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‘Marvel Divas’: The Women’s Comic That Marketed Itself as Cheesecake

Our water-is-wet obvious fact of the day: Mainstream comic books love their cheesecake. As anyone with eyes knows, hyper-sexualized images of women are practically a pillar of the superhero comics institution, which NPR calls “a genre in which the terms unexpected and unmarketable are, alas, all too often virtual synonyms.” The radio network recently broke down two recent comics headlined by women, DC’s “Gotham City Sirens” and Marvel’s “Marvel Divas,” in terms of their cheesecake content.

So who wins the big ogle-off? “Gotham City Sirens,” a book where NPR describes gratuitous ass shots “as grains of sand on the beach” and cites a 100% increase in “Scenes Depicting Busty Women in Hot Tubs Forcibly Restrained by Creeper Vines” and “Scenes Depicting Busty Women in Leather Catsuits Tied to Chairs.”

“Marvel Divas,” in contrast, contains virtually no cheesecake, but rather a lot of women communicating and asserting themselves. This total lack of objectification may come as a surprise to anyone who followed the “Marvel Divas” controversy on the blogosphere earlier in the year, when Marvel marketed the book with this cover:

And this solicit copy (my bolding):

What happens when you take four of the Marvel Universe’s most fabulous single girls and throw them together, adding liberal amounts of suds and drama? You get the sassiest, sexiest, soapiest series to come out of the House of Ideas since Millie the Model! Romance, action, ex-boyfriends, and a last page that changes everything! Let your inner divas out with this one, fellas, you won’t regret it!

And of course, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada fanning the flames in his “Cup O Joe” column by responding to the inevitable blowback from female fans by accusing them of “hating” and engaging in this ill-considered exchange with a reader:

Reader: About the “hating” on Marvel Divas, let’s call it what it really is-criticizing how sexist this book appears to be. If Marvel produces comics that are offensive to female readers, why shouldn’t people “hate” on it? Why would I want to support a company that produces offensive, sexist material? Why shouldn’t everyone speak out against it? While the book hasn’t come out yet, what has been released so far is blatantly sexist. But what troubles me the most is that Marvel thinks people want to read this, and this constitutes strong female characterization. Does Marvel actually want to attract female readers or is the whole point that Marvel Comics are only for guys?

Quesada: Ashley, while I completely respect your opinion as I do every Marvel fan, your calling Marvel Comics and this particular mini series sexist is a bit extreme from where I’m standing. I’m going to go on a limb here and assume you’re a Marvel reader. It’s an assumption I’m making based upon the fact that you’re responding to this column. If you’re Marvel reader and truly feel we’re sexist, then why are you reading our books?

The whole debacle left such a poor taste in my mouth that I ended up leaving the book on the rack when it came out, so color me a little bit surprised to learn that “Marvel Divas” is actually one of the most female-friendly titles Marvel has put out in recent years. If they were aiming for the female demo, as the content of the book would indicate, their marketing either didn’t reflect that or misjudged the demo embarrassingly.

So what has Marvel learned from all this? I mean, in reality, maybe nothing, but ideally that if you have a superhero comic that is actually woman-friendly and even woman-oriented, it is probably best not to market it as wank material, or to tell women that if they don’t like that, they can take a flying leap out of the comic shop.

I am just saying.

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