Monday, November 26, 2007

Are We Being Taken Seriously?

I heard a rumor that Marvel had a panel making a bit of a joke about that whole Mary Jane Statue uproar from back this summer. It was in the 11/21/07 issue of Thunderbolts: Breaking Point, a one-shot Marvel comic, on the 5th page. This issue was written by Christos Gage and edited by Molly Lazer, if you want to know who to address any concerns to.

Below is the page in question (click to enlarge)


Personally, I get the feeling that the gang over at Marvel is not taking the concerns of feminist fans seriously. There were news stories in the mass media about this, and while not all did, many expressed concern at the story the statue was telling. Rather than letting it lie, Marvel brings it up again, as if to say, "ha ha ha feminists, we're making fun of your concerns again!" Maybe they don't think we actually read Marvel comics? Or maybe they don't want us to read them anymore and are showing us the door with this panel?

On the other hand, Moonstone, the character who is being made into the action figure in the panel, seems to be a bit disgusted by the figure herself. Not outraged, mind you. Or is the "fmmmf" a laugh? Maybe she finds it funny and is not taking it seriously at all?

Because I sell comics and read them too, I want to find a way to explain this - to make it seem like Marvel is showing Moonstone being disgusted by this image of Songbird. But, on the other hand, I am having a hard time convincing myself of that.

What do you think? Is Marvel not taking feminist concerns seriously?
Or are they showing that Moonstone is disgusted by the figure of her teammate?
Even if they felt this way, shouldn't they have at least let a sleeping dog lie, rather than take another stab at something that had seemingly died down?
Are they telling anyone who agreed that the MJ statue was inappropriate to stop reading their comics already?
Do they just NOT get it, even after people all over took the time to try to explain it hundreds of times all over the media and internet?


Thanks to Heidi at Comics Fairplay for the heads-up on this, as I do not read Thunderbolts.

22 comments:

Darren said...

Sorry but I'm pretty sure that's Moonstone having a giggle at Songbird's expense.


And BTW:

"Do they just NOT get it, even after people all over took the time to try to explain it hundreds of times all over the media and internet?"

-Bingo.
I really think it boils down to some male editors & creators not understanding, and really not even attempting to understand, where feminist comics fans are coming from.

They just do not believe there's any issue at all (with maybe just a hint of "Oh jeez, women can be so hysterical and irrational" thrown in). It's not a deliberate attempt to drive away readers or customers, but more of an ignorance and unwitting condescension.

James Meeley said...

What do you think? Is Marvel not taking feminist concerns seriously?

Oh, I think they are taking it VERY seriously. Not in the way comic feminists want, but they are taking it seriously.

They see this as a way of sparking controversy and publicity for the Marvel brand name. They know there are tons of well-meaning fools, who will see this image and jump onto their blogs and pimp the hell out of it. Sure, they'll be calling it "disgusting" and other things like that, but the exposure (no pun intended) will net them lots of interest. It will most likely make this book sell better, once word gets out, since whenever someone calls something out, people flock to it to see what the big deal is.

I mean, New Avengers #35 was the top selling book of that month. Yet, to see the outcry over Tigra's beatdown, you'd have thought the opposite should be the case. Heck, Marvel even gave advanced warning in the solicit for the issue ("poor, poor Tigra"), unlike this Thunderbolts one, and people still went out and bought it.

Marvel has learned a very valuable lesson from comic feminists, just not the one they wanted them to learn. They've learned that feminist ourtrage can be a great marketing tool to get exposure and higher sales for your product. Sex sells, but so does "bad publicity" on the Internet.

Maybe it's time for comic feminists to stop decrying the things they don't like, while giving it tons of support through lots of free publicity and possibly buying it themselves. All that does is send the signal to the publisher that despite the outcry, it is still going to sell. And that, maybe, by injecting more of that kind of stuff into the product, they can get more publicity and sales for other series, as well.

You noted yourself, Lisa, that had Heidi not pointed this out, you'd never have even known about it. You don't read the book. That's the best way to see things you don't like stopped. Don't give them any support... even of the "negative" kind. The media soaked culture we live in today, just feeds into the very things we don't want to see.

Maybe it just proves how right our grandmothers were, when they told us, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." Words of wisdom and warning, or so it would seem.

Darren said...

