I was part of a conversation about DC’s New 52 last week when someone suggested that, as feminists, maybe we were wasting our time hoping and agitating for mainstream comics to get better in their representations of women. Maybe, at the end of the day, we’re never going to get Marvel and DC in particular to see that things like the new portrayal of Catwoman ought to be regarded as a bug rather than a design feature:
I understand that this is an industry that’s based on a kind of media consumption that’s been fairly rapidly decimated. It takes a particular kind of consumer to commit to buying issue after issue of a continuing story, rather than buying that whole arc in a single volume, especially when prices for comics have risen more in relation to minimum wage than other forms of entertainment, like movies. And it’s not like you’re getting more comics for your money. And so the industry’s stuck between a choice of locking in those readers by pandering to all of their most defining impulses, no matter how much those impulses might turn off new audiences, and trying to make a painful transition to try to develop new audiences that carries the risk of shedding old readers while failing to bring in new ones. Those are big, hard incentives to fight against.
But I think it’s worth it to keep nudging even as I totally understand the reasons why it might make more sense, strategically and emotionally*, to walk away.. First, the industry clearly realizes that the latter path is inevitable. Why else do you have the massive push behind the New 52 in the first place? And it’s much better to have folks around explaining why it doesn’t work to simply tell us you’re doing something new without actually doing it, so there will be clear, articulated reasons why people saw the relaunch as a failure to produce something genuinely different. And second, even if the industry doesn’t change, there should be voices in the background when folks read these books pointing out their problems. The key is getting folks who really just want to see, say, Catwoman bang Batman and nothing else to hear those critiques and to find a way to engage with them constructively, which is really, profoundly difficult. But I’d rather live in a world where people who don’t want to hear the works they like criticized have to work to shut them out, rather than leaving them to relax into the blissful sounds of silence.
*This post is, by the way, a must-read on representation of women in the New 52.