Word around the streets of San Diego this year as Comic Con took to the city was all about DC and the innovative reboot of their franchise, referred to as The New 52. DC Comics plans to reinvent itself with 52 entirely new #1 issues, which means a lot of cutting, pruning and in some cases complete erasing of your favorite characters and arcs. During SDCC, DC held multiple panels to promote the reboot, including Flashpoint, Batman, Superman and Justice League America panels. Here is where things got messy, as during the New 52 unveiling, fangirls and boys alike started to notice a continuing theme. Only 6 of the 28 titles revealed about a standalone hero feature a solo story about a woman. Of those 6 female fronted solo titles, only a measly 2 female heroes are not attached to an older male hero. This tells me that DC sees their female characters as either not strong enough to hold a story on their own, or defined by their relationship to a man. How could that possibly happen? Surely the women working at DC would notice this horrible ratio? But this is the kicker. These 52 titles feature 160 credited creators… 157 male and 3 female. The only logical conclusion is, “…What?” What is happening to the wonderful women in DC’s universe? Could the disappearance have anything to do with DC going from 12% to 1% female creators with its “New 52” relaunch this September?
But before you roll your eyes and say that women are once again throwing around the feminist flag, bare with me while I take a quick look at just a few of the minor details that are tagging along with this revamp. Batman is a staple in the DC house. This goes without saying, right? And just as the Man of Steel still needs his cuddly Krypto the Wonder Dog, Batman too longs for that same type of companionship. But rather than go to his local animal shelter and adopt a new Batdog to replace the long-forgotten and often neglected Ace, (and just so you know, the more I run with this crazy notion in my head, the more I picture my own dog in a Batsuit…and it is awesome.) Batman has always carefully treaded the more pedophiliac route and opted for a young boy or girl to be his scantily clad sidekick, Robin. We all know the Robins. Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown and Damian Wayne. They’re a tragic lot counted on one hand, which each one having dead or evil parents that Batman just can’t help but feel sympathetic for beneath that gravelly, Kevlar coated exterior. But with DC shaking things up this September, guess which Robin is going to be conveniently erased from the comic continuity? If you guessed the only girl present in this line-up, Stephanie Brown, you’d be absolutely correct. Something smells fishy, and I don’t think it’s the Penguin.
Not seeing the theme yet? What if I told you that Barbara Gordon will be de-aged, de-disabled and damn near de-origined as she is pushed headfirst out of the Oracle’s wheelchair? But don’t worry, DC has either some of the best back surgeons in Gotham, or a really good mind eraser. Described as one of the most popular characters to appear in publications during the Silver Age of Comic Books, (despite the fact that the more recent Stephanie Brown arc of “Batgirl: The Flood” reached number 2 on the New York Times Best Sellers List) Babs will be donning the Batsuit once more. For no real, solid reason that I’ve come across other than DC feels she is the most accessible. The problem here is that some of Babs’ best work has come from the clocktower. Donna Troy could possibly go missing from Titans Tower as her big sister’s origin is changed once again, and Catwoman will let every bit hang out on her new Catwoman #1 cover as Gotham’s token “dirty chick” who is, like every girl ever imagined, “addicted to shiny things.” Wow. Really? Wow. This character is so like me, I can relate to her so – OOH SHINY OBJECT!
In an interview with CNN, DC Entertainment Co-Publisher Dan DiDio said, “What we are doing right now is fighting for the soul of comics.” The New 52 relaunch aims to branch out further than just their target audience and embrace new readers, which sounds to me like the perfect set up to attempt to diversify and break up this outdated Boy’s Club. If they’re out there fighting the good fight for the soul of comics, why not trash these gender exclusive storylines? Why not hire more talented women? Why get rid of so many solo storylines that feature women?
But the DC COMICS: The New 52 Panel strayed a little to far from DiDio’s noble notion while at SDCC. One amazing woman, cosplaying as the aforementioned Stephanie Brown during her stint as Batgirl and according to the internet also known as Kyrax2, had the sense to question the large pink elephant in the room. She asked, “Why did you go from 12% in women (creators) to 1% on your creative teams?”
The response was shocking. Not only did she get boos and jeers thrown her way from the predominantly male crowd, but DiDio used these as an incentive to effectively dodge her question, and respond in an unnecessarily aggressive and condescending manner. “What do those numbers mean to you?” DiDio replied. “What do they mean to you? Who should we be hiring? Tell me right now. Who should we be hiring right now? Tell me.”
Not to say women are the only ones up in arms over this dramatic percentage change. DiDio’s response to Kyrax2 was also the same method he used the day before to deflect the question when it was asked by a man. Clearly, comics about women aren’t strictly limited to female buyers.
DiDio has admitted before that he has a very confrontational persona, but being one of DC’s main mouthpieces and making statements like these during a panel that is going to be attended, recorded and tweeted is not a good way to endear yourself to the new market you’re trying to reach, or to make women feel in any way that they’re welcome in his new vision of the world of comics. He later agreed with Grant Morrison who claimed that if there were women out there who wanted to write for DC, all they had to do was, “Send us your stuff.” as DiDio chimed in “There you go,” closed the subject and continued to brush aside the female oriented questions with the same aggressive, bullying tactics. Which is quite an ironic thing for a DC executive to say, since he no doubt knows DC’s policies like the back of his hand, and surely must remember somewhere in there that, oh yeah, the company he works for doesn’t accept unsolicited submissions. You have to be established before you can submit to DC. Dick move, DiDio. Dick move.
DiDio’s bias aside, numerous comic book forums are filled with men that claim they’re above this issue. The standard response among them is, “Hire the person who is best for the job, despite their gender.” Personally, I don’t know of any women who would disagree with this statement. If you think that us women are hem-hawing and wanting other underqualified women in these positions just because they wear bras and use tampons, think again. We, too, want the best person hired for the job, no matter their gender, because I sincerely doubt that a man would be deterred from buying a comic book about any hero if it had a woman’s name penned on the cover. Just as some authors have proven time and time again their ability to write a character outside of their gender, race or sexual orientation, the only reasonable notion is that women can do the same. And may even have a slight advantage, being privy to what is in our own heads and also growing up on male authored books.
If DC openly made a point of being more accessible to women and got rid of the notion that we don’t have a place in comics, I could see their sales skyrocketing. They have shown they’re willing to take chances. The New 52 is just one example of that. And in their recent press release, titled “WE HEAR YOU”, DiDio together with Jim Lee make teetery toddler steps in the right direction. Though it’s not the outright apology any of us were hoping for, it is a silver lining that could be an undertaking toward something even better. But it remains to be seen if the fandom is actually being heard or if this small attempt to make amends is just another brush off to smooth over a monumental PR disaster.