Maybe it's time for comic feminists to stop decrying the things they don't like, while giving it tons of support through lots of free publicity and possibly buying it themselves. All that does is send the signal to the publisher that despite the outcry, it is still going to sell. And that, maybe, by injecting more of that kind of stuff into the product, they can get more publicity and sales for other series, as well."


I'm sorry but silence doesn't help anyone. I don't mean to be snippy but the "put your fingers in your ears, and hope it goes away" approach is not particularly constructive.

Feminists readers are doing what they should do: Speaking out.

The fact that an issue might sell well regardless, or even garner a handful more readers due to negative publicity, is not really the point. To my mind the idea isn't to try and convince everyone not to buy a particular issue, but to rather get people talking about feminist issues in regards to comics, and hopefully start changing professional’s approaches towards the female characters they write, and to their female readers.


If you're right and Marvel is deliberately provoking the ire of feminist bloggers, then I think we're in bit of a pretty pickle.

You can't just shut up. If all the feminist critique of their books went away overnight, and no-one called them out on things like Heroes-for-Hentai, then that would be taken as some sort of justification that they were right all along, and that there isn't anything wrong with a little objectification, that a little fictional rape never hurt anybody.

But if you speak out against something, and as a by-product increase the number of readers for that particular issue, then maybe the sales numbers are used as an excuse for not changing because “Hey, it can’t be that big a deal, it’s still popular see”.

It's all a bit of a Catch-22. I don't really think there's much of an answer to such wilful ignorance and arrogance. Certainly no quick and easy solution. But I do know that shutting up so as not to bother the status quo won't help anything be achieved.

James Meeley said...

I'm sorry but silence doesn't help anyone. I don't mean to be snippy but the "put your fingers in your ears, and hope it goes away" approach is not particularly constructive.

You misunderstand me. I'm not saying to simply "shut up and sit down." I'm saying that you need to be smarter than those who would use your efforts against you.

We know that bad publicity isn't hurting the publihsers. They are, in fact, courting controversy in order to get the free publicity folks will give them with their outrage.

So, what's a better way? How about doing more to support the works that do like you want? How about starting disucssions on creating works you would like? How about working to make the works that do what you like more available and better known?

I know Lisa is working on some of this with P.O.W.E.R. in Comics. That's the smart way to do it.

Trying to shame the "corporate masters" by berating every little thing you don't like, isn't working. They can't be shamed, because they don't feel any shame in what they do. They are seeking profit, nothing more. Your (and other feminists) "rightous fury" is seen a s tool to help genrate publisity for them to do that. Nothing more. The tactic is not having the desired effect, so it's time to try other things, wouldn't you say?

To my mind the idea isn't to try and convince everyone not to buy a particular issue, but to rather get people talking about feminist issues in regards to comics, and hopefully start changing professional’s approaches towards the female characters they write, and to their female readers.

And there are ways to do that, which don't revolve around using tactics that are way too easily turned against you and have the opposite effect from what is intended.

Sure, they aren't as easy or "flashy" as going off on a rant about something, and are much more likely to take a long time to show results, but then, if the goal is to persuade people's (i.e. comic industry folks) opinions to see the issues from your perspective, you have to use means that will work to that end. Negative publicity isn't don't for persuasion, it's done for coersion. A tactic of force, to bent people to your will, if they want to or not. And, in this case, it's also one that can easily be turned against the users.

If you're right and Marvel is deliberately provoking the ire of feminist bloggers, then I think we're in bit of a pretty pickle.

I think it is pretty obvious at this point, Marvel IS using the outrage of comic feminists as a marketing tool. There is just too much circumstancial evidence to see any other conclusion.

I don't think it is on the part of the creators, though. I fully believe that the creators who did this scene here, did it to poke fun at Marvel's own corporate masters, who allowed something like the MJ statue to be licensed in the first place. But those same cororate masters know letting this scene in the book, will most likely spark outrage from the same group who blasted the statue and they can use that to help gain free publicity and possibly sales.

Anyone with a lick of business know-how, knows that finding a way to get your name out there, is the first important stap to making profit. And that's the goal for the heads at Marvel. And if they can't do it by being "fun", they'll do it by being "bad." You always need to remember, you can't be infamous, without being "famous", to boot.

If all the feminist critique of their books went away overnight...

I think this here is where we have our issue of misunderstanding. You notice, I never said anything about critiquing a book or series. I said to put a lid on the OUTRAGE. On the RANTING. On the RIGHTOUS FURY. That is what they are banking on to bring them publicity and potential sales.

