Apr 14 2009 10:25am

The Red-Boot Diaries: Marvel Divas

Perhaps laying groundwork for more comic-book movies starring Megan Fox, Marvel is introducing a limited series about four female superheroes (Black Cat, Hell Cat, Firestar, and Photon), called Marvel Divas. (No, for real.)

That’s great, right? The notoriously misogynistic superhero-comic-book industry is finally getting with the times and working on something that will delve deep into the female superhero psyche! I can’t wait to see how these characters deal with the stress of brutal, violent, thankless work, maintaining dual identities, feeling alone and helpless against an endless onslaught of evil.

What does Marvel say about it?

The idea behind the series was to have some sudsy fun and lift the curtain a bit and take a peep at some of our most fabulous super heroines. In the series, they’re an unlikely foursome of friends—Black Cat, Hell Cat, Firestar, and Photon—with TWO things in common: They’re all leading double-lives and they’re all having romantic trouble.

Um. Or it could be about that, I guess!

The fact that comic book companies disdain their female fanbase is nothing new. Most comic readers have had to wonder how a superheroine who is six feet tall weighs 115 pounds and has a waist the same circumference as her head. Project Girl Wonder organized a letter-writing campaign to have Stephanie Brown, Batman’s first female Robin, memorialized in the same way as other Robins who had died in the line of duty; it took almost two years for DC to respond. (Maybe it was busy shunting the Wonder Woman movie project to direct-to-DVD animation?)

Marvel Divas should be an interesting litmus test for the future of women-centric storylines in comics. Obviously if it does poorly, DC and Marvel will point to it forever as an example of why “comics for women” won’t sell. Though, what happens if it does well? Is that better, or worse? Can they trust their numbers when a quartet of hypersexual, anatomically-suspect women proves popular among the young male contingent? Just looking at the promo art, I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of preteen boys cried out in wonder and were suddenly pubescent.

But no! Joe Quesada swears there’s more than meets the eye.

The pitch started as “Sex and the City” in the Marvel Universe, and there’s definitely that “naughty” element to it, but I also think the series is doing to a deeper place, asking question about what it means…truly means…to be a woman in an industry dominated by testosterone and guns. (And I mean both the super hero industry and the comic book industry.) But mostly it’s just a lot of hot fun.

Quesada then added, “Plus, as a nod to sustainability and local farming, all four heroines have cantaloupes attached to their chests.”*

* He did not. (But they do.)

Jeremy Tolbert
1. Jeremy Tolbert
This is the best thing about the worst thing I have read all morning.

I've never even heard of 3 of those superheroines, and I'm not exactly a stranger to comics.
Richard Fife
2. R.Fife
Um, wow. Even being a heartless man, this makes me shudder in pain. Kind of like when Final Fantasy X-2 came out, and all the advertising and promo shots (heck, even some of the premise behind the story, "Dress Spheres", huh?). I think Square was honestly trying to make a stab at bringing in more female gamers to the Final Fantasy world with a "strong, woman only cast" but, well, the joke name on the intarwebs was "Final Fantasy Girls Night Out". One could tell the story was written by a sexual repressed japanese otaku.*

*I have no clue if was, I'm just being slandarous. In all truth, I think that I hope that "Marvel Divas" doesn't become Bratz with superpowers.

-edit: why are half of the "Divas" named "Cat". I guess its better than calling them dogs, but...
james loyd
3. gaijin
Well, we all know that this is really Birds of Prey: the Marvel Version.

It's good (and weird) to see Firestar again (cue the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends theme) and Black Cat is well-established, but who are Hell Cat and Photon? More importantly, which one is Josie?
Torie Atkinson
4. Torie
Marvel Divas should be an interesting litmus test for the future of women-centric storylines in comics. Obviously if it does poorly, DC and Marvel will point to it forever as an example of why “comics for women” won’t sell.

Well said. The picture you included speaks volumes about the endeavor--is that image supposed to be aimed at women and girls? Really?
David Spiller
5. scifidavid
I've been a fan of Hell Cat and Black Cat for decades. I was never that impressed with Firestar and I have never heard of Photon. I would replace Firestar and Photon with Tigra and Medusa than add Namorita, The Scarlet Witch, Jean Grey and The White Queen. I'm just saying.
Jeremy Tolbert
6. MrWesley
Photon is the former Captain Marvel, the light-based hero who was leader of the Avengers for a while.

