Rant Time: Why the Double Standard for Comic Books?


One of the most tiresome ongoing internet debates is the representation of women in various forms of media. While I would certainly argue that this is an issue worth addressing, the tiresomeness stems not from the topic itself, but from the approaches of the people doing the debating. Exhibit A: the recent kerfluffle regarding artist Milo Manara’s variant cover (shown above) featuring Spider-Woman in a classic Spider-Man pose in what I like to call the Spider-Woman Initiative.

The cries of sexism began long before the issue hit the stands, with the entire premise being that NOBODY would EVER draw a MALE superhero in that pose -the obvious response to anyone who has ever read a comic book being “whaaaaaaa?” because anybody who knows who Spider-Man is (a popular comic book character) and what Spider-Man does (whatever a spider can, I hear) has likely seen him in that pose, which is presumably meant to accentuate the spider-ness of the man (or woman in this case), countless times. I own a t-shirt that has Spider-Man in that pose. Well, that was easily settled. Thanks for playing.

But the hate kept coming….and coming…..and coming. It became so intense that Marvel Comics actually fired the artist from the upcoming projects he was slated to work on. And that’s exactly where I’ve personally got to draw the line. Internet shit talk is one thing, but damaging peoples’ careers is just plain wrong unless they are violent offenders like certain professional athletes. But spiteful crushing of another human being’s livelihood aside, the real issue I’m wondering about today is why is it specifically comic books that are singled out for sexualization of the female form when this is clearly an across the board kind of deal? We’ll get to that later. First, some observations.

Any aspiring artist has got to know how hard it is to successfully make a decent living drawing pictures for other people. Getting a job with one of the biggest comic companies on Earth is like winning a Golden Ticket. But for every Charlie there has to be a Veruca Salt, I suppose. In real life, she would use the internet to raise an army to intimidate Willy Wonka into throwing Charlie and everyone else out of the chocolate factory.


Make the basic human anatomy go away, mommy!!!

Just to make sure this was all as silly as it seemed and not just me, I showed the image to my wife (who is significantly less tolerant of sexual imagery than I and gives fewer than two shits about comics) and asked her if it offended her in any way. Her response suggested I may have just asked her the stupidest thing that has ever been asked out loud. And I didn’t even say the “let me ass you something” part out loud. When I explained why I wanted her opinion, she said “God, I hate feminists”. That was both unexpected and interesting to me.

As I’m sure you’re aware, feminists are supposed to represent the interests of women in theory. This is something you’d think women would automatically be down with. But like any organization that sets out to do good, the most prominent members end up being the folks shouting hate speech slogans at funerals and crashing planes into buildings. When the people you’re advocating start expressing outright disgust at your actions, it may be time to reconsider your methods. Nobody likes an extremist.

And from the perspective of creators and artists, the attacks make for a no-win situation. Saying you want more prominent female characters and then tearing down a solo title starring a prominent female character is counterproductive to that end. To further illustrate this dilemma, allow me to show you the other controversial cover by regular artist Greg Land for the same issue. Find the problem.


If you hissed “I can see her dirty pillows”, help yourself to a cookie. Never mind that every inch of her body below her jawline is covered up, breasts included; you can still see that she has them, and there’s no shortage of bloggers pointing out this horror. Now let me spell something out. We want more women in comic books. If they are shown from the back you can see their butt. If you show them from the front, you can see their boobs. And if you show them from the side, both become even more prominent. If you are comic book artist, I’m not sure that’s a solvable problem unless all female characters are either rendered prepubescent or attired in burkas.

And no, ladies, I don’t mean to pick on you and your overzealous self-appointed advocates who often profit handsomely by manufacturing controversy. There are men who are also out of their goddamn minds with a need to destroy that which they don’t personally appreciate, even in their own community. Notable comic illustrator Dave Dorman attacked Image Comics’ Saga, which featured a highly inoffensive cover in which a mother is breastfeeding her child


She must be some kind of pedophile!

His issue? How dare they show something like that in a comic meant for children; Saga being a comic that has at least one explicit full-page lesbian angel orgy too many to be seen as any sort of children’s story. We all love a good “won’t somebody think of the children?” outcry if for nothing else than some hearty laughs but come the f*** on. I can only assume that Mr. Dorman’s knowledge of the fairer gender comes primarily from Judd Appatow films.

