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Gail Simone, writer of all the amazing thing ( Most recently Red Sonja, The Movement, Batgirl, Leaving Megalopolis) is a very fascinating character all of her own. If you follow her on twitter, @GailSimone, you’re in for some amazing pictures, interesting conversations with other comic book creators, and commentary on comic book culture. The commentary that Simone dishes on twitter is the inspiration for “Gail Watch” our ongoing column devoted to analyzing Simone’s observations.
Today on Gail Watch, Simone breaks comics by failing to properly acknowledge the huge effort involved in writing female comic books characters.
In the past year or so, “writing female characters” has become something of a trophy to demonstrate that an author doesn’t have problems with women in books/movies/comics etc.
However to many people that have a history of writing female characters, and focusing on them as characters and not just women, this trophy comes off sounding like this:
Writing female characters is, in and of itself, not a laudatory accomplishment. In fact, many books about “strong female characters” end up going something like this:
Many people write books about women, but writing a book about a woman well is a much more difficult accomplishment.
There is a huge difference in a book that screams “This is a book about a Chick – Look at me look at me” and a book that is about a character who happens to be a woman.For those that need an example, a comparison of Painkiller Jane and Red Sonja, is in order.
The first story arc of Red Sonja, written by Gail Simone, focuses on Red Sonja’s origin and her demons. Simone gives us insight into the forces that created Red Sonja (death mainly) and gives us her foil in foe/friend Dark Annisia.
One of the only moments where comments about Sonja’s gender are made, is during flashback gladiator sequences. . Sonja and Annisia, continually survived fights to-the-death forced upon them by an evil lord. The evil overlord of the story, makes a point to single out Sonja and Annisia as women in a lewd manner.
Framed in that context, the view of Red Sonja as a singular sex object is condemned by giving that opinion to the villain of the piece.
Walter Geovani, the artist of the title, have strikes a great balance with the art, managing to make Sonja sexy without making that the whole point of the comic. Sonja is always resplendent in bikini armor, but the events of the book encourage the reader to not simply focus on that but to focus on the larger pictures that Geovani and Simone craft so well together.
Together the team manages to make the book not about Red Sonja the sexy sexy blade lady, but Red Sonja the Red-Devil, Red Sonja the Myth, and Red Sonja the human that has human feelings and really likes to drown them with massive quantities of alcohol.
Painkiller Jane, on the other hand, is a stereotypical “strong female character” in the most detrimental fulfillment of the stereotype.
Jane is inhumanly strong, she kicks lots of ass, and we know she is a woman because we see her nipples nine pages in – but there’s never anything more to her than that.
It’s completely okay to have sexy female characters, but the way they’re framed is important. Red Sonja is clearly going to be a sexy woman no matter what, she’s wearing an armored bikini for goodness sakes, but the artist never frames her in positions where that is the sole focus of a frame.
For Painkiller Jane, that seems to be the entire focus. Santacruz often focuses on position Jane, and anyone around in, in sexual positions. For instance there is one scene dedicated to showing another woman’s face stuck in Jane’s cleavage. I’m still not sure why. Also, in case you missed it the first time: THERE IS A NIPPLE SLIP FOR 5 PAGES.
The artwork combined with a story make Painkiller Jane come across as a two dimensional character created for teenage boys. Sure, she’s a “strong female character” in the most basic sense of the phrase, but she’s not an interesting character, and it’s clear that the creators don’t understand how to treat her, and other women in the book, as people.