Hell Cat is Patsy walker was one of Marvel's first and premiere teen romance/comedy characters in the 40s and 50s, who transitioned into being a hero in the 70s.

Obviously I haven't read this, so I don't know what it's really going to be like, but I wouldn't compare it to Birds of Prey, other than that it's a team of heroines. BoP was generally well-written, generally non-T&A.

But this? Everything about this is just... offensive.
7. Hatgirl
I was getting good and indignant about this. Then I read this comment about the cover at CBR.
"...But it’s not just about the idealized human form. It’s about the SEXUALIZED idealized human form. Can you honestly say the cover is not a cheesecake shot? Have you ever seen anything remotely comparable with male heroes? Batman bent over the Batmobile with his butt in the air? A nude Captain America with his shield covering up his stars and bars? The only thing I can remember being a comparable beefcake shot is occasionally seeing Clark Kent on the farm with his overalls undone..."

After I stopped laughing at the image of a but-wiggling Batman, I realised Wesley had made a great point. And perhaps this might be a way to illustrate why these types of images are offensive, whereas an artistic nude is not. Alas, I can barely draw a stick figure.

Anyone want to give this a go? I'll pay cash for an original "Tony Stark looking embarrassed yet somehow coy while holding his helmet in a strategic position"
Eugene Myers
8. ecmyers
"Sudsy fun"? You mean, like this MJ statue? Because that went over well.
Dayle McClintock
9. trinityvixen
They'd have a better stab at getting more female dollars if they invested all this money in manga. This relates to the point brought up at #7. Because manga DOES sexualize the boys as much (or more) than the women. And teenage girls and above eat that shit up. Manga is umpteen times more profitable than comics these days.
Jeremy Tolbert
10. Nick Mamatas
Ooh, Black Cat AND Hellcat. I bet they have a few things in common...
CD Covington
11. ccovington
Why did I click on the link and read into the comment threads? The discussion between "Jon L." and Jennifer deGuzman is making me want to beat my head against my desk. A sample, from Jon's comment:

Jennifer de Guzman: “Jon L., Amy’s assertion that men and women have different experiences of the world and that might translate into more skilled handling of certain stories is absolutely not nonsense.”

I disagree. It’s nonsense because the contextual suggestion is that gender in this instance trumps quality. As I already stated, men and women have more in common than the small amount of differences that separate them.

Jeremy Tolbert
12. MrWesley

Thanks for the kudos!

Maybe it's just because I'm getting older and I can see things a little more clearly now, but this kind of blatant objectification that is not only sold but encouraged by DC and Marvel is really beginning to get to me.

I have a niece who LOVED Hawkgirl in the Justice League cartoons, but who's beginning to grow out of the Johnny DC/Marvel Adventures comics, and there is almost NOTHING appropriate for her from the Big Two's mainstream lines. I'd like to be able to share my love of super-hero comics with my kids one day, but if I have a girl, I can't.
René Walling
13. cybernetic_nomad

So true,

I'm always on the lookout for titles that could interest my daughter. Kid's titles are usually relatively easy to find as long as you aren't looking for superhero comics. Bone, Owly, Polly and the Pirates, Cardcaptor Sakura are some of what she's enjoyed. But don't ask me what I'll be able to steer her towards in four, five years – I'm already looking frantically so I'll be ready when the time comes and everything that comes to mind is either North American Indie, European or Japanese...not a superhero in sight...
Christine Evelyn Squires
14. ces

And here I thought they were bowling balls.
David Lev
15. davidlev
I'm a male comics reader, and I will admit to liking a bit of cheesecake in my comics, but I firmly believe that good comics with female characters in them should conform to Bechdel's Law. Consider the webcomic Questionable Content: it has plenty of hot female characters, but they keep their clothes on (no gratuitous cleavage) and often have interesting conversations besides the men in their lives. A good job of a comic balancing content with its readers base desires, I feel

And seeing Photon (or Monica Rambeau, as I knew her) in this makes me sad. She was quite good in Nextwave (one of the few Marvel comics I actually read; I'm more of a Dark Horse/Vertigo man myself), a comic with three female characters that didn't oversexualize them too much.