Be critical of a book all you want. Write a review on it and why you think it failed. Just stay away from getting too overly emotional about not having liked it. Keep your opinions on the work and sound intelligent when you state them. Don't let your emotions rule your responses. That's what they are counting on.

It's all a bit of a Catch-22.

In the sense that you can't just "go off" however you like? Yeah, it certainly is. But if you are smarter than that, and use other ways of expressing your thoughts (as in some of the suggestions I've noted here), you can take this tool away from them. Sure, it still might not stop them from doing things you don't like in the work, but at least you'll know YOU aren't giving them an unwilling helping hand in the process. And who knows, if you keep the controversy from happening, sales of that stuff just might fall off on their own. People tend to get bored with things pretty quickly today. They always move on to the next 'big thing." Don't make that issue into a "big thing" and you just might take some of the wind out of the sales of Marvel (and others) who are relying on those who feel like you do to give them more publicity than they could buy in a year's worth of advertising in comic related publictaions.

In conclusion, I'm not saying "be silent." I'm saying "be smarter in what you say and how you say it."

Hope that helps clear up what I was saying before. :)

Anonymous said...

(First I thought this was just a weaker writers attempt to be "Ellis-esque")
Then I realized.
Between this, Chuck Dixon's "gotcha", Bendis' continued finger to the readers, and DC Editorial making Superboy/Man-Prime into a walking parody of the forum trolling fanboy, it looks like many people in comics hold the whole fanbase in utter contempt. They know the core is still addict/collectors who will never stop buying, so they are just going to rub our collective noses in the doggy doo for talking about how unpleased we are with the quality. Until we start "ignoring" them with our wallets, it probably will get worse.

Meaghann said...

Christos Gage also wrote Iron Man Annual that came out last week ( http://marvel.com/catalog/?id=7646 ). That was full of women being sexualized, played off of "Oh, well, they're under cover so Tony Stark can look like a playboy." Right.

Rational Mad Man said...

James is right. Or to be blunt, they are only taking you seriously in so far as they seriously consider y'all unpaid marketers.
Which I naturally, find delicious.

Earl Leonard said...

Just quickly, isnt that statue in the Thunderbirds issue of Moonstone herself, washing her own costumn, not of songbird? I read it that Songbird gets action figures because she's been shown as appealing to young girls, and has to sign off on them, but that Moonstone's demographic appeal (with-in the MU itself- the Thunderbolts are doing that marketing thing x-statix style) is apparently middle-aged sleasy mes, hence the statue. And that moonstones hrmph is annoyance at herself being thought of only in such a way and not proper `action figure' worthy. Im not sure what it measn it terms of MArvel taking feminist critism seriously or not, but I think it does change the reading of the panel quite a bit. Maybe MArvel's trying to argue that some characters get treated seriously, while others get treated as cheesecake only, and that thats ok (or not). What do you folks reckon?

WKnapik said...

The statue is of Moonstone and Songbird is the one saying "FMMMF".Given the recent history of the characters, I'd say she's trying not to laugh.

Marvel always pokes fun at the internet crowd.They did it with the Sally Floyd comic in WWH:Frontline.They did it in Wha-Huh.I don't think they give it a second thought outside of that.All they are doing with this is showing the internet crowd that they read forums/blogs.

If they really are trying to rile up the comics feminists, I'm sure they'll succeed.They have lots of practice.

Ami Angelwings said...

Did my comment get posted? :(

Ami Angelwings said...

Dammit >:O

Mo well. Trish points out to me that it could very well be the writer making fun of comic companies and marketting rather than the feminist fans.

Also to RMM, complaining about nething will obviously give it "publicity" but bad publicity hurts companies (you of all ppl should know that, you're a free market capitalist). And complaining about feminists would give press to the feminist cause and by your logic, only help us.

So.. don't complain ok? Nobody should ever complain! Next time you're upset, just remember, if you open your mouth, 100 new feminists are born! You are just that important XDD

Srsly though, if this IS Marvel telling it's fanboys that "it's okay, those mean mean mainstream news ppl dun mean nething to us, we love you and only you, we know how much mainstream society has oppressed and rejected you and we're gonna fight for you" it's silly and awful awful business sense. Just like how ppl argue that catering EXCLUSIVELY to a small portion of feminists would be bad business sense, catering to a small portion of horny fanboys is also bad business sense.

