As you’ve no doubt guessed, I wasn’t able to get my fifth Wednesday thing up. I’m going to try and get it online later today, so keep an eye out. Anyway:
Last week, right after I finished rewriting my blog post, DC Comics announced that they will be launching a multimedia franchise designed to target girls. You would think this was a good thing, but remember this is DC. This is the company that ran a contest to see who could draw Harley Quinn committing suicide in a bathtub the best. The company that had Jim Lee get on Twitter to patronize so hard that I had to use the term ‘mansplain’ the describe it—and as proud as I am to wear the feminist badge, even I hate that stupid term. Oh, and remember when one of their writers went on a spiel about She Hulk being a slut? These are the guys that rebooted Starfire into a vapid sex doll. And movie Wonder Woman looks like this.
Forgive me if I don’t have a lot of faith in them pulling this off without some level of debacle.
In fact, I’ve got a pool going with some of my friends as to what exactly that PR disaster will be. Vegas odds goes for some accidental racism concerning Bumble Bee or Katana, two of the lesser-known heroines being put front and center in this venture. My money though is on someone getting their arm cut off. Because DC can’t have an event without mutilation.
The cruel part of this is that you may recall that DC recently had an excellent animated series out called Young Justice. It was canceled after Season 2. Why was it canceled (beyond the fact that Greg Weisman, creator of other excellent shows like Gargoyles and Spectacular Spider-Man, is clearly under the curse of a dark izard to have all of his shows meet with catastrophe after Season 2)? Well, if you believe industry insiders, it’s because too many girl were watching, and the common ‘wisdom’ is that girls don’t buy toys like bos do and thus, YJ was a failure…somehow.
So they had a show that appealed to girls and canned it, then a few years later, they’re specifically designing a series – a multimedia franchise, really – specifically for girls? Are they going to cancel this if it goes all ‘My Little Pony’ on them?
All this got me thinking though. There have been a LOT of attempts to, for lack of a better word, pander to girls and young women in a lot of arenas, but particularly in animation. And now that I think of it, they all seem to miss a lot of really obvious facts. Rather, these facts have become more obvious to me as I’ve become a student of media and I should hope that someone actually in charge of entertainment would understand this better than they do.
I would do a list, but it’s a bit more free form than that, so here we go.
First, I want to say I’m not against this franchise thing at all. More exposure for Harley and a freaking Bumblebee cartoon? How do I sign? I want this to be good and succeed, but there are some flaws in the thinking behind it. And the biggest one that comes instantly to mind is this: You don’t need to ‘get girls interested’ in superheroes. Trust me, they already are. Hard. Core. Not so much comics, but the genre in general has no shortage of female fans.
Seriously. Even the non-geeky women I know grew up on Batman:TAS and they loved that shit. There’s also a lot of love for Justice League. Those a bit younger than me, and the geekier set who admit to still liking cartoons (By the way, until this hit, this week’s blog was going to be about a complete asshole email a got complaining and mocking me about why I talk about cartoons so much. Next week.) are big fans of Teen Titans and Legion of Superheroes. And dear god, the movies. Even my mom loves Iron Man. You can’t tell me there isn’t a female audience for this stuff because there is. The readership of this very serial (if Goodreads is any indicator) is ~60% female. And Fantasy? Rune Breaker is probably closer to 75%.
So women are at least as interested in the genre as men. They just aren’t interested in the comics for, I imagine, the same reason comics went from selling 4 million copies in 1992 to maybe 200,000 in 2012—the mainstream stories have aimed themselves squarely at teenaged boys trying to be men. It’s all cursing and gore and bodies hitting the floor and pretending to be mature—and I’m sure there are women who like that stuff too, but that’s coupled with… seriously hating the crap out of women.
I mean look at that list up there. That’s not even the tip of the iceberg. I’m not talking about skimpy costumes and Frank Miller’s verbal tic that makes all women he write ‘whores’. I am talking about seriously trivializing and insulting women as actual company policy.
I imagine women can deal with Power Girl’s boob window as well as I can deal with the fact that without his trunks, Superman’s Mew 52 costume has all its lines pointing directly to his crotch. But the difference is, it’s rare for the company to just come out and sa, cancel a show because I like it, or shower me with character who are nothing but Chippendales dancers without any other personality or value.
That’s your problem, DC. And the little girls you’re going to try and sell Poison Ivy dolls (seriously, Poison Ivy is a heroine here?) are going to notice when you let Jim Lee or Lobdell of the chain and they spit awful crap and you’re going to pay for it.
The interest is there, but the company is doing its best to drive it away even as they try and drum more up. It’s weird.
