My apologies, this is long. I think it gets away from me a little bit here or there, but overall the point is sound.
I’ve been working on this post for a couple of days now and I just haven’t been able to scoop up the right words. I realized that I’ve been approaching this from the wrong hallway. Instead of trying to talk around conversations and creep into the things I want to talk about. See, this whole DC relaunch has really re-emphasized a problem I’ve been having for a while now but just wasn’t able to quite articulate in the way I wanted. I’ve stated the problem a few times, but only in a trite one sentence kind of way. Now I have paragraphs of it.
DC Comics relaunch has really been designed to do one thing. It’s partly about gaining new readers, it’s partly about boosting it’s marketshare. Some of it is about showing a more marketable front for WB to make more properties out of. Really though, this entire DC relaunch has been about building a wall. When DC said it wanted new readers what it meant was it wanted the exact same type of reader it always had, just more of them. When DC talked about marketshare and having the “iconic” more marketable characters for WB to snatch up and make movies out of what they’re saying is “we want the characters that the people we want buying our comics want to see.” It’s complete and total.
They said out of their mouths that they want 18-34 year old males. (That’s ME!) They said with their actions they want a specific type of 18-34 year old male. (Not me at all). But what they’ve done that’s absolutely brilliant, is that they’ve hit their core demographic SO HARD that anyone that doesn’t fall in the boys club is kicked super far out. Before the relaunch the marketing voice for DC comics was a bit scattered. They still marketed at the same type of person, but they weren’t stroking that person’s ego as well. Now they’re giving full on hand jobs. I could sit on the fringe before and talk about stuff. I’d still get shut out if I brought up race or gender issues, but it was a lower case stfu.
DC has now built themselves a Universe with a big fence around it. Manning that fence are the hardest of hard fanboys. They’re loaded up with ammo and you can’t get through them. You even sigh with too much of a social justice sound to it and you’re dead. The fans aren’t just not going to sit down to talk to you about the problems you have, but now they’re coming for blood. DC has built a defense system that revels in being insular and awful. Instead of being fifty or sixty thousand people there’s over a hundred thousand in this first month that are ready to fight. More numbers makes them louder and angrier. Now they have like minded brethren to commiserate with. Now they can be persecuted together and talk about how everyone who complains about the depiction of women in these books are just out to martyr them.
This is the part where I used to get derailed. This is where I have to talk about exceptions and such. This is where I say there are women and black people and queers that love all the changes and are a part of the boys club. I know. I know. I’m not getting mired in tangents about margins and the “exceptional” arc types and the people who think this is the way it has to be so they just live with it and people who don’t care and people who don’t see the world the way I do. Bah to it. If you’re in that camp I’m probably not talking to you anyway.
Here’s a thing that happens. I’m in the shop with a bunch of other people. I read a book and something about it irks me. I try and capitulate and talk about how overall I like some stuff and am not saying this is the worst book of all time, but the use of words like “girly or princess” as a derogatory offends me. I say this. What I get is yelled at. Before someone would’ve been like “you’re dumb” now there are four or five people in the shop who are angry at me for even suggesting something like that. Someone asks me what I thought about the red hood book cause it’s known that I’m a big fan of Jason Todd. I say I found the portrayal of Kori really problematic. Those were my words. “Really problematic.” You would have thought that I talked about castrating them and their fathers and sons. I was stunned.
I understand that in the world of Super Hero comics I’m in the minority. I look at things, not in the vacuum of their individual issue (even though looking at books like Catwoman and Red Hood you don’t need to look at the larger picture to understand the problems) but in relation to all the other issues that are put out and have been put out. Not just that, but in the type of images we get in all types of media. I also know American History better than most. Not days and dates, but all that stuff that comes from being a history nerd and reading those boring biographies and academic accounts of what really happened instead of the super whitewashed version of history we’re spoon fed throughout grade school. I know and can tell you why spending most of our time with Voodoo taking her clothes off for white men in that first issue is a problem. I can tell you why slimming down and unbuttoning Amanda Waller’s blouse is an issue. I can talk to you about how often female characters are shown without heads, just tits and ass and why it’s a problem. I can discuss how often female characters are shown in sexually subservient (which is different from submissive) and the message that sends out. We can go on about the number and types of black women there are in comics, the portrayal of lesbians in these books, the purveyance of big black dudes and the little white chicks they hit on, the number of families of color shown together, how the comic book market reacts to these things. I can inform you on the historical and cultural differences that has allowed a number of Hispanic and Asian artists into the industry where there are less of them writing and how almost none of them are women and what that has to do with the almost complete lack of Black writers, especially Black women. (yes, this is that time where I talk about how I’m smarter than you).
I want to have those conversations. I don’t want to ruin your books, I want them to be better. This is the same thing with all areas of life. If we can’t even have this discussion then we can’t be friends. I don’t have any non black friends that aren’t comfortable talking about race. If you want to ignore the biggest part of my life we can’t talk. I don’t have friends that I can’t talk openly with about trans issues or homophobia and such. Be civilized or we can’t talk. Believe what you want, but I don’t bring this stuff up all the time. Shit happens and I talk about it. If when shit happens you clam up, we really can’t be friends. What DC has done is create a solidified group of these people. There’s this larger legion now of people that I probably can’t be in the same room as. The way I see the world is entirely different from them.
This isn’t me saying they’re bad people. Sometimes people don’t want to look at things. Sometimes people don’t notice them. I don’t notice everything. I don’t think I’m a bad person. I also don’t think someone is trying to discredit me when they point out that something I like has problems. They’re just pointing out problems, and from there we can talk.
Saying this also isn’t saying that every book is bad. There are some that I think are just wonderful and fantastic. I think most of the books are just whatever. Some aren’t for me. Some I can see are pretty good, I’m just not interested in them. Others are bad, but not offensive, just not well written or well drawn books. Then there’s some books that are offensively bad, and it’s in that small of categories where we find our problems. That conversation about these small number of awful books sets the tone for the conversation about all the books. Really it’s a shame.