In September 2011 I made the jump from buying trade collections of comics to also buying the monthly single issues, using DC's New 52 as a jumping on point and getting to grips with how comic book shops actually worked. Less than two years later, my pull list is far larger than I ever expected it to be, but now for the first time I'm looking at a list with zero DC comics on it.
Just one month ago I wrote about the comics I was most looking forward to in 2013, including various DC titles. What happened between then and now that has seen me abandon my erstwhile favourite publisher? Three things: the cancellation of titles that I love; the lack of commitment to progressing women's costumes with the reversion to Power Girl's former look; and the hiring of Orson Scott Card to write a Superman story.
In the last couple of weeks there has been a slew of articles about the subject of "women in comics" that range from calling out "hot" women that supposedly pretend to be into "geek culture", to telling us that the phrase "women in comics" is passée because the battle has been won, and to other articles taking the depressing line that superhero comics will never change.
The first takes a line on policing just how geeky an attractive women has to be to count as a geek, while ignoring the inherent sexism of industries that pay women to dress in provocative clothes and strut their stuff. The second, makes the mistake of thinking that the experiences of some of the women who have had success in comics are universal, and the third is a tad confusing as I know the author is not against giving up on working towards better representation and portrayals of women at DC and Marvel, yet takes the angle that we should focus on indie comics instead where women are more welcome.
"For a bulky segment of a century, I have been an avid follower of comic strips - all comic strips; this is a statement made with approximately the same amount of pride with which one would say, 'I've been shooting cocaine into my arm for the past twenty-five years.' I cannot remember how the habit started, and I am presently unable to explain why it persists. I only know that I'm hooked, by now, that's all." - Dorothy Parker, 1943
Nielson's survey of DC New 52 buyers was recently published and the results are either surprising or predictable depending on your stance. Only 5% of readers were new to comics, 2% were under 18 years old, and 93% were male – that's right, only 7% of those surveyed were female readers.
The survey was conducted both in stores and online (as well as with digital buying customers) and yielded just over 6000 respondents. The New 52 has largely been a success with lapsed readers, and DC's preferred target audience of males between 18-50, but has seemingly failed to bring in any new readers; something that is increasingly important in a declining market with falling sales.
A day later, the cover to World's Finest #1 was released, showcasing new looks for Power Girl and Huntress that have removed the infamous skin revealing windows in their costumes. The lack of a "boob window" in Power Girl's outfit has led to outrage from fans, decrying the "prudes" that are "ruining" comics. It's perhaps obvious that this reaction is somewhat inevitable given the statistics above, but may suggest that the failure of DC to expand its readership has less to do with content and ambition, and more to do with a failure of marketing.
Looking at the new covers to début in DC's continuity reboot later this year, it seems that the as yet unconfirmed "women in trousers" edict is almost certainly in effect to a large extent. It's become increasingly clear too that this focus on covering up bare legs has little do with any de-sexualisation trend: the women are still in tight fitting outfits and busty to the point of falling out their tops (if I was Harley Quinn I'd at least like some straps on that top but perhaps my rack isn't so well behaved).
One of the first casualties is Catwoman, whose playful covers of the last 10 years have enamoured her to a new generation of fans. At first glance, the cover of the upcoming Catwoman #1 may not be seen as terribly out of place for a character who is so openly sexual and enjoys revelling in the power she holds over lustful men. But female fans of the frisky feline beg to differ; the hyper-sexualisation of a proud sexual woman is still exploitation, exactly the same as for any other woman in comics.
But is it possible, as a feminist, to defend Catwoman at all? And where is the line between non-passive sexualisation and objectification?
DC has been announcing some big changes this week, and comic fans can't get enough of it. Love or loathe DC's new plans to somewhat reboot the DC Universe later this year, there's no denying that it's garnered them a whole lot of attention and hype.
Amongst the official announcements (everyone to start over at issue 1 again) and rumoured developments (Barbara Gordon back as Batgirl?!), there is one rumour in particular that is of great interest to geek women everywhere: all DC women are to wear trousers.
Is this a victory for feminism? Or a troubling sign of our increasingly conservative times?