The Great Comics Hunk-Off: #DashingDC vs. #MagicMarvelXXL

This piece was originally posted on Panels.

Mere weeks after its release in theaters, Magic Mike XXL, the money-making movie about male strippers and their money-makers, is still ab-dominating social media.

It’s also the single-best advertisement for the upcoming Gambit movie, starring comics grandpa chaperone Channing Tatum, as confirmed by female relatives after I alerted them to Fox’s film.

Now that there’s a chance that Tatum will inject some overt sex appeal into a comic book movie, this begs the question: Who is better at aiding those who like ogling dudefolk, Marvel or DC?

Last March, DC Comics actually paid homage to the original Magic Mike in their film poster variant series.

Justice League? More like Thrust-ice League. | Art by Emanuela Lupacchino
Now that is Batman at his scariest. | Cover by Emanuela Lupacchino

Though it may not seem like it to the naked (or the semi-nude) eye, this cover matters. The mainstream comics industry has a long-standing tradition of pandering solely to a heterosexual male gaze. Illustrated women in centaur contortions, brokeback poses, and widely disproportionate proportions are not reserved for “adult” reading; they’ve been quasi-regular fare for comics over decades.

As the industry is just now beginning to recognize that female fans exist in significant numbers, readers are just now—slightly—seeing nods to androphilic (read: dude-ogling) tastes. The Thrust-ice League up there is just the tip—of the iceberg.

A character of any gender need not simply be in a state of undress and/or physical peak to fit under a gaze. A vein-popping, head-decapitating shirtless warrior is not the same as his bikini-clad female counterpart bending forward to give readers a peak at her cleavage.

Often, receptiveness is the key ingredient to any beefcake or cheesecake recipe—enter the variant cover for Constantine: The Hellblazer #1.

All eyes, and ooze?, are on him. | Art by Ming Doyle
All eyes (and ooze?) on John. | Cover by Ming Doyle

As someone who was on Twitter and Tumblr when this variant was released, I can share that the general reaction was this:

There Go My Pants

Ming Doyle’s illustration proves that leaving the pants on a character can still knock the pants off of others. John Constantine has an open, receptive body language; he’s also making eye contact with the viewer. “Tight” would describe both his fashion sense and his pants. His facial features are soft, and his hair is slightly tousled. Doyle has crafted a Constantine who’s inviting the reader to look at him.

Despite Marvel’s recently improved emphasis on female fans, the publisher has barely put a horse (or “Pony,” if you’ve watched Magic Mike) into the beefcake race. Many openly queer male artists are in its employ, but most of their work is reserved for female characters (which is, ultimately, a Higher Cause, but…what’s a cover or two?). Fortunately, Kris Anka has ushered Marvel partially into this race with a literal race on August’s House of M #2 cover.

House of M Marvel comics Anka
Male gaze? Female gaze? How about Magneto’s gaze? | Cover by Kris Anka

Not to be outdone, DC is also releasing a cover featuring a shirtless version of theirKing of the Seas.

Aquaman DC Comics
Between the trident, the “A,” and the water, I’ll let you make a joke here. | Cover by Ant Lucia

Aquaman’s cover is actually an entry in DC’s second wave of the “Bombshells” nineteen-fifties-style variant covers. The first wave came out in June 2014, and it featured only female characters. Though the covers themselves were stylish, fun, and largely less sexualized than the comics status quo (some heroines even gainedclothing in their redesigns), they still sent a sad message about who the covers were—and weren’t—intended for.

DC listened to outcry, as August 2015’s Bombshells line-up features at least eight covers with male pin-ups on them. Given, Aquaman’s design is more the shirtless exception than the rule, but it’s a start. I’m still waiting on Marvel to commission some Milo Manara-esque designs for their male-led titles (I’m not, actually).

No conversation about comics beefcake, however, is complete without Dick—Dick Grayson, that is. Here’s Grayson #13:

For the unfamiliar, that is a very specific kind of rope. | By Mikel Janin
For the unfamiliar, that is a very specific kind of rope. | Cover by Mikel Janin

All the previous DC covers are variants; if fans wanted to, they could avoid them.

This is Grayson #13‘s main cover. It isn’t a spin-off, surprise, or one-time wink at the audience. This portrait is a pretty spot-on indication of Grayson so far. And, this series is what thrusts DC furthest past the competition and into the top position.

Tim Seeley, series co-writer with Tom King, has spoken openly about appealing to female fans in the past, admitting that the team tries to depict Dick shirtless at least once an issue. For almost all of Grayson #5, a stubbly, shirtless Dick carries and cradles a baby through a desert. In another issue, a crew of female spies-in-training chase a teasing Dick throughout their campus. In a later issue, that same crew nicknames the two halves of Dick’s derrière as “Jim and Juan.” It should be noted that Jim and Juan are basically supporting characters.

