Tag Archives: Feminism

Shocking Character Design: A New Take Superheroines

5 Apr

Artist, Michael Lee Lumsford created some new character designs featuring fully-clothed superheroines. He stated that these designs were not a moral statement, just some exercises. However when they are set against the classic comic book depictions of these ladies, its a strange comparison. *Lumsford’s illustrations are the ones on the top.

Black Canary

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Elektra

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I’m not advocating that superheroines should don habits. I just had such a visceral reaction to these images. I could not believe how shocking Zantanna in trousers seemed. We have been conditioned to expect bare skin on leading ladies in comic books. This is just some food for thought, we should be aware of what we are consuming. This poses so many interesting questions about the role of women in the world of comics, and the expectations we have as readers.

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Swamp Thing’s Abigail Arcane as a 21st Century Persephone

14 Mar

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In Swamp Thing #18 by Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette, Abigail Arcane evolves to become the Avatar of Death. An avatar is defined as a deity in bodily form on the earth. Through her acceptance of this role, she becomes one of the most dynamic and courageous women in comic history. I would like to take a moment to compare Abigail to another Queen of the Underworld, Persephone. Fair warning, if you’re not caught up on Snyder’s complete run, this contains *spoilers.*

The mythological tale surrounding Persephone’s coronation as Queen of the Underworld begins with her abduction. As the daughter of Zues and Demeter (goddess of the harvest) she spent the early part of her life surrounded by nature. One day, she was alone in a field when the earth cleaved and Hades (god of the underworld, and brother of her father) appeared in a fiery chariot. He then grabbed the maiden goddess and returned to the Underworld.

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carryLet’s look at the parallels so far. Abigail was born into a lineage connected with the rot, while she is not the daughter of the king of the gods, her family tree does seem a deciding factor in regard to the role she will play in the future.

Her uncle, Anton, is similar to Hades. He is connected with death, and serves as her connection to it as well. He also takes her against her will to be his queen early in this series It seems the same thing might have happened when she was younger, to a lesser degree.

Now back to our story. During Persephone’s time in the underworld, her mother, Demeter, is heartbroken. She wanders the earth looking for her daughter, during this time no crops grew, famine and hunger were widespread and the crops rotted in the field. Demeter refused to let plants grow while Persephone was missing.

This might be a stretch, but the takeover of the rot after Abigail’s death might have ties to this part of the myth. Here’s where things start getting tricky, lets talk seeds.

pomWhile Persephone is in the underworld with Hades, she eats a handfull of pomegranate seeds. Zeus commands Hades to set her free, so that her mother, Demeter, will allow the fields to bear crops and the people of earth will not starve. Hades agrees, and Persephone is released. When her mother realizes that she has consumed the food of the underworld, she is heartbroken. By eating the food of the dead, Persephone unwittingly bound herself to the underworld. Because of this she must return to the underworld for a few months (sometimes three sometimes six depending on the text) each year to reign at Hades’ side

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Now you might say I am comparing apples to oranges (or pomegranates to orchids) but do you recall one Dr. Alec Holland sneaking something into Abbie’s peaches? He slipped her a few orchid seeds before she was transformed to become the Queen of the Rot by Anton Arcane and his minions. In this case, the seeds became an agent of life, growth, and resurrection. The seeds help pull Abigail back from the darkness. They still act as the force negotiating her ties to life and death. We begin to see a schism in Snyder’s work and the mythic text here. It’s no longer a perfect mirror, but an evolution of this story that has stood the test of time.

While Persephone served her time in the Land of the Dead, her mother mourned. During this time there was no growth on the land. The winter months were a time of rot on the earth. This myth serves to explain the seasonal changes that ancient humans experienced. While the similarities are obvious the contrasts between Persephone and Abigail make a beautiful comment on power and agency.

Abigail_Arcane_010 (1)Firstly Abigail is not a queen, defined as the wife or widow of a king; she is an avatar, a god made flesh. She briefly bore the title of queen, which was forced upon her against her will. She was a beastly terror, no part of her personality or essence remained. Though she retained power, her consciousness was all but absent.

