DC Comics hasn’t been doing so well lately, but denying Batwoman her happy marriage pales in comparison to the recent news. What news is that? Maybe you heard about a contest recently for new DC artists. That’s right, you too can be an artist for DC Comics! What’s the catch?
You have to draw Harley Quinn committing suicide. Naked. Yep, you heard that right.
There is a lot to say about this topic, like how female characters’ deaths are sensationalized or how this isn’t the first time female suicide has been romanticized. But what I want to talk about is how horribly DC Comics is dropping the ball with their current female fans and any potential new ones.
This contest sends a very explicit message to female readers from DC Comics that women are only good or useful as sexual objects. Even in death women must be sexually appealing to men. And all this from the company that brought us characters like Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Batgirl.
And that, for me, is the biggest slap in the face. Until recently, DC Comics was the company with the most female led comics. Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Batgirl are the big three when it comes to female comic-book heroines. When I start to panic that some of my favorite female-led comics will be cancelled, I know that those three will always be around. On top of that, Batwoman, Catwoman, and Birds of Prey are all regular DC comics. Add in a few other female stars and, until very recently, I’d have said that DC Comics was beating the pants off Marvel in female representation–even if the portrayal of these female characters often leaves something to be desired. Marvel rarely had female-led comics, and when they did, the comics usually only lasted so long before being cancelled. However, in 2010, Marvel stepped up their game by giving Carol Danvers her own comic and making her the new Captain Marvel. Add to that two all-female teams and a handful of other comics staring women and it’s clear that Marvel has really made some strides to feature more female heroes in their comics. DC Comics, despite having so many notable female characters, seems to consistently neglect and objectify those characters while ignoring and belittling female fans.
Until some of the recent Marvel movies were released, I’m sure that if you asked random people on the street to name any female superheroes or villains, chances are they’d name characters from DC Comics. In my mind, this means that any new female fans that may be interested in comic books would probably look first at DC Comics. How upsetting it must be for any new, or even old, female fans to come to DC Comics for their well-known female characters and see this level of misogyny.
Jimmy Palmiotti, co-writer of the upcoming Harley Quinn comic, recently made this statement on his Facebook page and claimed full responsibility for the furor over the contest, stating that the whole thing was meant to be taken comically. Now, if you look at the contest, there are various different ways to draw Harley and some of them are very clearly comical, but in my mind, whether it was intentional or not, asking artists to draw any female character committing suicide naked just shows the difference between how comic book companies treat and view their female characters and their male characters. I doubt I’ll ever see a contest calling for Superman to be drawn committing suicide naked. Nor would I want to, but my point is that no one in DC Comics would even think of putting characters like Superman or Batman in a similar position.
If this contest doesn’t show contempt for DC’s female audience, I don’t know what does. This contest is saying that it doesn’t matter how powerful Wonder Woman is, or how complex a character Harley Quinn is, because at the end of the day DC only views these female characters as sexual objects used to appeal to male readers. If even these powerful characters can be reduced to a naked pair of breasts in a bathtub, it really makes me wonder how DC Comics view their everyday female fans. If drawing Harley Quinn looking “super sexy” while killing herself is what it takes to be a DC Comics artist, then maybe I don’t have what it takes to be a reader of their comics.