When all great empires fall, usually fundamentalism creeps out of the ashes. A form of draconian and repressive thought that’s as much a safeguard against the self-destructive decadence that went before it. Those same chants and protests that fought the empire and ultimately heralded its doom are the same ones with censor stickers and a mandate when it all falls down. Its history. Its politics. Its humanism at its most predictable. Such is history repeated in microcosm on the internet with the great comic book empires and the Social Justice Prophets of their downfall. For whom do the bells toll? Creativity, apparently.
From the 70s through to the 90s big muscles, extraordinary physiques and bombastic costumes that wouldn’t seem out of place on swimsuit models were the norm. Women were objectified in an industry that has largely been dominated by men. Those same men are considered dinosaurs by a new breed of cut-throat unapologetic creatives, while heralded still as industry changers by those same creatives and their dwindling minority fans who remember them for their creative merits, not their outdated opinions. But the outrage overpowers the output. It’s simple internet physics.
The shifting of the landscape is happening copacetic because at last check a whopping 46% of sales go out to the female readership. Said demographic are fans of female characters, and any good business knows to give the people what they want. Ms Marvel, Captain Marvel, Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Squirrel Girl etc. are all being marketed with an eye for the femme. It’s great. It’s inclusive. It gives every demographic what they want. Until it doesn’t. That’s where history and gender conflict find their allies.
Right now the internet is split asunder. Not long after the Milo Manara scandal over a Spider-Woman #1 variant deemed sexually discriminatory and objectifying of women, a new scandal arose over the suggested rape connotations on the cover of Batgirl #41. Referencing classic Joker yarn ~ The Killing Joke ~ fans took to the internet to voice their displeasure at seeing Barbra Gordon once again held powerless to the whims of a man who had allegedly raped/molested her. A campaign began, and much like in the Manara scandal, Artist Rafael Albuquerque stepped forward to issue a placating statement. DC did similar and the cover was revoked. #ChangeTheCover fans rejoiced. #DontChangeTheCover fans wailed and gnashed their teeth.
Justice, so it seemed had been served. In an eloquent deconstruction of victimhood courtesy of CBR’s Joseph Phillip Illidge, the writer asserts that Barbra not only represented a strong embodiment of a woman come to terms with her victimhood as Oracle in Birds of Prey, but also a woman who’s turned a disability into an asset as Gotham’s top information broker. He goes on to note that Barbra, reduced to fearful Joker moll on the recent cover, is a backward step. But in comics it’s always two steps forward, one back.
Take Batman. He’s always going backwards to comic’s favourite catalyst tale; where was the sympathy for poor Bruce Wayne whose parents’ brutal murder has been splayed pornographically across the covers of more comics than a history fan could count.
It’s okay. He’s an aged character who’s been here 75 years and counting. He can compartmentalise. Surely he’s over it by now? Maybe he isn’t? Should we be more sensitive? Who cares, goddamnit. He’s a man dressed as a flying rat!
Meanwhile on Twitter, social justice was again dispensed when Eric Larsen quit the feed. A 90s pioneer, Larsen was shamed off by cutting edge newb Cameron Stewart, current Batgirl sweetheart, unless you’re still angry about his insensitive handling of Transgender issues and Queens in Bat Drag. There’s a saying that if you’re looking for tolerance and acceptance, you should tolerate and accept those views that have gone before you, as unsavoury to the modernist palette as they may be. That is of course lest you wade down the slippery slope, that starts with good intentions but ends with a red pen and a closed mind. Somewhere on the cognitive bias scale between ‘anchoring’ and ‘negativity bias’.
We’re culturally mainlining offense in a world where everyone’s offended. By buzz word trivia with hashtags, let’s face it, but broach the biggies and no one cares. ‘Vote with your pocket’ is an adage lost on an internet generation who’d rather whinge and complain than embargo change. Instant gratification. People in glass houses throwing stones at the tanks of creative industry and making dents in a war of hashtag attrition.
Stones or swastikas if the right leaning lefties are to be believed. The ones who love the industry so much they don’t want to see it change at the hands of toe dippers or fashion readers, who only want a landscape they can cope with, not the one ingrained on the nerd popular consciousness. Their zeitgeist is dying and has been for years. American girls, with big chests and thighs are being replaced with their PC equivalent. Cosplayers are museum pieces, they just don’t know it yet. Artists are deviants. Spider-woman’s ass is shaped like a phallic metaphor derived to please only men, a hidden mason salute to the one time printed page patriarchy. The pre-teen Powerpuff girls’ sexuality is in danger of attracting pederasty. Young girls dressed sexy. The blogosphere shudders, while Miley Cyrus slides down a greased pole. She’s found herself, they say. Reborn empowered. Batgirl’s safety and sanity are the subject of conjecture based on a one page panel inspired by the story from a man who saved comics once for the mainstream. But Batgirl’s chastity is in danger, The Jokers gun points suggestively southward.
There’s a certain absurdity that conjecture, based on singular panel image,s should outweigh the weight of actual death in comics. Men are expendable, and rightly so. Historical fodder and active volunteers. Wolverine is tortured to death, but he can take it. Miles Morales watches his mother die, but he’ll get over it. Batman has his parents murdered, and two surrogate sons beaten to death in front of him, but he’s a fighter. Green Lantern even helped with the coining of Gail Simone’s ‘Fridged’ when his Girlfriend was murdered and left for him on ice. But the grisly murder of the entire GL Corps by Hal Jordan is a foot note. Its unregistered figures in a speech bubble to the left. Numbers. Non-identifiable men, the expendable race, offered up as fodder to the gods of plot devices. Double standards is okay, but only when it fits the narrative. Stop whining guys, and move on. You’re poor spoke-persons for pain, so just keep dying.
There are a breed in place, of unintentional, uniformed and morally righteous commentators who have nothing to lose by taking to the web to express their disgust, their disenchantment and their outrage at art they are so meekly invested in as to feel they have to change it, to mould it, to sanitise it make them happy. They don’t trust creators to do a paid job and feel that only their opinions matter, in what is becoming less art, more tick list politics. A sheet that approves what can and cannot be done, by the angry uniformed. Not art, but monotony. No risks or creative verve, just churn to appease Frederick Wertham’s ghost and his modern natural off-shoots; embedding artistic fascism via social expression through a method of infinite anonymity and non-accountability. Nobody knows me. But I know better. Get down with it or I’ll # a movement.
Art is dying. Creative expression is being put to the vote. Faux representatives of modern movements seek to write themselves into the virtual history books, not through hard work or financial boycotts, but through hard opinion and sensitivity training for the non-conforming hack. So you’re offended, to quote Stephen Fry; so f#@king what!?
The last free medium is art. But times, they are ’a changing. Empires may fall. But the romans knew Aegrescit medendo. And so it goes.