The purpose of this “Hunk-Off” isn’t to suggest that the industry need be more sexual; just to make it equally so for fans who aren’t straight men. And, maybe incidentally, to also show “sexy” characters in ways that aren’t objectifying, dismissive, mean, out-of-character, or reinforcing of unhealthy gender dynamics. In the preceding covers, the subjects retain their agency—some are even “in” on what the cover’s doing.

For those disappointed by Marvel’s loss here, take heart—at least this cover for Wolverine #6 happened (if by mistake):

The focus of the next Wolverine movie? | Cover by Esad Ribic
The focus of the next Wolverine movie? | Cover by Esad Ribic

This year has brought fans #HotArchie, #DapperDick, and #ComeHitherConstantine. Who do you hope (or think) is next?

The Bun-Sung Ass-Pect of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

Much about Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 by Ryan North and Erica Henderson, out this past Wednesday, is sung. Many writers far more professional than I have talked about its infectious theme song (which is doubly sung), hilarious end-page jokes, expressive artwork, and clever dialogue. The comic has gotten critical acclaim pretty universally across mainstream comics media.

I lamented on Twitter yesterday, however, that there is one facet of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 that has gone totally unnoticed by popular geek media: Erica Henderson’s depiction of derriere.

You see, it is my duty as a comics journalist to report where my media brethren and sistren have failed.

I wasn’t initially bootystruck until late in the comic, but, in hindsight, I should have seen the signs, for Henderson had long sewn seeds of seat throughout.

When Kraven the Hunter entered the scene, I noticed something peculiar. He was, well, attractive.

Pictured: a lion's vest, cheetah print pants, a zebra belt, an anaconda.

Pictured: a lion’s vest, cheetah print pants, a zebra belt, an anaconda.

This was not the same Kraven the Hunter as I was used to seeing him.

Less model, more Stalin impersonator.

Sexy Stalin’s anaconda did not.

The next several pages saw Squirrel Girl and the newly comely Kraven face-off in a bid for Tippy-Toe’s (Squirrel Girl’s squirrel best friend) life. I was enjoying the newfound view, and then Henderson decided to really kick it up a notch with this panel:

"Catch" indeed.

“Catch” indeed.

Did you miss it? As Kamala Khan says, EMBIGGEN!

Saving this for posterior-ty.

Saving this for posterior-ty.

It has been a very long time since I’ve seen such detailed rear-rendering of of a gentleman booty like that in a mainstream comic. Not since Keister Queen Nicola Scott left the mainstream comics scene.

As soon as the image struck my eyes, it was like I had taken the red pill from The Matrix and suddenly saw booty everywhere. I flipped through Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 with my newfound worldview.

Booty

Booty booty

booty

booty booty

rockin'

rockin’

EVERYWHERE.

EVERYWHERE.

Like an arrangement of tush tarot cards before me, I divined a greater meaning from this experience. Was it that I’m some butt-obsessed maniac? No, not just that.

It was over how remarkably rare it is to see female gaze* in mainstream comics. Specifically female gaze that doesn’t shy away from depicting hunky gentleman, something Henderson has a history in.

Upon doing some research, I found that there are only four monthly on-going comic series at DC and Marvel with a female primary** interior artist: Erica Henderson on Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Babs Tarr on Batgirl, Emanuela Lupacchino on Supergirl, and Marley Zarcone on Effigy. And Henderson’s the only one at Marvel.

Meanwhile, every other comic is illustrated by a male artist, including 18 female-led series. Creators shouldn’t necessarily only be attached to characters who match their gender, but it is unfortunate how many female characters stories are articulated through a disparate lens.***

That’s a remarkable lack of female gaze in mainstream comics, and an equally remarkable abundance of male gaze in mainstream comics. And a distinct lack of hunky gentlemen portrayed through the eyes of someone who can best portray hunky gentlemen.

With great power comes great responsibility. I can only assume Uncle Ben actually meant this for Henderson, the reigning champ of female gaze at Marvel Comics. May her career at Marvel be as conspicuously large and conspicuously awesome as Squirrel Girl’s butt, and as disarmingly delightful as Kraven the Hunter’s. And may she pave the way for more.

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 9.45.46 AM


*In this post, I’m going to use “female gaze” as a bit of a stand-in for androphilic (male-attracted) gaze in some cases. Not all women are attracted to men, nor are all men attracted to women. In this sense, “androphilia” and “gynephilia” are preferred. But, since I’m discussing creators with known genders and (mostly) unknown sexualities, I’m going to use gender-based gaze.

**Stephanie Hans does, however, illustrate back-up-esque style stories in the pages of Angela: Asgard’s Assassin. The primary interior artist is Phil Jimenez.

***Though not female, Thor‘s Russell Dauterman is openly gay, and his artwork (especially of male!Thor) does contribute some androphilic gaze to comics. Keep up the good work, Russell. Phil Jimenez, interior artist of Angela: Asgard’s Assassin, is also an openly gay man, though his art is less booty-licious.