Spider-Woman, Milo Manara, and Controversy.
Or maybe it’s Milo Manara, who drew a variant cover, that made the Internet mad. Surprisingly, it wasn’t Greg land, the artist assigned to the book, who is well known for his gratuitous depictions of women, and heavy reference of “photography” for his artwork.
Although beloved by fans of comics in the 70’s Stan Lee himself say that that the character originated because, “I suddenly realized that some other company may quickly put out a book like that and claim they have the right to use the name, and I thought we’d better do it real fast to copyright the name. So we just batted one quickly, and that’s exactly what happened. I wanted to protect the name, because it’s the type of thing [where] someone else might say, ‘Hey, why don’t we put out a Spider-Woman; they can’t stop us.’
A pretty cynical start for the character. Still, the character was moved around Marvel continuity for years, until having a real renaissance under writer Brian Michael Bendis. Bendis even tried to restart the Spider-Woman series, which did not go that well.
So what’s all the current fuss about?
The story began when Comic Book Resources posted exclusive cover reveals from Marvel’s November books. One included a variant cover by Manara that many took issue with for its “blatant sexualization” of a character on a title meant to be reaching out to women. Some people I know shrugged their shoulders and said, “big deal, she’s crawling…doesn’t Spider-Man do that too?”
But it wasn’t only women who were offended as Rob Bricken at io9 and others have also expressed their distaste at Marvel’s decision in this matter. Many have also criticized the art itself as a poor use of the otherwise accomplished artist’s talent, and another person that I know said, quite simply, “Is this guy supposed to be a good artist? Because the picture just doesn’t seem that good.”
That’s a whole lot of controversy over an image. Let’s take a look at it, shall we?
I can kind of see the point. The thing is, a very simple search of Spider-Woman art shows this image from 2005, by Ed Benes, that the internet didn’t give two #$%^ about:
Heck…let’s go back in time, in my collection, to the 1970’s:
So…being fair, depiction of Spider-Woman in particular, and women in comics in general, has never NOT had sexy undertones. Or overtones. Let’s be clear, superhero comics aren’t the place to look for realistic depictions of both male and female bodies. That’s also just…wrongheaded thinking. But female characters have an added layer of sexualization that their male counterparts often do not. Female superheroes’ (and villains’ too) costumes are far more revealing. Women in comics also often pose like centerfolds….which is what the book’s main artist, Greg Land, is often held to task for.
So why is this a problem NOW?
Comics, as a marketplace, are changing. Marvel’s successful films, as well as a rise in interest in comics by women in general, has made women a major new force in the marketplace of the medium. Marvel has successfully started several books with Strong Female Protagonists, and even announced the new female Thor on the “View.” They have been responding to the changing marketplace, and providing content for it.
At major comics conventions, Marvel often holds a panel called The Women of Marvel. It’s a panel where the company’s female writers, creators, editors, and artists talk to fans. They candidly address things like sexism in the industry, the lack of women in the industry, and the representation of women in comics. There’s a lot of frustration aired, but also a lot of inspiration too.
Marvel’s female-led solo books are, usually, a place where characters aren’t overtly sexualized. Ms. Marvel, one of the company’s best-selling books, is about a Muslim teenager with shape-shifting abilities. Storm’s solo series is about a character battling with morality and pride. Captain Marvel has been about reclaiming a character that used to be a sex object, instead highlighting her struggle with being a leader.
That’s why this cover was such a massive misstep. The marketplace thought that the Spider-Woman book would follow the lead of the titles that had been mentioned above, and present a strong female protagonist driven by character issues and a solid plotline. The Manara art…suggested otherwise.
To be fair…that is what Milo Manara DOES. If Marvel didn’t want that sort of image, they should have hired someone else. It’s not like it couldn’t be predicted, and it is tame by Manara’s standards. Oddly, the Land cover is also pretty tame by comparison…
Since there are so few copies of the Manara cover as compared to the Land art, above, one would have to go out of their way to continue to be offended. Not that people don’t do that…this is the comics industry and the internet, true Believers.
A brief bit about my art. I wanted to draw spider-woman in a very “spidery” pose…but not gratuitously. I think I got that down. I also wanted both characters to have a sort of “what of it” posture…after all, it’s just a comic book cover. I may color it…I may not. color is such a chore. At one point, I considered more text, but “Really, Jess?” seems to sum it up.