What I would infer from this guy’s statement is that his real problem is discomfort with a woman’s breast being portrayed in a decidedly non-sexual manner. Try to think of an image more patently natural and maternal than a breastfeeding mother. Exactly; there isn’t one. If you see that and all you can think of is sex, then I weep for you.

And while we’re on the topic of society’s devolution in attitudes towards femininity, if you see a woman in a crouched position facing the camera and use the word “presenting” to describe what you see, just….I don’t even know what to say to you except this is not National Geographic and using nature documentary terminology doesn’t make you sound more intelligent in this context. You and me baby are not nothing but mammals and I, for one, do not do it like they do on the Discovery Channel. How is referring to a strong woman as if she were something subhuman even remotely compatible with feminism?

But enough about all that. If this was an across the board assault on all portrayals of women across media, I’d just accept it as decades of modern liberals envying the uptight repressionism that used to define classic conservatism coming to a boil. Live long enough with your head outside of your own posterior and you’ll see supposedly opposing political sides switch dance partners often enough. But with the comic industry in particular, this has been going on since the 1930’s with full-on Fahrenheit 451 burnings in the 40’s, the 50’s onset of aggressive blanket censorship that lasted for decades, right up to current prosecutions of explicit manga featuring high school girls as child pornography.

But putting oppression and censorship issues aside as well, nobody has effectively explained what all this sex-shaming is supposed to accomplish aside from implying that the female form is shameful and so is any sort of attraction to it. Alright, so men like looking at sexually attractive images and companies use that to sell them products, in this case comic books. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea and people are upset by what they don’t understand and can’t be bothered to think seriously about, but let’s look at how things are being marketed by women to women for comparison.


I couldn’t find a decent image search that didn’t include some hilarious satirical title changes, but you get the idea.

So what I’m getting is that drawings of powerful female characters who fight evil in spandex costumes is sexist and disgusting, but explicit descriptions of throbbing members, cupped breasts, and ass-claiming (if I may paraphrase 50 Shades) fronted by images several times over more explicitly sexual in nature are just dandy. So is it the sexualization of women that’s bad or is this a blatant example of hypocrites deciding it’s okay as long as the medium is targeted exclusively to them? You tell me.

And if I may beat that horse a little more I’d like to point out that I’ve never been to a store that didn’t have the checkout aisles lined with airbrushed images (because people like Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Lawrence aren’t naturally attractive enough to be worthy) of sexualized women next to large text promising sexual content inside. Controversy or not, I will almost certainly never lay eyes on a physical copy of Milo Manara’s Spider-Woman Initiative cover. To do so one would either have to order that specific variant from the web or enter an actual comic book store and look for it because those are the only places one typically finds such things. Comics are not exactly saturating our daily lives. You have to make it your business to go well out of your way to find this stuff, which is a direct contrast to oh, say this example of a ubiquitous women’s magazine, for example:


No double standard, here. Nosiree. And fyi: if oral sex is dangerous, you’re doing it wrong.

If you can find a mainstream comic cover where the girl is covering her vagina by pulling down her top (exposing her bra in the process, natch) then I might concede that the folks leading this particular anti-sexism crusade might not need to be sterilized for the good of mankind. I’m kidding. This whole thing is proof that we all need to be sterilized. Even me, for taking this much time to refute something so far beneath even the lower tiers of human intellect when I know better.

After all, it takes a lot more energy to prove bullshit wrong than it does to dish it out so I’m destined to lose this test of endurance. Any amount of time, energy, research, and critical analysis can and will be easily ignored and overshadowed by one anonymous troll tweeting “duurrrrrr, Imma RAPE YOU! lol” to a prominent female blogger, thus proving that everything they’ve ever said is irrefutably true forever. It’s logic!

So people will continue to throw a bunch of nonsensical crap at the wall and even if it sticks they’ve still only managed to cover a wall in excrement. I fail to see the appeal, but then again I make my living at a job, not by enticing stupid people to use inflammatory internet articles as a battleground. I’m just a humble nerd who wants to be free to love the things he loves and for artists and writers to be free to create them for anybody who wants them. And I hope that those who don’t love what I love can find something in their life that they can enjoy regardless of anyone else’s opinion on it and put their time and energy into supporting that instead of generating as much negativity as they can.

And lady geeks, if you’ve got an opinion on this, I’d love to hear it in the comments. I hear a lot from the people who clearly aren’t part of our community hogging all the press, but I want to know what YOU think. Geek culture is not only boys’ fun and, occasional condescending prick aside, you should always feel welcome to speak your mind, particularly when so many outsiders are confusing the issues and presuming to speak for you. Is there anything my testosterone-addled brain is missing that I failed to take into consideration here? Let’s hear it.


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  1. I’m no lady, but I try to make up for it with a double dose of geekiness. I gotta say, you nailed it. People have become more and more adept at finding injustice where it doesn’t exist. And strangely, it seems to occur when they read either too much or too little into the thing their slamming.

    You said it best though – ‘it takes a lot more energy to prove bullshit wrong than it does to dish it out’. It’s way too easy to bash something from afar nowadays. And comic books have become an easy target, despite being the lesser offender (compared to your other examples).

    My solution – moo-moos! Cosmo cover? Moo-moo. Spider-Man? Moo-moo. Channel your Homer Simpson and the only curve we’ll ever see is the beer belly.

      1. Lol I should have posted a picture. NB when I start referring to moo-moos, it usually means I’ve had one too many coffees and am starting to lose the plot.

    1. I do wonder if any of these people on the hate bandwagon actually read comics. Yeah, women are idealized as hyper-feminine icons, but the men are built ridiculously too and their costumes are just as tight. It’s an across-the-board exaggeration of both genders. The only genuine disparity is that there are a lot more men, and I think it’s possible that gap would be narrower if artists didn’t feel they’ll get attacked from both directions if they add more women.

      1. Exactly. Comic book art generally lies between realism and caricature, where features are exaggerated. That’s why Superman is build like a triangle and wears red underwear that just screams ‘look at my crotch’. I for one have always been enraged by the sexual exploitation of Clark Kent and his super shlong.

      2. For the unrealistic display of the body – I agree. Unless we’re talking about the Blob, I can envy most male characters.

        But looking at the gender-swapped costumes, you can see added boobs and visible belly, basically turning female heroes into “sexy” heroes … or baywatch girls.

  2. Good article, glad to see the SJW haven’t found this place yet. Honestly I think these extremists target comic books simply because they are popular culture now as opposed to Cosmo which has been around forever.

    1. They stop in every once in a while and they are welcome to do so. As long as they can keep their righteous rage at a level where it doesn’t border on hate speech and they have something resembling facts to back up their opinions, I’m all for them sharing their thoughts.

    2. That term SJW really needs to die. It adds nothing to the discussion and just vilifies everyone who doesn’t agree with you. An yup, there are plenty of feminists who criticize magazines like Cosmo, Vogue, and so on.

      I have been enjoying comic books and cartoons since I stole a copy of Claremont’s New X-Men from my brother’s bookshelf nearly twenty years ago. I love that medium and even if I didn’t, I would still have the right to criticize creators for their lack of creativity in creating complex female characters or for perpetuating the old myth of hegemomic masculinity. I really would like to see more Emma Frosts (degraded from scheming powerful mastermind in the comics to dummy/hat stand in the movie), She-Hulks, Spider Men and less same old nerdboy empowerment narratives (Captain America, Superman etc.), women in refrigerators, surprize alien pregnancies or creeptatsic villains like the Mandrill.

      Just grab a copy of Watchmen. A lot of themes and motifs that crazy old Alan Moore satirizes are still very much in play in comics today. It is a fair question to ask why. Obviously, society is changing in terms of gender roles. An imaginative and nearly limitless medium like the comic book should reflect those changes. Is that really too much to ask?

  3. (I had posted a comment that said it was being moderated … not sure why, considering I write for this site – but anyhoo – I shall try and make the same comment again)

    I commend you Nick for coming to the defense of comic book artists and also pointing out the double standards that are set. I would also like to tack on a tid bit because this topic gets me fired up…

    Remember a while back a lot of feminists got in an uproar about Disney/Pixar changing THEIR character – Merida – from the movie Brave? They put her in a fancy gown and gave her a tiara and it was all for the “princess induction ceremony” to show that Merida would now be part of the princess club. They came out in troves yelling about how Disney was taking a “strong-willed” character and making her appear more “idealistic”. They painstakingly went through and pointed out that the image they were using for this “ceremony” had a slimmer waist, higher cheekbones, a more mature look etc. etc. etc. I saw comments stating that she looked “sexy” and “more like a woman” than what was presented in the movie. So apparently Merida is not allowed to change her look AT ALL! How dare Disney do such a thing. I thought Merida was Disney’s property to do whatever they see fit with. If they want to doll Merida up in some fancy princess gown and allow her into the princess club then so be it. I don’t remember everyone yelling about how Ariel was presented in a bikini top. Shouldn’t she have been in a one piece? Heck, she isn’t even a mermaid anymore and is walking on two legs! Nope, we should’ve had the guy transformed into a merman so he could spend life with Ariel under the sea instead!

