Sex in DC: What’s Love Got to Do with It?

This is me, jumping on the currently-most-popular bandwagon in internet geekdom.

The DC Reboot.

If you don’t follow the comics industry, DC is one of the two biggest publishing houses (the other being Marvel). DC brings us Batman, Superman, Catwoman, Teen Titans, and a slew of other heroes and villains. Due to the decline in readership and sales, DC decided to recreate, or “reboot”, 52 characters and storylines.

The first few titles released over the last two weeks have met with a backlash of public outrage. The reason? The female characters are now mere porn stars.

Everyone knows that sex sells, and that isn’t really the issue here. What the internet is screaming over is the treatment of sex and sexuality in these volumes. And it isn’t just the women in the audience spewing vitriol; a large part of the male readership is also disgusted.

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DC stated that it wanted to create, among other things, sexually liberated female characters. I heartily support sexual liberation; I believe that we labor under a great deal of bondage regarding our sexuality. The difference is in how I and DC define “liberation”.

Is it liberating to put a woman in an outfit that would not survive a shallow, indrawn breath? I can assure you that even for the alien female characters, those outfits would not survive a single step in the dressing room, let alone a battle. Why give her that outfit? It does her no good in any portion of the storyline, and she would not choose it for herself because she knows that needs a garment that will hold up under whatever activity she does. Ah; it isn’t for the story. It’s for the audience. When a woman is dressed by someone else to sexually provoke the audience, is she liberated?

Is it liberating to put a substantial amount of focus on a woman’s sexuality? If she constantly moans about not having or boyfriend or lover, to the point that half the pages include at least a mention of it, I doubt she is liberated. If a goodly portion of her screen-time revolves around enticing men or engaging in sex, it falls flat in the reading. We readers feel that the editor is a pimp requiring the characters to put for the audience, and we are about as satisfied as if we were Johns.

Is it liberating to require a woman to demand sex? Women do have natural sexual urges, but I would argue that a truly liberated woman can say “No” as easily as she can say “Yes.” A liberated woman can choose her partner(s) as carefully as she wishes. Writing a character who cannot refuse any opportunity to get laid is not liberating. Additionally, writing a character who is incapable of caring about her sexual encounters is not writing a liberated woman. Whores and slaves cannot care about who bangs them; free women do care about those with  whom they make love.

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Why do we read comics at all? What started the fandom? I would venture it was the characters and the stories. We all want a hero, someone to save us from torment and show us how to stand tall. We want inspiration and encouragement and hope that a brighter day can and will come. We needed larger-than-life, beyond-human figures to provide perspective on daily human life. Aliens come to our world show us how human we are and how we can maximize our humanity.

Superheroes are those individuals who decided to use what they had to do what they saw needed to be done. They showed us the best and worst of themselves, thus enabling us to see the best and worst in ourselves. They usually won, but not always. Evil had a face, a name, and it could be stopped by someone determined enough to figure out a way.

Even the shift to allow for villains to have their own stories maintained the driving force of character. We want an interesting protagonist, one we can in some way identify with. Sometimes, we want to know more about the ones we vilify so that we can better root for the hero. Sometimes we have compassion and understanding for these archetypes of people. We want to know what they’re up to and why they’re doing it, and we wonder how much longer they will survive against the good guy.

Through it all, what keeps readers coming back is the character and the story. We find our entertainment in all the complex simplicity of heroes who fight crime and struggle to keep the rent paid. And yes, we want our heroes to look good. They are, after all, the ideal we strive for.

How many of us grew up wanting to be Superman or Batgirl? How many of us wanted to be the hero fighting Bad Guys, Saving The Day, and Getting the Girl/Guy? We wanted to be as attractive as they are, and we wanted to be as good as they are. Reading their stories inspired us and told us what to look for in ourselves and in others.

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The shift we see in the DC reboot is troublesome because readers are so invested in the characters and stories. Yes, we want attractive characters who live The Good Life, and most of us don’t mind being able to sigh (or whatever) over just how attractive a character is, but that’s not our real purpose in reading comics.

We want stories.

We want realistic characters.

We want to be able to see ourselves in the panels.

Those of us who are liberated from sexual bondage know that sex is a beautiful thing that must be honored in order to be enjoyed. When love turns to gratification, there is no purpose. When sex does not further the character’s development or the plot, it becomes cheap and meaningless. And we are bored with that.

We do not want gratuitous shots of anatomy that give us no idea of who the character is.

We do not want ridiculous poses that serve no developmental purpose.

We do not want shallow, callow characters who don’t connect with the other characters or the audience.

If “sexiness” is integral to the story, then let it have an actual function! Sprinkle it in like choice seasoning; don’t dull us with too much spice and not enough meal. If there is more pepper than potato, we have a problem.

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I find it interesting that as many men as women are disgusted with the recent comic issues. Many of the comments I have read state outright hatred for the female characters, frustration with the lack of coherent story, confusion about how the sex scenes are portrayed (as in, that’s not even anatomically probable), anger at the removal of all that made the characters wonderful to begin with, exasperation at wooden characters, and despair at not feeling comfortable with introducing their children to the comics they once enjoyed so much.

Numerous comments also revolve around the supposed target audience for this reboot. Stereotypically, older boys and young men read superhero comics. What DC seems to have missed is that those original 14-35 year-olds are now husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They still love their childhood favorites, and they don’t want to see them destroyed for the sake of a new crop of sexually-jaded post-pubescents.

What continues to amaze me is how few of the traditional comic publishers grasp the size and variety of their female readership. There are a lot of female readers out there who are every bit as invested in superheroes as the males. And we don’t appreciate having our own sexuality trashed.

A sexually liberated woman understands her body well. She knows what is normal, what is pleasing, and where the proper boundaries are. She knows how far to push and when to say, “Here and no further.” She appreciates what makes her female and refuses all attempts to make her less, in any form or fashion. And the sexually liberated male is, not so coincidentally, of the same mindset. He respects himself as much as he respects her self. Together, they create a healthy balance.

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When a character’s main selling point becomes her ability to gratify “natural urges,” she can no longer be “real.” We can no longer identify with her and we can no longer care about what happens to her. She becomes an inflatable doll that we keep in the corner or under the bed and would really rather no one knew we had. Comics become that dirty habit that we hide, giving fuel to the argument that only masturbating boys living in Mom’s basement read that stuff.

Earlier I mentioned that most of us started reading comics because we learned more about ourselves through them. What do these new versions tell us about ourselves? Who can we be, according to this?

I see a tale of twisted expectations, wherein the most desirable individuals are the least real. I see a tale of hollow existence, where right and wrong don’t matter and sexual gratification trumps passion and love. I see a world become The Wasteland in which humanity is utterly lost.

Are there any heroes left?

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