For transitional comics for girls, I would suggest they either go over to manga for a few years or read Hellboy or BPRD (OK both are male dominated but at least they HAVE female characters who do something besides look pretty) or possibly Strangers in Paradise (altho it's been a while since i read that series so I can't remember whether it has disturbing content or not). There are other things out there probably too. Once they're older you could probably try various Vertigo titles, which have a tendency to have female characters who do more than look pretty and worry about their boyfriends.
Stephen W
16. Xelgaex
I was going to recommend Runaways, but then I remembered jung unccrarq gb Tregehqr (Spoiler rot13'ed) and thought, "Perhaps not." However, it still might be better than most so it might be worth checking out.
Rene Sears
17. rene
@Mr. Wesley and cybernetic_nomad-

May I also suggest Castle Waiting by Linda Medley as a good comic for young people? It's set in a land where fairy tales are real and explores what happens after they're over. Also the art is lovely.

Akiko by Mark Crilley is also good. And the Cartoon History of the Universe by Larry Gonick is wonderful for the historically minded. Also, it's very funny. I read those over and over when I was a kid
Dave Thompson
18. DKT
Didn't Marvel already do this once with the Emma Frost miniseries, cantaloupes and all?

And I'm pretty sure they did another similar girl team...the new Heroes for Hire? Didn't that tank as well?

I'd love to see someone do this right. But I doubt it will happen while Joe "Brand New Day we'll retcon Mary-Jane" Quesada's in charge.
Jeremy Tolbert
19. Mitchell Bennett Craig
Somebody should tell Quesada to hold off releasing this until next April Fools Day.
Jared Kardos
20. darkknightjared
Anyone want to give this a go? I'll pay cash for an original "Tony Stark looking embarrassed yet somehow coy while holding his helmet in a strategic position"

If I had half the drawing skills I wish I had, I would gladly take some money for it. :O

As for other titles for young girls--I don't really read it, but wouldn't Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane work in that aspect as well?
Jeremy Tolbert
21. Brian St. Claire
Let me see if I understand this correctly:

It's a comic supposedly intended for female audiences, with a female superheroine perspective.

And yet, despite these most noble of intentions, the cover of the first issue is them looking all sexy and provocative, in a giant ring of fire.

Wouldn't a cover more indicative of the actual comic (if it is what it claims to be) feature, say, Black Cat's domino mask on a table in the foreground, along with, say, lipstick/mascara and handcream, some random guy's number on a piece of paper, a planner and then, in the background, her looking damn good in some civilian clothes as she walks out the door? And, as if the superhero thing weren't obvious enough, her spare unitard draped over the couch?

Of course not. That'd be silly. Marvel's not putting out a comic book about the struggles of women balancing dual lives as civvies and capes. Marvel just wants a myopic caricature, one that caters to an audience (decidedly not female) expecting tales of crime-fighting, shower scenes, lingerie shopping and pillow fights.
Jared Kardos
22. darkknightjared
@Brian St. Claire

If you'll allow me to play devil's advocate for a sec--have they said that this picture is the actual cover being released in July? It's very possible that this is a promo pic, or maybe there's a varient cover.
Jeremy Tolbert
23. ChastMastr
Actually I've seen some quite hot beefcake over the years, but I agree, there's a sad imbalance where cheesecake is concerned. There was a lot of GREAT male stuff, more of the shirtless and tied-up variety, in the 1970s -- lots of Tomahawk and western heroes being held prisoner, etc. -- as well, of course, as the be-loinclothed hotties of Tarzan, Conan, Kull, Warlord and various other barbarian-hero types. And oh, Vartox. :) Mustn't ever forget Vartox. Since then we've had a lot of good male nudes or nearly nudes, Wolverine et al, but there still needs to be some balance there.

Also, the "embarrassed nude Tony" image I recall from the comics would be Avengers #215 or #216, in which the Molecule Man disintegrates his armor and he has to borrow something (Thor's cape? Don't recall) to cover himself up while they try to figure out what to do, so it has indeed been done. (Intrerestingly, that storyline also dealt with Tigra addressing being treated as a "sexy" stereotype -- and she's also the one who ends up talking the Molecule Man down in the end rather than solving the problem with violence, which I always thought was really cool.)

In any case, I would normally be wholly uninterested in this series, but Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, a very good and openly gay writer, writing a series that's already being compared to the particularly-popular-among-gay-men show Sex and the City, is probably going to write it from a very different viewpoint than people seem to be expecting. The art may be a different matter, of course.
Jason Lyman
24. jlyman
@7 Hatgirl

RE: Tony Stark's compromising position. Go here and click on "hand drawn" and #6. It's not Tony Stark, but it may fulfill the requirements.

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