Friday, 16 January 2015

Geek - Men in Comic Books

The portrayal of women in comic books has been a point of debate for as long as I can remember and it's mainly centred around their appearance; characters who are overtly sexual, characters who have ever inflating breasts, characters who pose in ways a lady could never bend. It's a sensitive subject, and one that some people have very strong feelings on.  Personally, I have no problem with how women are dawn in comic books.  Hell, if there was a way I could look like that and bend in those ways then sign me up!  What these conversations do, however, is make me think about the male equivalent.  I'm confused by it.  Am I seeing things as the comic book artist intended me to or am I blind to something I should find offensive?

A summary of how ladies are sometimes seen in comic books is "the male fantasy".  They're there purely for male enjoyment with no consideration for how the female reader may feel.  In conversation with R and J, I posed the question as to if that's the case for how some women feel, how do guys feel about men in comic books? If women are drawn to be the male fantasy what are the men there for? I was expecting a very simple reverse; that the men in comic books are the "female fantasy", the perfect man, things I'd be expected to drool over with no consideration as to how the male reader may be feeling.  In fact, the answer was that men in comic books are there mainly to be aspirational figures.  So, in fact they're also male fantasies, the type of man other men want to be.
Starfire - copyright DC comics

I have to admit, I was a bit surprised.  Perhaps I was naive in thinking there'd be a similar reaction, or at least that R and J has known people with that reaction.  I was expecting the answer to be that there are similar feelings from men towards male characters that women can have towards female characters.

This is Starfire on the right.  Looking at this lovely lady, I can completely understand why someone would feel that women are sexualised in comic books.  They are impossibly beautiful, with figures that a real woman could never achieve.  Their clothes are tight, or tiny and designed to make the most of their assets.  It's not uncommon for a panel in a comic book to particularly emphasise this.  A "wow" moment, like Ursula Andress walking out of the sea in Dr No in that white bikini.  This leads me on to my confusion on the subject.

Dick Grayson - copyright DC Comics

Now I have finished reading the Nightwing series and caught up on the Forever Evil DC story arc, I have started playing catch up on the Grayson series.  The first issue was great; an action packed spy story with the lead character throwing himself off a moving train to escape gunfire and then rescuing a man from turning thermo nuclear. I then tapped my comic book reader to move to the next panel and there was Richard Grayson hanging upside down in just his shots.  A "wow" moment.  But was it meant to be?

From what I've gathered from conversations, if I was a man and that was Starfire in a bikini, that is a "wow" moment meant for my enjoyment.  If I was a man viewing Dick Grayson in his pants, that is a also a "wow" moment meant to inspire me to want to be Dick Grayson.  I am of course, not a man.  So, if it's Starfire in a bikini is that not supposed to be a "wow" moment meant to inspire me to want to be like her?  Is that a panel just for men?  As a girl, is seeing Dick Grayson in all his studliness not supposed to be a "wow" moment either?

I'm confused.  Surely it's intent is the same?  If you like women, Starfire in a bikini is a treat for your eyes.  If you like men, Dick Grayson half naked is your treat?  But it seems that Starfire in a bikini is something to be offended by, but Dick Grayson's eight pack isn't anything to pay attention to at all, except maybe to make you think you should go to the gym.  At least if popular opinion is to be adhered to.

I'd like to think that DC thought about me when writing Grayson and said to themselves: "This Dick Grayson chap is bloody handsome, if I liked men I'd sure like a panel showing off all his muscles, let's put one in"  I believe that's the case, just like a similar thought would have been had to Starfire in a bikini.

Are people being too sensitive over Power Girl's breasts, or are we too easy going on the way Superman is carved out like a chiselled Adonis?  Can't they both be enjoyable to see and aspirational at the same time?  

I've been thinking about it a lot and I can't work it out.  So I turned to the answer to all things, Google.  I challenged our favourite search engine with "the way men are portrayed in comic books" to see what I'd get in the first page of answers.  I got 10 answers.  1 was a faith based article that universally found comic books in bad taste, 7 were about women being seen as sexual objects and only 2 were about men.  1 was a satirical takes on what if men were portrayed like women: this from technoccult.  They're funny pictures.  But that's not real sexualistion of men, that's making them stand in female comic book poses.  That left me with this from io9.  This is more what I was looking for.  However there's a lot of mention of women reacting to the men, even going so far as that being the actual point.  The "wow" moment isn't Thor half naked, it's the funny reaction from being seen that way.  But let's ignore that, as after all, it's still a handsome man showing the world his handsomeness.  Luckily, there's acknowledgement of true sexualisation of men in comic books.  The Green Arrow advertising campaign, focussing entirely on a set of abs is a prime example.

But this leaves me in a quandary.  Based on all my conversations, should I be seeing this as a "wow" moment, or is this actually a male fantasy too, designed to make every man want to look like the Green Arrow?  Should we all be offended at the way both women and men are portrayed? Or, at the end of the day, does it really matter and should I just appreciate it all in the way I want to?

What are your thoughts?

As a final note, can you believe Dick Grayson turned down Starfire? Crazy!

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic post! I'm going to be RTing the **** out of this!

    Ok I think it's safe to say that there's more to it than this, namely that there are 3 types of portrayals of people regardless of gender.

    1). Those like Greyson, someone who is supposed to be physically attractive to those who like men, and aspirationally attractive to those who are men.
    2). Those who are supposed to be deliberately un 'sexy'. Think Napoleon Dynamite, or Adventure Time etc
    3). Those who are clearly aimed at one over the other. The classic male example often given is the lead character from Gears of War: he's a ridiculously muscle bound character but does not appear to fit many categories that would be 'typically' attractive to those who like men, instead he is purely as 'aspirational fantasy'.

    Of course there is the issue of those who take offence. Personally in the medium of character portrayal be it comics, games or film, the only ones who have offended me are those that I would deem 'cruel' for example "here's a fat chick, let's laugh at her" or "here's a disabled person, let's laugh at them". But those types of characters are very different to the three types I've listed above. They instead are like I just mentioned; cruel.

    This leads me to the (almost certainly incorrect) assumption that those who take offence to the sexualised portrayal of people, be it male or female in the non-cruel methods described in your post are offended for another reason. I can only assume that they must have deep seated emotional reasons. Perhaps they see these 'perfect people', wish to look like them (which is of course impossible) and rather than facing the reality which states such a goal is impossible they call for it to be expunged from existence so therefore they can run away and hide from their own neurosis.

    Either way. Creaking awesome post! Lots to think about.