And if they get a reaction from fans like "omg you're awesome!" and they take that to mean things are fine and dandy? Um... k. That's a lot like being part of an awful break up, and then going to your friends and they tell you what a terrible person your ex was and stuff, it's supportive, but if you come away thinking that you're awesome and should never change, it's not helpful. :\

But honestly, I think it reads more as the writer mocking the company and the very fanboys who are claiming a victory right now. xD

Earl Leonard said...

Looking at the page again, im pretty sure Gage is having a shot at the Mary Jane statue, and agreeing that its derogatory. After all it's Norman Fricken Osborn that's sugesting the design, purely on financial reasons and claiming that's it's `tasteful'. Moonstone has been shown as being a target for Osborn's snarkyness within the comic. Songbird generally gets treated as the most heroic. Im pretty sure the page is saying that Mary Jane deserved a proper action figure, but that some chacaters, like Moonstone, maybe deserve to be insulted. Maybe. At least she's washing her own custumn, not her husbands.

William George said...

it looks like many people in comics hold the whole fanbase in utter contempt.

That's not true at all.

They hold the internet-based knee-jerk ranters in utter contempt.

Their actual fanbase got the joke.

Tucker Stone said...

I don't see it as anything but an easy joke based on an immediate reference. That mary jane statue story doesn't really have much in the way of long-form reference value-few people who don't already know about it are going to learn about it, as, like most immediately "big deal" comics/internet concerns, it hasn't been picked up as a big issue. (Like that Spoiler thing, or the dead girlfriend in the fridge--those things keep coming up, because people keep talking about them, linking to them, writing about them.) The mary jane statue is dead in the water, so if gage was going to make a joke, and somebody was going to make a joke, the time is right now, while people still remember.

On the other question, "do comics companies take feminist concerns seriously?"--i don't see how that makes a lot of sense. There are, from what you see on the internet on a daily basis, quite a few complaints roaming the web that call themselves "feminist concerns." Without some kind of immediate focus, there's no way that a corporate publishing company can take them seriously--otherwise, they'd react to every "i hate judd winick b/c jason todd is back" and "i wish captain america wasn't dead" complaint. The only thing that a lot of people seem to be able to agree on is the Spoiler character, and she seems to be on her way back, so there's a nod to the feminist concerns. If the feminist concerns got more unified, instead of random scatterings of blogs and essays, some of which don't agree at all, some of which are written by people who aren't different, in any way, from complaining fanboys, than they'd have more of an impact. As it is, when some of the feminist soldiers are just as mired in the mechanics of crappy fan complaints, they'll be taken as seriously as people begging for the return of Barry Allen or Ted Kord. As in, not much.

Strannik said...

With all do respect, I think you're completely off-base. As others have pointed out, given the circumstances, one would be hard-pressed to view it as anything but Gage poking fun of the statue (rather than the controversy surrounding it).

Ed said...

think this here is where we have our issue of misunderstanding. You notice, I never said anything about critiquing a book or series. I said to put a lid on the OUTRAGE. On the RANTING. On the RIGHTOUS FURY. That is what they are banking on to bring them publicity and potential sales.


James, you yourself will admit to having engaged in the "OUTRAGE," the "RANTING," the "RIGHTOUS [sic] FURY" in previous discussions--the CrossGen debacle, the YOUNG AVENGERS "exploration of sexuality" discussion, etc.

I don't think the goal of criticizing or attacking corporate policy--no matter how vociferously or antagonistically--is necessarily to impact the bottom line of said corporation; rather, it's to open up a dialogue on the issue, or to vent to prevent the blogger/poster/whomever from letting their emotions boil up inside, or merely to entertain like-minded individuals or to stir things up with those who disagree.

(My apologies if this double-posts. I think I may have done something wrong with the word verification the first time.)

zhinxy said...

Funny, I get the exact opposite impression. This reads to me as MOCKING the entire concept of sleazy statues. Mocking the silly rush to pander to that "important demographic" Mocking the trend to pakage heroines as wank fodder.

I see it as a sign they the ARE listening. Call me naive, but I'd say they're laughing WITH us, for once!

Chris said...

Assuming that Marvel is not a collective hivemind that forces everyone who works or creates for them to adhere to a lockstep dogma, I assume the thought process of this is:

1. Mary Jane statue gets designed and released.

2. Mary Jane statue creates a controversy, as people correctly conclude that the statue is pandering to lonely (probably older) males in the fanbase.

