Allow me to preface this letter by saying your accolades and background are far and above my own, as I am but a woman in the comics industry, in particular a woman who manages a comic book store. I’ve carried your book, “The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” in my shop to great success, and I was interested to read your thoughts on A-Force, a comic that has my female customers absolutely excited to pick up.
I’ve never been so disappointed.
Aside from the glaring lack of research and absence of any actual insight from professionals in the industry, there are problems with your article that could have been solved with a simple Google search. For example, you state, “The A-Force is a race of lady Avengers, led by She-Hulk, who come from a “feminist paradise,” but I don’t know what that could possibly mean, because they all look like porn stars.” This isn’t the first time a hero like She-Hulk has come under fire for her appearance, and it certainly won’t be the last, but this is a problematic sentence. Without researching a little about She-Hulk, and learning she is in fact one of the most feminist heroes we geeks have, you reduce her (and based on your sentence structure, everyone else on the team) to a porn star, like they can’t be feminists or heroes.
Later, you liken the costume of the complex, three dimensional character of Pepper Potts to a shirt one would borrow off a boyfriend, even if that boyfriend is genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist Tony Stark, just because you can see the outline of her breasts. I wish that were the end to the disservice, but you then go on to claim Nico Minoru, a sorceress once considered for the Sorcerer Supreme, is lame, perhaps due to her fashion choices, and that Thor and Loki, just became women, when in fact Norse mythology is remarkably genderfluid. Is any of this apparent based on a first issue of a new series that is packed characters who, combined, have been in print for over 100 years? No. But what costume design or breast size would communicate any of that to a new reader or 4th grade boys?
Perhaps you were concerned with how much of female superheroes are drawn for the male gaze, which is a completely valid concern. Let’s talk about how to fix that. How do we reclaim She-Hulk from the fantasies of teenage boys, if that’s all a grown woman like yourself sees when she opens A-Force? I pictured She-Hulk as she is and turned an imaginary boob-dial in my head to reduce her cup-size… and my stomach churned. It felt like body-shaming a powerful character that I adore, and would adore no less if she had a different figure than the one she’s had for almost 25 years. I understand your superficial criticism, but not your implied solution.
There are definitely still strides to be made by Marvel in both its cinematic universe and comics themselves, in character costume and characterization, but the writers in mention, Joss Whedon and G. Willow Wilson, are doing something greater than “re-inventing” the female superhero. They are attempting to diversify the people we see as super heroes in our media. G. Willow Wilson, writer & co-creater of the latest Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, is responsible for a groundbreaking series that has been consistently breaking print and digital run records featuring a minority: a Muslim teenager. This series in particular marks the first time I’ve seen girls and women of a Muslim background even come into my shop, PURELY BECAUSE they can see themselves in Kamala. Let’s say the mother of one of these girls reads The New Yorker and sees the heroes Kamala is fighting alongside likened to porn stars. Do you see how this could be detrimental to something so good? Again, you harp on She-Hulk for not being an example of a “better female character” when Jennifer Walters is single-handedly a demonstration of “what women might be if they were freed from fears of judgment and the threat of physical danger.” She is an accomplished lawyer, a respected member of the Avengers, and secure in her appearance without having to sacrifice her sexuality, so tell me…how is she not one of the best female characters we have?
A-Force is marketed as a team of able superheroes of all ages, shapes, and sizes, and is something to be lauded, not ridiculed because they happen to have breasts. Do they not have identities? Do they not matter because their superhero moniker doesn’t have “-man” tacked on at the end? Sure, I’ll be the first one to agree that I wish their armor/costumes weren’t plastered to their perky boobs all the time, because the point that that is what Captain Comics and Mr. What took away from the issue at the breakfast table shouldn’t be ignored. Granted, pre-teen boys aren’t the biggest demographic purchasing comics in this modern age, but at least here I can agree that it’s unfortunate that their view of what women can be as superheroes is clouded by their cleavage size.
I had hoped there’d be some more mention of the plot, as America Chavez has also recently come onto the comic scene (and another girl of color, no less), and become a fan favorite, but it looks like your unfamiliarity with everyone minimized what was taken in, story wise. I urge you to judge our female characters less harshly in the future because the industry has come a long way since the creation of Wonder Woman, and I suggest you pick up a couple of books and become a fan through their stories, and not dismiss them for the skin they show. Most shops will have softcover copies of Ms. Marvel: No Normal or She Hulk: Law and Disorder, or hell, you can always tweet at the vast network of female comic retailers (@LCSValkyries), or myself, and we’ll all be glad to give you recommendations to broaden your appreciation of the modern female superhero.
Lastly, Jessica Rabbit’s iconic line is symbolic of the prejudice she is subject to based on her sexualized appearance. It’s ironic you use it in your article as a closing statement, where you’ve done the same to the cast of A-Force.