    I’ve gotta stop my comment now before I get too heated. This debate will go on forever – because there will always be people out there willing to criticize anything they can. The internet just makes it worse because now people can hide behind their screens and get a kick out of feeling powerful. At least women like Emma Watson are putting themselves out there in a better effort on the feminist movement. I’d like to think she’d side with you on this Nick.

    1. I’ll admit, I kind of loved Watson’s speech. I had no idea she was that intelligent and I was super impressed that she was clearly so anxious and just knocked it out of the park anyways. The Merida thing didn’t bother me so much because I feel like people should express their opinions and let the creators know how they feel, but it’s the way they go about it sometimes. I mean, cheek bones? Is it not okay to just say “Disney, I get what you’re doing, but what we love about Brave isn’t Merida’s traditional princessness, but her rugged tomboyishness that stands in direct contrast to a tradition of helpless heroines in pretty dresses you’ve cultivated in the past. Please don’t do this.”

      1. I’m all for people having an opinion (I obviously always have strong ones) – the Merida thing was not such the case. It went from opinion to a full on assault against Disney with petitions flying. My point being that I saw nothing wrong with them changing her image for the ceremony. It was a one time thing for what Disney saw as a special event and people just need to lighten up and find more important things to throw fits about. When Mulan and Pocahontas were accepted into the princess club – nobody seemed to mind their images changing. What’s funny is now to save face Disney have tried to take away any and all portrayals of that Merida and if you look at the Princess page/website – one of these things is not like the others…

        I’m sure that Disney’s sole goal is to objectify women – yeah that’s totally it. They’re definitely the problem.

        Sigh – I’ll stop. Again, great post Nick. The ageless debate keeps on truckin.

    2. The issue wasn’t that she changed her look necessarily, but that the character for many represented an untraditional princess with wild hair, freckles and who actively fought against wearing “pretty dresses” and being girly….then Disney had her do the opposite of what her character did. It was kind of a defining trait of her character, kind of like Belle’s defining trait was that she was not like the other women, enjoyed reading and had substance and say Disney changed that and had her lose her interest in reading, gush over Gaston and so on and basically be like every other girl (like they did with Merida).

  4. Nailed it. It’s not just in comic books. Remember that completely unecessary scene in Star Trek Into Darkness with Alice Eve? Yeah, sure, it’s silly and pandering, but did it really warrant minor controversy? Enough for Damon Lindelof actually having to apologize for the scene? Meanwhile, we have a totally unecessary scene in the second Thor where he’s shirtless, he have a unecessary butt-naked Hugh Jackman in DOFP and a uncessary Chris Pratt getting hosed shirtless in GOTG. Twilight has a character whose defining trait is being shirtless often.

    Obviously there are still a lot of problems with the representation of women in media, but people seem to want to create controversy about anything.

    1. It kind of did, actually. The main issue wasn’t her stripping down in that scene (which as you mentioned was already pretty silly and pointless), the issue was that Kirk felt the need to look at her while she was changing, after she asked him not too. That’s a guy who is supposed to be a captain, talking to someone who is ostensibly a science officer, who clearly doesn’t respect her right to privacy and ignores her when she tells him no. It’s an incredibly skeevy scene, and it makes Kirk look like an ahole instead of a womanizer. The completely unnecessary shirtless and pantless scenes you’ve mentioned are also completely pointless fanservice, but they are also not instances of a nearly naked woman being ignored by a superior officer when she asks him not to look at her while she’s changing.

      1. I don’t think the scene makes Kirk look like an ahole more than a immature kid that can’t help himself and it’s not entirely read for the captain’s chair, which is kind of the whole point of his character arc. I mean, I know there are scenes like this, where the guy can’t help but look in other movies that didn’t get any attention.

        What I’m saying is I didn’t really find many complaints about that specific point of view of the scene, the ones I found were pretty much just criticizing how unecessary the scene was. As far as I saw, anyway.

  5. I love comic books and I have never in any way felt that I was inferior, less attractive, or threatened by the fictional super powered female heroes and villains. For these other ‘leaders’ of the ‘female’ community in the real world to feel threatened by non existent fictional females with fake super powers is likened to being a child and scared of the boogeyman.

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