3. Christos N Gage writes a story about the Thunderbolts, who are supposed to be media-manipulating celebrities in their current incarnation, and pokes fun at the whole thing by having Moonstone have a lonely older male fanbase, and a similar statue get released.


It's also probably worth nothing that within the context of the Thunderbolts comic, Songbird (the character giggling at the statue) is essentially a good person trying hard to be heroic despite a checkered past, sinister government bureacracy and psychotic teammates. As a positive, well-rounded role model, this gets her a big fanbase of "tween girls".

Meanwhile, Moonstone is a manipulative jerk who deliberately flaunts her body and sexuality to get ahead, and this gets her a fanbase of horny nerds.

If this is commentary on anything, you could argue that it is commentary that even within a publishing company (or a a superhero team), people and concepts can be distinct, so that a pervy Adam Hughes statue of Mary Jane shouldn't somehow turn the female characters of Runaways or Spider-Girl into trashy exploitation in the eyes of their readership, even though they all have the Scarlet M attached to them.

And yeah, Mary Jane being part of both crass exploitation (the statue, that Marvel Zombies cover, etc.) and also nice positive stuff (SMLMary Jane, Ultimate Spider-Man) is obviously problematic.

Then again, this could be Joe Quesada and company grinding their bootheel into the face of the oppressed.

Lisa said...

I wanted to thank everyone who has posted responses so far. You have really helped me see this from a variety of angles, from perspectives I had not considered before. Especially those of you who read the Thunderbolts and have some insight into the characters I didn't have. Now I don't feel quite so bad about it as I did initially.

per said...

Yeah, I was going to post something because the inaccuracies were very annoying, but the I read Chris' comment; it's spot on and much better worded than I could have written. I agree!

So, I'll just reiterate the fact that MOONSTONE is blonde (as is the statue), SONGBIRD is... well, pink-and-white-haired.

Moonstone is NOT enjoying her staute, Songbird is trying to stifle a LAUGH.

Otherwise: What Chris wrote.

HAVUOR said...

I have truely enjoyed reading this conversation. It is just as good as reading the banter seen in many comic books.

In regard to people who want to see change I will share a quote who's origin I is eluding me:
"That which you Resist Persists."

ManoDogs said...

Well, I'm not exactly known for being well-liked and my opinions are pretty much guaranteed to make some people mad, but while I support what y'all are doing with P.O.W.E.R. and getting these types of discussions out there, I find it all rather silly. The comics audience is just now starting to change from what has been a very steady 90% male audience since the 1970s. I think it would be safe to bet that a majority of that 90% digs hotties, both in the printed and model form. They'd appreciate them IRL too, but that... we male comic nerds aren't well-known for our savvy ways with the wimminfolk.

That being said, you also have to understand the Marvel aesthetic: bib boobs, big pecs. There's a very good reason for that: skinny twerps like me running around in Spandex would be about as much fun to read and look at as 400-lb. housewives in lingerie. I don't care how well they fight, it's just what it is.

Comic books are primarily about escapism and projection and readers like to identify with good-looking, athletic superheroes for the same reason they identify with their using superpowers: the readers are not generally as good-looking or athletic, and our superpowers have to be kept secret for obvious reasons.

If y'all are serious about all this feminism stuff, there are far better targets at which to take aim - such as porn. Sorry, but a strung-out porno-chick talking about how taking on 600 guys in a weekend is "empowering to women" is far more disturbing to me than a busty statue of a fictional character with superpowers. Not to mention that there are at least 321402197403298402840 more important issues I can think of right off the top of my head - issues of life and death, genocide, mass destruction - even when it comes to feminism. Consider the recent flap over the teddy bear in Sudan, which certainly would not have played-out the same way had the "offender" been male or, relatedly, how that culture/religion recently sentenced a woman who was gang-raped to lashing and prison for daring to go get gang-raped! I'm not knocking what you're saying, I'm just suggesting that it needs to be kept in perspective, and I understand that's hard to do when you care deeply for the subject.

If you really want to get into the whole feminism debate, you have to go read Cerebus. I've taken up enough of your real estate, so I'll prolly post on this over to my own blog in a few, but Sim has quite a few things to say on this subject that will definitely anger you, but are thought-provoking.

Good post!