Monday, February 13, 2012

The Voodoo That Won't Do (Sexism and Feminism in the New 52/ Voodoo Review)

Any innuendoes are completely unintentional. Really.

(Also, mature rating. Seriously. Not for kids. The picture has cleavage. When have these drawings ever had cleavage?)

Happy New Year/ Valentines Day/ I'm finally flipping back! Thought I’d start off the new year (and the end of my hiatus), with an old fashion in-depth topic, rather then just a normal review. If you’re wondering about the November/ December/ January comic reviews, I’ll be talking about that in the “credits”.

Anywho. To today’s topic: The DC re-launch as a whole, is a mess. Yes there are good comics, and great comics. But whether it’s the confusing, pieced-together-with-duck-tape continuity, the lack of actual reboots, and pretty insulting changes to characters, the reboot was a good idea that wasn’t completely thought through.

But we know this by now.

So now it’s time to talk about a much more serious topic that only seems to be getting bigger and bigger in comics, and at the moment the New 52: Sexism, feminism and how we perceive and react to it. And what better comic to do that with then... Voodoo?!

What, you expecting me to talk about Wonder Woman #3? Oh, don’t worry, it’s day is coming. But I’ll be touching upon a few other DC ladies (and gents) here along with Voodoo.

But out of all the comic’s I’ve read from DC in the New 52, no comic has made me think more about the good and bad points of feminism and sexism then Voodoo has. It touches upon things and does things that I would have usually scorned in other comics, but in some cases, works here. (Though, warning: This comic is all over the place some times. You’re gonna hear me say “kinda” and “sorta”, a lot)

Little disclaimer: upon writing this, only issues 1-5 are out, I have purposely done little to no background research on who Voodoo was before the reboot. And I have only heard a few reviews on issue 1 and the general “Voodoo’s getting a comic? Really?” talk. What I did find out is that Ron Marz, the writer of the first 4 issues, is the same man behind the first official “Woman in Refrigerator's Incident”. Considering what I'm going to say about Voodoo, I find that freakin’ hilarious.

So let’s begin the look/analysis of Voodoo 1-5!

1. The Stripper Heroine

My thoughts on how good Voodoo is not important here. But I honestly don’t agree with all the slack it’s been dealt. Especially before it was published.

There were a lot of people shocked about Voodoo getting her own comic. Like I said, I'm looking at this as an outsider and don’t know what she’s like before the reboot. So for all I know, people had good reason to worry.

And then there were the people who just went: “a comic about a stripper?! Fore shame!”

Some of the reaction was a part to how strippers and general “sex symbols” are perceived. It’s a taboo subject (Oh, and kindly do me a favour and do not confuse strip bars with sex trafficking or prostitution. Because there IS a difference). Our culture either goes “Boobs! Give me more!” or “Boobs! Hide them!”, so it’s easy to see how a topic like this could be done with less taste and more gratuity. And’s handled pretty well. Plus the comic is only about stripping for the first book. Ahem.

But let’s face it: The backlash is mostly due to what has already been an overly sexualized array of female characters. Starfire especially, has suddenly gone from a caring, motherly character--- into a slut. By slut, I of course mean “thinks doing whatever, whenever and whoever she wants makes her “empowered”. But unlike Starfire, Harley Quinn and Catwoman, Amanda Waller and so many others, Voodoo’s not a character that was just turned into a sex object for the sake for fan-service. It’s actually her job. Sort of.

Voodoo is an alien spy, trying to learn about the super-human's of earth for her organization. She does this by being a stripper... just go with it. Her reasoning is that men will drop there defences around her. And she needs to have physical contact with someone in order to shape-shift into them and perhaps to read their minds. Because of her experiences, Voodoo believes that humans only see how she appears, and nothing else, with a little bit of distaste--- going back to what I mentioned about how our culture handles boobs...stop laughing.

Anyway, the other strippers aren’t doing these jobs for sex either, they’re doing it to get by in life. There's a nice scene where the girls were talking about their lives in the change room and it’s done pretty tastefully. Some are single moms, others are college students (cliché, I know, shoosh). They even demand respect from customers, though bouncers and a no touch rule. Sadly, Voodoo quits the strip bar at the end. I honestly would have liked the book more if it was about Voodoo as a stripper and her relations with the other girls, then being just another secret agent book. But that is neither here nor there.

The “fan service”... is surprisingly tame. Nothing you wouldn’t see on Bones or House. Less then that at times. Yes, there is stripping, posing and general other things, but with the setting, and Voodoo’s own personality and reasoning, it doesn’t feel so gratuitous. That and a little fan service is okay. And that’s really all it is-- little.

One example of this is between Voodoo and Agent Evans. Agent Evans is an FBI agent (sub group known as the Black Razors) running surveillance on Voodoo, but gets just a little too into it. He pays for a private lap dance and even tries to “pet” Voodoo (and promptly gets his hands tide to the chair for breaking the “no-touch” rule). As Voodoo gives him a lap dance, Evans explains that his agency knows that she’s an alien and they want to know why she’s on earth. The whole time, Voodoo just continues working, not loosing her cool at all, as if she’s not even listening to him. The scene is actually a little intense, as Evans just sits there, talking about how they might dissect Voodoo if she doesn’t hand herself over. Voodoo even starts to loose her cool when she realizes her “act” isn’t distracting Evans as much as she thought it would. It’s not until Voodoo reads Evan’s mind, seeing an image of herself being dissected, that she breaks character, and kills him.

Though... okay, there is ONE scene which: In issue 4, voodoo has infiltrated the Black Razors hq, silently killing her way to to her target: a scientist studying super humans. Instead of just killing him, she flirts (lowing his defences: Check), kisses him (reads his mind AND secretes toxins to kill him: double check). But she has this sarcastic dry wit all of a sudden as she talks to the scientist’s (supposedly) dead body, and blows him a kiss. This is honestly the most out of place scene in the entire series so far. Voodoo was never this talkative or cheesy in the previous issues. It’s so out of character, this may be a “because the writer says so” moment. I don’t like it, but it was only one scene, so I can let it go.

2. The Strong Feminine

Voodoo is an interesting character herself. She’s a soldier, on a mission of war. And she will protect herself and continue her mission by any means possible. Voodoo’s basically the femme-fatale-spy-girl, but only calls on the “fatale” part when she needs to.

She’s also an alien that’s literally caught between to worlds. Voodoo is a half human hybrid of her race, the Daemonites. She and her like were created to make it easier for them to hide on earth and complete there mission. And it’s generally interesting to watch Voodoo learning about humans and super humans, while also trying to blend in. Voodoo constantly refers to herself as a “killer” not as an insult, but rather as a job title. She expresses humanity’s disapproval of this as a negative.. Her culture has simply raised her in a different way from ours, where our taboo subjects are normal to her.

We get several internal musings on Voodoo’s thoughts on humanity, and it’s hard to tell when Voodoo is lying to herself. After a run-in with several soldiers, Voodoo begins to perceive humans as being a “violent species”, only to start to doubt those idea’s when she is shown mercy from Green Lantern. But the thoughts are set aside, as Voodoo reminds herself that human's don’t see past the flesh and Green Lantern is only seeing her as a human. Her human emotions can also get in the way of her job, such as the multiple chances she had to kill Agent Fallon.

But the real interesting part is that I don’t know who to root for. Voodoo is an agent of an invading species, specifically on earth to gather Intel for out bosses. In other words: She’s the bad guy. But its her interpretations of our species that make her interesting. From her perspective, we’re the evil doers. I’m kinda a sucker for those stories.

It’s seeing her insecurities, her fears, training and justifications of her actions, that make Voodoo a much more rounded female character.

And then there is our antagonist: Agent Jess Fallon.

Fallon was Evan’s partner. We are introduced her while the two are on surveillance in Voodoo’s strip bar. Disgusted by how much Evans is enjoying the show, she leaves...

And is promptly ambushed by the typical “boys looking for a good time”. Where she promptly “kicks there ass”. And how we promptly learn that she is a “strong female”. Not only is this cliché, its unnecessary. The guys didn’t actually lay a hand on her, they were just talking trash. She could have done something, like, wait until they throw the first punch or, I don’t know, show them her badge?

Using physical force on an man does not equal girl power. In this case, it equals a cop with a chip on their shoulder. I don’t know, maybe that’s the point? But either way, this is the ONLY trait she has right now, other then her nicotine addiction. It’s not until ISSUE 5 when we find out that Fallon is “The toughest agents of the Black Razors”. But we never actually get to see that. Just a woman who might be off her rocker.

(Course if Fallon actually was “tough” before the reboot, then it’s a continuation of DC having no idea what a “reboot” is.)

And it only gets worse. I will get to “it” in the next part, but “something” very bad happens to Fallon that makes her hunt for Voodoo much more personal, and her sanity is starting to slip at the same time. And no, it’s not just Evan’s death. And yes, it is demeaning to her character.

Here's where the comic goes to the dark end of the pool.

3. The R word.

I am of course talking about Rape. Because not only does it happen in this comic, it’s been used in several other New 52 comics as well.

Like... Catwoman #1 where Batman is raped by Catwoman.

Let me repeat that: Batman. Raped.

Batman. The one character DC is constantly advertising as the “greatest super hero EVAR!” was raped.

Oh, I’m sorry! I mean “says no but eventually gives in, after physically struggling, because the girl wants/needs you”. Cause that makes it better, right? Lets ignore how gratuitous this scene is. Because that’s obvious. The scene has been debated on whether or not it can be considered rape. Cause some fans have taken it as typical Batman/Catwoman behaviour. Honestly, I see it as a bit of both. Over the years, Batman and Catwoman’s relationship has somehow “evolved” into an extremely unhealthy relationship and perhaps a bit of an abusive one. Here, Catwoman’s taking advantage of Batman and even admits that they’ve done this tons of times, because she’s wanted him. And every time, he says no but eventually gives in. But Batman is still being forced into having sex, he’s emotions are still being manipulated and an unhealthy relationship is still an unhealthy relationship. IT’S NOT A GOOD THING! Saying that she “needs” him this time is not an excuse. Even the final image with made me fell sick, if only because of how helpless Batman looks just sitting there. If DC actually wants to put mature, “edgy” things in there comics, how about having these two admit that they really need couples counselling?!

*sigh* Sorry. I needed that. Anyway...

Nine out of ten times, I never see rape as a good plot device in, well, any medium, especially a super hero comic. Writers tend to use it to make a story seem more dark and gritty and “realistic”. What USUALLY results is a) Woman in Refrigerator Syndrome b) a dark situation taken muuuch too lightly then it should be, c) and cliché tacked on plot device or, take a guess, d) all of the above!!

Not only has rape been used to a demeaning level, and is just far too hard to write well. You get it right, you have an intense situation, where we care deeply about what happens to the victim. Get it wrong, and it feels fake and we just feel sorry the victim was put into such a situation because of incompetent writing. Guess which one happens in Voodoo?

Anyway, Voodoo takes Evan’s place in issue two.... And then has sex with Fallon, in order to get Fallon
to drop her defences and read her mind. It’s not fanservicey, or showy. What it is--- is rape. But this isn't the “incompetent” part. Unlike other rape examples that I will get to, I might have let this one go. Voodoo is a war agent, from a planet with different customs from ours, and on top of that, she knows these people want her dead. This is a life or death situation to her. Unlike Catwoman, Voodoo is doing this to save her life. So, it actually makes sense for Voodoo.

The writer on the other hand...

Let me get this straight: The sex scene between Voodoo and Fallon did NOT need to happen. There was no reason that Voodoo had to have sex with Fallon in order to read her mind. She never had sex at the strip bar. So why did they do it? Besides to make us sorry for Fallon, my best guess was to give Fallon character depth. No. I’m not kidding.

After Voodoo subsequently rapes Fallon, getting revenge on Voodoo is suddenly more about HER, not Evans. Because the death of her partner wasn’t personal enough, right? Every so often, Fallon mentions how she’ll get Voodoo for what she did to her, as her minds slowly spins out of control. At the same time, she won’t tell anyone what happened, because doing so would likely take her off the case, or perhaps fired.

And suddenly, I feel sorry for Fallon. But I didn’t need to be. Fallon is basically a good guy, trying to protect the world from an invading alien spy and she just lost her partner. She didn’t need to get violated to make her more interesting.

It’s simple manipulation of the writer. It’s not confirmed whether or not Fallon and Evan’s were already in a sexual relationship, but by issue 5 (again), we finally get confirmation that, yes, they both at least had feelings for each other.

So we would have gotten the same results if Fallon was already in a secret relationship with Evans and then learned that Voodoo killed him. Fallon would still be obsessed with killing voodoo. And there's nothing wrong with Fallon wanted to get revenge for a man she loved. It’s certainly better then her getting raped.

Of course this brings up our next topic

4. Men in Refrigerators vs. the Horn Dogs

It’s time to talk about the Guys!

I’ve found that the guy’s haven’t been talked about that much in the New 52 in terms of sexism. It’s a double standard, and yet another thing we need to get rid of in our culture.

It is sexist for every guy to be extremely muscular and buffed out with armour, just as it is for every girl to wear almost none. Either way, you are showing off the body in a sexualized, romanticized way.

It’s sexist to make every guy overly macho, angry, or giving them a “killer instinct”, like they’ve been doing with Superman, who is more about overly using strength all the time, instead of when it’s necessary. Strangely enough, Wonder Woman also in this category instead of just the woman’s. Much like how Agent Fallon is made to look tough by beating up a few punks, Wonder Woman is now shown as a woman always looking for a fight. Guh.

Getting back to the rape topic again, Dead man actually tries to possess another person’s body, so he can have physical relationships with his girlfriend Dove. Which means the possessed person involved would be raped in the process. He tries this twice. Luckily, Dove isn’t as stupid or sick-minded as Dead man is now.

Back to Evans... when I first thought “ there's nothing wrong with Fallon wanting to get revenge for a man she loved”, my next thought was “except every feminist on the planet will say other wise”.

There seems to be a slight misconception that female characters should“not need a man!”, whether it be as a lover, a goal, or a motive for revenge, like Fallon here. Sigh. I’ve been over this before. It’s okay for girls to need/want a guy. Just as long as that isn’t the girl’s only character motive/trait, and it’s not the guy’s sole reason for existing.

Fallon is a flat, one dimensional character, and changing her motive from it being about her because she was raped, to about Evan because he was killed, is obviously not enough to give her that extra dimension. And like the rape, it would just turn Evan into a plot device.

So lets look at Evan’s himself, hmm? Well, can’t say I miss him! Much like so many other men in the New 52, Evans was a turned into a chauvinistic pig and I didn’t feel too sorry about him getting killed. Especially how right before describing what his agency wants with Voodoo, he tries to feel her up.

When the “capable” male agents show up, including Black Jack. They are much more muscular and well armoured then Fallon and Evans. This might have been contrasted by Voodoo’s superior, disguised as fat, out of shape mechanic, except that he has two supermodel looking aliens hanging off his arms, making him look more like Jabba the Hut. And suddenly, we’re in Horn Dog territory again. None of these characters are in the issue much, or really make an impact at all, except to provide exposition.

So lets look at one of the few interesting guys in Voodoo: Ruewin. He’s only around for a few issues, but in those few issues, he was pretty interesting. Like Voodoo, he is a Daemonite in disguise. A full blooded Daemonite. He’s cold, no nonsense, kills everyone he talks to, because, well, he’s suppose to, and does NOT like hybrids. He tries to kill Voodoo, not to take credit for her successes with her mission, but because he thinks the hybrids were a horrible decision. The human emotions of a hybrid overpowers their judgement. And from what we’ve seen of voodoo, he’s probably right.

Ruewin was only around until issue 5, but he leaves behind some pretty cool moments. In the short time we knew him, I got a senese of an extrememly well rounded character.

5. The Numbers:

Okay, this is kinda off topic from Voodoo, but I wanted to get this off my chest too:

In terms of numbers, I do find it annoying that only a few female artists and writers were chosen, though I'm not prepared to say whether this was and out right sexist agenda, or just something the heads at DC stupidly overlooked.

In the cases of characters, there isn’t that many heroines, even in Voodoo, where both leads are female.

But I’d argue that there never was. There has ALWAYS been an imbalanced between males vs. female characters. We did get a handful of new female characters with comics like Demon Knights, and Voodoo but at the same time we lost Stephanie and (maybe?) Power Girl. But some the the female characters we kept didn’t even get there own title. Why not just keep them all? It’s not like they haven’t thrown continuity completely out the window now. And this way, we’d finally have a bit more balance to the men:woman ratio. And with so many issues being dedicated to the Lanterns and Batman, there is no excuse why DC couldn’t just drop one title in exchange.

The Aftermath

Is Voodoo good? It’s okay. Do I like Voodoo?...Eehhh. I’m kinda on the fence, personally. Issue 5 seems a bit of a game changer. But the rape scene and a few odd moments still bother the heck me. I’ll probably drop it so I can focus on the more interesting comics. But I’m glad I read it, if only because of how much it made me think about these issues. And this isn’t really about how good or bad the comic series is, anyway.

Now, I don’t think it’s fair to condemn all of DC for what’s happening, when, for every artist and writer working on a “bad” title, there's one working on an amazing one, that respects the character.

Gail Simone for instance is doing great work on Batgirl, one of the most controversial titles of the re-launch. With Batgirl returned, we loose Barb as pretty much one of the only paraplegic super heroes. And that is wrong. And yes, it is perfectly fine if you hate it.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Simone handles the issue well and the book is still worth a read. Barb must constantly deal with the trauma she went through, “survivors guilt” and the fear that if she pushes herself too hard, she will become paralysed again. And honestly, Oracle WILL be back one day. But if DC really wants Barb to be the new Batgirl, they should be doing an Oracle comic at the same time that either takes place in the future or as an alternate continuity.

What I have noticed is that most of the better titles, at least in my opinion, contain second stringer characters. Animal man and Demon knights for instance. Great characters--great female characters---, great story and a great lead. Animal Man deals with Lovecraft-like horror but then you get these adorable scenes with his daughter, who you could almost considered the true protagonist of the book. And despite the subject matter, the scenes with the family are handled very well, and are some of the best scenes in the book to read. Demon Knights--Forcing Etrigan the demon team up with a female Shining Knight disguised as a man, an inventor from the middle east, an exiled amazon, Vandal Savage, Madame Xanadu (who is also Etrigan’s girlfriend), plus making Jason blood, the man Etrigan possesses, a whiney brat?-- Freaking hilarious.

Back to the subject, if you look at their latest history, DC has been having sexism issues for a while. Identity crisis, countdown, Amazons Attack...

But what’s gone wrong in lately has mostly happened to the most popular and well known DC characters. And what has gone wrong is.... so very wrong. On top of hurting some of our favourite characters, most of these changes make our medium look juvenile--- a pre-justice those in (and not quite in) the comic industry have fought tooth and nail against for decades.

Hears hoping good changes to come in 2012.

Tegan Dumpleton aka SlugLady28

Okay, here's the update I mentioned:

So... the comic reviews. Over my hiatus, I finally decided to not continue the comic reviews. I’m sorry, I know I promised them. I was even planning to retool the comic reviews into a “highlights” review so they would take less time to write. But I realized that I'd rather use my time for my art. Or for articles which touch on important (and semi important) subjects in all things nerdy, while still using comics I’ve read as examples, like I did here. Or review a series as a whole, like I did for All New Wonder Woman.

However, I'm now regularly using facebook, where I will post little “reactions” to comics I have read, want to read, or just caused me to face-palm, so if you’re curious, head there.

Next--yes, i am serious when i say the Hiatus is over . For those not in the know, from the summer  to January, I have been going through several issues (medical wise, money wise, job wise, stress wise, life-has-a-sick-sense-of-humor wise) which got so bad that much of my art had to be put on the back burner.

What I didn't realize, however was that I was in complete denial about all of this, hence why I was constantly promising more and more product, without anything to show for it.

But finally my life has settled enough that I can finally start working on all these projects I've been talking about for a while, including my web-comic, some personal pieces, more articles and some surprises. How do I know I'm not still in denial? 

Because for the last few weeks, I have been drawing. I have been drawing my little heart out. And writing. For hours on end. And it was awesome. I haven't been able to do any hardcore writing or drawing for ages. I feel some normalcy returning to me. And hopefully it keeps up.

I will be posting something once a week again. Sometimes it’ll be big, small, a bit of nerd news or something a little random. But you will be seeing things a lot more often here!

Cross your fingers! ;) And thank you to everyone who's been showing me so much support over the last months!

Next time: Something fun


  1. I just bought first volume and a)she doesn't stay a stripper for long and her reason for being one in the first place (to read minds of soldiers in an unnoticed way made sense. Also that part wasn't rape, the agent wanted it and all Voodoo did was lie about who she was, very very wrong but not rape. Disgusting for a whole other reason. Also, if people feel that the balance between male and females are off in comics, do something about it. Become a writer/editor/artist. Sorry but superheroes started out as a genre aimed at young boys, popular ones play on that. The largest demographic of readers are young adult men. No duh, woman aren't the focus and are over sexualized, the company's gave the readers what they wanted. I disagree with this and only buy series I like (Justice League, Batgirl, Aquaman, being only ones I get right now.)

    1. And you SHOULD buy the series you like. I may not like Justice League, but I'm not going to try and stop you from reading it. I'm just giving my opinion.

      I agree that it made sense for her to be a stripper, not arguing that. But that part DID count as rape because Fallon thought she was sleeping with her partner. Consent doesn't count because she's not sleeping with the person she thought she was giving consent to.

      Actually, I am working at becoming a writer and artist for comics. And I talk about these issues in hopes of changing the industry. But that's not the issue here. Comics may have started out aimed purely at boys but it hasn't been like that for a good several decades now. Comics have a huge female audience now, especially those with a female main character, like Power Girl and Starfire. The main reason Wonder Woman was created back in the 40s was to give women into comics. And there are many woman working in the industry, even if it's still a minority.

      But it's been a long time since the 40s and saying that it's overly sexualized because more men read it, does NOT cut it these days in ANY industry, except maybe erotic art. I've also know of male fans that don't agree with over sexualizing female characters (and male characters)

      And many characters, both male and female, that were looked up to by comic fans of both genders, are now being portrayed in an insulting way in the New 52. I also don't think it's fair to male fans when male characters are shown as pigs that only want sex. I'm okay with a bit of eye candy, and sexualization, but not when it becomes insulting to a character.