Sexism and the comic book industry have a relationship similar to a meth addict and his dealer: once they’re together, they’re in it for life whether they like it or not. For as long as I can remember women in comic books, on the whole, have had absurd proportions and flat-sided personalities in deference to the towering, Adonic male archetypes who dominate the medium. As the TvTrope definition for ‘Most Common Superpower’ says, “if [a character] is female, she is straining against the bonds of gravity…but not in a flying sort of way’.
It’s unfortunate that most female characters, especially in superhero yarns, exist solely as a squeaky toy the male model heroes can cuddle every now and then. As always, there are exceptions to this rule, but what many would term as a ‘sexist’ representation of women in superhero comics has been, rather degradingly, the norm for many decades. Even in a ‘progressive’, ‘right-thinking’ and ‘forward-marching’ society as ours, there is still plenty of justification for why female heroes should, in the minds of their artists, continue to exist as ‘larger than life’ representations with mammaries the size of airplane fuselages.
One book of late that’s copped more than a bit of flak for perceived over-sexualisation is Red Hood and the Outlaws, featuring former Teen Titan character Starfire as a buxom, giving-it-away-for-free-to-anyone-with-a-penis space alien. There really does come a point where breast proportions become ridiculous, and with that latter word in mind let’s dive into this alleged celebration of misogyny and manpower.
Fresh from having died at the hands of Joker and being revived in one of the al Ghul family’s famed Lazarus Pits (patent pending), former Robin Jason Todd has taken a sabbatical from starring in Batman Incorporated and has joined up with former Green Arrow sidekick Arsenal and the aforementioned former Teen Titans Playboy Bunny reject (I see a pattern emerging with the “former” thing here). Apparently Todd wants to form a group called the Outlaws who go around fighting ancient prophecy-driven antagonists and some chick who looks like Solstice from Teen Titans‘s ugly stepsister. Things progress from there in a very muddled direction, where some ancient evil cult that Todd was involved in sends a curvy black sheriff with super-regenerative powers to stick a hand inside his liver.
I wish I was kidding.
While the superhero subgenre does carry something of a stigma towards being classified as nothing but “low-brow” entertainment, there are stories that manage to break those chains and ascend to become truly great pinnacles of human artistic endeavour. There are some stories that make you weep in joy or sadness as much as the best tear-jerking movies or television shows can. There are timeless classics in the comic book pantheon that stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the greatest artistry in the history of human achievement.
Rest assured, Red Hood and the Outlaws is not one of them.
This book is utter rubbish, but not in a way that makes me hate it. It sticks to the far, dark end of the low-brow stick, indulging in sex, violence and an incoherent plot after the first few pages, but it doesn’t make me angry the way some other works do. It just makes me pity it, especially since writer Scott Lobdell has had a pretty good track record with me so far. The story isn’t merely bad, it’s stupid.
Putting aside the misogynist element of stripping Starfire down to two purple tissues and some hooker heels whilst giving her the personality of a bent teaspoon, the narrative and dialogue are just absolutely ridiculous. The number of times I facepalmed at awfully awkward scripting from characters on all sides was so numerous that I’m pretty sure I have a permanent hematoma now. The “radical, dude!” level of language, the hints at sexual perversion, the random inclusion of supernatural enemies with plot that doesn’t end up anywhere stable, it’s all just crap on a platter. It’s like someone took a bunch of superhero comic tropes, coated them in glue mixed from whale sperm and marmalade, and threw them all higgledy-piggledy at a canvas while saying “Yeah, that’s our comic! Totally! Whoo-hoo, Spring Break!”
The artwork fits in nicely with the themes and scripting mentioned above, and in that respect gets marked down to Hades. Every vaguely-female character has measurements that’d make Barbie blush, Starfire is one light breeze away from having uncovered nips at all times (unless her orange skin carries some natural glue-like substance) and the male characters are the usual indistinct blobs of abdominal muscle and penis envy. Todd doesn’t look anything like how he did in previous stories, Arsenal just looks like a wanker, and the ancient evil cult business looks like something rejected out of a Justice League Dark story.
This book really does carry a sort of teen-influenced element to it, aimed specifically at high school kids who have no idea what “cultured” means. I’d sooner recommend sculling spider venom over reading this trash, but if I had to recommend it to somebody it’d be the kids who still think exploding bodies and naked breasts are appropriate workplace conversation topics. It’s not bad enough for me to spew liquid fury at it, nor is it bad in an endearing, Mel Brooks kind of way. It’s just stupid, brain-draining dross that makes Home and Away look deep by comparison.
BEST QUOTE: “Finally. Someone to shoot.” – Red Hood