Another flaw in this concept is one I see all the time in ‘girl oriented’ shows, and that’s the idea that the entire main cast must be female.
Now, I’m not disagreeing that it’s nice to have some all-female or majority-female casts (I don’t think I’ve written anything that isn’t.). My issue here is with the mentality that this is a requirement. And if I’m going to be honest, it kind of was back in the day. I refused to watch G1 My Little Pony, Rainbow Brite or Strawberry Shortcake because they were ‘girly’ shows, and even when I was a teenager, I only started watchign Buffy because my female best friend did. And by the same token, none of the girls at elementary school wanted to talk He-Man or GI Joe because they were ‘boys’ shows. So we all just talked about Transformers and Power Rangers because giant robots are eternally universal.
That’s not the case with the generation after mine. The kids of the 90’s and 2000’s, I feel don’t have that issue where they need to have a character exactly like them to (in the corporate speak) ‘relate’ to. Hell, even with people my age, the character we always hated was the young kid character put in there for us to relate to. Like Flim-Flam from 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo—hated that little jerk.
No, I know my little cousins and their friends and, while they’re all too cool for cartoons these days, being teenagers, they loved Powerpuff Girls and Kim Possible regardless of their own gender. Hell, they loved Totally Spies… for whatever reason, I did not like that show. And again, going back to my generation, who had pretty steep gender segregation in our entertainment, I know a lot of guys that liked Pepper Ann and Daria (I never actually saw either until I was in college and watching cable reruns).
The point being that they don’t really need this to be an all-female cast. Again, not complaining about the cast itself, just the mentality that led to it; the idea that girls are incapable of relating to male characters and visa-versa. It’d be nice if we got a show with an all-female cast because they just wanted on instead of needing an excuse is what I’m saying. A friend of mine says the show RWBY is like this, but I haven’t seen it yet. Anime does it all the time without really blinking an eye. I’m immediately thinking of Azumanga Daioh and Lucky Star, which are both slice of like school tales with all-female casts that don’t seem to be specifically targeted at anyone.
Those are really just small flaws though. Not knowing that women and girls like superheroes is just being tonedeaf and assuming they need to have nothing but females to identify with is just outdated thinking. Outdated thinking also comes into play in another flaw I saw in the press release.
If you read back through it, they make a special point in saying that a lot of the stories in this new venture will focus on the heroines’ daily lives. You know, as opposed to heroing.
Right there, they’re assuming that girls don’t want to see superheroics but would rather see slice-of-life stuff.
They made a superhero universe to get girls interested in superheroes and then advertised a LACK of superheroism. Sweet Georgia Brown.
Okay, if you guys know me at all, you know I enjoy slice-of-life stuff with superheroes. I like mundane utility of powers. I love Mutantball. I enjoy seeing how heroes balance their lives with their heroic calling. I am emphatically NOT complaining that they’re including that stuff. In fact, it’s about goddamn time they did because that’s a huge part of what’s missing from the New 52.
Buuuut, at the same time, I look at the shows that were already popular with girls and women… and they weren’t slice-of-life shows. They had elements there, but virtually every episode of YJ, of Teen Titans, of Powerpuff girls had superheroic A-C-T-I-O-N.
The old-school thinking is that girls don’t like action and violence and instead like talking and shopping. Even being generous to that idea and saying that’s how a certain segment of the population (both male and female, mind) thinks, we’re specifically looking at the segment of the population that will see Supergirl and Batgirl on a commercial and will want to watch them-you know, superhero fans and people who could become superhero fans. And let me tell you, while there are some very good superhero stories without a lot of action, there’s still going to be some action.
One of the characters in this is Katana. She’s named after and carries a sword. What the hell is she going to do with that sword ‘in her daily life’?
Okay, so granted, no one has seen anything they plan to produce for this, so it might still be action-packed with a good balance of life and heroics. But you get what I’m saying here, right? They don’t advertise that part. They don’t emphasize the ‘superhero’ part of this in the ad copy. And I would bet you dollars to donuts, that’s because they don’t think girls would be interested in that stuff.
And I get how hard it is to walk that line between a genuinely strong (read: good) female character in an action-oriented genre and the infamous ‘man in a skirt’ where the female character has nothing but masculine attributes. But damnit, you have to try. These are superheroes. IF they’re not going to fight crime or rescue people, they’re just powered people.
So what would I like to see?
Well you can already tell some of it, but definitely character development. A lot of so-called ‘girl’s shows’ are sorely lacking in that because it seems like the creators don’t respect the audience. If you’ve seen the various Disney Princess stuff, or the Tinkerbell movies…. goddamn, all the characters sort of run together and they never change as a result of the plot.
