Monday, August 1, 2016

SDCC 2016: DC and Women

Although this post is not exclusively about a panel, it was inspired by one. I attended the DC All Access: No Boundaries where comic book artists and writers from DC talked about the new Rebirth series. Some series seemed great like the Supergirl series and the Batgirl series. Both wear fairly reasonable, practical clothing, but Harley Quinn wears similar clothing to her live action Suicide Squad counter part. I also had a problem with the Harley Quinn cover below, where it's obviously and weirdly sexualized totally counter to what's actually going on in the scene. Full disclosure: I don't read many superhero comics and this is mostly based on the film versions of characters.

DC has a problem portraying female characters especially in film. It would be nice to have films that appeal to a wide audience rather than just men. Wonder Woman's portrayal was fine in Batman vs. Superman expect for the one upskirt shot the creators just had to include when she was knocked down. She was the best part of that very bloated and confused film and I thought it boded well for future DC films. The Wonder Woman trailer came out at Comic Con and it does look pretty awesome and feminist, but the poster that came out has her face in shadow and her head cut off. Two very conflicting messages. The Suicide Squad film looks infuriating based on two female characters' dress and treatment in the commercials and marketing.

First is Harley Quinn. Her origin was in the Batman Animated Series that I grew up with where she chose to follow the Joker in a weird love/hate unhealthy relationship with the Joker after being his psychiatrist in Arkham Asylum. The key to her character was that she chose to follow the Joker rather than being forced to. The Suicide Squad version of events seems to have the Joker throwing her into a vat of chemicals and creating his sidekick. She's completely passive in this version and has no control over being made into someone completely different. We'll see how the scene is fleshed out in the film and I will amend my opinion if it's different than I expect.

Harley's outfit of underwear, high heels, and a baseball T is pretty infuriating. I understand the Debbie Harry reference, but it's not practical in the least for what she's going to be doing. Even having flat shoes or shorts would have been pretty revolutionary for them at this point. I understand her original outfit wouldn't translate to film well, but so many other designs would have been better. To get into this outfit, she's changes in front of ogling men and an ogling camera. Sigh. It also doesn't help that all the male characters in the Suicide Squad are completely clothed, even Killer Croc who is usually portrayed only wearing torn shorts a la the Hulk. Even El Diablo, who could showcase his extensive tattoos by being shirtless and could burn up his own clothing with his power, is shown dressed in tank tops, sports jackets, and T shirts as far as I can see.

The Enchantress is the other character who seems shortchanged by her portrayal. Unlike Harley, we get practically no impression of her personality. She seems mysterious and has smoke around her like a shroud.. I didn't see exactly what she was wearing until I saw the full size poster in my local theater shown below. Not only was I disappointed that she is wearing a bikini, but also the way she was posed in the poster: legs spread, crouched down while everyone else in the photo stood normally. The comic version of Enchantress is shown above next to her live action counterpart. Not only has the outfit been changed for the film to be much more revealing, but also shares almost nothing. Ignoring the taste level of the garment on the left, the vibe it gives me is more of a necromancer. It boggles the mind why her outfit was changed so unless it was only to appeal to the male dominated audience that is rapidly becoming about half women.

Another symptom of their portrayal of women is in The Killing Joke. According to the io9 article on The Killing Joke panel, an effort was made to make Batgirl a more major character. However, they way they chose to do that was to dumb her down to a woman only crimefighting to procure the attention of Batman, a man she has had a father-daughter relationship with in the past (as she is around Robin's age). They have sex and he stops communicating with her, then the rest of the Killing Joke comic plot happens. When challenged by a heckling Jeremy Konrad from Bleeding Cool that Batgirl is reduced to a jilted lover, screenwriter Brian Azzarello said, "Say that again, pussy." It sounds like a trainwreck from the panel to "empowering" Batgirl by making her whole career center around attracting a man. I am going to watch The Killing Joke for myself and compare it to the comic in a separate post.

DC has a lot of problems, including keeping their TV shows in separate universes to the films, throwing together a bunch of characters we've never seen in Batman vs. Superman, and in the horrible portrayal of women that seems to be consistent in some of their comics (Batgirl and Supergirl look decent) and all of their films. I hope DC changes in the coming years, but Suicide Squad doesn't seem to be making any steps forward. I hope this treatment is reflected in their box office numbers and I hope they take a page from Marvel, who has tons of strong female characters with interesting development and logical clothing choices and a unified universe that is both adult and gritty on Netflix and more family friendly in the theater.

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