DC’s Big Problem

Sep 9, 2013 | Comics

Honestly, this weekend has just gotten even more and more stupid as it goes along.

So, how many times have I written about the sheer level of stupid in mainstream comics? Today, I gotta hand it to DC – just when I think they couldn’t possibly get any worse, they take another step past the line of basic common sense and once again insult my gender and/or my intelligence.

Today’s big fail is this: after the creative team of Batwoman walked off the comic due to them being fed up of last minute editorial meddling in the comic they’ve worked on for two years, DC announced that they were looking for new artistic talent. And they decided that, in order to find said talent, prospective artists should submit their interpretation of a series of panels from the latest Harley Quinn comic to them.

You may be thinking that this seems alright, but trust me, dear reader – it is not. Here’s the description of each panel, as given by DC:

Harley is on top of a building, holding a large DETACHED cellphone tower in her hands as lightning is striking just about everywhere except her tower. She is looking at us like she cannot believe what she is doing. Beside herself. Not happy.

Harley is sitting in an alligator pond, on a little island with a suit of raw chicken on, rolling her eyes like once again, she cannot believe where she has found herself. We see the alligators ignoring her.

Harley is sitting in an open whale mouth, tickling the inside of the whale’s mouth with a feather. She is ecstatic and happy, like this is the most fun ever.

Harley sitting naked in a bathtub with toasters, blow dryers, blenders, appliances all dangling above the bathtub and she has a cord that will release them all. We are watching the moment before the inevitable death. Her expression is one of “oh well, guess that’s it for me” and she has resigned herself to the moment that is going to happen.

I read this, and my first reaction was immediate, visceral contempt.

Did no one read this?

Okay, there has been a hell of a lot of talk about the sexualization of women in comic books, and the phenomenon of Women in Refrigerators (google it). So this begs the question: did no one at DC pay attention to that talk, and thus OKed this on the basis of ignorance, or did they pay attention, and decided to go ahead with it anyway?

This shit is NOT okay. Seriously. Asking for out-of-context panels of a female comic book character killing herself is kinda skeevy, given the comics industry’s really long and shitty history of doing horrible things to their female comic book characters, and asking for the same while said female character is NAKED is really, really not okay, given their really long and shitty history of overly sexualising female characters to the point of anatomical incorrectness. It honestly baffles me that no one in DC thought maybe this would seriously turn off women, for a start.

The Big Problem

Basically, the problem here is that whoever is running DC is a fucking idiot who has completely missed the fact that the animated series stuff has done a lot more to get people into DC Comics than anything they’ve actually printed in the last ten years. Harley Quinn IS the animated one, to me. The one in the comics, and especially the one in the Batman: Arkham Thingy games, are impostors. So taking Harley and fundamentally making her NOT a silly, adorable psychopath with attachment issues is effectively making her not Harley anymore.

Look at those panels up there. That’s not Harley Quinn, because Harley does not have a single angsty bone in her body, for all that she gets pretty dark sometimes. The fact that they want her to be sexualized as well as not-Harley pretty much guarantees I will never, ever buy the comic or show much interest in anything based on the comic. DC might have it in their heads that I’m not the target audience, but – ahem – last I heard they were trying to grow their market share and all that business shit.

Excuses, Excuses

I hate excuses for this kind of thing, I really do. And, as it happens, we managed to hit a whole run of them around the interwebs! Wheee!

“Harley’s always been wacky and crazy!”

Okay, first of all, no. Wacky does not equal suicidal. For fucks’ sake, crazy does not equal suicidal, and are you seriously implying that mental illness naturally leads to suicidal tendencies? Because (a) that’s kinda offensive to people with mental illnesses in general, and (b) it is seriously not helping people who are actually suicidal.

On that note – treating suicide as something fucking wacky that Harley Quinn, the perennial jester, would make a joke of is pretty far beyond the horizon of shitty and offensive behavior all on its own.

“We didn’t intend to -“

Oh just stop right there. Seriously, shut up. Intent is not magic and it never will be, and my contempt will not vanish into the ether just because you say you didn’t intend to cause offence or be sexist or whatever. I’ll let Melissa McEwan from Shakesville take this one:

Intent does not, in fact, magically render us unaccountable from the effects of our communication, no more than not intending to step on someone’s toes magically renders us unaccountable from the effects of our movement.

So STFU about your intent. It doesn’t matter a damn. It especially doesn’t matter a damn when huge chunks of your industry is currently talking about this very issue.

“The artist’s interpretation… change visual elements… blah blah blah.”

This one was from Jim Lee, no less. To which I can only say: that’s not what’s under discussion. We’re talking about the fact that DC, the company, put out a call for submissions that’s hugely problematic. Who the flying fuck cares how an artist draws it, when the starting point is offensive?

“You’re just seeing a bunch of panels out of context!”

Again from Jim Lee.

To which I say: this shit does not happen in a void, Jim. Female characters in comics are constantly being sexualized, objectified, de-powered, and killed off. If the context could actually show how this particular contest ISN’T a steaming pile of the same tired bullshit that turned me off all mainstream comics, you think DC would have, you know, provided that context to head off the inevitable shitstorm of bad press. Or at least asked for different panels.

Which brings me on to…

“Why not wait and see what they pick before passing judgement?”


DC Comics is close to the last company on the planet that deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to ANYTHING to do with female characters. Mainstream comics are pretty shitty anyway for women due to the aforementioned problems of sexualization and objectification and killing them off at random to drive the plot forward for some superdude protagonist, but DC seem to be gunning for the award for “Most Consistently Sexist Comics Company on Earth, Even Though It’s Actively Losing Them Money at This Point.’ Look what they did with Starfire in the New 52. The fact that they will not make a Wonderwoman movie. That fucking cover for Catwoman. They have pulled far too much shit for me to even consider trusting them to do the right thing.

In conclusion

DC can continue their long tradition of making sure I will never pay money for anything they print. I’m okay with this. But it bothers the hell out of me when I see random people defending their asshattery with a laundry list of excuses that highlight the kind of denial that’d put the Egyptians to shame. All of these could be summarized as follows:

“You’re wrong, it’s not sexist! STOP TELLING ME THE THING I LIKE IS SEXIST!”

Sorry. Saying it don’t make it so.