters appear, who talk to each other, about something other than a man. Some would argue that we can expect certain titles not to pass if they are very male dominated by story limitations, and so to counter balance I have also conducted a Reverse Bechdel Test on each of my titles. To pass, a title must have two male characters appear, who talk to each other, about something other than a woman. A team book such as X-Factor could reasonably be expected to perform equally on each test. A male dominated title such as The Mighty Thor could reasonably be expected to pass the Reverse and not the standard. And so then perhaps a female dominated title such as Batgirl could be expected to pass the standard and fail the Reverse. And all those expectations would be incorrect.

DC vs Marvel, The Bechdel Test

Given that the Bechdel Test requires reading each comic thoroughly, I have had to limit this test to my own 'big publisher' reading list (along with some borrowed from generous friends) - 8 DC titles, 8 Marvel titles, alongside Walking Dead, Chew and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So please consider this a Bechdel Test on a sample that this woman in particular likes to read (the DC picks are my regulars, alogng with the Best of the Rest titles at the bottom).

I have sampled the most recent 6 issues of each title (issue numbers detailed below) that I have to hand, all of them as recent as possible. If anyone would like me to expand my sample, I'm happy for someone else to buy them!

NB - the Bechdel Test is useful for showing overall gender bias, and a low score on any one title is not necessarily indicative of a deliberate effort to remove women, nor is it a comment on the quality of the title or the individual portrayal of women characters. By conducting the Reverse Test I hope to show that we can use these Tests together to measure overall bias, and to be fair to each individual title.

Thanks as always to Red Hot Comics for keeping up the supply, and prodding me when I always forget to order.