I Write Letters: DC Comics Edition

[Content note: misogyny, rape culture, racism, suicide, homophobia, opposition to marriage equality]

To: DC Comics

From: Aphra Behn, Assistant Associate Professor of Historical Ladybusiness and Nerdstuff

Re: Upcoming job opening as Publisher

I write to you today in order to apply for the job of Publisher at DC Comics. I realize that Jim Lee and Dan Didio currently serve as co-publishers, but after the fan backlash against their pro-homophobe and anti-marriage equality stances, not to mention their continued inability to retain talent, I was thinking you might be hiring somebody new.

After all, it's really not so good to have your publishers insulting fans' intelligence. Fans can be pretty sharp; we've noticed that troubling racist bent to character re-inventions and team replacements. (When Aquaman becomes a star of the Justice League while Green Lantern John Stewart gets booted, it's hard to miss.) And there have been a few(!) complaints about the continued misogyny at DC, ranging from the percentage of female creators dropping from 12% to 1% with the Nu52 relaunch, to the appalling transformation of strong female heroes into monolithic porn stars, whose rape can be mislabeled "sex." Most recently, there's last week's call for aspiring DC artists to draw Harley Quinn committing suicide, naked. (Because nothing says sexyfuntimes like suicide? WHUT.) And a special shout-out to the anti-feminist reboot of the Amazons as murderous rapists who are too dim to even forge their own weapons.

Basically, when there's whole website dedicated to counting down how long it has been since DC did something cringe-worthy, I imagine you'll be hiring soon. That's where I come in.

Here is my primary qualification to be publisher: I am not an asshole.

I realize that this would mark a new and daring direction for DC, not seen since the days of Jenette Kahn, who, by most accounts, was not an asshole either. That seemed to work well for her, and for you.

But putting my qualifications in the negative is a bad way to start off an application, right? Okay, let me re-word that, and be more specific:

I will respect creators, old and new. Creators need clear and consistent communication; that communication should flow both down and up. For example, if I re-boot the entire universe, I pledge to have direction and co-ordination for major characters like Superman (you may have heard of him). But artists and writers also need creative freedom; they deserve to have input into the overall direction we're going with our comics. If I start losing creators who have been consistently very central to creating the universe, I want to know why. If I can't attract and keep new talent, I want to know why. If my teams aren't diverse in terms of race, gender, and sexuality, I want to know why. If people think DC is a shitty place to work, I want to know why. And once I know why, I want to work on fixing the problems.

I will respect fans, old and new. It's true that not all fan feedback is constructive. But fans deserve respectful communication, particularly when their criticisms are indeed thoughtful. Twitter condescension is not helpful. And when communication gets screwed up, I pledge to stop digging. And furthermore, I pledge to respect new fans, and potential fans as well. Those kids who fall in love with animated DC features? They should have reading options other than seeing their role models treated as sex objects. Don't get me wrong. I also want to continue DC's history of mature comics; fans deserve that. But the word "mature" is not a synonym for "turn ALL the women into sexxxxay pr0n." That's not edgy and cool; it's old as the hills. That's not clever or "realistic"; it's repetitive and one-dimensional. That's not adult; it's the snickering fantasy of an immature misogynist.

I will respect the characters, old, new and as-yet-uncreated. Look, I'm applying to you because I actually love the DC universe. I picked up Wonder Woman 234 when I could just barely read, and I haven't looked back. (Well, okay. I am looking back now that so many titles are starting to resemble crap stag films.) I've stayed with you for years and through many changes; heck, I even remember the days before Batman was dark and twisted. Gold, Silver, Bronze, Modern--I know the ages and own plenty of reprints from each (and not a few originals.) I know the difference between Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis. I can even properly identify the different Batwomen.

DC has an amazing range of characters, including some of the most interesting female heroes in the business. Those characters deserve better than to be treated with scorn by people who don't seem to like them in the first place. Characters definitely need changes to keep going. They need their continuities cleaned up. They need dramatic twists and turns and thrilling surprises in their stories, and they ALWAYS need kickass action. Their characters need to grow and change with their experiences. But the core of each character does not need to be treated as disposable or interchangeable. Wonder Woman doesn't need to become Lois Lane. Superman doesn't need to become Batman. If we want a Kryptonian who is like Batman, then we can bloody well invent a new one.

The characters deserve respect for their distinctive personality and histories; I don't believe in ridiculous cookie-cutter rules like "no superhero can be married because they must all set their personal lives aside." That's silly. Some will be single, some married, some dating, some asexual. Some will make great romantic decisions, others crap ones. Some will be drawn to teams; others will insist on being loners. Some characters will think there is no hope for humanity, some will be optimistic, and some won't give a damn as long as they're making money. Turning all your characters into grim, tortured Byronic figures (the ones you don't reduce to sex objects, that is) has to be the dullest concept I've ever heard of. Vive le difference.

And speaking of difference: I understand that wounding, killing off, or "retiring" characters from marginalized groups is very different from doing the same to cis white, male, straight characters. Sideline Plastic Man, and your white male fans will still have plenty of white male dudes to look up to. Sideline Black Lightning, and you shrink a pool of Black heroes that is already pretty small. Cancelling Jaimie Reyes' run as Blue Beetle is not the same as doing it to Ted Kord. Retconning Donna Troy out of existence is not comparable to doing the same to Wally West. Being opposed to the marriage of straight characters is not the same as opposing the marriage of lesbian and gay characters, precisely because the world does not treat those marriages equally. Pretending otherwise is bullshit, and I don't intend to truck in that. It doesn't expand the fan base, and it tends to stink up the office.

I am a geek and a lover of the DC universe. I understand that a commercial enterprise needs to grow, to expand, and to make money. I believe that respect, diversity and creativity are the best ways to keep old readers and reach new ones.

But mostly? I am not an asshole.

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