And they have every reason not to fall into that trap. Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Bumblebee, Katana, Poison Ivy (I’m missing some. Donna Troy? But where is Vixen? She’s awesome and would have been perfect for this!)–there are all very established personalities. Well, except for Supergirl. Supergirl is like this character blob everyone tries to take turns defining and that’s sad. But aside from her, like… Harley is Harley. You know Harley Quinn when you see and hear her.
The danger here is in trying to reimagine these characters into more (corporate speak again) ‘girl friendly’ forms. I’m already worried because it looks like Ivy is going o be a heroine here which… no. Ivy is the quintessential eco-terrorist. She doesn’t work as a hero because she’s too… well, mean. She wants people to suffer for what they’ve done to the Earth more than she wants to actually save the Earth. If you make her good, you take away the heart of the character.
What I’d like to see is Ivy being the Big Bad. If you’re going to do the all-female superheroines thing, you need a good villainess and some interpretations of her powers make Ivy a goddess essentially. Give her Harley as a sidekick and we’ve got something cooking.
I’d also like to see a dynamic a little more complex than ‘they’re all friends’. That’s another one they saddle a lot of girl-centric shows with. Everyone is friends All rivalries are friendly, the jerk of the group is kept around as an object of mockery… that sort of thing. They have Wonder Woman on the poster—I really hope she’s not that same age as the others. Come on, folks. Diana is one of the Trinity; she’s as much of an icon in-universe as Superman and Batman. She deserves to be older and wiser here is what I’m saying. Let her be the one the others call for advise… while she’s doing her own thing. That’d be really cool.
But yeah, don’t make them all on the same level or all friends. The line-up is very Gotham-centric (Katana being sort of part of the Bat-family via The Outsiders and the more recent Beware The Batman.), so maybe have Supergirl and Bumblebee be outsiders (heh) to the Gotham group.
This is neither here nor there in terms of succeeding in what they say they’re doing, but I would have a diferent Batgirl, if only to have Barbara Gordon as Oracle in the franchise. This isn’t just because I love Cassie Cain, it’s also because tech isn’t really well-represented in the line-up. Arguably, Barbara uses gadgets as Batgirl, but she doesn’t really play tech wiz until she’s Oracle.
Back to pulling off this idea, from what I hear it’s going to be a multimedia blitz with animation, videogames and digital comics. And I’ve never heard of one of these working. Way back when .//Hack was doing it, and it was kind of novel, I played one game and watched the first show and I think I was the most avid of all my friends with it. I remember Heroes having a webcomic, and pretty much everything Cartoon Network put out had a game on their website… but I don’t remember buying a lot of stuff from one media-spanning franchise.
Someone help me out: there was recently a show that dd this where there was an MMO and a TV show and supposedly the plot of one would have an effect on the other? Did that go anywhere? Pele watched some and reported back that there was some offensive racial parallels and that was it.
On the other hand, I have James Bond books, movies, and games (Goldeneye 007 for N64 represent!). I have X-men comics, movies and four different animated series. I actually just re-installed Knights of the Old Repubic and have an honest-to-god lightsaber spoon.
The difference? THOSE FRANCHISES DIDN’T TRY TO FORCE IT.
They focused on one thing until they earned enough support to move on to another. They grew by their own merits or at the very least, by gathering enough of an audience to support multiple media platforms. The media blitz thing seems to me like throwing money up in the air: you have no idea how your stuff is going to be received but now you’re committed to paying animators, artists, programmers and all the other staff involved in all this. It’s a massive, unnecessary gamble that, in truth, might end up over-saturating the market and killing your franchise even if part of it becomes popular simply because you can’t afford to sustain it.
With that said, I hope it work. Yeah, I ranted about it and I really, really distrust DC especially with female characters, but by that same token, I like these characters—even what little I know of Katana and want to see them—well in an environment where the rating system prevents DC from dismembering them and ruining their lives.
And to be honest, if they put half the artistic talent into the writing of this as they did Young Justice, they stand a good chance. Mark me down as guardedly optimistic.
That’s it for this week. Next week, I once again confront an abusive emial in… Death of the Animation Age Ghetto. And after that, if my information is correct and there is a youtube video of it, we’ll have, Let’s Watch…The Adventures of Brisco County Jr – Episode 1. If you want to get ahead of the game (and see an excellent overall show with Bruce Campbell), you can get the entire series on DVD here.
Speaking of plugs, another internet friend of mine has a book out that you might want to peruse.
Oh, and on the forum, your fellow readers are recommending webcomics. Because they are awesome. Check that out and suggest your own here.
See you next week, folks!