Comics And Chromosomes

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 15 2013 @ 5:05pm

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Recently, Alyssa picked a bone with comic creator Todd MacFarlane over his claim that superhero comics are destined to be dominated by males because the form is inherently testosterone-driven:

McFarlane’s arguments, of course, ignore that superheroes don’t actually exist, and that the production of superhero comics is not actually a biological function determined by whatever bodies we’re born with. A lack of equality in the nobility’s ranks in the medieval military hasn’t kept Tamora Pierce from writing dozens of fantasy novels involving female knights, because that is a thing that you can do in fiction. If superheroes actually existed, and their ranks were exclusively male, writing fantastical fiction to consider how women might handle that sort of power, and how the world might react to their use of it would be a perfectly legitimate subject for superhero fiction to explore.

And having two X chromosomes hasn’t actually kept women like Gail Simone from writing wonderful characters of both sexes for decades–nor has possession of a Y chromosome kept men like Dan Slott and Jeff Parker from doing well by characters like She-Hulk and Red She-Hulk. The decision to stay within the narrow lanes of your own fantasies is a choice, not biological determinism.

Noah Berlatsky takes on MacFarlane’s suggestion that feminist comics “makes for boring stories that drive people away”:

If you want to restrict the discussion to comic books, the two most successful female superhero comics–and for that matter, two of the most successful superhero comics period–were both feminist.

Sailor Moon was all about sisterhood, girl power, and women triumphing over evil together while wearing frilly outfits. It just about single-handedly transformed the comics market in the U.S., so that suddenly the biggest growing sector was girls, and the biggest growing series were Japanese. (The decision of comics critic and small manga publisher Erica Friedman to learn Japanese just to read Sailor Moon is telling, if not exactly typical.)

The original Wonder Woman comics were even more politically engaged. Creator William Marston believed that women were better suited than men to rule, and his comics were devoted to explicit feminist moralizing. In one issue, Wonder Woman becomes the president of a future utopia. In another, she teaches girls that they can perform amazing feats of strength and skill if they only believe in themselves. In a third, Wonder Woman has to dispel an ectoplasmic doppelganger of George Washington who attempts to convince the United States that women should not be allowed to contribute to the war effort. Back in the 1940s, these issues moved hundreds of thousands of copies each — dwarfing sales of all those present-day non-ideological superhero comics that Todd McFarlane draws.

(Image by Fan Art Exhibit)