This is a powerful statement, as the queen, an extension of the king; her power could only serve as an extension of his. All of the qualities that made her remarkable disappeared. Persephone was a queen, who indeed retained little agency. Both the decision to take on the position, and the actual ruling of the Land of the Dead were out of her hands. It was a position of submission, even as a goddess she was unable to escape her fate or change her circumstances.

Abigail’s episode as Queen of the Rot much more closely resembles the Persephone myth. In her second encounter with Anton she turns the tables and becomes something completely new.

comeAbigail goes looking for Anton. Because of her love for Alec, and her commitment to balance in the world. She knows that he is evil, and that he must be stopped at all cost. Unlike Persephone she is not captured while looking the other way. She goes pursues her destiny, despite her trepidation, because she believes it is the right thing to do.

headThis confrontation costs her her life. Through the intervention the Parliament of Decay, Alec is able to intervene and give her a second chance at defeating her uncle.

abby-and-alecAlso, Abigail is given the opportunity to willingly accept her role as avatar, while Persephone was never given the same chance as Hades’ queen. It seems that both Abigail and Alec were destined for the roles that they play as avatars and for one another. Ultimately it is their choice to accept these roles that gives them their power.

Another interesting feature of Snyder’s version of this story is the inversion of traditional gender associations. Swamp Thing, Alec Holland represents the traditionally feminine aspects of nature, the life-giving forces. Conversely, Abigail Arcane is associated with death and destruction, extensions of the traditionally masculine pursuits of war and nation-building, and also the binary opposite of feminine life-bringing traditions.

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Abigail and Alec shed their human bodies, becoming fully identified with life and death. The love that sustained them and gave them the strength to become what they have become loses any chance for unity, as they now represent one another’s destruction. Where life exist, death cannot be; and where there is death, life stops. They have become a paradox, both depending on one another and repelling each other by their very nature.

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While Persephone is a victim, Abigail is triumphant. She accepts her fate, ask for her power and ultimate emerges as the victor. Persephone’s tragedy is her powerlessness. Abigail’s tragedy is that of a Capulet without a dagger. She cannot uncross the stars. For a pair like this, that could be a fate worse than death.

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The Encomium of Josephine: The Exoneration of a Disastrous Woman

14 Feb

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In the series Fatale, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips published by Image Comics; the main character Josephine, or “Jo,” is a moral gray area. Is she a hero, or a villain?

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To begin, there should be no ambiguity regarding the meaning of the term, “femme fatale,” which translated from French literally reads, “disastrous woman.” The dictionary goes on to define the term  as, “a seductive woman who lures men into dangerous or compromising situations,” or “a woman who attracts men by an aura of charm and mystery.” Using this definition as a rubric, how does Brubaker’s leading lady, Jo, stack up?

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Jo is certainly mysterious; she is certainly beautiful. She has power and influence over the stronger sex, which she seems capable of wielding to various degrees of accuracy and deadliness. She does seem to enact Murphy’s Law on the men who cross her path. Once she is a part of their lives; anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. However, to this point in the series, Brubaker has lead us to see Jo as a reluctant vessel for this power. While manipulating the men who surround her, she often develops strong feelings of affection, if not love, for them. When calamity consumes her lovers, she seems to feel genuine remorse and sorrow. So, that leads naturally to the next question I will ask: is there such a thing as a reluctant femme fatale; or does the term by definition imply intent?

Case Study: Helen of Troy

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“…she had godlike beauty, which having received she not inconspicuously retained. She produced the greatest erotic desires in most men. For one body many bodies of men came together…”
-Gorgias “The Encomium of Helen”

According to ancient Greek legend, Helen was the most beautiful woman ever to have lived. She belonged to Sparta; she was their queen. Her lover, Paris, was a Trojan prince. He took her away with him, to live happily ever after. As is so often the case when a young man takes a bride, an epic war broke out; taking the lives of countless men, destroying families and permanently altering history. Helen has been given the monicker, “The face that launched a thousand ships.” She has been vilified and berated for centuries.

Was she to blame for the effect she had on the men of her day?

