Monday, January 4, 2010

Why the Marvel calendar's days are numbered

In daily life, my nerdiness is pretty evident.

This is especially true at work. Green Lantern pins are piled up at the feet of a Monitor figure like aluminum tribute. Spider-Man sits on top of Yoda's oversized head beneath my completed Human Fly checklist. And on my wall is the new Marvel calendar, which is really kind of nice for a freebie.

And which will be coming down again in February because I don't want to get written up.

The place where I work is informal for an office setting and I'm certainly not a prude, but the image of Ms. Marvel that is waiting to slide out from between January and March just won't fly. It is, in the language of management-types the world over, “inappropriate for the office.”

And that's a shame, because I like to think of myself as an evangelist for comics. I preach the four-color Word to anyone who'll listen. But how do I justify a Ms. Marvel who looks more like Ms. February? How do I explain that this woman who is floating on her back, arms splayed in welcome and with a sleepy, lips-parted-just-so look on her face, is a superhero? A superhero who apparently fights evil in a thong and half-shirt?

There's a thin line between sensual and sexual, between sexuality and sexualized. When I was flipping through the calendar (given away free last week at comic book stores), I had a sudden urge to apologize to someone, to explain that Ms. Marvel is generally a strong character. That she served as an officer in the Air Force. That this is a depiction of her original costume, with a misguided design reflecting her mid-70s roots.

But mostly I keep thinking, “The women in my office — especially my boss — would have a shit if I put this up.” And rightfully so.

Besides the blatant sexism, I'm also bugged by the apparent pandering of Marvel to the stereotypical, drooling fanboy mentality. The only other female character to make the calendar is March's Marvel Girl, who fares a little better than Ms. Marvel but still looks as if she's re-enacting the subway grate scene from The Seven Year Itch. (By the way, Jean, nice rack.) To be fair, Sub-Mariner is wearing even less than either of the Marvels in September, but I'd argue that his depiction lacks the sense of vulnerability of the other two. Again, there may be sexuality, but Sub-Mariner is not sexualized.

(And for the record, Wolverine's November picture made my wife laugh and laugh. You can come to your own conclusions why.)

There is always talk about how superhero comics need to grow up, or that they already have by upping the body counts and spraying blood across everything in the scene. But that's not growing up; that's what kids think growing up means. Growing up means maturity. And when I can't put a freely distributed superhero calendar up in my office for a month because it comes across as sexist stroke material, that tells me the industry still has some growing up to do.


Scott said...

Outstanding post, Max, clear from beginning to end.

The last paragraph in particular is great -- I remember when I gave up on the "Teen Titans" comic after they decided to turn it into a snuff book. Marvel and DC always say they're writing comics for adults when they're just writing comics for 17-year-olds.

Dan said...

Jeez, Max, you are such a prude. No way is anyone looking at Ms. Marvel's tight body in that come-hither pose, powerful but vulnerable, as if all she needs is a good stron- ahem.

All kidding aside, you make a damn good point. Well said.

Kid Nicky said...

It's pretty clearly NOT a thong,but yeah,I can see how it won't fly too far in the office.

I think the majority of comicdom is jealous of those of us who have signifigant others,so they spend a lot of their time putting cheesecake imagery into books/products,because they want us to squirm while we try to come up with an explanation for Power Girl's boobs.

Speaking of Ms. Marvel,I saw a ten year old kid's grandmother buying him Hulk:Green and Red the other day at the book store.
What's going to happen when she sees that in addition to the cannibalism,she notes that every panel with Ms. Marvel includes prodtruding nipples and/or camel toe?
I understand it's an art form like any other,comic book legal defense fund,blah blah blah,but we're talking about a book where the Hulk fights an evil Hulk,and your local store carries toys of both of them.

rob! said...

Jeez, I didn't even look inside the calendar before tossing it in the recycling bin, I had no idea what was in there!

If Wolverine's not careful, he's going to pull a muscle, doing...whatever it is he's doing.

Maxo said...

Thanks, everyone!

Scott: Yeah, that Marvin/Wendy/Wonderdog thing was just ... weird.

Dan: This calendar give me the vapors! But seriously, another thing that struck me was how the perspective on the Namor image has the viewer looking up, which makes sense and emphasizes the hero/royalty aspect of the character. The Ms. Marvel image has the viewer looking down at the character, which emphasizes ... what, exactly?

Nicky: I've never understood the tendency (particularly here in the U.S.) to be squeamish about sex but completely OK with over-the-top violence. It seems silly and hypocritical to me.

Rob: Good thing he's got the healing factor.

Kid Nicky said...

I didn't say I was OK with over the top violence. That said,the violence in comics like Hulk is typically corny and cartoonish,not realisticly depicted.

Maxo said...

Sorry about the confusion, Nicky! I wasn't saying YOU were OK with over-the-top violence. I was actually agreeing with you (and others in this comment thread) regarding publishers using over-the-top sex and violence (ah, those oldies-but-goodies) as synonyms for "maturity."

Because while I didn't know there'd been cannibalism in any of the Hulk books, it sadly isn't surprising.

Kyle said...

Sure, maybe Ms. Marvel's outfit and position are sexist, but when I look at this picture, I think only one thing: Limbo!

Maxo said...

Put the Mai-Tai down, Kyle.

Dom said...

I flipped the Marvel calender to February today when I got into work and things just got weird. Ms. Marvel spread with her arms to her side gesturing, "do you like what I've got going on down here?"

Co-workers have done a double take a couple of times. It is kind of funny. I will start talking to someone and they are just checking out my calender and thinking "This guy's a creep: checking out half naked comic chicks."

Maxo said...

Ha ha! Now I want to ask everyone at work, "do you like what I've got going on down here?"

I think the "this guy's a creep" comment kind of encapsualizes the problem; there is really no way to make that image not creepy (for the office, at least). And if I feel a little weird about it, I can just imagine how a female co-worker would feel.

Dom said...

I decided to make Ms. Marvel a skirt. I placed a picture of it on one of my websites. Enjoy!

Maxo said...

Excellent skirt, Dom! You've inspired a call for reader participation: