Doing The Math: Is DC following through on their claim to “increased diversity”?
Sep 2, 2011 by     11 Comments    Posted In: Articles

Article by guest writer and user Marty Gelidiom aka Chemist52

Despite consisting of roughly half the world’s population, women have always been a minority in comic books. Whether you’re talking about readers, writers or the characters themselves women are underrepresented and, when it comes to the latter, poorly represented when they are shown. DC comics is making industry history with it’s decision to relaunch their entire line of books, but when it comes to its superheroines… I wonder if history won’t just be repeating itself. Part of the buzz about the relaunch is that DC will be “diversifying” its books. Let’s look at how that applies to DC’s female characters.

In August, 2011, there are 5 ongoing books with female title characters and 2 team books that focus on women. As of September, 2011, there will be 6 ongoings with female title characters and 1 woman-centric team book. So it looks like things are about the same, right? Not quite.

As of August, the rest of DC’s books consisted of 16 books with male title characters and 11 other team books for a total of 34 ongoing series overall. Come September, 2011, there will be 26 books with male title characters and 19 other team books, for a total of 52 ongoing books overall. Statistically, this gives us:

Female Title Characters: 14.7%
Male Title Characters: 47.0%
Team Titles: 38.3%

Female Title Characters: 11.5%
Male Title Characters: 50.0%
Team Titles: 38.5%

So, the representation of women actually decreases in post relaunch comics, while men’s increases and teams remains about the same.

Now, while representation can be a numbers game, diversity certainly is not. I would rather see one, well- written, believable, independent female character than a hundred objectified female stereotypes. While a better analysis of the post-relaunch heroines will have to wait until at least the first story arc is over, we can still make some observations based one which characters are coming into the spotlight.

Batgirl (Stephanie Brown)
Power Girl
Wonder Woman

Batgirl (Barbara Gordon)
Wonder Woman

It’s interesting to note that most of these titles in the relaunch focus on women who took their name, and inspiration for crime-fighting, from male characters. Before the reboot, there was only one: Supergirl. “Oh!” you say, “But what about Stephanie? She’s BATgirl, after all.”

Yes, that’s a very good point. However, Stephanie got her start as Spoiler, wanting to stop her supervillain father from getting away with his crimes, and protect her mother. When she becomes Batgirl, I see it more of an homage to Barbara, who acts as her mentor in the series, and Cassandra, who had been her friend and sparring partner, then to Bruce. There’s room for argument, of course, but this is how I choose to see it.

Who are we losing? Zatanna and Power Girl, two women who could be role models to anyone. Both are extremely powerful, resourceful, confidant, and successful both as crime-fighters and in their respective careers. Both characters have people who don’t like them, Power Girl especially. But, when someone’s main complaint about you is what you wear, you’re doing pretty good, right? And that right there is another reason Kara should have kept her book…the character sparks more feminist discussions thant Wonder Woman!

I also note how sexualized several of the upcoming covers are on these books. This has always been a problem in comics (and not just for the heroines) but it’s upsetting to see it continuing. Seeing characters portrayed this way makes me wonder if its a book I want to read. However, this looks like its mostly contained (for the moment) to Catwoman and Voodoo’s titles. Batgirl issue 3 actually has an awesome action scene on the cover, Batwoman’s covers are strange and artistic as always, and Supergirl and Wonder Woman’s covers all look okay. So I guess four out of six isn’t bad.

One thing I’m extremely excited for is Batwoman. Her character has been shone to be three-dimensional and interesting. She’s also the first homosexual character to have her own series in DC comics. I hope the quality on her book continues to be as top-rate as it has been in the past.

It’s hard to predict how these titles and characters will turn out, but what I’ve seen so far has me nervous. This could be an amazing opportunity for DC to really flesh out these heroines and make them stand tall as strong characters in their own right. Too often, though, being a “strong woman” in comics just means…any woman with a name and recurring role.


11 Comments Add Comment

  • JasonNewcomb September 2, 2011 at 8:54 am

    Always an interesting subject. It’s sort of a chicken and the egg thing.

    Do publishers not use female lead characters as much because readers don’t buy the books as much or the other way around?

    Do creators over-sexualize female characters because it sells or does it sell because it’s what’s mostly available?

    Great article. Well written.

    I’m tripping out on Harley’s costume personally because if there is a female character who dress like that, it’s Harley. She’s insane, off her rocker. She dresses like a maniac. I hope she wears calf boots as well!

  • reklov77 September 2, 2011 at 9:44 am

    I think it’s been confirmed that Power Girl (or at least her alter ego, Karen Starr) will be appearing in the Mr Terrific title. Also, given that they’re supposedly bringing back the JSA on Earth-2, there’s no way PG doesn’t have her own title again within 6 months. If I had any money, I’d bet on it.

  • reklov77 September 2, 2011 at 10:17 am

    It might also be worth noting that 5 of the new titles will feature minority leads.

    Static Shock
    Mr Terrific
    Blue Beetle
    Firestorm (half of them, anyway)

    I haven’t run the numbers, but I think this is more than in the pre-relaunch universe. Also, they seem insistent on promoting Cyborg to an A-lister. It does look like a real push for diversity, outside of just gender.

  • Chipreece September 2, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Another minority…Batwoman is a lesbian.

  • Chipreece September 2, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Oh duh, some how I missed that paragraph! Great article chemist!

  • JasonNewcomb September 2, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Yet another minority – Apollo and Midnighter are a gay couple in Stormwatch.

  • Chemist52 September 2, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    I was looking at the numbers for race/ethnicity too, and they ARE better. Before the relaunch, the only regular title DC ran with a non-white (not non-caucasian, because several of them were aliens, lol) character was Xombi.
    The catch is: will these books be well written, or will they fall prey to stereotyping? So far it looks promising, but I want to read an issue or five before I make any conclusions…
    I was looking at age and education level, too…it’s all on my spreadsheet. Yeah, spreadsheet. I need a life 😛

    • JasonNewcomb September 2, 2011 at 3:08 pm

      I would love to see that spread sheet. I prefer diagrams but spread sheets are cool too.

  • Margaret September 8, 2011 at 6:02 am

    Another problematical aspect of this is DC management’s apparent inability to understand why fans are upset over the handling of women in the New 52 despite the fact that on paper there will actually be slightly more female headliners than before. After the previous waves of protest they’ve encountered over the treatment of Steph, you’d think DC might have at least made some mention of her post-quasi-revamp status in their PR, if only to make vague allusions to her showing up at some point in the future, when the reset timeline has progressed farther past the “superheroes go public for the first time and the DCU is shocked” introductory stages. But the fact that we’re also losing Power Girl and Zatanna’s books–and that the Birds of Prey are evidently being so drastically reconfigured that the new line-up looks more like an all-female variation on the Suicide Squad “villains doing good” theme, with Black Canary and Katana the only members who (hopefully) aren’t actually wanted by the police–seems to suggest that DC management doesn’t quite grasp that you can’t simply assume that all female characters are equally and interchangeably satisfactory. In other words, people who like Steph, Power Girl, and Zatanna (not to mention Huntress and Lady Blackhawk from Birds of Prey) will probably not be wildly enthused at being offered what appear to be rather insistently sexualized versions of Voodoo (who doesn’t exactly have a huge cult following to begin with) and Catwoman as replacements for them.

    • JasonNewcomb September 8, 2011 at 7:59 am

      Very well articulated. I think many current fans would agree with you. However, your premise breaks down a little when you consider that DC seems quite clearly intent on capturing a new audience and thus risks offending current fans in some instances, such as the ones you mention. I think this article intends not to assess how DC has handled female characters in the past but rather how it seems it will attempt to do so in the future. Regardless of who those characters are. I think if DC improves on that front it’s a good thing, even if Stephanie Brown, or Power Girl aren’t around for a while. As disappointing as that may be to fans of those characters. I personally make a difference between how characters are handled and how fans are handled. The disappointment of Batgirl (Steph Brown) fans does not immediately mean that DC is mishandling female characters altogether, but rather that they’ve let those fans down. I see those two things as different in my mind.

      As for the over-sexualization of some of the current characters, I can’t speak to that, because I’ve yet to read the books. Voodoo though, is by nature a sexual character is she not? One could say the same of Catwoman. I personally don’t think a sexualized female character is necessarily inherently wrong. But to sexualize every or most female characters is a problem. So far I don’t see that happening yet.

      I hope I’m not misunderstanding your opinion. I think it’s a smart one and I appreciate you took the time to voice it here. 🙂

  • Chemist52 September 10, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Margaret, very well said! I love your point that “all female characters are equally and interchangeably satisfactory” in the eyes of publishers.
    It’s another huge problem and one I couldn’t quite figure out how to articulate. While I understand WHY DC might want to switch things up and focus on new characters, they actually added a whole lot more books for male characters, instead of cancelling books outright. Only Red Robin (who’s showing up in Teen Titans), Booster Gold (who’s leading JLI) and Doc Savage were cancelled.
    “Any female is called a strong female character.” has long been the complaint of fans. I’d like very much for someone to DEFINE that term for me…
    Another thing that often bugs me is how, when it comes to women, sexualization is used as a shorthand for “evil” or “bad”. Catwoman’s pose on the cover of her book tells me, without reading the summary, that’s she’s not one of the good guys anymore. Harley’s new costume implies to me that she’s going to be more proactive a villain, and less of the girl who followed Joker or Poison Ivy around and just tried to have fun (albeit usually illegaly). When Supergirl was brainwashed by Darkseid in her most recent debut story arc in Superman/Batman, she trades in her street clothes for black leather pants and a bikini top with leather straps. That trend ALONE tells me a lot about women’s treatment in comics., because I don’t see it reflected with male characters. While a costume change indicates a personality change for pretty much ANY character, it’s only with women that an “evil” persona is shown by an increase in visible skin and overt sexuality.