Between 480-380 B.C.E. a Greek Sophist, called Gorgias, set out to accomplish the great feat of exonerating Helen in his speech, “The Encomium of Helen.” He posited that Helen’s actions (leaving Sparta and starting the Trojan War) were the result of one of four things: fate, force, persuasion, or love; and the if any of these were the culprit, she was blameless. Could the same be said for Josephine, the heroine in Fatale?

FATE:

“For the will of a god cannot be hindered by human forethought.” – Gorgias

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It is clear that Jo is a piece of a much larger puzzle. Brubaker takes care to establish that she is cursed, and this curse touches every facet of her existence.

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There are worldly forces controlling her fate…

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And that the rules of this mortal existence do not apply to her.

FORCE:

“But if she was abducted by force, unlawfully constrained and unjustly victimized, it is clear on the one hand that the abductor, as victimizer, committed injustice…” – Gorgias

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It is clear time and again, that Jo is motivated by her fear of violence and victimization. The consequences she would face if she fell into the hands of her adversaries are great enough that she will do anything to avoid facing them. Her fear suppresses her conscience. The threat of violence is tantamount to force in this case.

PERSUASION:

“Persuasion belonging to discourse shapes the soul at will,” – Gorgias

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The truth is, we still do not know how Jo came by the power she possesses. Did she willingly acquiesce, was she tricked into it, or did she come into existence already endowed with this fatal beauty? The panel above seems to indicate that she was somehow initiated into this life.

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However, we learn later that she was not fully educated on her power, or the potential harm she could generate. This might suggest that there was an element of trickery or deception in her initial encounter which led to her acquiring this power. If she was deceived in the beginning and not made fully aware of the devastation she could cause; can she be held responsible?

LOVE:

“If Love, being a god, has the divine power of gods, how could the weaker being have the power to reject this and to ward it off?” – Gorgias

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Time and again, Jo thinks of her affectionate feelings for the men who come in and out of her life. She never takes for granted those who come to her assistance, and seems genuinely invested in her partners.

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She never discounts the sincerity and earnestness of her lovers feelings for her. In fact, she seems as incapable of stopping herself from reciprocating those feelings as she is of inspiring them.

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Jo even puts herself in harms way to protect those who love her, braving bullets and a fiery crash to save Nicholas Lash.

How then is it necessary to regard as just the blame of Helen, who either passionately in love or persuaded by discourse or abducted by force or constrained by divine constraints did the things she did, escaping responsibility every way? By this discourse I have removed infamy from a woman… – Gorgias

Jo is a force of nature, not a malicious temptress praying on the innocent. Find it in your heart to pardon her, and pick up this beautiful series from Image comics here: http://www.comixology.com/Fatale-1/digital-comic/NOV110354

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And find more of my writing at http://imageaddiction.net/ 

Jean Grey And Pants: The History of Modern American Women in a Flash

7 Feb

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In Brian Michael Bendis’ series All New X-men, Jean Grey, along with a team of  her peers travel to the modern world from “the past.” Bendis remains purposely vague about when exactly the team hails from. I suppose, judging from the costuming choices, we are to associate them with the original 1963 team. However, Bendis is smart, and realizes that readers can do math, and readers will realize that no man who was old enough to legally drive a car in 1963 could look like Scott Sommers does now.

So let’s follow Jean’s costumes over the years and see what her appearance tells us about Women’s History.

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Jean Grey’s original uniform was a utilitarian garment, not unlike swimwear popular in 1963, but with the added coverage of tights and long sleeves. She wears pants, in that she does not wear a skirt, but it is function over form. When not on duty with the X-men, Jean wears shirt waist dresses, and occasionally hats.

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For the time Jean’s appearance is not out of the ordinary, Title IX which prevented public schools from prohibiting girls to wear trousers was not enacted until 1972. It is likely that most women at that time were wearing pants only for function, not for fashion. Pants were considered “loungewear,” and deemed inappropriate for wearing in public among most circles. In fact in 1960, a judge ejected a woman from his courtroom for wearing slacks; not in the Deep South, but in New York City.

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So it is no surprise that When Jean later takes it upon herself to update Marvel Girl’s appearance, a sensible, albeit short skirt injects some femininity into her ensemble.

