I’ve been reading comics since before I could read. I actually have this French Mickey Mouse comic that I still can’t read properly. So I’ve gotten used to the overt sexualization of female characters. Doesn’t mean that it doesn’t bother me I’m just, mostly, used to it. Kind of like a pebble in your shoe that you can’t seem to get rid of. Some days it annoys the hell out of you and some days it’s just the background noise of your life. Lately though, I’ve found two excellent examples that go against the tide.

Red Sonja

Cover art for Red Sonja #1 (2013)

Red Sonja should probably be the ultimate character for fan service; a curvaceous woman dressed in nothing but a mail bikini. And don’t get me wrong, over the years Red Sonja has certainly had lots of fan service moments. This year the incomparable Gail Simone took on Red Sonja and her run has certainly proved that clothing doesn’t need to matter. Simone’s Sonja is a barbarian among the rest of them. A mean, drunken, fucking, and fighting barbarian and she’s fabulous. The art is fabulous too. Simone’s Sonja doesn’t make porn noises when she gets hit, her back doesn’t break from her poses during battle and she still manages to look sexy. Just not when she’s dying or victimized in other ways.

Which brings me to…

Captain Marvel

Avengers #19, 2013

I was really excited when Marvel announced the re-imagining of Ms. Marvel who has been through some really freaking messed up shit at the hands of her writers and artists. The run is currently in its 16th issue and let me tell you it has been good so far. The story has been interesting, sure, but what’s really relevant for this post is the art. Behold, on the left, the usual way in which comic book artists draw a female hero being in trouble. Note the pushed breasts that have been pushed up, the way the villain is holding her and so on. There’s an obvious power play going on here, but there’s also a sexual component to it. And more importantly a non-consensual sexual component. It’s a strong image for sure, but it’s also part of the toxic background noise that is rape culture.

Captain Marvel #16, 2013

Now compare that to the same scene in Captain Marvel #16. The powerplay is still very visibly there, the image is still very powerful but this time it is completely missing the sexual component. Other things I love about Captain Marvel art is the fact that she doesn’t look like she’s one good jump away from knocking herself out with her own breasts. Which for sure would be an amusing sight but perhaps not something that needs to be portrayed on the pages of something that’s supposed to be a power fantasy.

I probably should have a point, shouldn’t I? The thing is, both of these are so far selling above average for per issue comics everywhere. They’re also critically well received. Where the common wisdom seems to be that superhero comics readers are only sold on sex, these two (and others besides of course) are proving it wrong. The sad thing being that this seems to be true only for comics aimed at a primarily female audience. But personally I think that has more to do with the courage of the creators than the willingness of the audience.

What do you think?