Phillip Morgan ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
In case you were unaware (i.e. living in total isolation for the past few decades), the comics community has generally been less than kind to its female members both inside and outside the pages. In recent years, however, more steps have been taken to close the gender/sexuality/race representation rift, particularly with Marvel’s “All-New Marvel NOW!” relaunch featuring G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel, Nathan Edmondson’s Black Widow, Jason Latour’s Spider-Gwen, and Jason Aaron’s Thor (yes, that Thor). DC, on the other hand, seems to struggle much more with the art of inclusion. Between backing out of Batwoman’s marriage in favor of vampire rape, reducing Wonder Woman to a teddy-bear cuddling mess, and Scott Lobdell’s…sense of humor, DC has stumbled quite a bit in their attempts at inclusion.
But the past few months have given readers faint glimmers of hope. The new creative team behind Batgirl has given the character a long overdue reinvention, and fledgling series Gotham Academy has skyrocketed in popularity due to its unique story and tone with a largely female cast. There’s even a Black Canary series by Brenden Fletcher (who co-writes both Batgirl and Gotham Academy) slated to debut once DC’s multiversal Convergence wraps up in June, with a premise so awesome it’s hard to believe nobody’s done it before. So it would seem that despite all the misfires, DC is at least trying to get back on track.
And then they decided girls need their own universe to enjoy comics.
Back in late April, DC Entertainment announced the creation of “DC Super Hero Girls,” a new universe of storytelling tailored just for young girls featuring DC mainstays like Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Supergirl, Harley Quinn, Bumblebee, and Poison Ivy as “relatable teens.” With the series beginning in Fall 2015, DC aims to use this new universe as an opportunity for “storytelling that helps build character and confidence, and empowers girls to discover their true potential,” projecting this new line of comics at girls ages 6-12 and teaming up with Warner Bros. Animation, Mattel, and Random House to expand the concept to all entertainment mediums within their reach. According to DC, the stories in this universe will feature the characters “in their formative years, prior to discovering their full super-powered potential,” and that, “each character has her own storyline that explores what teen life is like as a superhero, including discovering her unique abilities, nurturing her remarkable powers, and mastering the fundamentals of being a hero.”
The capitalist backdrop of the partnership with a toy company aside, at first it sounds like DC is finally creating an avenue through which young girls can enter the comics world, which would be great except for one problem in their logic—the need for a separate universe. Based on this fun conversation DC writer Tony S. Daniel had with a reporter at Fan Expo a while back, the majority of talent at DC seems to believe that female readers are only interested in certain types of stories that pertain to girls and girls alone. And judging by Daniel’s horrifically out of place Twilight analogy, the Disney Princess-esque aesthetic of this new universe, and the emphasis on portraying these characters as “relatable teens,” readers can guess what direction these stories are going to take.
We cannot speak for an entire gender, but it’s seriously doubtful that young girls can only resonate with superhero stories if they’re coated in teen girl drama about boys, gossip, etc. Actually no, it isn’t doubtful. It’s nonsense. And before you cry out, “But wait! Young girls don’t have comics they can identify with!” look at BOOM! Studios’ Lumberjanes, Image’s Wayward, Marvel’s Ms. Marvel, or even DC’s own titles Gotham Academy and Batgirl. All are depicted as having an all-ages tone and feel to them, and all focus on primarily female-driven casts. Most importantly, all of them feature well-written, dense, challenging stories about the young women coming into their own in whatever strange world they find themselves, and don’t feel the need to resort to petty teen drama to accomplish it. Sure, high school girl politics rears its ugly head, especially in Ms. Marvel and Gotham Academy, but it only feeds into the larger narrative rather than encompassing it.
Besides, DC Super Hero Girls masks an implied double standard about all young comic book readers. You’ll notice the absence of a comic book line specifically tailored to younger boys, because that already exists. It’s called the main DC Universe. Apparently in DC’s mind, boys don’t need a watered-down universe tweaked to their stereotypical sensibilities to get them interested in comics. No, they can handle the main titles just fine. In fact, DC’s post-Convergence lineup boasts some younger male-centric comics too, like Patrick Gleason’s Robin: Son of Batman and Lee Bermejo’s We Are Robin. So what message is a separate universe for young girls conveying other than that comics are inherently geared towards male readers, and that girls can only handle it as they get older?
With all that in mind, where does that leave DC and its readership? Well, female readers who aren’t totally stoked for the Disney Princess retooling of their favorite heroes will still have the titles mentioned earlier (and some others) for which they can be excited. At best, DC Super Hero Girls is an over-correction, and at worst, it’s a thinly veiled toy deal promotion. DC seems to have the right idea, but they’re approaching it the wrong way. Their time and resources would be much better spent towards building off of the female-centered titles they already have, including a massive overhaul on female-driven series for more mature audiences in addition to their successful light-hearted titles. That means no Twilight comparisons, no vampire rape, and no unsolicited teddy-bear cuddling. Inclusion and quality shouldn’t come with age limits, and they seldom ever come with toy tie-ins.