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Marvel Girl’s new look premiered in X-men Vol 39 in December of 1967.  That is the same year that the Supreme Court ruled that states banning unmarried women from purchasing birth control pills were unconstitutionally invading those women’s privacy. It was beginning to be acceptable for women to possess their own sexuality. Perhaps this has something to with Jean’s gams and décolletage being so prominently displayed.

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So time moves on, women stop connecting their worth to housework, and start taking ownership of their sexuality. Jean evolves, becoming Phoenix in 1976. In the nine years that passed had seen everything from the Summer of Love (1969) to the landmark decision of Roe v Wade (1973), more and more women were delaying family life in lieu of pursuing careers, the phenomenon of single motherhood was on the rise, and there was disco. Jean returns from the dead, empowered with a new force, much like her real world female contemporaries.

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But as good things will, the Phoenix Force went the way of disco, leaving people scratching their heads, wondering why they ever thought it was a good idea in the first place. Women began to demand equal pay for equal work; it became clear that two working parents in a household meant more out of home child-care, threats like AIDS loomed right around the corner (1981). All of these things meant that the novelty of the women’s liberation was wearing off and the patriarchal society was left making the walk of shame, from the one decade stand they shared. So, Jean gets dark.

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Jean came back too powerful, so naturally she was corrupted by evil. She steps in place as the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club in mid-1980. Scantily clad in black leather, she may represent a woman, left to her own devices, unchecked by social mores. She is hyper-sexualized, incapable of dealing with her own power, and hopelessly impressionable.

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Jean is ultimately corrupted in this arc as she becomes the Dark Phoenix

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Jean is planning on consuming the world, but in the end, decides to sacrifice herself so that things can continue on the way they were. If that is not a comment on the modern woman’s dilemma I don’t know what is. There is more of course, but lets stop there, and just consider for a moment, what face’s Bendis’ Jean as she learns her future.

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These women exist, the ones that watched our world change, they were Rosie the Riveter, and June Cleaver, and bra burners, and workin’ 9-5; they were our mothers and grandmothers, and us… and for some of them; I imagine they felt they watched the changes happen at this speed.

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And find Brian Michael Bendis’ All New X-men here: http://marvel.com/comic_books/issue/43462/all-new_x-men_2012_1

Icebreakers: Blair Wade Writes About Feminist Themes In Wonder Woman

5 Feb

This week’s Icebreaker is Blair Wade

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About Blair

My name is Blair Wade and I am a second year political science student in Alberta, Canada, with a fascination with all things feminist and superhero Gail Simone and Barbara Gordon are 100% my biggest feminist inspirations.

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An excerpt from her essay: 

The Wonder Woman Complex: 

How The Most Iconic Super-Heroine in the DC Universe Demonstrates The Positive Impacts of Radical Feminism

Created from the imagination of William Marston in 1941, Wonder Woman emerged as a fierce super-heroine in the overwhelmingly male-dominated sphere of comics. Described by Robert Greenberger as a “cultural juggernaut”5 she proved herself from her origin as a resilient competitor, equal, if not superior, to her male rivals. Using her astounding physical and mental strength to fight for truth and justice, she took on the mission to help alleviate oppression around the world. Consequently she became an empowering figure for her audience. Greenberger fervently argues that she “espoused the equality of women in every aspect of society”6 as heroine, career woman, and romantic companion. Just as soon as she entered the DC Universe, she became symbolic in popular culture of the entire feminist movement; she was even used by prominent feminist figure Gloria Steinem in her campaigns. In the recent re-boot of her character by Brian Azzarello in The New 52, Wonder Woman and her fellow characters continue to encapsulate both explicit and implicit feminist messages. The series and its iconic heroine demonstrate how radical feminism has the power to end female oppression by overthrowing patriarchal society, redefining reproductive roles, liberating female sexuality, and ending sexual violence.

Please read more of her thorough and thoughtful essay by clicking here.

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Follow Blair on Twitter @CeremonialStars & follow me @comicsonice

Keep the great contributions coming, cannot wait to hear more from all of you!

Again my email address is comicsonice@gmail.com and any media goes for this project.  Until next week, keep chiseling – Sam

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