DC Comics Loses Two Top Ladies, is Still Not Doing So Well with Female Characters

by Jennifer Welsing

In an industry that has always been considered a bit of a boys club, it’s refreshing to see a woman’s name anywhere in the mix. Comic books were, after all, a “boy thing” for quite some time. Boys read them, boys collected them, boys were, almost exclusively, the main characters to appear in them. But in the last couple of decades, girls have started to become readers, collectors and stars of their own books. Slowly, women have started writing and drawing their own work, and are asserting themselves as a driving force behind the content of comics.

And while all this progress is heartening, the recent letting-go of some important ladies at DC Comics sure puts a damper on the excitement. 

Last week, it was announced that Karen Berger, 33-year veteran of DC Comics, will be stepping down as head of DC’s Vertigo imprint. Vertigo exists to bring new, non-superhero titles into the comic book fold. Some of these titles include Neil Gaiman’s beloved The Sandman, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon‘s Preacher, and Y the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra; titles that have been loved by fans and critics alike. 

Karen Berger served as the head of Vertigo for 20 years, and brought in many of the writers and artists that made the Vertigo imprint so versatile and respected. According to the press release sent out by DC, Berger’s departure was a mutual decision. But knowing that DC has recently restructured its management after overhauling and rebooting its entire superhero line last year makes me wonder if this is not just the beginning of the end for Vertigo as we’ve always known it.

In recent years, the Vertigo line hasn’t been selling as well as it used to. But is Karen Berger to blame for this, or is it the contracts that give DC full control of properties that artists are now made to sign? With the cancellation of Hellblazer, the longest-running Vertigo title, it seems like the imprint is struggling to stay relevant. Has the market for alternatives to the standard super hero narrative dried up so completely?

It isn’t just Berger who’s packing her bags, either. It was also confirmed this weekend that writer Gail Simone was told, via email, that she would no longer be the writer for Batgirl. When DC began their re-launching of titles last year, they put Gail Simone in charge of bringing Barbra Gordon out of her wheelchair and restoring her to the role of Batgirl. She wrote this transformation so well that instead of enraging protective fans, she won them over. Simone seems to have been let go from the title for no reason other then that DC is in the process of restructuring their talent. 

Simone is beloved by fans, and loves the characters she writes. So, why did DC take her so unexpectedly off the title? Simone is a prolific writer, having worked not only on other women-centric titles like Wonder Woman and Birds of Prey, but also titles such as Deadpool and The Simpsons. She has also not been shy about expressing her feelings regarding the poor treatment of female characters in comic books. She was the mastermind behind the website Women in Refrigerators, where she spoke about the mistreatment of women characters in comics.

Why let all the women go, DC? It would be understandable if the titles were not selling. It would be understandable if the stories were not going anywhere. But this is simply not the case. Vertigo titles may not be as hot as they once were, but they still had many beloved books. Batgirl is one of the best selling titles of DC’s The New 52, and Gail Simone had big plans for the character. 

But seeing how DC rebranded some of their female characters—with Harley Quinn’s skimpy new costume, Catwoman straddling Batman across a full page and Starfire in her even skimpier costume, asking if a character wanted to have sex “just because”—is it no wonder that they would restructure their female staff? If that is the case I am sad for DC. They are alienating the girls club, who are not asking much—just something good to read.  

And, perhaps, some female comic book characters that are not simply over-sexualized scarecrows. Just take a look at The Hawkeye Initiative, in which one famous Marvel character is redrawn in postures to match those of his female counterparts. Fairly ridiculous, no? 

On the bright side, at least comic books fans are becoming bolder than ever with their critiques of gender equality in comics. Onward and upward! And keep those absurd Hawkeye pictures a’coming. 

Images via comismedia.ign.com, sorcery101.net, and thewolfmancometh.files.wordpress.com

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